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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Kenneth Grant, 1924–2011

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Kenneth Grant by Austin Spare (c. 1951).

Kenneth Grant, writer and occultist, died last month but the event was only announced this week. He’ll be remembered for the nine fascinating occult treatises he wrote from 1972 to 2002, and for continuing the work of Aleister Crowley as head of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a position which became fraught in later years as various occult factions disputed his authority. Having collected occult books for much of the 1980s I find his name calls out from the shelves more than many other writers; as well as authoring his own works he edited all the major Crowley texts with Crowley’s executor John Symonds, presenting them in authoritative editions for a new readership.

Grant proved a very loyal champion of people he admired, significantly so in the case of Austin Osman Spare whose work he collected, exhibited and republished from the 1950s on. It was Grant’s position as one of the many advisors for Man, Myth & Magic in 1970 which resulted in the part-work encyclopedia using one of Spare’s stunning drawings as the cover picture for its first issue. That effort alone gave Spare an audience far beyond anything he received during his lifetime, and Grant ensured the magazine featured Spare’s work in subsequent issues. Grant’s occult works made liberal use of unique illustrations by his wife, Steffi Grant, Austin Spare and others. The books were singular enough even without their pages of curious artwork, a beguiling and sometimes incoherent blend of western occult tradition, tantric sex magick and hints of cosmic horror which were nevertheless always well-written, annotated and crammed with technical detail. Alan Moore in 2002 examined the experience of an immersion in Grant’s mythos with a wonderful review he called “Beyond our Ken“. He notes there the influence of HP Lovecraft, another of the visionary figures who Grant championed throughout his life.

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In Spaces Between from The Great Old Ones (1999).

And speaking of Lovecraft, I’ve often wondered whether Kenneth Grant ever saw a copy of my Haunter of the Dark collection. For the opening of the Great Old Ones Kabbalah sequence which Alan Moore and I created for the book I added an extra piece of art entitled In Spaces Between, a reference to Coil via an epigraph from Grant’s Outside the Circles of Time (1980) which I borrowed for the facing page:

For there are Thrones under ground
And the Monarchs upon them
Reign over Space and Beyond

Invoke Them in Darkness, Outside
The Circles of Time

In Silence, in Sleep, in Conjurations
Of Chaos, the Deep will respond…

Coil aficionados will recognise those words as the origin of some lines from Titan Arch (1991):

There are Thrones under ground
And Monarchs upon them
They walk serene
In spaces between

Grant followed his epigraph with another quote, from Lovecraft’s Necronomicon.

In addition to Alan Moore’s Grant review, Fulgur have a detailed Kenneth Grant bibliography on their pages. They were also the publishers in 1998 of Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare by Kenneth and Steffi Grant, a memoir and celebration of Spare’s work which revealed this trio of remote astral voyagers to be human beings after all. The book is currently out of print but it’s essential for anyone interested in Austin Spare or, for that matter, Mr and Mrs Grant.

Previously on { feuilleton }
New Austin Spare grimoires
Austin Spare absinthe
Aleister Crowley on vinyl
Austin Spare’s Behind the Veil
Austin Osman Spare

 


 

Posted in {art}, {books}, {horror}, {lovecraft}, {magazines}, {music}, {occult}, {work}.

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25 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Gabriel McCann

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    The only Grant books we’ve got in the library where I work are

    Hidden Lore The Carfax Monographs Skoob c. 1989 by K & Steffi Grant
    Limited Edition our copy No. 96/1000
    “These essays originally appeared between March 1959 and October 1963″–T.p. verso.

    Heacate’s Fountatin Skoob Books 1992

    and Crowley’s Moonchild London Sphere 1972 edited by John Symmonds and KG

  2. #2 posted by 3lbFlax

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    The only Grant books we have in the library where I work are no Grant books at all, alas.

    That’s always been my favourite Coil lyric in terms of poetic resonance, and to my shame I wasn’t aware it was from Grant.

    RIP, of course.

  3. #3 posted by John

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    I liked the way they were both riffing on Lovecraft, those words “in spaces between” reference the Necronomicon quote in The Dunwich Horror:

    The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.

  4. #4 posted by 3lbFlax

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    Somehow missing the HPL reference just makes me feel worse, I’m afraid.

  5. #5 posted by Apollonius Dionysius

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    Kenneth Grant was expelled from OTO July 20th, 1955.

    In the wake the Karl Germer’s death, Grant on his own authority proclaimed himself Outer Head of The Order appointed by Crowley. The only piece of documentary evidence to back this up has been proved a forgery.

  6. #6 posted by John

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    Hi Apollonius Dionysius. I read some of the arguments about Grant’s position years ago but didn’t bother researching anything further for this. I value him for his fascinating books and his lifelong championing of a great British artist who for years was either marginalised or ignored outright by the art world.

  7. #7 posted by Apollonius Dionysius

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    @John, and he can certainly celebrated for that, true.

  8. #8 posted by DavidP

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    Hi John, I was alerted to the Starfire announcement via a Facebook status update and posted it as widely as I could. IMHO Grant was the Paul to the tenuous Jesus-genius that was Crowley. His involvement in the whol M, M & M series in the 70s had a bigger impact on me than I realised after I inherited a whole bunch of his books through my late ex-Freemason father-in-law’s occult collection.

    I let Disinfo know about it figuring they would do a quick write up about it but instead Gary Baddeley asked me if I could come up with something. But I doubt I could come up with anything better than this. The only thing missing is the UFOs = Lam meme that Grant let loose upon popular occulture (thanks, Al Gore!).

    So I dobbed you in and pointed them in your direction. If you don’t feel up to it, I’m more than happy to adapt this post and give you credit. I’d just expand it to include a few more details.

    My apologies if I’ve gotten fresh.

    David.

    P.S. Enjoy the blog when I stumble upon across it during my internet partying.

  9. #9 posted by gary b

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    John F., this was David P’s idea but if you would allow us to cross post on disinfo.com would be great. Please let me know.

    Gary

  10. #10 posted by John

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    Hi Gary. You’re welcome to repost this. I can’t add much more about Grant’s work, however, as I only have a few of his books and my occult enthusiasms waned in the 1990s. Alan Moore’s piece is the best guide to Grant’s writings since I know he has all the Typhonian titles and more besides. It’s also a great read.

  11. #11 posted by Jok

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    Hello John – thanks for posting this – can’t say I’m that surprised seeing as he must have been getting on a bit. I’ve been keeping up with his work (an expensive hobby) but I have to say it just got weirder, especially the Ninth Arch, the final volume of the Typhonian Trilogies which just left me a bit puzzled to say the least – is Sax Rohmer’s ‘Tale of Dopetown’ really an occult text? I’m glad I bought the Starfire publications of his work when they came out as the prices some of them fetch now as astronomical…

  12. #12 posted by Dave C

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    ‘Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law’

    Sorry, but I just don’t buy any of this. Whilst I am sincerely grateful to the late Mr. Grant for his championing of Austin Spare, I have to take issue with his status as some kind of Thelemic icon. As has been pointed out many times, his Typhonian Trilogies are riddled with bad gematria, unsubstantiated whimsy and a terrible prose style. His naive belief in the veracity of Lovecraft’s fictional entities served only to corrupt whatever magickal vision he may once have had. As big bad uncle Aleister once said, “the here and now is never good enough for you – you always have to be off on some pipe-dream”.

    Grant’s early books are certainly good academic works and of some value to the serious student, but once we get into his middle period we seem to be confronted with a mind in the throes of breakdown. Don’t get me wrong, I always preferred Mr Grant’s version of the OTO to the ridiculous Caliphate, but ultimately they both let Crowley down in their different ways. The Caliphate seem more interested in securing the copyright and financial rewards of the Great Beast’s works than in promulgating the word of the Law, whilst Grant became obsessed with raising Daath in importance above Kether in his own incoherent system. In doing so he created the false Qabala of the ‘reverse of the tree’, which many seekers after magickal knowledge still take as gospel today. Crowley would be spinning in his gravy if he knew what had become of his legacy. Whatever happened to Magick in Therion Practice?

    Mr Grant was, however, always an interesting individual, and his name was synonymous with that shiver of unrealised possibilities that the 1970s were gracious enough to afford those survivors of the post-modern pogrom, but his reluctance to enter into any kind of public debate was in my opinion, his undoing. Realising he didn’t measure up to Crowley’s ideals, (who could?) he sought to shut himself away in a Lovecraftian fantasy world, pre-empting the role-playing games which now promote the cult of Cthulhu amongst the black metal shut-ins of this world, whereas embracing public life may well have found him able to rise to the challenges of his critics, which unfortunately he never did.

    My dislike for Mr grant’s writings only lessened in the nineties when I encountered the works of the level-headed Michael Staley, editor of Starfire and heir-presumptive of the Typhonian OTO. This more than able stalwart began to transform Grant’s theories into a coherent magickal system. One only wonders whether what Grant needed all along was a good editor…

    Whilst I refer you to G.M. Kelly’s ‘Sword of Horus’ for an unstinting critique of Kenneth Grant, I would like to conclude by stating that the world would have been a far duller place without him. Bless his name for the legacy of Austin Osman Spare, just don’t take any of his writings as serious magickal instruction. Alas, they are only fantasy.

    Love is the Law. Love under Will.

    93 93/93

  13. #13 posted by John

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    I’m afraid I’m rather indifferent to the various OTO squabbles which is why I alluded to them and left it at that. All large groups of people with an intense interest go through periods of schism, sex magick enthusiasts included, and if you don’t have a vested interest in the arguments pro or con they’re only worth viewing as an anthropological exercise.

