‘Cultural initiation requires metamorphosis, and we cannot learn any foreign values if we do not accept the risk by what we learn’ -Simon Leys The Halls of Uselessness New York NYRB, 2011
Belief needs to be tempered with cynicism and some good investigative skills when working with the spirit world. Spirits are tricky and people who work with them can be even trickier, so it seems a sensible thing to do to tread carefully in these realms.
I’ve heard reference to Peter Jenx for some years now due to his involvement in the music scene (former Psychic TV Agent), association with Coil’s Peter Christopherson, and for his work and books on aspects of the Thai Occult.
I had also come across Thai magical objects/fetishes that were sourced through him and was intrigued as they definitely had ‘something’ that appealed to both my creative and my magical side.
I’ve collected fetishes and magickal artifacts for many years, and consider them as both art and power objects but creatively and spiritually I also study their construction and ‘feel’. Although I have been to many amulet, charm and fetish markets in Thailand, these particular items seemed a bit different. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about them so I organised an interview with Peter to talk about these objects and his work, both written and practical, with the Thai Occult.
This exchange was fascinating intellectually and spiritually, with Peter striking me as passionate about his chosen (and chosen for him) path but also earthy, grounded and approachable.
To balance my interview with Peter, I also quizzed some of the people who have read his written work and visited him in Thailand.
The way I roll is I like to know about the person who works the magic, how it affects them and those around them. A lot of my conversation with Peter was not primarily focused on his books (though I did of course talk about them, as spiritual practices in Asia, particularly those with an animist folk magick approach, is my passion) but rather, on him specifically.
As Maya Daren said in the beginning of The Divine Horsemen, ‘Great gods do not ride little horses’, and working with powerful spirits requires a strong and grounded person with a bit of madness, a lot of humour and masses of passion.
The spirits chose well with Peter, he is all of those things. Before expressions of ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘spiritual tourism’ are tossed around, Peter clarified that the Spirits and Magick of Thailand wanted to be heard, because the sellers (NOT the creators) of their personification in amulet/fetish and tattoo form were often a little off with the truth and purpose of the objects and the Arjans (teachers) and the spirits of the land, wanted to set the story straight about the true power and beauty of this extremely old tradition.
Aside from the listening to Gordon White’s wonderful interviews with Peter on the podcast Rune Soup and general feedback from people I met, I also briefly interviewed Sheer Zed, an electronic musician, Shaman and artist. Sheer Zed is someone I have a lot of respect for who has long been committed to a magickal spiritual path that leaned heavily towards Buddhism, so he was no dilettente to the subject and knows Peter and his work well.
Sheer Zed had a correspondence with Peter that spanned several years and after careful and fascinated reading of his books he finally went to Thailand in 2017 to meet him and be introduced to the facets of the Thai Occult that Jenx wrote about.
When I asked Sheer Zed if these contacts with Thai Magic changed him he replied, ‘They haven’t changed me. They have transformed me. My internal life is far richer beyond any imaginings that I thought were once possible. I feel very different indeed, My experience is now in high definition as opposed to hi-fi. When I was in Thailand Peter shared his discoveries with me, which has been a continuing joy. Being introduced to the Arjans through Peter has been completely life changing for me to say the very least.
The daily practice I now run is a major focus for me and has given me a complete and integrated experience which would be difficult to articulate within the restraints of this discussion. The rituals and encounters I underwent with four Ajarns last year were intense surreal and highly uplifting. My relationship with numerous katas, amulets, practices and deities are deeply satisfying and profoundly moving. I have moved from one realm to another. The spiritual elevator has reached another floor. I can see it moving again- to where I cannot even think. The image of Ken Kesey’s bus with its destination ‘further’ on the front does come to mind for some reason.’
Prior to my interview with Peter, we had also been mailing each other for well over two years, chatting generally about Asia and magickal art. I had initially hoped to interview him in 2017 but life threw me a few curveballs and we didn’t manage to connect until a few weeks ago.
My favoured format for interviewing someone is I send them written questions. This is for a variety of reasons; mainly being because I hate telephones (and similar situations that require technological interface) and when I talk in person about something I’m passionate about I get over excited, and interrupt too much.
However Peter leans the opposite way to myself as he prefers actual conversations. It worked out well as I was wiped out due to a particularly gruelling work schedule so I held off from interrupting too much, and we had a extremely long and fascinating talk on Messenger, which I recorded. I transcribed the results and sent them to him to check over, because interpreting information is subjective and especially dealing with a different language culture and belief system, I didn’t want to mishear and misinform.
Peter started visiting Thailand initially to visit a friend, some 26 years ago, and from the offset had that ‘coming home’ feeling. He already had a strongly developed albeit eclectic magickal spirituality that didnt really fall into place and direction until he started spending time in Thailand.
He immediately had both a spiritual and intellectual pull towards the local Thai Occult practice, which has integrated Theravada Buddhism to its benefit as it introduces a balancing effect and a practical morality to its darker animist aspects.
