Dr Nevill Drury was born in Hastings, England, but has lived most of his life in Australia. A former editor of the holistic journal Nature & Health, he holds a PhD from the University of Newcastle and has written widely on the Western esoteric tradition, visionary consciousness and shamanism, as well as on contemporary art. He is the author of over sixty books, including Sacred Encounters; The Dictionary of the Esoteric; Magic and Witchcraft: From Shamanism to the Technopagans; Stealing Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western Magic, and a speculative work of fiction titled Second Coming 2012: The Mayan Revelation (O Books). His work has been published in 25 countries and 18 languages. He lives in New South Wales, Australia.
Some months ago I read Nevill Drury’s fictional piece ‘Shaman Quest’. I found it deeply affecting, it’s a book that is like having an act of magic performed upon you, a journey into soulfulness and significance that has stayed with me. I read a lot of books, especially ones with spiritual content and very few turn out to be this memorable or to have such impact on me. I’ve also done a lot of interviewing and am usually fairly relaxed about it, but on this occasion had to make considerable effort not to get all ‘fan girl’. Nevill Drury is a longstanding author and this interview barely scrapes the surface, but I hope it will serve as an introduction.
Nimue: You have obviously explored Shamanism from many cultures, is there one branch in particular that draws you or is ranging widely key to how you do things?
Nevill: I have always felt that if you are a modern-day urban dweller like I am that it is unrealistic to regard oneself as a shaman of any sort – after all, this tradition comes out of hunter-gatherer cultures around the world. However, I do believe that the sort of neo-shamanism developed by American anthropologist Dr Michael Harner specifically for a Western audience is a worthwhile approach.
I had been focusing on Golden Dawn magic through the 1970s but I have always found magical ceremonial a bit theatrical and this approach didn’t really work for me. I met Michael Harner in Australia in 1980 – we had already been in contact because he was one of the readers for my Master of Arts thesis – and I have kept in touch with him over the years. He taught me shamanic drumming and how to use magical visualization to attain significant altered states of consciousness. More recently he also offered me some useful feedback on The Shaman’s Quest. He has been an important influence on the way I respond to the shamanic realm. After 1980 I practised Harnerian neo-shamanism for several years. The results were published in my book Vision Quest (Prism Press, Dorset, 1984), which is a type of magical diary and one of my most personal publications. I no longer practise shamanic drumming on a regular basis but I do hold workshops from time to time when there is interest in the rural community where I live.
Nimue: That’s really interesting. Most modern Pagans tend towards the ‘anyone can’ attitude, which may well not be realistic. I’ve read plenty of books about Shamanism that do suggest anyone can do it from the comfort of their living room. I’m not much in favour of any kind of living room paganism myself… Is it the urbanism specifically, the modernity or the cultural heritage or something else that strikes you as being incompatible with Shamanism?
Nevill: Shamanism is the world’s most ancient spiritual tradition and it always has an indigenous context. In every country where it is found it is part of a hunter-gatherer society where people hunt for their food and where the shaman intercedes with the gods and/or goddesses of the tribe to maintain the balance of Nature. Most people I know hunt for their food in a supermarket. We have to be clear about the basics here – and not delude ourselves that we are practising authentic shamanism. On the other hand, the practice of neo-shamanism – whether it has a Celtic or Native American or Scandinavian orientation – is an approach specifically geared to the spiritual needs of modern Westerners, and I feel quite OK about that.
Nimue: Could someone from a hunter/gatherer shamanic background still be a shaman in a city? Or conversely, could someone be willing to move into a more primal lifestyle make those connections as well?
Nevill: I don’t think native hunter/gatherers would have an easy time living in a city. In Australia, where I live, Aborigines who come to the city lose their spiritual connection with specific tracts of land that are sacred to them, and that causes enormous emotional and spiritual problems – they feel they are ‘without country’.
Nimue: Have we made spaces that preclude or restrict the spiritual life? Could we change that at all, do you think?
Nevill: Many neo-pagans create their own sacred spaces – outside in the countryside or in the home around a sacred altar – and I think that is a good thing. I am not a ritualist myself but I derive considerable pleasure and inspiration watching plants I have sown in the garden, grow and flower. I live in a small country town, I have built a garden from scratch, and I find it just wonderful. It is up to us to connect with the Spirit in whatever way we can find.
Nimue: What inspires you most?
Nevill: For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the relationship between art, magic and visionary consciousness. I respond to art that has a deeply symbolic element (although I also like abstraction) and I really like Surrealism. My favourite Surrealist artists are Max Ernst (whom I regard as the greatest artist of the 20th century – much more imaginative than Picasso, for example) and the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam who included animistic and Santeria elements in his extraordinary compositions. Within the Western Esoteric Tradition I greatly admire Austin Osman Spare, who is for me a much more interesting magical practitioner than Aleister Crowley, and I also have a lot of time for the founding figures of the late 19th century Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn who laid the basis for the modern occult revival.
Other figures who inspire me include Carl Jung – who, of course charted the mythic unconscious – and fantasy writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Arthur Machen and Lord Dunsany. Although I was born in England I have lived in Australia for most of my life and I was an art-book publisher for around 20 years. During that time I developed a keen interest in Aboriginal art. Much of that art – by major male and female artists alike – is an ongoing inspiration. The late Aboriginal painter Rover Thomas was one of the greatest, but there are too many to mention individually by name.
Nimue: If there’s one practice you could persuade everyone to take up, what would it be?
Nevill: To practise some form of creative visualization and to learn how to relax, in spite of life’s many pressures and adversities.
Nimue: Could you tell us a bit about the book you have with Moon Books?
Nevill: The only book I have with Moon Books is The Shaman’s Quest. This a work of mythic fiction based on authentic shamanic source-material and, in my opinion is one of my best books. People attuned to the shamanic realm seem to really like it. I also have two titles released through O Books: Second Coming 2012: The Mayan Revelation , which is also a work of fiction set in England and Guatemala, and Wisdom Seekers: The Rise of the New Spirituality – an overview of the rise of the New Age Movement and Transpersonal Psychology.
Nimue: Does writing come easily to you or are there challenges?
Nevill: Writing comes pretty easily to me and in a sense, by now, it should – I have been publishing books for forty years. Many of my books are on the Western Esoteric Tradition but others explore aspects of holistic health, music and contemporary art. The main challenge for me is to write accessibly. I enjoy writing and before I retired – I am 65 now – I used to be a book editor and publisher. I worked in this field for over twenty-five years. One of my main thrills as a writer is to get published in a language I can’t understand. I have been published in 25 countries and in 18 languages. Some of the more complex ones include Finnish, Bulgarian (Cyrillic?), Turkish, Greek and Serbo-Croat – I can’t read any of those…
Nimue: Who are writing for? Do you have a sense of who the reader is going to be when you’re working?
Nevill: When writers start off they are often writing for themselves rather than having an audience in mind. My first published book was a children’s book that I illustrated myself in coloured inks. It took me five years to find a publisher because it had a metaphysical theme and the main character dissolved into white light on the final page. I found out later it appealed mostly to Hippies. So obviously I was writing that particular book without having any idea about the conventional market for children’s books. But from the late 1970s onwards I became vary attuned to audiences and markets because I worked for various book publishers as an editor and had to be aware of the market potential for specific book titles. That knowledge helped me as an author…
Nimue: Where can people go to find out more about you and your work?
Nevill: There is a full list of my publications on my website and recent books are featured there in more detail: www.nevilldrury.com.