Charlie Bremner is a ceremonial magickian, and when he tells people what he does, he wants to make sure they get the spelling right. "M-A-G-I-C-K-I-A-N," he says. "Magic without a k is David Blaine." Last weekend the baby-faced and blond-ponytailed 31-year-old led a workshop on one of his specialties at Alchemy Arts, an occult bookstore in Edgewater. "Banishing: What it is and how to do it!," the flyers for the event read. "In a way so as to prove to the universe that you are one bad mother. Hosted by Charlie Bremner, occultist, ceremonial magickian, beloved by many.
The workshop's advertised main event was the demonstration of the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram and the Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram, two rites rooted in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a 19th-century British occult group that counted Aleister Crowley and William Butler Yeats as members. Half a dozen people had turned up, paying $15 for the privilege. They were seated in a circle on folding chairs, clutching instructional handouts that, like everything else in the shop, smelled of incense. One young woman in a low-cut black top wore a silver pentagram pendant and cat's-eye glasses; an older Hispanic woman munched on peanuts. Bremner, dressed in jeans and an unbuttoned blue Hawaiian over a red T-shirt, sat in a thronelike wooden chair. A string of wooden Tibetan prayer beads hung from his neck. Beside him was a statue of Anubis, the jackal-headed Egyptian god of the underworld, and a basket containing cigarettes and loose change--offerings from customers who wanted Anubis to look after friends and relatives who'd passed away.
"Every time I meet somebody who's interested in magick, I tell them the first thing you have to learn is banishing," Bremner said. "There are many ways of doing it. There are people that do it quite simply, by washing their hands. I once had a bad boss, so every time he talked to me, I went to the bathroom and washed my hands."
The audience seemed confused. "I thought it was about getting rid of the evil eye," the Hispanic woman said with an intent look on her face. Bremner said that was one way to think of it. His explanation only got more convoluted as it went on, but it seemed that banishing was just a word for purging negative influences--a bit of a disappointment for anyone who came expecting to see demons expelled with lightning bolts from clouds of colored smoke. Someone asked how to go about cleansing a crystal of bad energy. "What I would recommend is to put it in the sunlight and the fresh air," Bremner said. "You can also use salt, dragon's blood incense, saltwater. Pine-Sol's another good one."
Though Bremner has practiced magick for more than a decade, this was only his second workshop--his first, on hermetic kabbalism, was held at Alchemy Arts in the spring. He's generally wary of teaching, but now and then he'll demonstrate rituals or recommend readings in private lessons. "I'm very authoritative," he says. "If there are people who are interested and want to learn from me, I'm happy to teach them, but they're going to have to do the work. I had a student that wanted me to banish one of her girlfriends, and I was like, do it yourself."
Growing up in Franklin Park, Bremner used to attend mass with his grandparents. "The Catholic church is a very mystical place," he says, and it sparked his spiritual interests. In elementary school someone told him about pyramids, so he searched out a book on ancient Egypt and was enthralled with its esoteric images. "It was like a man reading Hustler or Playboy," he says. "He doesn't want to read the text--he just wants to look at the pictures." After high school he enrolled at Triton Junior College in River Grove and began exploring Wicca. "I believe that sex is a good thing, and I was looking for a spiritual path that confirmed that," he says. He eventually dropped out of college for a career in construction--he currently works as an operating engineer--and abandoned Wicca for "one of the schools of Buddhism, I forget which," but that didn't feel right either. Through his own reading he came across kabbalah and ceremonial magick, which he's been practicing now for 13 years. "The kabbalah gave me a road map to spiritual enlightenment," he says. "I've had visions of a past life in ancient Egypt, where I was an initiate in a mystery school. I was initiated in a cave, and Anubis was there in a plain white kilt. That was one of the stronger ones."
Bremner lives by himself in the house he grew up in. A few years ago he transformed his grandmother's old room into a temple, where he performs his rites. He has no immediate family except for his "born-again Christian" sister, from whom he's estranged. He's been dating someone for about a month and a half, a woman he met through Yahoo! Personals after he bought a red-candle love talisman at Alchemy Arts. She doesn't practice magick. "She's a good ignorant Jewish lady," Bremner says. "What I'm saying is it's nice to have someone who's not into this." He says she did recently pooh-pooh his ritual offering of fruits, vegetables, and candy to the god Obatala, and he didn't see the problem: "Have you ever read Genesis? How about Deuteronomy? They were sacrificing turtledoves left and right!"
The banishing workshop at Alchemy Arts lasted almost three hours, during which time Bremner periodically abandoned his main topic for whatever happened to come to mind: the zodiac, his girlfriend, his habit of cleaning out his sinuses with salt water every day to aid deep breathing during rituals. A woman in pink capris asked him about astrology's impact on magick. "I'm a Virgo, Capricorn rising," he said. Someone once told him that meant he likes to be alone, "but now I'm a sex machine, so who knows?" At one point he announced, "Everything has a vibration rate to it. Colors have vibrations. Red's very fast."
"I heard with the right vibrations you can go through walls," someone said.
"I would agree with that. Every word, every letter that I speak, has a certain vibration," Bremner replied. "Every letter in Hebrew, or Greek, or Arabic means something. Every word that I vibrate is like a key to a specific energy. Like when I say Adonai . . ." He paused. "What was your question?"
A man jiggled his leg, alternately checking his cell phone display and scanning the bookcase near him, which was filled with titles such as The Art of Shapeshifting and The Sign Upon Cain. Two store cats watched from a distance. The Hispanic woman looked only slightly less baffled than she had at the beginning.
Finally Bremner prepared to demonstrate the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram. "I'm going to imagine myself growing to an infinite height, beyond the planets, beyond the zodiac," he said. "Then I'm going to pull white light into my third eye, which is in my forehead." He walked to the center of the circle and held two fingers in the air. Then in slow motion he drew a sign of the cross, followed by a pentagram, while chanting in a high, clear voice. He turned, stopping in four different directions to invoke the four archangels: "Before me, Raphael! Behind me, Gabriel! On my right hand, Michael! On my left hand, Uriel! For about me flames the pentagram, and within me shines the six-rayed star!" He dropped his arms and said unceremoniously, "Now I'll do the Banishing Ritual of the Hexagram." This entailed more chanting and pivoting and concluded with him hollering, "Let the divine light descend!"
After lobbing a few miscellaneous questions about auras and "psychic vampires," the workshop participants prepared to leave. Some darted out at once, but one woman lingered for a few minutes to ask Bremner if he had a Web site. He doesn't, and he can be reached only through the store. "I'm not giving out my phone number or e-mail, 'cause I know better," he said. "I can't banish some people."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marty Perez.