Peter also is a long term Tai Chi practitioner who initially studied the discipline to stop himself ‘being a nutter’ and was committed enough to study the form in China. Whilst he said ‘I would never presume to call myself a Buddhist, I do practice aspects of it which are helpful to me’, I found a lot of his lifestyle and attitudes towards existence were extremely Buddhist, showing an insight into himself and problems of modern living, and a dedication to stripping back unnecessary complexity and applying an attitude of simplicity to everything.
Talking to him was talking to someone whose life really opened up when he uncovered what proved to be the right path for himself.
As I mentioned earlier, the Thai Occult had long been misrepresented by the sellers of the work and the spirits and the Arjuns (teachers) felt it was time that things were set straight and the power reverted back to the teachers and the truth of this strong and ancient tradition was put on a greater stage.
Many Westerners have promised the Arjans of Thailand to redress this imbalance by recording the traditions for a wider audience, but Peter is the only one who has actually consistently done this, and continues to do it. This in itself marks him out as being not just a bit different, but unique.
Also unique is Peter’s direct, profound and experiential comprehension of the subject he is discussing.
He mentioned that the the Arjans he worked with were extremely patient and forgiving of any cultural faux-pas and misunderstandings he committed whilst undergoing this process of information gathering and transcribing.
Jenx said that the assembling of the information and writing about it was a discipline in itself as the editing was not just about editing the book but also rearranging his own thought process and assimilation of information. He said that this proved transformative for him as, ‘Writing orders the mind. Writing this book was really hard work….I’d let it all out then I’d look at what I’d written and think what a pile of shite, but I’d find that continuing to write was a way of clearing up your own confusion and creating a greater understanding of the magic and your own life’
As he proved his commitment to the Arjuns, they trusted him more fully and gave him greater access to their teachings, which in turn enriched his own practice.
Of course there were challenges, especially for someone coming from a culture with differing taboos, ideals and ethics. The Thai occult amulets and sacred statues sometimes contain remnants of animal and even human materials, which though gathered in strict accordance with Buddhist teachings and Thai law can be challenging to the Western mind (and many Thai people truth to tell); however taboos are often markers of points of initiation and once broken through can lead to a higher level and more personal level of understanding.
Thus far Peter Jenx has written three books on The Thai Occult, the most recent being a huge tome of over 500 pages. All three have been published by the superlative French Company, ‘Timeless’.
As he himself said, ‘I’m still a nutter from Manchester, but I’m a productive nutter!’
Someone such as myself who has been visiting and sometimes living in Southeast Asia for over 30 years, all that time accumulating locally published books on traditions and folk practices as well as oral traditions, can recognise what a huge achievement this is, as Thai practices are notoriously difficult to get solid reference to.
Peter Jenx’s use of the Thai language was obviously a great start, as was knowing local practitioners but I also bear in mind another quote from Maya Daren’s ‘The Divine Horsemen’ saying that, ‘when the scientists come in, the spirits go out’.
Peter, like Deren was recognised in a foreign country as a creative person with an innate spirituality that clicked with the local beliefs, and because of this he has been trusted and allowed ‘in’. Also, he does what he said he was going to do, and this for the Thai Occult community is huge.
One thing that Peter and I discussed in depth was the process of ‘being magic’. I mentioned that I found that people become so bogged down by practice, politics, traditions,hierarchy and verbiage that they forgot about the process of personal change and end goal.
Peter said that in Thailand people ‘live magical lives’ and strive to ‘be magic’, and that he has the same goal. Magic as a way of life and way of being.
God knows Peter deserves a break after what he has done though he does have other plans which include a photo book and a book assembling information on the magickal elements of local herbs, stones plants, metals and trees etc but that is a way off yet.
‘I’ve got a duty now,’ he says,’I’ve been told by the arjans I work with, my duty is to open this to the world and open them to the world; there are not many living strains of magic that go back 1000’s of years and this one has not been annotated or exposed properly.’
Relative to the length of our conversation I have given few specifics of the things that we talked about; some of of it was details of what make us human; talk of mother’s, partners views of one’s practice (Jenx’s partner is supportive but has been known to ‘eye roll’ here and there), spiritual practice in various other parts of Asia, camera choice…and so on. Perhaps I’ll tidy up the audio recording and put it out for public consumption but meanwhile I’ll leave it up to the reader to check out Peter Jenx’s website and his written work (see links below).
What has been done, and done beautifully, is Sheer Zed has taken the transcript of the interview between Jenx and myself, and created a powerful piece of music inspired by it, which he wove around the words. I’ve attached a link to this piece of music, which was remastered by Greg Janman.
Personally I learned a lot from our conversation about Thai magickal spirituality, and most importantly leaned Peter Jenx is a sound and ethical practitioner who is bringing something incredibly valuable to our attention, and for that I’m very grateful indeed!
Many thanks to Peter Jenx and also to Sheer Zed for their time and focus with this interview.
Composition ‘The Thai Occult’ inspired by the interview by Sheer Zed and mastered by Greg Janman of Hermetech Mastering https://soundcloud.com/SheerZed/the-Thai-occult
Peter Jenx’s remarkable The Thai Occult website
Timeless publishers link to Peter Jenx’s writing
Sheer Zed’s website