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Now Damien Echols Will Teach You the Secrets of Magick

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Outside afterward, a cluster of fans waited for Mr. Echols. Nearly everyone was dressed in black — “school colors,” someone joked — and several had tattoos of esoteric symbols drawn by Mr. Echols. One of them, Kimberly Bichko, told me that she had seen Mr. Echols perform a guardian angel ritual at a gallery last winter. “I thought that if this man could go through the hell he endured, maybe I would be able to put my own hell behind me,” she said. Performing the ritual every day helped her with her PTSD. Another fan credited Mr. Echols with helping him stay sober.

Mr. Echols was gracious and jokey with his fans, but the social interaction seemed to drain him. Afterward at dinner with friends, he seemed agitated and unfocused. He tried to explain how his immersion in magick was making it increasingly difficult to engage with the mundane realities of day-to-day life, including dinner party chitchat. His memory issues meant that an hour from now, he might not remember a word of this conversation. By tomorrow, he probably wouldn’t remember that it had happened at all. “I live completely in the present moment,” he said, with some urgency. Ms. Davis watched him closely. “Does it seem terrible, the way I am?” he asked, more than once. “Because it’s not.”

His book of rituals, “High Magick: A Guide to the Spiritual Practices That Saved My Life on Death Row,” arrives on Oct. 30. He will embark on what promises to be a bigger challenge: A national tour, teaching introductory magick classes in half a dozen American cities.

A few days later, Mr. Echols and I visited the Cloisters, one of his favorite magickal sites. He seemed to have regained his equilibrium. We wandered among the tapestries and discussed Instagram witches. “It’s for the better,” he said. “If you talk about witches now and people think about Instagram, not Satanism, that lowers the danger level. At least it is not going to happen to anyone else.”

In a room full of funereal figures, Mr. Echols paused to contemplate a wooden figure of a saint, and I waited for him to say something profound. “That guy’s head looks like a Milk Dud,” he drawled eventually. This is Mr. Echols’s other mode, prankish and fond of dumb jokes. “The two things that bring me joy are magick and things that make me laugh,” he said. “I want to just let everything else go.”


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