I came across the work of the amazingly talented Felix Warren via one of Taylor Ellwood’s Facebook community pages. Felix is an adept artist, magician and teacher who’s work invokes a sense of beauty, color and power of which, I have not come across in many other peoples work.
Felix’s ability to use art as a magical medium caught my attention as I work with one of the spirits that Felix does and the resonance I felt to the work inspired me to present this interview with the accompanied artwork.
You can visit Felix on the web at the links below:
http://felixswarren.tumblr.com/ (art blog)
Q: What do you consider your greatest magical achievement?
A: I have one root project at the heart of everything worthwhile I’ve done. In 2001 I started to construct a system for working with demons for spiritual and creative guidance as well as the facilitation of magic. It was born out of a desire to connect with demons in the same way others were connecting to gods in pagan and polytheistic spiritual pursuits. At the time, I couldn’t find a system for working with demons that wasn’t based off the structures and paradigms of an existing religion, so I realized that I’d have to build it myself. I decided to build the system in collaboration with the demons I was devoted to, figuring that if I did so it would assure the creation of a system they could participate in.
What resulted from that is the Court of the Work In Progress, a system for gathering a collaborative pantheon of entities who serve as mentors to the dedicant’s creative efforts, and then setting down rules of collaboration so that the dedicant always knows which mentors to turn to, how to best utilize their advice, and what symbolism to expect those mentors to use. Using that system to gain advice and guidance from my demon mentors, collectively referred to as the Court of Scribes, I’ve been able to pursue major efforts in magic, change my life, and transform myself. The system has guided me through major life changes such as my ongoing gender transition, connected me with helpful and influential people, protected my home and myself, increased my livelihood and wealth, and guided me to plot my own future with my own pen. It’s a continual work in progress, hence the name, so it’ll likely remain my greatest magical achievement for quite some time.
I must give co-creative credit to Eligos, Astaroth, Banos, Bune, Vepar, and Ipos. It’s their system as well and it wouldn’t be one sixth of what it is now if not for their input and guidance. It wouldn’t even exist if not for me wanting to work with them and needing to create a method of doing so.
Q: Who are your personal heroes, those who most inspired you on your own journey?
A: I get a lot of inspiration from people who are not known for “real magic.” Stephen King for the huge interconnected world he creates and his persistence in making a career out of writing and his humble nature–his book On Writing kept me writing when I sometimes wanted to give it up. Esther Friesner for showing me that you could write comedy in fiction instead of being super serious all the time, and James Tate for proving the same about nonfiction. With those two combined I was able to find my own voice as a writer instead of stomping down my own style in an attempt to sound like someone I’m not. I naturally tell jokes as I speak and as I write, and that humor keeps me going and is a huge part of personality, and they taught me not to hide that. (Esther Friesner’s Magyk By Accident is also a great imaginative take on wizard comedy if you’re already done reading Terry Pratchett’s bibliography. It has a talking cat named Scandal, and what could be more important in a book than that?)
On the art end, I was lucky enough to have an art teacher in public middle school and then another one in public high school who were capable of teaching art at a professional level. They taught me early on that getting to a certain skill level was a matter of discipline and time. They had me doing complex exercises and projects regularly and introduced me to many different media, and that’s led me to always be experimenting with new techniques and it’s also made me feel confident that I could plan big, long-term pieces. Between them and the teachers I had in college, I learned to plan compositions and also learned the technical limitations of paints and paper and all sorts of different art supplies. I also learned color theory early and that really helped me a lot. These aren’t people you’ll ever meet, likely, but they were personal heroes who changed my life because they showed me what I was capable of and taught me I could be capable of more.
Animators have inspired me the most because animation is my favorite medium to consume even if I didn’t end up being an animator myself. Kunihiko Ikuhara is an animation director and series creator and a lot of anime fans will have seen his early work in the 90s Sailor Moon anime and then his masterpiece-level work Revolutionary Girl Utena. I encountered both in my teenage years so they were very formative. In Sailor Moon he handled a lot of very dark material, which Sailor Moon has a lot of for the kind of lighthearted show many people assume it to be, and in Utena he went much further.
He used that series to about the dark power underneath fairy tales, how a toxic bond with someone you love can make you deny your own truths, and what it means to be a witch. Utena is a very magical work, Carl Jung and Herman Hesse’s writing influenced its creation and if you pay close attention to the song lyrics during the duels, they’re singing about alchemy. Ikuhara also used surrealism and symbolism very heavily in both serieses, and some of the language of his symbolism entered my magical practice.
