Drew Jacob: Heroic Life in a Modern World
I want to do extraordinary things,
and help others do them.
I want to feel what the epic heroes felt
Even when they were scared.
With a title of “Rogue Priest”, Drew Jacob is definitely not the clerical collar and crucifix kind of priest. He is a philosopher and adventurer whose spiritual practice is travel and adventure.
Following his own Heroic Faith, he is on a quest to meet the gods. He is not afraid to challenge himself, his gods, and popular culture. But he is not a warrior set to do battle. Instead he is a man who seeks to fan the flames of the hero spirit within himself and those he encounters.
I can’t get you in the same room with the Rogue Priest but grab a beer and join me in a personal interview with him. Drew talks about his unconventional quests, leading a life of adventure, and making a living from his passions.
1. I have to start by asking about the title “Rogue Priest.” The word “rogue” conjures negative images of a scoundrel. You are anything but that. How and why did you pick that title? Has it caused any problems for you?
I love being a rogue. I'm not one for rules. Or rather, I'm skeptical of how we use them in our lives. I respect the importance of rules - they keep us organized and make things run smoothly. But they must always serve a purpose and we should look at what that purpose is. Rules don't help us do the right thing, they make us more effective at doing whatever we're doing, right or wrong. They can also limit imagination, individuality, and critical thinking. Particularly in the context of religion. The idea of the rogue priest, a rogue piety, is very appealing to me.
Occasionally I've had some apprehension from people who have witnessed scandals in their church or temple. A Zen practitioner told me the name was difficult for them because they had just had misconduct from a priest. But I think people can see the idea behind the name. More priests should be rebels.
2. You are a priest of the Old Belief. Tell us about that journey. Where did it start? How did you become a priest? How has it impacted the rest of your life?
The Old Belief or Seancreideamh is a term for the polytheistic beliefs of ancient Ireland as they're practiced today. But it's not important what religion someone is. What's important is a relentless process of questioning and challenging yourself and your beliefs. I believe we can be more than our upbringing, our beliefs, our nationality. The best religions exist to support and nourish that process.
I became a priest because the practices involved - meditation, fasting, making offerings - help me do that. For me personally they are useful ways to continue that frightening, liberating process. I also became a priest out of necessity, because people in our religion needed clergy and teachers. It was a way of giving back to a tradition that had given me so much.
If a religious tradition has value for you, consider how you can give back to that tradition.
3. More recently you have been involved in the old Vodou tradition. Are there similarities? Are the traditions ever at odds with each other? Are there different aspects of your spirit feed by the different traditions?
Every religion is different. They are not all roads to the same place and they don't all share the same core beliefs. There is something unique and powerful about Vodou and related African traditions. It's very much rooted in this world, this life, today.
Vodou is a private experience in a group setting. You are all singing together, dancing together, the drums carry you all. But all this exists to open the door. The individual will have their own unique, private experience of the divine that speaks to only them and cannot be interpreted by anyone else. Sometimes the divine speaks through them, to the group. The priest stands aside and lets the experience speak for itself. Everyone comes to their own understanding.
It is a beautiful counterpoint to more doctrinal religions, yet it has an organized community. It is a very New World religion, that comes out of cultural fusion and sharing. No one understands Vodou until they dance in it.
4. It is obvious that your art is an integral part of your spirituality. Is it possible to describe the relationship between art and spirit for you? How has your spiritual journey changed your art? Has your art changed your spiritual journey?
Writing is my main art. I also paint. To me, these are vehicles to try to communicate what I discover. The challenge of any adventure, spiritual or otherwise, is how to share what you experience.
5. You describe yourself as an “adventurer.” What does that mean to you? How has that mindset impacted the choices you make and the subsequent life path you are leading?
Adventure happens when you attempt something so difficult it's literally impossible with your current skill set. It will absolutely require you to grow, change, adapt, evolve in order to get through it. Some of us have adventures by accident which can become a sort of crisis and it's frightening. But I believe in attempting adventure voluntarily. I seek it out on my own terms.
That makes adventure into a living practice. It becomes a lifestyle of self challenge, of demanding undertakings, of holding lightly to expectations, of breathtaking unplannable moments of discovery and beauty.
6. Through your writing it is clear travel is a spiritual practice for you. You are in the midst of a journey to Brazil. What prompted you to undertake this quest? Why Brazil? So far what has been the most helpful thing you did in preparing for the journey? If you were preparing for the journey now, it there anything you would do differently?
It's not Brazil specifically, though that's where I'll end up. It's the whole process, the whole quest. I imagine the biggest adventure I could and I'm not going to live my life without doing it.
I don't have any regrets about my journey so there isn't much I would do differently. Everything was carefully thought out and planned, thanks to my readers and the people who care about me. I'm really bootstrapping it, so there's more equipment I would drool over, but that's about it.
