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


 

Konx om Pax

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Not the musician but the book of “Essays in Light” published by Aleister Crowley in 1907. I’ve been familiar with this for years but only via the many reprints. It was only recently that I discovered the striking cover design of the first edition which, we’re told, was designed by Crowley himself during a hashish bout. I’ve not been able to find the source for this piece of information but it’s not in the chapter of his autobiography where he discusses the writing of the book. (Matters aren’t helped by Konx om Pax not being listed in the index.) If anyone has the relevant details then please leave a comment.

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In design terms this cover might seem radical for 1907 but if Crowley did design it I’d guess he was thinking of a quite common geometric variation of Kufic script. Crowley travelled East as far as China, and had an abiding interest in languages of all kinds. Konx om Pax opens with a quote in Arabic from the Qur’an which is followed by a succession of quotes in different languages including Hebrew, Chinese, Ancient Greek, Sanskrit and hieroglyphic Egyptian.

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Konx om Pax (2011) by Fredrik Söderberg.

Crowley’s lettering turns up much later in this painting by Fredrik Söderberg. The phrase was also referenced during the 1990s on many of Bill Laswell’s recordings, often by cryptic phrasing on CD stickers. The name forms part of one of the tracks on Laswell’s Axiom Ambient album from 1994, an album which includes a sample of Crowley’s voice. Also in the 1990s, Laswell was making frequent use of what MacGregor Mathers claimed was the English translation of the Egyptian origin of the phrase: “Khabs am Pekht” or “Light in extension”. One of Laswell’s many dub projects, Divination, released two compilation albums called Light In Extension, while the phrase “Khabs am Pekht” (which had me mystified for years) appears on the back of Material’s magnificent Hallucination Engine (1994). One of my favourite albums, which also includes a portion of a Crowley Tarot card in its James Koehnline artwork.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Burroughs at 100
Aleister Crowley: Wandering The Waste
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Rex Ingram’s The Magician
The Mysteries of Myra
Aleister Crowley on vinyl

 


 

Posted in {art}, {books}, {design}, {music}, {occult}, {painting}, {typography}.

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5 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Chris Gollmar

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    Not sure if this is of interest to you, but this post caught my eye because of the three-movement orchestral composition by Giacinto Scelsi of the same name. It tends to provoke a rather eerie sensation upon listening, but it’s worth checking out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cU6TsyPoX9s

  2. #2 posted by John

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    Thanks, Chris, I’ve got a lot of time for Scelsi, another of his compositions was included in one of the Halloween playlists here. I wrote this post in a rush so I actually forgot about his Konx om Pax whose title I’d guess must also originate with Crowley; he didn’t invent the phrase but he certainly popularised it.

  3. Kaczynski’s _Perdurado_ mentions Crowley designing the cover of _Konx Om Pax_ October 1907 (p.170, North Atlantic Books edition). Churton’s _Aleister Crowley: The Biography_: “…Crowley worked on Konx Om Pax (‘Light in Extension’), designing its ahead-of-its time cover while stoned on hashish on 2 October.” (p.136) Don’t have a primary source reference in Crowley’s words, but perhaps this will help narrow down the search.

  4. #4 posted by John

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    Thanks, Steve. I only have the Symonds biography and that says nothing about the book. Just wanted to be sure that the detail about him designing the cover wasn’t a Wikipedia caprice.

  5. My pleasure, John: happy to help. Both the cited bios are recent and extremely detailed, and are both gifted with decent indexes making my search for the above bits brief and simple. I wish I’d been able to find a primary source such as a relevant journal entry by Crowley or other such note, but the above was what I had to hand.

 


 

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