' John Wilcock - The Column of Lasting Insignificance
The column of lasting insignificance   Ojai Orange   blog   Books   Marijuana   Press   Archives   Contact

the column of lasting insignificance: Jan. 5, 2013
by John Wilcock

Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on amazon.com. What follows is the original introduction.

EVERY HUMAN BEING has a quest but relatively few realize it, and even fewer discover what their personal quest is before it captivates them. It has its classical counterpart in the alchemist’s search for the Philosophers’ Stone, Jason’s pursuit of the Golden Fleece or the lifelong quest by so many medieval knights for the Holy Grail. All these things, as psychologists have pointed out, are nothing less than inner searches for oneself clothed in the semblance of outer, worldly activity.
    The quest in fact, conscious or otherwise, forms the central structure of our lives, and it is only when we detect its pattern that we are able to channel it effectively. When we vacillate, change course haphazardly or shoot off wildly in ten directions at once, it suggests that our internal compass is out of order. It is at those times that we are most vulnerable to somebody (or something) else’s pattern.
    Back in the seventies, I knew deep in my gut that my quest period was about to begin and scared that before I could discover what it was I’d be in full cry along- some wild-goose chase that would only bring me frustration and sadness. And then, like so many people before me, I found myself right in the middle of my quest before I even knew the journey had begun. For two or three years, in a lackluster sort of way, I’d been collaborating with an old friend, Betty Pepper, in producing an annual compendium of occult material called the Witches’ Almanac. Betty had been writing a column about witchcraft for my personal monthly magazine (Other Scenes) and not long before I left New York the almanac developed out of that. Betty had long been a knowledgeable occultist, so my role was pretty much that of providing editorial and technical assistance. And stories to be written from our research. I was, literally, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and so long as it was something I could fit in between my other activities, the role suited me well.

A Guide to Occult Britain

    So here it was that most of my currents flowed together into a new project: research about the world’s magical sites, a travel guide that explored these ancient places of power with a (relatively) skeptical reporter’s eye. I would read everything I could, about the supposed magical content of these spots, and then go and look at them and write down what was known about them today. It would be a snap, I thought, and when I’d done it I would pass on to something else. How naive! I was already trapped. It is impossible, I quickly discovered, to dabble in magic without becoming captivated by its spell. The very word is a potent one, and, if you doubt this, try introducing it into your casual conversation at any time among almost any group of people.
    But what is magic? Is it even possible to define it? The Encyclopaedia Britannica devotes five or six thousand words to the task, and after you’ve finished reading it you are dizzy. It begins: ‘The general term for practice and power of wonder-working as dependent on the employment of supposed super-natural agencies. . . . There is no general agreement as to the proper definition of “magic” which depends on the view taken of religion…’
    It seems that wherever you try to get hold of this subject there are slippery edges. Just as my friends all through the sixties endlessly debated that age-old question, What is Art?, surely they’ll argue incessantly through the seventies, What is Magic? Because there is no doubt that however hard we may find it to define magic (and maybe its very indefinability is, as with art, the source of its power) there is an absolutely unprecedented interest in the subject. ‘Something is happening,’ concluded a writer for New Society in 1973, ‘a ballooning of interest in “arts” that have been ridiculed and outlawed for 300 years.’ The magazine, in an article mostly about astrology, talked of the rapid growth of ‘astral literacy’, quoting a recent National Opinion Poll noting that 87 per cent of those asked knew their sign of the zodiac.
    Now astrology, in my view, is the thin end of the wedge. You start by studying the zodiac and sooner or later you’re going to be a pushover for E.S.P., telepathy, telekinesis, spiritual messengers, mystic visions, witchcraft, psychometry and any of the hundreds and thousands of other magical themes. So astrology (or any of the other subjects I’ve mentioned) is an introduction, if you want to look at it that way, to a whole new vision of life.
    What I have tried to do in this book is to present you with information pretty much as it came to me. While I don’t claim to be an expert on anything (the sorcerer’s apprentice, remember?) I have brought to my quest the attitude and experience of a skeptical but, nevertheless, sympathetic reporter; I have tried to uncover not magic but evidence of magic, a documentation of as much of that pagan lore as I was able to find beneath the debris of 2,000 years of Christianization.
    I am no archaeologist, but I have perforce had to learn something of archaeology. And history. And comparative religions. And contemporary occult thought. I have tried to pay my respects to the experts in these fields and many others, and present as wide a cross-section of their views as possible. At times I may have done them less than justice, but it has never been my intention to reject any of their theories out of hand. The plain fact is that none of us knows the truth about the past; we can only guess, and sometimes the wildest maverick hypotheses of one generation are the stone-cold ‘truths’ of another.
    On a personal level I kept wondering what it was that had transformed me from a newspaperman with an intense pre- occupation about tomorrow into an antiquarian researcher who delighted in nothing more than burying himself in an era hundreds and sometimes thousands of years in the past. All of a sudden my interests were not only history and archaeology, but Celtic customs, ancient pagan gods, folklore, legends and inanimate weathered stones, half forgotten on lonely moors.
    It was only at the point when I began to notice how often the sun came into my research—the sun as the source of heat, light, life, the sun as the all-powerful god of the pre-Christian pagans -that I realized where the link-up came.
    Thousands of years ago in Britain, as in other countries, there lived a people who knew more about nature (magic?) than we do today. They regarded the sun as a god, the natural elements as uncontrollable, occasionally predictable and almost always useful (in the same way, for example, that a surf rider will use a wave’s power and energy to take him where he wants to go, abandoning it when their paths diverge).
    Those ancient, peoples, those ‘ignorant savages’, as some dismiss them as, apparently knew a thing or two. They knew, at least, where power came from, as we today are beginning to realize, with all the study now being devoted to solar energy and what can be done with it: distillation of fresh water from the sea, the heating of homes, the storing of the sun’s rays in dry batteries for powering radios and, conceivably, heavier machinery, Is it too much to claim that one day soon, when our oil supplies run out, we’ll once again regard the sun as an all-important ‘god’?
    And can we state categorically that the ancients didn’t know anything about solar energy? Energy, in fact, might be the key to the whole subject. What are ley lines but invisible tracks on which some power might once have flowed? And maybe could again if we could recapture the secrets of charging them up and channelling the flow.
    After I had built up fairly extensive files, I set off with a companion, Martha, to visit as many of the ancient sites as we could, places where it was possible that ‘magic’ had been known, if not actually practiced. Again and again we were confronted with the inexactness of any definition of magic. Wandering around ancient burial mounds (and they are more plentiful in Britain than anywhere) we felt the inadequacy of our education concerning sociology, geology, science, classical languages and mythology, folklore and agriculture, not to mention the knowledge of herbs, trees and other assorted flora and fauna, in the event that they might have long-documented mystical connotations.

Download from Amazon




Email this link to a friend

Sign-up to receive this column weekly by email

send a comment to John Wilcock



Bagan, Myanmar (Burma):
Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Burma: part 4 - Bagan

Lompoc, CA:

Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Lompoc, CA:

Inle Lake, Myanmar (Burma):
Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Burma: part 3 - Inle Lake

Bagan, Myanmar (Burma):
Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Burma: part 2 - Bagan

Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Burma: part 1 - Yangon

recent columns...

- Complete column archives: 2006 - present

The real, true, history...
Week of May 5, 2018

Alice, Alice at 85, seed money, supermax, and of course, the Wilcock Web...
Week of April 28, 2018

About being in love..., Persoff and Marshall, and of course, the Wilcock Web...
Week of April 21, 2018

The Candy Store
Week of January 20, 2018

From the archives... The religion of Violence & Statistics, otherwise known as college football; WPA II; Would it be called Indiastan or Pakindia?; Who you Gonna call? Crime Predictors; Being a Bank means you never having to say you're sorry; Oil vs. Democracy, and of course, the Wilcock Web...
Week of December 9, 2017

From the archives... The Mother of All Family Feuds, Otaku Means Geek in Japanese, Affirmative Action or 'It all depends on who you know', The Moonies are packin', and of course, the Wilcock Web......
Week of December 2, 2017

Taxing land, not people, Is Socialism Scary?, Stars acting as assholes, Big Thinkers can be such Morons, and of course, The Wilcock Web...
Week of November 18, 2017

Dear Reader,
Week of August 23, 2017

Dear Readers...
Week of January 25, 2017

John Wilcock ... Marijuana, the symbolic center of the underground society
Week of June 8, 2016

John Wilcock ... From the Archives: Cuba Diary—Havana, April 2011
Week of April 20, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen (continued)--Travels
Week of April 16, 2016

John Wilcock ... From the Archives: When you vote, don’t forget the Republican Paradox
Week of April 13, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen--Travels: Tokyo-Rick Kennedy recalls; Japan on $5 a Day; About Chapbooks; Magic in South America
Week of April 9, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen (continued)--Theory & Practice of Travel Writing; Remoteness of Callanish; Jim's Paris dinners
Week of April 2, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen--The Quest for Magic: Around Europe by VW bus; Regarding armchair travelers; Pisa's Leaning Tower; The magical Alhambra
Week of March 26, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen (continued)--London's Magical library; In the Cannes
Week of March 19, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen--The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Week of March 12, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary (continued)
Week of March 5, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary
Week of February 27, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen (Part Two--Manhattan phone book, JW'S Secret Diary
Week of February 20, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen--Party Circuit
Week of February 13, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part two, Soho Saturday
Week of February 6, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part one, Soho Saturday
Week of January 30, 2016

John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve (continued)--Traveling with Nomad; SoHo Confidential
Week of January 23, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve--Andy Gets Shot: Max's Kansas City; Jane Fonda's gesture; Christo & Jeanne-Claude
Week of January 16, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eleven (continued)-- We go to Rutgers, Ann Arbor ... What people say about Andy
Week of January 9, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eleven -- Andy Warhol First encounter....People talk about him....His movies...
Week of January 2, 2016

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Ten (continued)--The 'Movement' splits: Eldridge Cleaver Year of the Great Hoax…The OZ trial
Week of December 26, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Ten--Tom Forcade's smuggling funds High Times; Rolling Stone's underground sabotage
Week of December 19, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine (continued)--Rip Torn on stardom… Robert Mitchum's gift; London: Julian Beck’s critique; Emmett Grogan and the Diggers; Greece: The Junta, Charlotte Rampling, and art hero Daniel Spoerri
Week of December 12, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine--Bob Dylan in the Village, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Richard Neville and OZ, What Does London Need Most?, The International Times
Week of December 5, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight (continued)--Japan: a working honeymoon; The Shinjuku Sutra
Week of November 28, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight--Art Kunkin's LA Free Press; In LA with Hunter Thompson, Lenny Bruce; Visit by Warhol; Hakim Jamal plays god; The San Francisco 'Be-In'; Underground papers meet
Week of November 21, 2015

John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seven (continued)--The Underground Press; Army revolt:  fragging officers; Bowart goes to Millbrook
Week of November 14, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seven--The singing Tit-o-Gram; The East Village Other; Art & Forgery; Birth of Black Power; The Underground Press
Week of November 7, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six (continued)--Tom Forcade: smuggler supreme; That pathetic drug czar
Week of October 31, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six—The weed that changed the world--Confessions of a pot smoker
Week of October 24, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Five—Reefer Madness (continued)--Jan and Stan change my life; The man who turned on the world
Week of October 17, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Five—Reefer Madness--The man who turned on the world; Tested by Harvard professors; Jan and Stan change my life
Week of October 10, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--London's underground press; Jean-Jacques Lebel burns US flag; Everybody's friend: Jim Haynes; Lenny Bruce and the kitchen tapes
Week of October 3, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--More Working at The New York Times; Mexico On $5 a Day; What Richard Condon taught me; Henry Miller's wise words
Week of September 26, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--The Village Voice (continued) --Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column, ECHO  and Larry Adler, Woody Allen plays classic nerd, A sample Village Square column
Week of September 19, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--More trouble with our star novelist; Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column; Jean Shepherd’s phantom novel
Week of September 12, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Steve Allen derides TV columnist; Marlene Dietrich--glamorous grandmother
Week of September 5, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Gilbert Seldes' The Lively Arts; Norman Mailer’s Voice column; Giving parties to meet strangers
Week of August 29, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
Week of August 22, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Jack Kent Cooke tells me to stay in Canada; Becoming a New Yorker ;A new Village newspaper; The casual wisdom of Steve Allen
Week of August 15, 2015

Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
Week of August 8, 2015

- column archives: 2006 - present

in the press...
The New York Years
October 27, 2010

A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money
nytimes.com: Frugal Traveler

by Seth Kugel
John Wilcock at the New York Times

It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.

By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.

(read more)

Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
An Autobiography
by John Wilcock

"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."

-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner

The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol

The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol
by John Wilcock
Edited by Christopher Trela
Photographs by Shunk-Kender

Village Voice and Interview cofounder John Wilcock was first drawn into the milieu of Andy Warhol through film-maker Jonas Mekas, assisting on some of Warhol’s early films, hanging out at his parties and quickly becoming a regular at the Factory. “About six months after I started hanging out at the old, silvery Factory on West 47th Street,” he recalls, “[Gerard] Malanga came up to me and asked, ‘When are you going to write something about us?’” Already fascinated by Warhol’s persona, Wilcock went to work, interviewing the artist’s closest associates, supporters and superstars. Among these were Malanga, Naomi Levine, Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet, all of whom had been in the earliest films; scriptwriter Ronnie Tavel, and photographer Gretchen Berg; art dealers Sam Green, Ivan Karp, Eleanor Ward and Leo Castelli, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Henry Geldzahler; the poets Charles Henri Ford and Taylor Mead, and the artist Marisol; and the musicians Lou Reed and Nico. Paul Morrisey supplied the title: The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol was the first oral biography of the artist. First published in 1971, and pitched against the colorful backdrop of the 1960s, it assembles a prismatic portrait of one of modern art’s least knowable artists during the early years of his fame. The Autobiography and Sex Life is likely the most revealing portrait of Warhol, being composite instead of singular; each of its interviewees offers a piece of the puzzle that was Andy Warhol. This new edition corrects the many errors of the first, and is beautifully designed in a bright, Warholian palette with numerous illustrations. The British-born writer John Wilcock co-founded The Village Voice in 1955, and went on to edit seminal publications such as The East Village Other, Los Angeles Free Press, Other Scenes and (in 1970) Interview, with Andy Warhol.