The Commercial Appeal

Echols re­counts spir­i­tual prac­tices that saved him while on death row

- Emily Choate | CHAPTER16.ORG Memphis · Belgium · Austria · Iceland · Tennessee · West Memphis, AR · Humanities Tennessee · Sounds True

“You’re al­ready do­ing mag­ick,” Damien Echols writes in his in­tro­duc­tory guide to en­ergy-based spir­i­tual prac­tices, “High Mag­ick.” “With ev­ery thought, word, and deed you are in­flu­enc­ing the world around you and deter­min­ing what comes your way.”

In de­scrib­ing his own rit­u­als and med­i­ta­tions, Echols of­fers a unique glimpse into the way he sur­vived 18 har­row­ing years on death row.

Over those years, Echols be­came the most prom­i­nent mem­ber of a group known as the West Mem­phis Three — a trio of teenage boys con­victed in 1994 of the grisly mur­der of three younger boys in their com­mu­nity. Echols and the oth­ers in­sisted on their own in­no­cence, and their case quickly be­came a cul­tural flash­point. Had com­mu­nity au­thor­i­ties fo­cused on these teenagers be­cause they — Echols in par­tic­u­lar — had shown an in­ter­est in oc­cult sub­jects, en­joyed heavy-metal mu­sic and wore black cloth­ing? And could our own fates be just as eas­ily snatched by the whims of oth­ers?

Their no­to­ri­ety grew over time, as did the pile of ev­i­dence that pointed to a false con­vic­tion. Along­side the im­pas­sioned ef­forts of doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ers, mu­si­cians and ac­tors, as well as the ded­i­ca­tion of every­day peo­ple who were moved by the boys’ plight, their lawyers nav­i­gated the labyrinthi­ne sys­tem of the Arkansan ap­peals process, snagged at ev­ery turn by bu­reau­cracy. In 2011, when ev­i­dence of their in­no­cence be­came over­whelm­ing, they were fi­nally of­fered an Al­ford Plea — a pe­cu­liar le­gal move that al­lowed them to main­tain their in­no­cence while for­mally plead­ing guilty for prag­matic le­gal rea­sons. The plea fi­nally led to their re­lease af­ter 18 years in prison.

Though no longer on death row, Echols still lives un­der the shadow of his mur­der con­vic­tion. But he has sought a big­ger life out­side prison, one that in­te­grates and ex­pands upon the spir­i­tual prac­tices that helped him sur­vive his or­deal. He po­si­tions his prac­tices as part of a very long spir­i­tual tra­di­tion that has ex­isted through­out time, pur­sued by mys­tics of var­i­ous faiths all over the world. “Mag­ick” is merely one word for that tra­di­tion, and Echols uses it to en­com­pass and dis­till com­plex spir­i­tual prac­tices for read­ers who may never have en­coun­tered these ideas be­fore.

“High Mag­ick” fo­cuses on pro­vid­ing rit­u­als and med­i­ta­tions to help peo­ple awake the un­con­scious “uni­verse of po­ten­tial” within them and shift their own re­la­tion­ship to the events of their lives.

“Most peo­ple never cul­ti­vate the seeds of that po­ten­tial,” Echols ar­gues, “so the seeds go to waste and the peo­ple go through life won­der­ing what went wrong, or blam­ing the world for ev­ery­thing that did go wrong. Mag­ick waters those seeds to make that po­ten­tial stir, grow, and flower.”

One re­sult of such prac­tice, Echols writes, is the ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing “in­creas­ingly aware of the cur­rents of en­ergy ac­tive all around you, and the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween en­ergy and the ma­te­rial realm.” By de­vel­op­ing, like a mus­cle, our con­scious use of the en­ergy within us, he ar­gues, we be­come less pow­er­less in the face of dif­fi­culty and suf­fer­ing. To that end, the book out­lines a range of meth­ods that in­clude vi­su­al­iza­tions, breath work and med­i­ta­tion.

The sec­ond half of the book in­cor­po­rates more spe­cific and in­volved prac­tices, in­clud­ing the use of tal­is­mans, amulets and tarot decks. Echols is care­ful in these sec­tions to keep his fo­cus clear: what mat­ters most is not the trap­pings of any spir­i­tual prac­tice but, rather, the in­ter­nal dis­ci­pline un­der­pin­ning it.

Echols’ story has car­ried a res­onat­ing power as it has un­folded over the past two decades. “High Mag­ick” serves as a use­ful in­tro­duc­tion to en­ergy-based prac­tices for those who are unini­ti­ated, but the book will also ap­peal to those who are cu­ri­ous about Echols him­self. In other words: come for the no­to­ri­ety; stay for the spir­i­tu­al­ity. Echols has cre­ated a thought­ful and ac­ces­si­ble in­tro­duc­tion to spir­i­tual ideas that have re­mained ob­scure and mis­un­der­stood within the main­stream. Through such ter­rain, he makes a pow­er­ful guide.

For more lo­cal book cov­er­age, please visit, an on­line pub­li­ca­tion of Hu­man­i­ties Ten­nessee.

By Damien Echols. Sounds True. 216 pages. $24.95.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA