Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Santa Fe Adventure - Part 1

 Santa Fe is a very strange place to live and function as a magician and a witch - I know because I lived there for five years. While the New Age, Eastern traditions and Native American shamanism (as well as Native American religions) are well represented in this tiny town, the wiccan and pagan communities are barely in existence. There were only around 67,000 people living in Santa Fe when I lived there, and most of them were either Catholic, New Thought or Protestant Christians. Tibetan Buddhism had a large presence there as well, but paganism had probably a population of less than 50 individuals. I am speaking about Santa Fe in 1994, when I moved there, but it hasn’t changed very much in regards to paganism and witchcraft since I last visited (November 2011). It’s also a tough place to live if you are single and heterosexual, not to mention untenable if you happen to be a witch and sorcerer. Hispanic and Native American women that I met there found my involvement in the occult to be disturbing and highly off-putting.

Odd is a word that pretty much describes Santa Fe. All of its buildings are made of adobe and limited to four stories, so there are no large glass office buildings there, even though it is the state capitol. It’s also a very old town (est. 1610), probably rivaling St. Augustine, FL for the oldest town in the U.S. The original town consisted of two or three blocks on either side of the central plaza, bordered on the south by a small creek (Agua Fria), which is dry most of the year.

Santa Fe is located on a flat rocky plane just below the Sangre de Cristo mountains with an elevation of seven thousand feet; its altitude poses problems to visitors and newcomers alike. Cooking becomes more difficult and so does the consumption of alcohol. It was not unusual for a lady tourist to pass out at a restaurant or bar after drinking only two of her usual margarita cocktails. Doing anything physical was also much more taxing to someone not acclimated to the high elevation. It was also dry and hot in the summer (with cool mountain breezes in the shade), and somewhat damp and cold in the winter time; but overall, the temperatures were quite mild when compared to my birthplace (Wisconsin). One thing that I can say is that the quality of light during the day was quite remarkable, having a kind of a startling brilliant yellowish or amber hue offset by the bluest of skies. Sunsets and sunrises were also unusually remarkable due to the constant dusty atmosphere. I also found that the smell of the place was quite remarkable, too. The combination of sage, juniper and mesquite made the breezes off of the high chaparral foothills after a brief afternoon rainstorm smell like a romantic incense concoction, as if someone lit incense in preparation for some southwestern religious liturgy.

Traveling to Santa Fe by air usually required that the traveler land in Albuquerque and then travel the seventy miles north over three large escarpments to finally arrive in Santa Fe. This is because the airport in Santa Fe is quite small and ill-equipped to handle large airlines. The journey up and over these escarpments makes the drive quite scenic, since the traveler has to drive not only the geographic distance between these two points, but the journey also increases the altitude by two thousand feet. The last escarpment is the tallest and most intimidating (especially when it snows), and coming over the ridge and into the valley where the town is located illustrates to the traveler how well adobe blends into the rest of the landscape. Adobe buildings make Santa Fe fairly invisible from the heights during the day, and it only begins to reveal itself when the traveler exits the turnpike and drives into town. All of the buildings in the town and the surrounding area consist of various shades of tan, brown, beige and dun, which matches the color of the surrounding earth and rock. 
There are patches of green, but these are interrupted by sun baked boulders, red clay and rocky tables. While there are trees in the areas where there is water (such as around arroyos, wells or creeks), the greater share of vegetation consists of stunted and twisted juniper and mesquite bushes, along with an abundance of sage, jimson, and various other kinds of hardy thorn bushes. All of these plants are quite tough and able to withstand the periodic droughts that plague the area. Most of the water comes from the mountain runoff of melting snow, which tumbles down the creeks and arroyos and seeps into the sparse aquifers. Santa Fe is often a dry and dusty location, except during the winter and the monsoon season in June.

My reasons for moving to this exotic place was two-fold: I had an opportunity to advance my career by joining the team that would work as the front line for the company’s fiscal agency contract with the State of New Mexico, and it seemed like a really cool place to move. I knew next to nothing about Santa Fe other than it’s reputation for being weird, and New Mexico was called (in tourist books) the Land of Enchantment. Perhaps if I had known a lot more about what Santa Fe was like (and what life was going to be like living in that sparse pagan community), I might have decided not to move there. However, the opportunity was too good to pass up, and as it turned out, the move profoundly changed my career in a very positive way. As for my magickal career, it began a long period of spiritual isolation that continued even when I moved from that place five years later.