    As to the veracity or otherwise of Grant’s books, I was going to say to Jok that I never cared about that either. I enjoyed the ones I read precisely for their wild claims and the way the chapters often seemed internally coherent but didn’t connect or create an argument for either one thing or another which I–as an outsider to all this stuff–could make sense of.

    There’s an argument to be made (and Alan Moore suggests this in his review) that Grant’s Typhonian books are predominantly maps of the author’s inner landscape but also very successful pieces of weird literature, and could even be regarded as avant garde fantasy works the way they combine Lovecraftian metaphysics and hardcore occultism, plus whatever else is in the ones I missed. You get all the lovely sparking of the neurons when he mentions Tunnels of Set and the Mauve Zone without having to bother with some dubious plot or flat characters. Other occult books pall for me for this very reason, they’re never weird enough!

  14. #14 posted by Thombeau

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    Ooh, these comments are almost as interesting as the post. Almost.

  15. #15 posted by Jok

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    I’m with John on this one – Grant’s books, to me, were always entertaining and an example of how to create your own magical universe (which is surely the only one that counts?). I enjoyed them for the very reasons that others seem to despise them – bizarre leaps of logic, then using gematria to justify them, the way he could relate practical occultism in such a way that it takes at least 3 readings to actually figure out what he is describing, the use of arcane language, the self referencing footnotes, the incorporation of fantasy literature as fact ..the list could go on. These are actually all postive features to me. The weirder his work got, the more I enjoyed it.

    I feel you have to respect someone who could write a whole book on rituals that went horribly wrong (priestesses being violated by bat headed demons, tightrope walkers falling off a giant wire model of the Tree of Life, etc) – it makes a change from the usual pompous boasting. Who cares if any of it happened – it’s marvellous reading.

    I lost interest in occultism years ago but I still buy and read the works of Grant, Spare and Bertiaux as they are the only ones that actually inspire me, due to their creation of their own mythology.

    And for those who would rather squabble over bits of paper – let’s not forget that a human being has died – my condolences go out to Steffi Grant, Michael Staley and others who knew him personally.

  16. #16 posted by matthew brandi

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    Practical occultism?

    What next, effective astrology? Down-to-earth FTL drive repair?

  17. #17 posted by Jok

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    perhaps I should rephrase that as “occult practices”…

  18. #18 posted by DavidP

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    John, ‘our’ Disinfo obit is up and running. If I have offended, it was from ignorance alone and mine alone at that.

    http://www.disinfo.com/2011/02/vale-kenneth-grant-1924–2011-grandfather-chaos-and-flying-saucerer/

  19. #19 posted by John

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    Thanks, David, that’s fine with me.

  20. #20 posted by Hawthorn R

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    The passing of Grant hasnt sunk in yet. A lot of the criticisms here are misguided. Put in context we have just lost an Occult Treasure that the world wont get back. Grant was a living treasure. He was the last link between the 19th and 21st century in occult/magickal and art circles.

    Keep in mind he is the only person on the planet who had dealings with Crowley, Austin Osman Spare AND the founder of modern Wicca Gerald Gardner. Grant always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, both magickally and historically.

    In a way Grant’s body of work are a living treasure too. The occult ramifications of his Tyhphonian Trilogies havent even BEGUN to be put into motion. Any genuine occult work/current, isnt concerned about pop culture or fickle transients. His work is addressing a future generation in 50 to 100 years who will have a better understanding of what he was relaying in his very effective cyphers that only genuine practicing occultists can absorb and consume.

    in 100 years Grants work will still baffle and frustrate. And it will still guide those lucky and spiritually beautiful enough to be aligned with the Lam/Double Current.

    And Grants “passing” still hasn’t sunk in. You know why? The Living Treasure still lives in my heart and many others who will carry his work forward..

  21. #21 posted by Piotr

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  22. #22 posted by Minor Therion

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    Interesting comments on Grant. His major achievement was probably his work on Spare. I couldn’t care less who claims to be head of the OTO. It doesn’t matter. Grant’s books are certainly weird, and if taken as fun, quite interesting to read. taken at seriously they are, as one writer put it, “alphabet soup.” But i think Grant did take it all very seriously!

  23. #23 posted by Frank Ashby

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    I am a student of the late Kenneth Grant and his Typhonian school. Please feel free to check out my new website at lefthandgnostic.com.

    Respectfully, Frank Asdhby

  24. #24 posted by perdurabo

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    kennet-grant expeert for books. my favorite book – the magical revival. also Aostin Osman Spare ……

  25. #25 posted by james lees

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    I own most of Grants published works but find his methods would drive you seriously nuts if you practiced them.His best work by far isThe Magickal Revival.I had a brief correspondence with him in the 70s but it didnt amount to much of interest.

 




 

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