It's a crazy world out there. Religiously, politically, mentally, socially. The work and perspectives of
artists and writers are essential to counterbalance dominant narratives spread through our culture by
sources who remain helplessly stuck in a binary reality.
Even if the flights of fantasy produced by an unbound creative class don't proffer an ultimate solution for our ills, they help us to climb out of the moribund morass. Gabriel D. Roberts is an author and magical thinker whose life and works inspire, reminding us of the spontaneity of the Beat Generation. His globe-trotting adventures to find meaning, document the plight of refugees, or spotlight other exciting artists displays a commitment to his quest for gnosis that few of us fully follow through on.
He has many stories to tell, having lived many lives already from Christian evangelist to town drunkard, to author, to bartender, to occult magician, to filmmaker. And that's an abbreviated list of his many hats.
His unique points of view have been published by Disinfo, Reality Sandwich, Tower of Babel and his very own Eris Magazine. In the midst of producing a feature film and completing a new book he was kind enough to throw-down some responses to a variety of questions that reflect on his past, present and future. He holds nothing back and speaks with urgency and honesty at all times. Roberts' brand of rawness, provocation and irreverence make for intriguing discussions, a fraction of which was captured here. Let us begin backsliding into gnosis, shall we?
Can you talk about your upbringing as an evangelical Christian?
I have come to the conclusion that no two experiences are identical, though many of the parts are similar. For me, I can say in grand synopsis that the evangelical worldview and theological perspective was instilled in me at such a young age that no matter what I do, the scaffolding that Christianity provides can never be fully eradicated. It instilled me with a sense of destiny that I carry today, and though I am an occultist, I really truly see it as an extension of the spiritual path I began at 7 years old when I became an official Christian via a Billy Graham television crusade.
To be cruel, perhaps, people within my particular strain of Christianity were not known for being logical, folks within that community viewed my display of intelligence as a calling. Weirdly, again, I think there IS some kind of calling that they interpreted as Christian in nature, but was actually more shamanic in nature.
In more direct terms I was a common Christian kid; I read my bible, converted people, felt bad when I masturbated and believed in the literal interpretation of the bible from God creating the world 6k Years ago to original sin, salvation through belief in Christ and the violent and awesome return of a blood soaked Christ upon a furious horse to gather up believers and slay the wicked.
What were your earliest experiences of gnosis and did they disrupt or solidify your initial faith?
I’m going to speak to this in terms of the ecstatic state known as gnosis and not the experiential knowledge definition. If there is one thing that pentecostal Christianity nails, it’s the ecstatic state achieved by communal gathering and group worship, prayer and thought. I relate my earliest experiences with ecstatic states to a person in puberty discovering sexual desire; it was pure, unfettered by logic and crude. In attendance at a rather tame pentecostal church in Tacoma, WA, the mega church crowd would sing a hymn in unison,
“Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me. And as thou bids me, “come to me”, oh Lamb of God, I come. I come.”
Around Two thousand people singing in a single voice, resonated so deeply within me that it shook me every time I heard it. It was this song, or songs and moments like it that held my faith in place. I mistook the power of unified people as the power of god. Again, perhaps that was the right Idea, but the wrong ideology.
How did your Fundamentalism frame political issues like domestic, foreign policy and war?
This can be answered in rudiment; 1. God is sovereign and cannot be questioned. 2. The government above you is placed there by the hand of God, according to scripture and therefore the law of the land must be abided by. 3. War, led by a holy nation is always justified when in the name of Christ. 4. Abortion is murder. 5. Homosexuality is an abomination which cannot be accepted, because to accept sin as a lifestyle is to live in perpetual denial of the sacrifice Christ made, making one ineligible for heaven.
Can you describe the fear that consumes the mind of individuals who have been indoctrinated into Fundamentalism that prevent them from leaving?
As a Christian, I was taught that a cult will tell you that if you leave, you will be doomed; Christianity did that. I was taught that leaving meant you would live in perpetual misery until you died, alone, infected with syphilis and probably a heroin addict. For me, none of these things happened, but they were promised. To question doctrine was to reject the word of god and equate you to siding with the devil, after all, the devil wanted to “open” the eyes of Adam and Eve to give them the same kind of knowledge of good and evil that god had.