When I’m using roses and swords and gates and birdcages and rings, those symbols are very old and very powerful on their own, but Utena is how I discovered what they mean to me and also what taught me how to build the Court’s own language of symbolism.
I could name a lot of people known in the magical and pagan world who have influenced me, but I feel like naming these creative influences is a bit more meaningful because everyone’s already heard of Robert Anton Wilson and Crowley and anyone else I could name has already been recommended to you by someone in the community at some point. But you’re less likely to have heard much about Esther Friesner or Ikuhara-sensei even though they’ve been more formative for my magic and creative work. In recent years, Taylor Ellwood has been a great friend and has given me the drive to push forward with my writing on the Court and to show my magical art to the world–you’ve interviewed him already so I’ll let him speak for himself in that interview.
Q: Where does magic meet art?
A: I believe art is inherently magical. Any creative work, really–a lot of people assume art to refer only to visual work but I consider Art as a fundamental force to encompass all creative works from your grocery list to cooking. Since humans create other humans, we are each also a work of art. We can even find an object that’s not considered art, then call it “found art” and it’s suddenly art now. We can take a photo of absolutely anything and that’s art. It’s not about aesthetic or utility whether a created thing is art to me. To me, the magic is that something was created which was not there before, and it is a unique reflection of that which created it. I also believe other living things besides humans create art (and that, of course, they are art).
Now, some of these things will not sound like art to everyone and, in fact, many works that are in art galleries are the subject of debate by critics who argue that they’re not art at all. So me saying that your shopping list is art may sound like I’m stretching it. But That, I think, is where magic comes in. I don’t think every work of art has a lot of magic in it by default. The bare minimum of magic in art is the amount it took to have created the thing instead of not creating it. Most art is just the bare minimum to make the thing exist, which gives us works of utility or even bad works of art. But it’s still exceptional that we spend our time, literally moments in our life we can never get back, to create such a banal thing. I actually look at highly specialized plastic packaging and bad architecture and mediocre films with a kind of awe because of this.
We transmute life into these works. I think of that as a magical act. But I don’t think of it as necessarily skilled magic or even good magic. The merely unskilled magic can be benign–do we really need a factory-produced metal spoon to be anything more than a miniature food shovel? If your answer is yes then allow me to high-five you and the rest of the Arts and Crafts Movement. But really, it’s okay if an object of utility serves nothing more than its assigned purpose because it harms nothing. When we get to rather destructive works such as fracking oil pipelines or hateful propaganda, we start entering the realm of art that is also powerful baneful magic. It doesn’t just benignly exist, serving its purpose, but reaches out to destroy or to influence people to cause destruction. Of course, you can have powerful works of art that motivate people to cause great change that’s needed in the world, and that’s usually what’s called for to counter baneful magic of this sort.
All of those examples are the inherent magic that exists in creations without even imbuing them with magical purpose. I find it’s very easy to make art magical because, according to my theory, you’re just increasing the magic it already has. Once you start enchanting art, it can become even more powerful and influential and become part of the great magical mechanism that you build with your craft. It can go further when you factor spirits in. Because subconscious inspiration is such a huge part of how we create things, it makes art a natural vessel for entities from the spirit realm to enter this world and influence it themselves.
Q: Do you have a favorite spirit to work with?
A: I can’t pick a favorite from the Court or they’ll fire me. It’s like picking a favorite child. So let’s assume first off that Eligos, Astaroth, Banos, Bune, Vepar, and Ipos are all my favorite spirit to work with, and then I’ll reframe to: who else besides them?
After thinking this over I found it kind of funny but I have to say that my favorite spirit to work with is my own spirit. You could call him my higher self; plenty of traditions and systems have different terms for the part of a person that is the core of them and exists beyond this temporal material existence. He’s so far apart from this reality that he seems very different from me sometimes, but exploring those differences was part of what helped me realize years ago that I was a trans man and very different from the person I assumed myself to be. I tend to work with him most through artwork and writing. If I’m writing and some stronger voice is coming through and it’s not one of the Court of Scribes demons, then it’s my spirit talking more directly through me.