I got the news that I had been selected to be part of the team in May of 1994, and took a trip out there with my fellow teammates to meet with the client in June, and also to begin looking for a place to live. I discovered that houses were very expensive, the rents were high and the apartments small, due in large part to the fact that the standard of living was much higher in Santa Fe than in Tallahassee, and that Indian reservations surrounded the city, making available living space a premium expense. I settled for an apartment in the Zia Vista apartment complex off of Zia Road, which was both smaller and more expensive than my lovely townhouse in Tallahassee. The only saving grace was that my small apartment had a large master bedroom with an adjoining bathroom. There were mirrored closet doors on either side of the short hallway between the bathroom and the bedroom, so I had, in effect, a built-in system to trap and thwart spirits from entering the room where I would perform my ablutions. The room was large enough to accommodate my magickal needs, but the rest of the apartment was small. I had a futon couch in the tiny second bedroom, and the living room and dining room were crowded around the kitchen. This place became my humble home for the next five years.

Perhaps I could have found a better place to live if I had spent more time looking, and the particular irony is that many people have lived in the Zia Vista apartments as their first temporary residence. It was located on the southeast side of town, and was conveniently close to the road into town and that most of the stores I would need in order to live were nearby. Unlike Tallahassee, having a vehicle was very important, since nearly everything was distant and spread out, requiring a car to get around. There was also no effective transit system in the town, other than taxis and tour buses.

In July, I packed my things up in my Tallahassee townhouse, with some hired help, and everything was put on a truck and carted away. The Tallahassee pagan community must have finally found some value in me, since they even gave me a large going away party. (Or maybe they were just happy that I was finally leaving.) It would be the last community connection that I would experience and enjoy for years to come. What faced me now was a kind of hermetic based isolation, where I would have little or no contact with the pagan community where I lived. I rationalized that this new kind of lifestyle was necessary because I thought that it would better suit the kind of magick that I was now working. This new magick was deeper and much more intense than what I had been working in the past, and it monopolized my time away from work. I found that I had only a small amount of free time and less interest in what was going on in the occult community. In Santa Fe this attitude was probably defensible, but later, it seemed more of a trap than an important regimen of my magickal practice.

However, I felt that I had enough of living in the south for time being, but ironically, I would return there again several years later. While I lived in Santa Fe I would seek to develop my new system of magick based on Archeomancy and also attempt to develop my skills as a writer. I was still in the process of writing my first book on magick, called “Pyramid of Powers,” and actually, I had made a lot of progress on that writing project. A year after I moved to Santa Fe, I would complete the three volume book project that I started in Tallahassee and seek to find someone who could help me edit it. My objective was to publish this book so I could advertise the magickal order that I had helped to found.

Another odd thing about Santa Fe is the larger than usual population of artists, musicians, New Age spiritual leaders and others who are living in that town. When I did go to some social gatherings, which was rare, I was amazed that I found myself to be one of the few individuals who had a regular job and a real career. Many of the rest of those whom I met had odd jobs to help them survive, but were pursuing their true vocation as artists, which evidently didn’t pay very much. I did meet some very creative people, and even some world class artists, musicians, dancers, writers and many various New Age prophets and teachers. I also met a breed of people that I had never met before, and that was the “Trust Fund Brat.” This is the kind of person who has far more spending power than the average working stiff (such as myself), but who has no sense of the practical value of money or its singular importance, having gotten it without having worked for it.

Of all the people that I have ever met, the Trust Fund Brat seemed like the least practical or down to earth person on the planet. They were filled up with their own personal importance and had grand visions of what they were going to do. They also had the bad habit of always insisting on getting their way and knew that money could help them achieve that objective. Since there were many artists and others in town who just scraped by, these same folks availed themselves to be bought by those who had money. I saw a number of bizarre and dysfunctional relationships between Trust Fund Brats and their human pets. That pampered human pet was often some pretentious and mediocre starving artist who, through his or her moneyed significant other, gave the false impression of success and artistic savvy. These rude couples would ultimately make nearly any social affair tedious and poisonous. I also met some very eccentric and ostentatiously wealthy people whose origin was from California or the East Coast. They had decided to move to Santa Fe because of its supposed charming ambiance. These rich folks would build an expensive adobe mansion outside of town and reside there periodically during the summer months. Some of them were kind, generous and genteel, others were just rich, rude and totally obnoxious.