In many ways, the pursuit of knowledge outside the bounds of the bible was frowned upon as secular thinking, which could only lead to masturbation, syphilis and heroin addiction. As an added bonus, it was well known that people who left Christianity would be rejected as “backsliders” and would likely lose family, friends and relationships; this rung true. For a time, I lost everyone and everything I had built up in the 27 years before I “came out” as an ex-christian. I received damming phone calls and messages from friends and relatives. I did my best to be the devil they were looking for. They gave me hell and I dished it back to them with a fire they had never seen in me.
Your description of the threatening and fear-mongering phone calls and being shunned out of a community you had spent your whole life in sounds exactly like the stories that ex-Scientologists and ex-Mormons have described.
Yes, it’s a similar situation and I knew exactly how it would all go down because I was trained in bringing Mormons and other “cult” exiles into what I saw as mainstream Christianity. Because of this, I was ironically prepared for dealing with my exit from Christianity.
Coming out of a devout and sober lifestyle, you talk about jumping into a life of alcohol and drugs maybe as a way to get as far away from your old life as possible. What about that was necessary and what did you learn from it?
Alcoholics join the church and ex-Christians become alcoholics. I side with alcoholics, because the shit they are drinking produces results every time, while Christianity usually gives a promise of tomorrow that never comes to be. “Well, try harder, pray harder, don’t have sex with your girlfriend, then god will show up” was the defect mantra spoken in myriad epithets. Alcohol is liquid acceptance for a time, a cheap form of Gnosis.
One can, in the right sliver of space between sobriety and stupor achieve a magical few moments of Gnosis. Drugs are so broad in spectrum that it’s impossible to approve of or deny their efficacy. To me, psychedelic drugs, especially magic mushrooms have proven to be the closest source to what my heart told me an experience with god would be like.
Strangely, I have met god, but not Jehovah. I met the goddess Durga, of Hinduism and her other apparition, Kali, who even to this day is my matriarch. I actually saw her in manifold forms over many occasions and under the influence of different psychedelics before I ever really knew anything about her. THIS was the theophany I had been seeking for those 27 years of Christianity and never found. What can you say to that? Drugs can be keys to god, or to hell on earth. They are tools like any other tool, but meant for your consciousness.
At 27, I left Christianity and at 33 I began to write my book about growing up in and leaving Christianity. During those six years in between, I certainly hung out with a lot of crazy people, did a lot of crazy things and received some serious street smarts. Ken Jordan at liked my story and my perspectives gained through psychedelic use and began to publish my work. This other end of the spectrum of experience speaks to what the philosopher Michel Foucault would see as an exploration of experience, rather than a dive into heresy.
My message was that there IS something spiritual going on, that it has been a part of us and human experience since before time immemorial.
This word spiritual carries a lot of baggage and I tried to tease that out to show spirituality as a technology of the self, rather than some kind of monolithic communique with a monotheistic deity.
The first book really reflects my excitement over new ideas and a rejection of traditional western dialogues about good and evil, the nature of god and the power latent in (wo)mankind.
Your 2nd book, Born Again to Rebirth goes fully into your experiences in the Born-Again movement. Was that book necessary as a form of catharsis? Did you achieve a peace with it through writing or had you already come to terms with it before hand?
No peace can be achieved so long as a person is relating their spiritual life in contrast to a rejection / rebellion narrative; only once the person has come to a place where they see their experience as one of emergence can the blight of the past be smiled upon with wise appreciation. It was a part of my experience in this life, something that formed and shaped me, then I emerged like a butterfly from a chrysalis, as all those who really desire a deep gnosis must.
I was blown away of course, and his role as my literary godfather has continued to benefit me. Books don’t really sell that much, unless you are at Graham Hancock status, but there is no way I can see myself here in New York doing what I’m doing without his stamp of approval at that time. I’m not really in the spirituality / new age, or psychedelic book game any longer preferring to stick closer to the works of H.S. Thompson and Keroac as literary references. It felt and feels great. Graham is hands down one of the best humans walking this earth at present. Same for his wife, Santha. There is only one Graham and I don’t need to do anything like what he is doing, because I’ve learned I have my own path to tread.
Do you still have a working relationship with Christianity through the Gnostic texts?
What relevant messages are still inspirational to you from that lens?
Honestly, I read the Gnostic gospels and Phillip K. Dick’s Valis and called it good. There is, to me a mania that comes from reading the same book over too many times. Every book is Gnostic, because the gnostics believed that each person’s christ-like path was their own to pursue through the avenues that life provided. I’m presently reading My Struggle, Vol. 2 by Karl Ove Knaussgaard where I’m finding his expression of honesty in the funeral dirge of daily life to be an exercise in honesty that many spiritual types avoid like the plague.