I think it’s very important that if someone does believe in this concept of a core self or higher self, some part of you that transcends this reality, that you get in touch with that spirit. From a certain angle it seems egotistical to think of that spirit as my favorite spirit because I’m saying “my favorite person is me.” But I think your favorite person needs to be yourself, because that means that whenever you’re left alone, you can be happy or at least content with yourself as company even if you’re lonely for others. It makes it much easier to create things or to do any work that you have to be alone to do, because you’re not uncomfortable during that entire time of working on something. I had to work very hard to get to a point where I really liked myself, and that work was necessary work that the Court pushed me toward, because without being that in tune with myself I wouldn’t be able to truly reach my creative potential. It’s also dangerous work because if you allow self-obsession to grow unchecked, you can lose all perspective and become deluded as to what or who you really are. Art and creation are magic and you can use that magic to twist yourself into something you aren’t. It’s one reason I’ve been grateful to have the Court’s guidance to keep me from staying at either extreme of self-neglect or navelgazing.
Q: What was your first “oh fuck, this shit is real” moment in your personal magical practice?
A: This wasn’t anything I did on purpose, but it happened early on when I was starting to do spirit work and trying out spirit travel. It was around 2000 so I was 19. I was dreaming as normal and then things seemed more lucid and concrete, and I was in the room of a friend who lived across town. I watched her stand over a garbage can as she looked through papers that seemed to be schoolwork, and she was throwing some of them away and keeping others while muttering her deliberations out loud. She expressed some worry that I wouldn’t like what she was doing for some reason.
Something woke me up, probably my alarm. After getting properly awake and intelligible, which took me about fifteen minutes, I thought about the dream and how strangely specific it was. I decided to give my friend a call, wondering if she was even awake. When she answered and didn’t sound bleary, I asked what she’d been doing around 9 AM. She said that she’d been sorting through a college class’s lecture notes and throwing out the stuff she didn’t need to keep. I asked if there had been artwork in the notes and she replied that she had doodled on some of them during lectures, and had even been thinking about the fact that I’d be annoyed that she was throwing drawings out, but she just really didn’t think that they were good enough to hang onto and she needed to free up some space. When she asked why, I explained the dream, and we both laughed at my first successful and completely unintentional act of spirit travel.
Back then that seemed like a completely pointless act of spirit travel, and to be honest, it still does. But it’s what I’ve always reflected on when I started to doubt whether I was just making the spirit stuff up, because I still have no other explanation for that entire incident, and frankly it’s hilarious to look back on.
Q: What is one piece of magical tech you could not live without?
A: It’s sort of a two-sided coin. My writing and artistic abilities, my ability to create, have enabled me to do magic and move forward at times when I had nothing else. But the Court of the Work In Progress is, quite honestly, how I managed to keep those creation skills and not burn out trying to bang my head into a wall stubbornly trying to go down paths that weren’t healthy for my art or for myself. So while my art has been the key to thriving, the Court has managed my art and helped me make the right choices as to what to invest my art and time into. The system itself has helped me figure out which Court mentors to turn to for guidance when I’m lost. So it’s really not just about ability and tools, but ensuring I’m applying those techniques and tools properly, and ensuring I’m investing my time into what’s most important. Those latter concerns are what the Court of the Work In Progress is there for.
Q: How long have you been making art?
A: I have been making art since it was physically possible for me to wield art tools, so I don’t think I can even remember that far back. I lucked upon my first professional training around middle school and ended up going to college for graphic design and taking a huge number of fine art electives, and since then I’ve purposefully honed my craft with occasional classes or life drawing sessions or by watching tutorials. I did ceramics for spiritual purposes in late high school and around then I was starting to draw magical objects I was dreaming up.
My first purposefully magical art was around 2000 when I did a painting that doubled as a binding spell. I mixed the targeted person’s hair into the paint. It worked very well until I decided to destroy the painting because I realized that when a person only acts politely because you’ve put a spell on them, you might as well quit with the spell and just break off the friendship and save your effort. That’s also when I can be sure that I was starting to do art that was spiritually influenced. My purposeful, conscious spirit art started around 2001.
Q: What is your advice to the young aspiring magician/artist just getting started today?
A: Follow what you want to do, even if it’s silly and especially if people are telling you it’s too silly to pursue. What you honestly, truly feel a pull toward and a passion to do is most often the sign of what’s going to lead you forward. It won’t always be a rosy path, or maybe it’ll be rosy and strewn with thorns, but it’s going to be what you’re passionate about. Without that passion you’re going to find that you can do art or magic but it’s not going to be sustained and you’re going to burn out. You’ve got to follow the itch of curiosity, the flame of passion, the wonder at mystery. There is something in each and every person that only they can say or depict or call forth, and when you’re on the path to bringing that thing out is when you’re going to feel the most alive and the most true to yourself. It’s okay if that feels a little selfish, and if someone is jealous of you for trying to express this thing only you can express, that’s their problem. Don’t let them make it be your problem.
Also, if you do anything figural, study Milt Kahl‘s drawings of hands. He’s amazing. You will thank yourself. If you need to draw hands but you hate drawing hands, I promise you: there exists a point where you can start enjoying it. You’ve just got to get to where you have this innate sense of how the bones and joints work, and then they stop being this weird basket of twigs and lies and start being fun.
Q: Of the drawings and/or paintings you have made, do you have a personal favorite? If so, which one?
A: I have so many favorites and sometimes, when I’m having a good week, every drawing I do in succession is my new favorite. I do a lot of art and a lot of drawing especially and it’s hard to remember them all when I need to come up with a favorite. However, I worked for months on a drawing of the higher self/spiritual self I talked about earlier, and I’m going to nominate that one as the favorite because it helped me get past a lot of wounds. It was part channeled, part planned, and I worked very stream of consciousness on a lot of different parts. The core meaning of it is: if a weapon wounds me, I can take that weapon and wield it as my own, but I can also choose to take up artistic and magical tools instead of wielding that weapon and respond that way instead. It is a piece about healing and identity. You asked for some art samples to go with the interview and I’ve included it with those; it’ll be obvious which one this piece is. It was done with Prismacolor colored pencils and Copic markers and is 9″x12″.
Q: How do you respond to Christian evangelists knocking on your door at dinner time?
A: They don’t come around here. The demons are doing their jobs, I guess. Sometimes there’s a pamphlet from the Watchtower Society jammed into the door and I just raise my eyebrow at their very white depiction of Jesus and then send it on its way to the recycle bin. Back when I did encounter solicitors I just told them I wasn’t interested and, for whatever reason, none of them have been belligerent with me about it. I’ve looked into the faiths that typically send solicitors and I understand that there’s a lot of pressure for them to do these sorts of things and they’re often stuck in a religious family community with few outlets, so I try to be gentle and I hope that they find what they’re looking for as individuals eventually.
I’d debate them on the Bible but the problem is that I know it and Christian history better than they do (you kind of have to if you want to understand the history of demonolatry and necromancy), so oftentimes they deny what I’m saying because they’ve been taught a very biased and inaccurate version of their own scripture and religious history. So I don’t bother with that anymore because I know it just wastes both our time. So for any solicitors I meet out on the street or whatnot, I basically wave my Jedi hand and tell them I am not the converts they’re looking for.
Q: What effect and focus do you think magic should have upon politics and world events?
A: To me it’s not really a matter of should, it’s a matter of what effect magic already has on them. Like I said before, propaganda has its own magic and that’s very much at play in politics. The very act of voting is magical in my opinion since you’re joining your voice to a crowd entity. The act of joining a group is you becoming part of that group. So if you’re going to influence that group then your best bet is to join them in action before doing your magic, because the act of joining them is going to be your most powerful conduit for magic. And I have no compunctions against or apologies for using magic in politics and world affairs. I’m a non-straight trans man so I have a lot to lose if things go pear-shaped with politics in the USA. I find the best magic to focus on for politics is unblocking attempts to block voters and strengthening fellow voters’ resolves to get out and vote. Using your vote itself as a conduit will make that much more powerful.
For other world affairs it’s the same way. If you want to strengthen a movement’s voice then there’s magic to do that. I’ve done it before very effectively. Participate as much as you can if you want to influence it more but for a lot of people out there who are disenfranchised, who are disabled, who are purposefully kept out of things, I understand that they’re resorting to magic because they have little other recourse. There should need to be no apology for that. If you don’t use magic for your movement because you think it’s not ethical, I guarantee you that someone will use it against your movement anyway, whether they call it magic or they call it prayer. People use every tool at their disposal in the end, and if there’s something you believe in, if it’s about whether you yourself are allowed to live and have a full and happy life, then your magic needs no apology. I think art magic is actually the most effective in this day and age because art and writing have such potential to go viral and influence so many people. We’re connecting with each other in this world so much now. So don’t let your voice be silenced.