I also ran into self-made men and women who were the salt of the earth, and whose tenacious drive to survive and thrive in an inhospitable economic climate was a wonder to behold. I truly admired these rugged individuals, who seemed to possess the qualities that the first settlers might have had when they came to this part of the country as wanderers, traders, hunters or explorers. I had many interesting conversations with these earthy, rugged individuals, and they were far more interesting and fascinating to me than the puffed up Trust Fund Brats or the condescending and ostentatious wealthy expatriates. Yet I was an odd addition to this population, and didn’t seem to fit in wherever I traveled. I loved the country, but I was distinctly separate from it, as if in a permanent state of being a visitor or observer. I was intoxicated by the ambiance of Santa Fe, but found myself unable to relate to most of the people that I met. That is how I lived my life for five years in Santa Fe, but it was not without its charming qualities, captivating scenic vistas or moments of pure mystical awe. The land around this town was incredibly beautiful, but I found most of the people to be at odds with that beauty, except those who were really connected to the earth.

After discovering the local pagan community, or what little of it there was in Santa Fe, I met an odd middle aged women named Shann. We became friends because we both didn’t fit in the local pagan community. I found that community to be stunted and weak, sort of like the Juniper trees that grew in abundance out in the hills. There were a couple of individuals that I liked, but mostly I found them to be at the beginning stages of learning their craft, which meant that I was too advanced to function as any kind of teacher or spiritual leader. I suppose I could have tried to organize a group, but it seemed like it would require a lot of work, and I wasn’t interested in pursuing that path.

Shann was an outcast because she had problems with the inherent hierarchy of a traditional witchcraft coven and had spoken her mind far too often. So Shann had gotten kicked out of the only functioning coven in the area, but I liked her wit and her wicked sense of humor. She was a competent seamstress, artisan and purveyor of oddities, but I suppose that her real income was derived by selling pot and magic mushrooms to the local hippy population. She was also involved in the local middle eastern dancing community, and provided some of them with their costumes. I hired her to sew up some new robes for myself, and also through her, met most of my friends. She lived a sparse and economically precarious existence, and I suspect that she was disappointed that I wasn’t interested in her romantically.

The local occult book store was the Ark, located in an alley that was so narrow that it could barely support parking on one side of the road and traffic on the other (it was, therefore, a torturously one-way road, one of many in that town). The Ark was in many ways a weather vane on the alternative spiritual community in the town. Eastern systems of spirituality, as well as those based on the New Age or Native American spirituality were well represented with all kinds of stock. As for paganism, witchcraft, magick or the many forms of Western spirituality, there were some books and materials, but not very much. However, the Ark did sponsor some interesting events and was a center for anyone who wanted to contact individuals of like mind.

(During my most recent trip to Santa Fe, I visited the Ark and found it be slowly falling into decay, and the stock was of a poorer quality and greatly diminished. So it would seem that most forms of alternative spirituality have hit some hard times in that town. All traces of pagan or wiccan based books or materials were completely missing, perhaps representing that such interests had reached a new low point. One might speculate that the decline of the Ark might be due to the recent recession, but I found that other shops and stores doing quite well, representing that the buying power of the 1% had not diminished at all during this time. There had even been quite a bit of recent building in the area, showing that the recession had affected some, but not others.)

I can recall attending a lecture that the Ark sponsored at a large public auditorium presented by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, the author of several books on the Qabalah. That was back in October 1994, during a bitterly cold autumn rainy evening in Santa Fe. I don’t remember much of Halevi’s lecture, other than he was a strong proponent of the exclusively Jewish reclamation of that discipline. I also distinguished myself by asking him a question at the end of the lecture based on what Gershom Scholem had written about the Qabalah; that forms of gnosticism and magic were very much a part of its practices and discipline and were excluded only much later on. Halevi sternly denied that any occultism or magic ever had anything to do with the true Qabalah, a statement which would have astonished many of the academics of the time, including Scholem, had he been alive to hear it. As a good attendee, I didn’t contradict Mr. Halevi or argue with him, but it did unfortunately turn me off to his teachings and remained in my mind as a bitter experience. I came to the conclusion that Halevi was very biased and sectarian, which I found to be remarkable for anyone who was supposedly mystically inclined.

While living in Santa Fe, I attended some remarkable concerts, dance exhibitions and other interesting presentations. There was always something going on to suit the pallet of the afficionado of the obscure and the exotic. Shann and a few of her friends made certain that I knew about these social venues, and there were also some large block parties, effete gatherings at someone’s mansion or other events that I was able to secure an invitation. I was always seeking to connect with someone or to find new friends. Most of my attempts at expanding my social world met with dismal failure. I was just too different and set in my insular ways to be able to connect with any groups.