How did you get into studying and practicing magick?
Shamanism is the oldest religious tradition in human history and if we are to believe the cave paintings found in France, Spain and elsewhere, these shamans were engaging in activities that sparked gnostic experiences. Magick is a refinement, amalgamation and distillation of spiritual traditions in order to achieve a greater method of improving one’s circumstances. The greatest act a magician can perform is the transformation of himself.
My textbooks are Peter J. Carroll’s Liber Null and Robert Anton Wilson’s Prometheus Rising. Also of note are Crowley’s Book of Lies and The Book of The Law, which I found both amusing and irksome.
What part does the occult play in your day-to-day life as a spiritual tool?
It can be reduced to the “silly” belief that I am magick. That I can manipulate the world to bend it to my will. The option I have as a magician not provided by classical religion is that I don’t have to see things in terms of morality, but rather expedience, Karmic retribution and my personal choice to believe in things that cannot be proven by scientific means, like the existence of a blue woman who wears human heads for a necklace offering me wisdom and protection.
I’ve done enough magick to know that it works and that I don’t need ritual to make it work. All ritual is a device to get you to think the right way to make magick work.
That last sentence may or may not be agreed with my many noobs, but I assure you that some of the most well lettered magicians I know just do it, use anything and everything as a magical device. It’s no different than when a kung fu master says, “everything is kung fu.” Everything is magick, but I know for sure that I am!
One must decide that the only way philosophically to justify belief without evidence is to see it as a tool for achieving that which logic impedes. It’s the kind of thing that makes artists do crazy shit that makes them famous, when logic says they should do something popular. Magical thinking is a process that is manifold. A magician knows with humility that he is nothing, but conversely, he is everything and all that he knows and experiences can be reduced, processed and pursued in his own mind.
After that, the elements of magic that remain in thought are those of choosing where to put belief, where to establish meaning and where to remove it. Some magicians are total fuckers because they think this knowledge makes them better than others, but it’s this thought that keeps them stuck on stupid. Life is like floating down a river. Magical thinking throws an oar in your boat and allows you to steer the rapids better.
Does your family think you’ll be meeting the Devil soon for an eternal date?
Yes, many of them do and if we were to get into a match for who is more evil, they would win. I may fuck who I please and do whatever drug or drink I choose, but I don’t cheer when bombs fall on children across the sea and I don’t laugh when people with HIV die and I don’t verbally abuse people with falsehoods to manipulate their choices. I am morally superior by leaps and bounds in that sense.
But let’s talk about the devil for a moment. While I was in Amsterdam, I met Lucifer and he offered a bit of a fast track to my success if I let him into my heart. I replied, “No thanks, I’ll be my own devil.”
Aside from writing and studying Theology, you’ve had a number of “straight jobs.” How do you fare in the business world? Was it a conflict, something to do out of financial necessity? Are you straddling both lines to make your passion projects feasible?
I’m fortunate to be good at whatever I choose to do, but I cannot live under classical “straight job” circumstances. I’m also bad at bookkeeping and other logistical elements. I’ve had many good ideas, but little or no support or funding. I think the key here is to streamline skills and know what you are good at and avoid doing the things you are bad at.
Happiness is always being able to say, “this is wrong, bad, stupid and I’m not going to do it.” After a good one year run, I’ve turned into , streamlining my focus. I had hoped the magazine could thrive as an altruistic literary co-op, but it turned out that most people had neither the time, money, or motivation to really help me keep it alive. It became too cumbersome to try to babysit 45 writers and try to get content out of them.
Now I’m playing 2017 more selfishly, charging a lot for my work and digging in for the long haul, living in New York, working like crazy and being good to my lady, Kimberly.
You’re friends and associates with a lot of really cool and brilliant people in the alternative media/occult world. Who are a few of those people that have the most influence on you and why?
Hamilton Morris is a legitimate scientist who isn’t afraid to insinuate himself in his research; something that is lacking in the hard sciences.
David Metcalfe is a true weirdo and one of the foremost experts on the Santa Muerte religion, he’s also a regular confidant when I trust no one else for advice.
Dr. Aaron Cheak is matchless in terms of actually lettered men of mysticism and I speak with him often about life. We are similar in our astrological orientation and personality, so it’s good to have a sounding board for what works and what doesn't.
In The Quest for Gnosis, you present an anthology of of-the-moment thoughts on gnosis in fairly broad terms that allowed a disparate group of people to define their own meaning of it. Is it your hope that people will locate your work and find some way into this spiritual awakening that you have found, even if it comes from a different perspective?
