Sunday, 29 April 2012

Austin Osman Spare and the Psychology of Transgression

Austin Osman Spare, Protection Against Evil People, 1955.

For many, the most original magician after Crowley to formulate a unique system, of sex, ritual magic, and artistic creations was Austin Osman Spare. The son of a London policeman, Spare demonstrated at a young age a talent for art, which led him to briefly attend art school. Spare’s artistic endeavour appealed to many attached to London’s avant-garde scene, and he also attracted the attention of Aleister Crowley who initiated into his occult order Argentium Astrum, or otherwise known as the AA∴. However, Spare at the age of twenty with his most notorious work, The Book of Pleasure, would take fundamental tenet of Thelema and the Nietzschean idea of trans-human valuation further, whilst using ritualised sex and art to tap into the inner depths of the subconscious mind as a source of magical power.[1]

At the core of Spare’s magical cosmology is ‘Kia’, which is an inconceivable primal energy that is the source of all manifestation, and in Spare’s words, “Absolute Consciousness (Kia, the Self) like Infinite Space (Nuit) is without a boundary; it is the plenum-void, formless and unlocatable; to all intents and purposes – nothing at all, except that it is the sole reality.”[2] The vehicle of this primal energy is called ‘Zos’, which refers to the human mind and body, and the human self reflecting the Kia is also by nature unbounded and blissful, demanding complete freedom from all laws. Therefore, “Ecstasy in satisfaction is the great purpose. Freedom from the necessity of law, realisation by the very wish, is the ultimate goal.”[3] Following from this Spare declared,

In pleasure Heaven shall break every law before this Earth shall pass away… He who is lawless is free… Without hypocrisy or fear ye could do as ye wish. Whosoever, therefore shall break the precept or live its transgression shall have relativity of Heaven. For unless your righteousness exist not, ye shall not pleasure freely and creatively.[4]

More explicitly than both Randolph and Crowley, Spare identified sex and its pleasures with the deepest nature of the Self through which the ‘I’ becomes infinity through the only true sense to exist, the sexual, and the only one desire, to procreate.

The most infamous of Spare’s magical methods to achieve such as state of transgression and finally tap into the ultimate source of magical power, consisted of the use magical sigils, abstract ideograms made up of letter combinations expressing a particular magical desire, and which would also act as the focus of the magicians meditation. In order though for the magician to bring this sigilised magical desire into reality the magician must enter an altered state of consciousness through a gnostic trance or ecstasy. Spare’s ultimate mean to achieving this was through sheer exhaustion, “that is, by so exhausting and emptying the mind that it is open to forces of the subconscious, which can then manifest the idea or desire represented in the magical sigil.”[5] This state of altered consciousness, according to Spare, could culminate through various ways, but the most powerful means was through the powerful momentum of the orgasm when a state of ecstasy prevails and the ego and Kia are in unison in a receptive state of openness and emptiness. In Spare’s word, “At this moment, which is the moment of generation of the Great Wish, inspiration flows form the source of sex, from the Primordial Goddess who exists at the heart of Matter.”[6] Spare also described the saturnalian use of,

The sense of smell, hearing and sight seduced by incense, mantric incantation and ritual, while taste and touch are made more sensitive by the stimuli of wine and… sexual acts. After total sexual satiation… an affectivity becomes an exteriorized hallucination of the pre-determined wish which is magical in its reality.[7]

Despite this liberating ecstasy being the path to tapping into the magical source of the primal essence of being, this final state of ‘exhaustion which Spare referred to also had a mystical quality to it where the limits of thought are exhausted resulting in an annihilation of all conceptual categories in a non-dualistic fashion. This mystical current in the sexual magic of Spare is clearly expressed when,

Desire is the conception I and induces Thou. There is neither thou nor I nor a third person – loosing this consciousness by unity of I and Self; there would be no limit to consciousness in sexuality. Isolation in ecstasy, the final inducement, is enough.[8]



[1] According to Kenneth Grant in his introduction to Austin Osman Spare’s The Book of Pleasure (Self-Love: The Psychology of Ecstasy, 1975, Sigmund Freud allegedly described Spare’s work as “one of the most significant revelations of subconscious mechanism that had appeared in modern times.”
[2] Kenneth Grant, The Magical Revival, 1973, 205.
[3] Austin Osman Spare The Book of Pleasure. The Hermetic Library, www.hermetic.com/spare/pleasure.html.
[4] Austin Osman Spare The Anathema of Zos: A Sermon to the Hypocrites, 1976, 13.
[5] Hugh B. Urban, Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism, 2006, 231.
[6] Quoted in Nevill Drury, The History of Magic in the Modern Age, 2000, 123-124.
[7] Quoted in Kenneth Grant, The Magical Revival, 1973, 197.
[8] Quoted in Kenneth Grant, The Magical Revival, 1973, 201.

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