If there is one thing I would do differently it's change how I spoke about it to my readers. A lot of people thought I was going to do some kind of marathon - how quick can you bike, walk, paddle 8,000 miles? But the point is to travel slowly, to actually meet people and learn things along the way.
I'm a journeyman priest on a quest to meet the gods.
7. Has the journey been what you expected? How has the journey impacted the way you think and live? What have been some of the unexpected gifts along the way?
The journey is only what I expected in the sense that I knew I couldn't possibly imagine what it would be like. It has included the hardest and happiest moments of my life.
This kind of adventure rebuilds you. It taught me to savor the small pleasures, like hot dark coffee on a cold windy morning, or a nap in the sun. It also made me calm in the face of overwhelming odds and impending disaster.
I want to be clear that I have meditated for 12+ years, I have done any spiritual practice you can name. While I value them all, none of them led to as much growth as traveling like this.
8. I noticed that your blog posts from the road have a different style and feel than your other articles. They have a very interesting poetry feel. Is writing from the road different?
Ha! It's different in that there's no time! I committed to publishing once a week for my blog readers, at a bare minimum. But how often do you get computer time on the road, or internet? And I had to spend most of that doing paying work to stay in trail mix.
So I had to find a way to deliver an experience, a mood, a moment from the journey in a short, rapid piece with a lot of impact. I developed this stiletto style of writing and that's what you see in those posts.
I still write long form, essay style posts from time to time. But the stiletto is my special tool.
9. Part of your income comes from creating spell cards and panels. They are more than a piece of art and very different from prayer cards of other religious traditions. What is involved in creating these? How do they impact the lives of your clients?
Yeah. News flash, if anyone out there doesn't know: magic spells are alive and well in 2013. It's an art form unto itself. I personally do not believe there is any supernatural force involved, but some practitioners would disagree with me. I believe it is a powerful, engaging art form that has a lot of impact on the people involved.
Magic spells can change lives. If you get a spell for true love chances are you are going to meet someone and start a fulfilling relationship. If you need more money and you get a spell for that you are going to start earning more. Is it psychological? I believe it could be. But it is also profound: you will feel it when a spell is made for you, it will be tangible. And it does affect people who say they don't believe in it.
10. You also do other personal art pieces for clients. What kinds of requests do you receive? Are these general intended as a gift for someone else or for the person requesting it? Other artists experiences seasons when art sells and times when it is hard to sell anything. Do you have a steady flow of clients requesting special pieces?
My site, altmagic.com, has been an experiment. Most people purchase pieces for themselves with a specific purpose in mind, though they're also great gifts for someone else. I wouldn't describe it as a steady flow - I stopped promoting altmagic when I began my journey, because it's hard to make art on the road. I still get orders here and there.
I love getting emails when people receive their spell and feel its effects.
11. You spend time providing personal instruction and spells for individuals in need. What are the most common concerns? If it is possible to respect confidentiality, what is the most unusual problem or request you have received? How does the plight of others impact your journey?
I actually set up altmagic specifically to focus on the art market. A struggling single mother who wants a spell to help find a second job is not going to go to a high-end art dealer and ask for an expensive handmade scroll. She's going to her neighborhood botanica to get a simple charm or ceremony.
So many of the clients I have are more affluent, and their needs are reflected in that. I've had several requests to help the search for a new home, for example, and I've done pieces to boost businesses and profitability. I love working with businesses because there are so many different ways to have an effect. They put this giant handmade art piece in their board room or front entry and none of their clients know it's actually got a spell on it.
I've also had several requests to help clients turn off their feelings for someone - an ex they still love, for example. Kind of the opposite of what most magicians deal with, which is love spell after love spell.
Recently I've started work on a program to treat magic more as a social service to help people without charging any fixed fee. We call it creating an open-door workspace to provide spells to whoever needs them Magic to the People.
12. You are involved in a number of different pursuits. How do you find time to write both for your interests and to earn steady income, create, work with individual clients, and make an international trek by bike? Do you have any advice for others trying to juggle such pursuits?
It's hard, but it involves more than just willpower. You need some kind of self-imposed structure and you need to make it habitual.
In order to manage everything, I recently had to change my personal routine. I'm not a morning person at all but I had to start getting up earlier and being more structured. Here is my routine: I set my alarm clock for 6 and actually get up by 7 every day. I make coffee and morning offerings to my spirits, then I sit and read something mentally engaging while eating granola and yogurt. By 9 I start my work, focusing on client work first (I write articles on a freelance basis, which is how I make most of my income). I do not respond to emails in the morning.
By noon or 2 pm I am hopefully done with client work. I take a bike ride or a walk. Or I read something fun, or all of the above. By 4 I am ready to work on creative projects. I usually work till 6 or 7 and then I have my evenings open.