Absolutely. Any person who cares about the people they share this planet with should consider a humble offering of the wisdom they’ve gathered to make it easier for others to find their own groove. It is not a rubric, it is a book of ideas and suggestions.
As I said earlier, psychedelics are a tool to be used just like any other tool, with care, caution and a knowledge of its best uses and circumstances. I took some high grade LSD in Berlin. Here is a taste of what I experienced, as quoted from my unreleased book:
As I lay there I realized the way I relate to others. I am and have been a lighthearted and joyful person on the outside, but my ability to relate to others is so much more complicated than what I perceive other people to deal with. The truth, then and stuck inside me like a needle that ran the length of my body, impaling the reality of myself. I am just a man and I am alone in my own mind. I pity the world because I have trouble having compassion for it. It is this exact lack of empathy that makes me reach out so hard, smile so big and laugh so loud. I am so very alone in this secret place in my mind, where my cruel judgement and pity for the world wreathes the black dot that is the thing more deeply existent than the one known as Gabriel.
To see and feel myself in this way as the only reality broke my egoic facade of care and compassion; the dog and pony show I put on for the world. But it was the truth, this visionary Platonic Agalma of myself that brought me to another realization; despite the fact that I secretly loathe the silliness and meaninglessness of existence in others, it is love that brings me to reach out. It is absolute arrogance unfiltered and ruthless, pure shadow-self matched with its dancing partner within me, that of pure love and endless compassion. All of this was not simply seen on the backs of my eyelids, but felt as real as a punch to the face or a bucket of ice on a sleeping man. The shock and horror of my own brutality was fed back upon me to show me the danger of its unfettered violence.
But the world is violent and many others have murdered their own angels within themselves to thrive in the business of suffering.
Do you believe it’s just a matter of time before hallucinogens are finally separated in category from narcotics like heroin and coke?
When it all becomes legal, it will be used to fuck us. It will be used and manipulated by people already in power just as we are seeing with weed. At present, I don’t see a happy outcome for us flower children.
Robert Anton Wilson is a touch point for so many involved with counterculture and alternative spiritual journeys. What is your relationship to his work and what are the most important things it taught you?
The brain is hardware, the way we use it is software. We can operate on higher circuits of consciousness, but it’s often hard to differentiate which one we are on since we fluctuate. Truth is relative, but it’s pretty damn important to the harbinger of that relation.
Whether it’s politics, science, religion or just about anything, so many think they know the Truth. What is it about us that seeks finality and concreteness and is there anything that is needed to be settle completely in order to be moral and ethical?
Life is painful and easy answers that provide comfort are good enough for most people. The reality is that people could lie to our face and tell us a piece of shit is chocolate. Most people will eat it. Viola! You have the world we live in!
In your book The Hermit, you delve into a deep and sometimes dark autobiographical drama of trying to find truth and yourself in a freewheeling Jack Kerouac fashion. Can you provide a glimpse into that time in your life and why you wanted it to live forever in a book?
I thought I could save the world by being real, just like I thought I could save the world by being a christian, just like I thought I could save the world by showing the benefits of psychedelics. I can’t seem to stop wanting to save the world!
Next up, I’m going to tell everyone that everything sucks and that we have to prepare for a spiritual fight that will spill into the physical world. It’s already happening obviously. I gotta hurry up and finish the book… so I can save the world.
What are the pros and cons to giving up personal belongings and possessions, having no home or a steady job, etc.?
Everyone should get rid of most if not all of their belongings at least once in this world. Let it cut deep until you find that everything was weight that you had to carry. Day one of my life as described in The Hermit involved ditching a ton of clothes and other items in a rest stop garbage can. Everything is garbage except for real relationships. Steady jobs are harbingers of the illusion of safety. Don’t get me wrong, I like money and am sick of being broke, but to step away from the high dollar job for nothing gives you a new level of dignity that cannot be given to you, you must take it.
What is it like to experience that as one reality and simultaneously experience another reality of being asked to speak at conferences with Rupert Sheldrake?
Magick life gives magick results. Often poor, I’ve traveled across the continent of Europe, been in parties at million dollar flats and been given everything that I needed JUST in time. The thing is adjusting ideas of what you really, truly need. Being real is more important than faking it. I’m looking at you, David Wilcock. Rupert is awesome and I took great pleasure spending time behind the scenes with him and Graham at Joshua Tree. OH! The conversation we had!
What are your thoughts on the complicated nature of the artist biography? Specifically, when an artist gets famous, after they die the public or media picks apart every mistake they may have made and it is supposed to affect how we see their work. Is this fair to their legacy?
Hemingway wrote books, but his philosophy was that after he finished writing it, he released himself from explanation, leaving the interpretation to the reader. He thought that the “meaning” was none of his business. That’s admirable to me. Those looking for validation from the public will never be satisfied, finding that their legacy is a joke to many. Laugh about it and enjoy the bad reviews.
You are the creator of what was Eris Magazine and what is now Eris Films. How did Eris get started and what was your stated goal?
It was my desire to have a place where writers could contribute at will as if they were the editor in chief. It was intended to be a co-op, but as I said before, people didn’t fully comprehend the goal and so only a handful of writers really took ownership. Eris Films represents the parts of the Eris idea that I had direct control over. I have always been a wild man in terms of motivation and work ethic when it comes to passions, so now I can rely on the one person who I know will kick some ass. Potentially, if other people show the same drive, I can take them under the Eris Films banner, but the bar is set really goddam high now.
It seems as if your focus is moving more into video and filmed content. I’m sure you’ll continue writing but what sparked the shift and what does it afford you?
Film is the culmination of sight and sound. It has the unique ability to envelope an audience. We are in an increasingly illiterate society and it takes a psychedelic mind to shock the unshockable viewers of today. Writing is a necessary element of film, so it’s just an iteration of the skill set that allows me another creative layer to play with. I’m not satisfied with words on paper, especially paper that nobody will read.
Tell us about your new documentary film project, REFUGE.
The name is changing, but the idea is simple, “How is Europe handling the Syrian influx?” I interviewed dozens of people, including refugees, aide workers and everyday Europeans in order to establish a fluid narrative of opposing ideas and sentiments. Production is finished and now comes the work of pouring over 35+ interviews in four different languages and distilling the message that I don’t even have set in stone. It’s not about my experiences, per se, it’s about the battle humanity is having over who gets to be human.
Taking a look back at all your books, writings and media projects, what are some of things you are happiest with and what are some disappointments or struggles you had worth mentioning?
All of the books and adventures are about the struggle for love. First the love of god, then the love of others, then the love of self. I’m an addict by nature, when I love something, I really love it. I’m that way with gods, women, drugs, booze, art, music, etc.
My biggest disappointment is that these adventures have come at the cost of not seeing my kids as much as I would like to. That’s time I can’t get back. And yet, they and I both seem to feel like it’s all going the way it’s supposed to.
In a moment of social unrest like what we’re seeing in reaction to President Trump, is there a legitimate opportunity to breakdown the systems of oppression and violence or is it just another blip in the corporatocracy timeline?
Trump isn’t the problem, comfort at the expense of others is. I don’t want to kill cows, but I want a steak, so the cow dies. Apply this to every element of American behavior. We are in voluntary prisons.
Trump himself didn’t create any of the dehumanizing, racist, warmongering, privacy destroying, civil liberties eroding policies that we most fear him being at the helm of. Why was the public not as concerned about these issues when they were being grown and cemented over the last eight years? Why does it appear that Political Parties determine whether or not an act is moral or not or whether or not an event actually happened?
President Obama was the most gentile, elegant, eloquent messenger of death the world has ever seen. Perception is reality and the masters of reality only need to play with perception, not reality itself. I could get conspiratorial, but Jesus, why try? Stupidity and laziness are the handmaidens of complacency. Trump happens to be so cheesy, there is no way to avoid him being such an obvious tool. But obvious isn’t so obvious, is it?
As Western society becomes more secularized, politics appear to be extraordinarily religious, in terms of the One True Faith and top-down absolutism. Is there a parallel between what you’ve witnessed in religion and what we see in politics as far as this embedded savior, messiah complex?
Again, we want the easy fix. The easy fix has a high body count, but “Whatevz, I dunno, LOL!”
What do you suggest people invest their time and energy in as far as meaningful projects that can change things even on a very micro-level.
Themselves. If you’re reading this and you spend more than half an hour on social media arguing, you need to look to yourself and what you need to change. Take direct physical action you fucking hypocrite!
What personal aspirations do you have up your sleeve for the rest of 2017?
- First full length film released in October.
- Follow up to The Hermit, The Magician set for release.
- Gainfully self-employed exclusively doing film and photo work.
- See my kids more, eat/drink better, build meaningful relationships with thoughtful people.
Follow Gabriel's adventures at Eris Films