While some folks I have met have always raved about the Burning Man gathering that occurs in the southwest, there is another similar festival that is held right in Santa Fe, and has been going on since the 1920's. In September, the tourist season abates somewhat before the ski season begins, so the town’s temporary population drops down considerably, and local folks can actually find a parking place or go out to eat without having to deal with the crowds of tourists. In a sense, the local population gets their town back for a few months, and to celebrate this event, they hold an annual fiesta. September is also the month supposedly when the town was re-colonized by the Spanish conquistadors in 1692, after having been temporarily kicked out by the native inhabitants for 12 years.

So the town has two events to celebrate, and this celebration is called the Fiesta de Santa Fe. I imagine if you were an Indian, the parade of horse mounted conquistadors dressed in Spanish colonial outfits is rather offensive, but no one seems to mind. The highlight of that fiesta is when the town gathers at Ft. Marcy park to burn a giant effigy of old man gloom, called El Zozobra, a fifty foot spooky looking marionette. The event is marked by a whole retinue of odd costumed characters, such as the fire witch, the gloomies (children dressed up like ghosts), who dance before the moaning and menacing effigy. At the climax of the ritual, the marionette (who has movable arms and glowing eyes), is put to the torch of the fire witch along with scraps of paper and other items collected to represent town members' personal gloom. It is a very magical theatric event, and one that I have personally experienced more than once while I lived there.

(To be continued..)

Frater Barrabbas


  1. As a New Mexico Native, you've described Santa Fe incredibly well... at least how it is today, although I can say, like Albuquerque, it does have a larger pagan/hermetic population than most would think. It's simply underground due to the lack of acceptance and the major changes Santa Fe (and Albuquerque) have undergone since I grew up in the area. Your friend, Shann, and I share similar experiences with local pagan/hermetic communities ... as do many others which is why so many individuals who share your views have returned to solitary practice and back into the closet, so to speak.

    Santa Fe is home to many artists, musicians, etc, as you pointed out, but also home to some famous actors. Carol Burnett, Val Kilmer, Julia Roberts, etc, all live in and around the area... and more. This is one reason the cost of living is so incredibly high and the long time residents now have a difficult time making a go of it in a town in which they've always lived. The rich and famous are creating a place in which the locals can no longer afford, unfortunately.

    I enjoy visiting Santa Fe. It is truly beautiful, but certainly wouldn't want to live there. I'm a bit eccentric, but not enough to fit into that town.

    You commented on the beautiful sunsets and skies in New Mexico, but I'm wondering if you felt any of the unique energy here. This is why I returned. There is a fabulous energy of place which is incredibly conducive to occult and psychic work. I'm wondering if you experienced that as well?

  2. New Reader, and what a first post to see, you made me nostalgic, I am from Alb. and in the late 90s was up in SF 3 time a month. I always made the Ark visit and then the Diogenes Club before and after my meetings. I look forward to delving into the blog.
    Be well

  3. Very interesting post, among all your others, Frater. Not only of biographic significance, but also from geographic presentation point, especially to someone who has never visited the States, and would love to travel there sometime.
    Out of curiosity, which community has long occult tradition in USA? I've heard of San Fransisco, but maybe I'm biased because of LaVey, Aquino and all these American horror movies and TV series I watch here in UK. (I can't remember in which movie it was said "if the Devil lives on Earth, that should be San Fransisco", Any feedback?

  4. @Rose - stay tuned, there are two more parts to this biography. I will cover what it was like for me to work magick in New Mexico.

    @Nik64 - San Francisco would be good, but so would L.A. CA, New Orleans LA, Minneapolis MN, Albuquerque NM, Portland OR, New York City, Boston MA, Kansas City MO, and Chicago IL. Of course, these are some of the places that I personally know about, so there are likely many others, too. BTW - if you're ever in Minneapolis, drop me a line before hand, and I will buy you dinner and drinks.

    Thanks everyone for your comments.


    1. Thank you kindly for your generous invitation, Frater Barrabbas. I have already included Minneapolis on my visiting list when I will be travelling in USA. It will be a real privilege to meet you in person.

  5. Latecomer and new ABQan here. i enjoyed your exquisite description of Santa Fe, esp. the scent of the desert, and the drive up the 25.