I don't stick to this religiously but it's my general pattern, and it helps me make time for everything including friends. It's hard to take a day off - I usually work weekends - but I force myself to whenever I have a chance to do something unique or new. The advantage is I can take off anytime, even middle of the week, if I have an opportunity.
When I was on the road I cut back all of my projects and I usually worked 3 days a week at a coffee house or a host's home while traveling or exploring the other 4 days a week.
13. How do your clients find you? How important is word of mouth? How have you guided your sites through the jungle of cyberspace? Was there anything that you thought would be a great marketing tactic that turned out to be a waste?
My main business is writing. I used to reach out to prospective clients but now I have so many I need to turn some away. Of course, in the world of freelance that could change at any time. I prioritize working on projects that are creative and interesting, and where the client cares about quality. For instance if you need blog content or magazine articles written, or a book ghost written, I will likely consider the project even if it means refusing some other prospective work.
My most common work consists of press releases, marketing and PR copy, and sales copy.
My own websites could benefit from being more optimized but I have never focused on making them really "professional" and I don't use the usual blog marketing tactics. There is a deep conflict when an author creates a blog around an ideal and then tries to monetize his audience. It becomes impossible to know whether he really believes in his philosophy or whether it's just a gimmick.
I used to put affiliate links on Rogue Priest and I considered other ways of monetizing it. I pulled the plug on all that. If you have a idea you want to share then share it. If you believe in something then preach it. There's no call to make a mailing list with a free ebook for joining and a product pitch after 4 emails and a consulting pitch after 10. Be a human being.
I just realized I said all that without looking at your own website first. I hope I didn't insult anybody.
14. You are also working on a new book, Lúnasa Days. How is it coming? Have you set a deadline for writing it? You are giving people the opportunity to invest in the project by becoming a patron. That is an interesting idea. How supportive have people been? Has it changed how you view (added pressure or may be feels like a community project) the book?
Gods willing that novella will be finished by the time this interview is published!
It's long overdue. The original idea came as I biked through mile after mile of failing corn crops last summer. It was a time of year when people should be celebrating the harvest. Instead farmers were going bankrupt. Whole fields were being mowed down as a waste.
Lúnasa Days captures that beautiful time of late summer but with this deep sadness and worry. It's about corn, magic spells, and desperate fucking.
I sought to crowdfund it because, at the time, I couldn't afford to take time away from paying client work. I ran it as a patronage program on my own website instead of using Kickstarter because for a writer with a small audience that is the smarter way to do it. We successfully reached our funding goal rapidly, and while finishing the book has been much slower, my readers have been very understanding. I also send out an extra free story to all my patrons when work slowed on the novella.
Of course, having backers like this does add extra pressure for an author, but pressure is not a bad thing. And I think I'm really lucky to have readers who care about my overall mission and philosophy, and are willing to be patient. I apologized at one point for the delay and all these people, who could have been clamoring for the book they paid for, basically said, "We want you to make it exactly the way it should be. Don't worry about us." They trust me to finish it and they want it to be inspired, not rushed.
My readers are the best readers in the world.
15. Recently you began a campaign called “Magic to the People.” Please tell us about the project. How did the vision develop? How are people reacting to the project?
It's something I've always struggled with. Working with clients to cast spells for them can be exhausting work and very time consuming so most magicians charge a lot of money. That's fair but it means it's not accessible to the people who need it the most.
Now for the first time I'm living in a community with a huge cultural history of magic and a chronic issue of poverty. In New Orleans there are people who want and need spells who can't afford them. Magic to the People will fix that.
We're going to open the door on a magic shrine at set times each week and I will be there casting ceremonies for anyone who walks in. Nobody is turned away, period. Drop some money in the jar if you like. If you can't, put in a symbolic penny so that you are contributing something toward the effort.
When someone comes to us for help, they'll be present for the ceremony and they will leave with a physical talisman or sigil. I will ask them to make daily offerings over it for a set number of days, putting their own focus and work into it. Often, they will experience profound and sometimes abrupt changes in the days and weeks after activating the spell.
As far as I know no one has done anything like this before in this country. It's magic as a community resource. I hope people will check us out on Indiegogo and help us launch this thing. There are some really cool perks for backers. Even if you don't give, help spread the word.
16. With the new launch of “Magic to the People” and the anticipated publication of Lúnasa Days, have you begun to think about what might be next? Where will your travels lead next?
I will be writing a book a month in April, May, June. In late June I get back on my bicycle and leave behind my cottage and new friends in my beloved New Orleans. I'll bike in the summer heat to Texas where I will spend many months learning to sea kayak. When I'm ready, I will paddle along the Mexican coast for over a thousand miles. I will either die or meet the gods.
Drew Jacob formerly blogged about heroism, adventure and travel at Rogue Priest. Today, under the name Andre Sólo, he is the co-founder of Highly Sensitive Refuge
Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.