Damien Echols’ interest in magick can be traced back to when he was seven years old. While reading one of his grandmother’s tabloids in his family’s Mississippi trailer, he saw an ad for a book: “Wanna learn magick? Send $5.95 to this address, and we’ll send you this book,” he remembers. This ad didn’t focus on the idea of magic, as in entertainers performing illusions like David Blaine or Criss Angel, but rather “magick,” a path of evolution or transformation stemming from its own set of practices. Echols thought nothing else would matter if he could practice magick, but growing up in poverty, he couldn’t afford the book. But magick would become an integral part of his life.
Though he is currently an author and visual artist, Echols best known for being one of the the “West Memphis Three,” three teenagers who were convicted of murdering three young boys as part of Satanic ritual in 1993. (They were later exonerated, and released in 2011.) In his latest book, High Magick, the author details how it helped save his live while behind bars for 17 years for a crime he didn’t commit. The practice, which Echols focuses on in his book, refers to energetic practices, spiritual growth, ceremonies and rituals. It’s what helped save his life while he was sick in prison and living alone in solitary confinement. The book is a guide to help newcomers apply magick to their everyday experiences, which is why it functions as part memoir, part spiritual guide.
“[People’s] concepts of what these practices come from things like horror movies, and centuries of propaganda from fundamentalist religious organizations who didn’t even know what it was,” Echols, 42, tells Rolling Stone. “I wanted to correct some of that.” It wasn’t until he was put on death row that he began practicing high magick. “When I was in prison, I had nothing but time, so that’s when I dedicated every single minute of every single day to learning everything I could from classic sources,” he explains.
Magick, according to Echols, is more akin to the combined practices of manifestation and meditation. “I would say that magick is the Western path to enlightenment,” he says. But the truth is, most people don’t know what this means. “The point of magick is to approach the divine source of creation as closely as you possibly can in order to disseminate its rays to humanity,” says Echols.
While Echols is fairly educated on the concept of magick now, he didn’t have access to any books on the subject until his teenage years. He began studying techniques like charging water with energy from the moon, but it didn’t scratch his itch for wanting real ceremonial magick. It’s something that became pertinent for Echols when his health was deteriorating in prison. When hewas in emotional pain, he would look for different meditation, visualization and breath techniques to help him cope. But Echols was also in physical pain, which came from malnutrition, lack of sunlight and being beaten by guards, something he detailed in his book Life After Death. “There were times when I was beaten so severely that I started to piss blood,” Echols recalls. For that reason, he was always exploring ways to remedy his pain.
Echols says that it makes sense for him, as an accused Satanist, to publish a book on magick. “I’m showing exactly what this is, clearing up misperceptions of people who don’t understand what it is, as well as introducing something that saved my life,” he says. “This is something that I put to use in the darkest, hardest, most brutal times, more so than most people in modern-day America will go through. So, if it works during that, then surely it will help other people who may be dealing with other situations that are difficult to get through.”
Magick is something Echols credits to helping him survive prison. Since regaining his freedom in 2011, Echols has continued his practice — even though it took two years to start up again. Now, Echols is back to practicing up to five hours a day at the temple space he setup in his apartment. His next book, which he is already in the midst of writing, will focus on angels and archangels, going more in-depth into how to apply magick to real-life situations and how it changed him. “To be honest, I would not have made it through 20 years of prison life without these practices,” he says. “I always try to show people, is if it helped me when going through this, it can help you in going through whatever it is that you’re going through.”