Dreaming Out of Space: Kenneth Grant on HP Lovecraft

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Going through some of my loose copies of Man, Myth and Magic recently turned up this article by Kenneth Grant that I’d forgotten about. I have two separate sets of Man, Myth and Magic: a complete edition in binders, and a partial collection of loose copies of the weekly “illustrated encyclopedia of the supernatural”. The partial collection is worth keeping for the unique articles that ran across the last two pages of every issue, all of which are absent (along with the magazine covers) from the bound edition. These articles formed the Frontiers of Belief series, a collection of essays of the kind one might find in magazines today such as Fate or Fortean Times. An earlier essay about Wilfried Sätty, Artist of the Occult, was reproduced here a few years ago; none of these pieces have ever been reprinted so it seems worthwhile putting another of the more interesting pieces online.

Kenneth Grant was the only active occultist among Man, Myth and Magic‘s roster of very serious and well-regarded writers and experts. Grant wrote several of the encyclopedia entries although not the one about Aleister Crowley, as you might expect, that entry going to Crowley’s executor and biographer, John Symonds. Grant was also a lifelong champion of HP Lovecraft’s fiction which explains this article; many of Grant’s later occult texts have a distinctly Lovecraftian flavour, and they often refer to Lovecraft and Arthur Machen as being the unconscious recipients of actual occult emanations or presences. Grant’s belief that the authors channelled these emanations into their fiction is central to this piece, a belief that Lovecraft would have dismissed even though several of his stories (not least The Call of Cthulhu) concern exactly this process. Grant connects Lovecraft with another artist whose work he championed throughout his life, Austin Osman Spare. It was Grant’s involvement with Man, Myth and Magic that put one of Spare’s drawings on the cover of the first issue, and further drawings inside the magazine, introducing the artist’s work to a new, highly receptive audience. The drawing below (Were-Lynx) appears in the magazine behind Grant’s text so I’ve scanned a text-free copy from Grant’s Cults of the Shadow (1975).

DREAMING OUT OF SPACE by Kenneth Grant

Malevolent powers are lurking in wait to project themselves into the sleeping minds of men: this terrifying idea is a recurring theme in the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who claimed that they came to him in nightmares. But were they simply bad dreams, or was he in fact receiving communications from an unknown source, as Kenneth Grant here suggests?

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“I have watched for dryads and satyrs in the woods and fields at dusk”; illustration by Austin Osman Spare, who sensed the forces looming behind Lovecraft’s work, and was inspired to illustrate these presences.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft died in 1937; but the myth-cycle which he initiated in unrivalled tales of cosmic horror now raises the question whether it was a mere fiction engendered in the haunted mind of an obscure New England writer, or whether it foreshadowed a particularly sinister kind of occult invasion.

According to a well-known occult tradition, when Atlantis was submerged, not all perished. Some took refuge on other worlds, in other dimensions; others “slept” a willed and unnatural sleep through untold aeons of time. These awakened; they lurk now in unknown gulfs of space, the physical mechanism of human consciousness being unable to pick up their infinitely subtle vibrations. They lurk, waiting to return and rule the whole earth, as was their aim before the catastrophe that destroyed their corrupt civilization.

This tradition was a major theme in Lovecraft’s work. Until quite recently people read his stories and shuddered (if sufficiently honest and sensitive enough to admit their uncanny impact), not suspecting for a moment that such things could be.

Few know that Lovecraft dreamed most of his tales. And he sometimes thought that these dreams, or rather, nightmares, were caused by misdeeds in remotely distant incarnations when, perhaps, he had aimed at acquiring magical powers. These dreams were memories of the past and prophecies of the future, for he said that “nightmares are the punishment meted out to the soul for sins committed in previous incarnations—perhaps millions of years ago!”

In his life as Howard Phillips Lovecraft he tried again and again to bring himself to face squarely the ordeal through which he knew he would have to pass, if he were finally to resolve his spiritual difficulties. The issue is brought to the surface perhaps more clearly and urgently in his poems than in his stories. He is on the brink of making the critical discovery, of surprising the secret of his inner life, and he is forced back repeatedly by the dread, the stark soul-searing fear which he bottles up in his work and which he communicates so successfully—in neat doses—to his readers.

One of Lovecraft’s most vivid creations is the ancient book of hideous spells composed to facilitate traffic with creatures of unseen worlds. He ascribed its authorship to Abdul Alhazred, a mad Arab who flourished in Damascus about 700 AD. This grimoire, during the course of its mysterious career, is supposed to have been translated by the Elizabethan scholar Dr John Dee, into Greek, under the title of Necronomicon. It contains the Keys or Calls that unseal forbidden spaces of cosmic sleep, inhabited by elder forces that once infested the earth. The Keys are in a wild, unearthly tongue reminiscent of the Calls of Chanokh, or Enoch, which Dr Dee actually obtained through contact with non-terrestrial entities during his work with the magician, Sir Edward Kelley, whom Aleister Crowley claimed to have been in a previous life. It is possible that the “evil and abhorred Necronomicon” was suggested by the clavicles or Keys of Enoch, which Dee and Kelley discovered, and which Crowley later used to gain access to unknown dimensions.

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Aleister Crowley: Wandering The Waste

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I mentioned this graphic biography of Aleister Crowley earlier in the year but pressure of work has meant it’s taken me all this time to finally read it. Aleister Crowley: Wandering The Waste is written by Martin Hayes and illustrated by RH Stewart. The title alludes to Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude, a Shelley poem concerning an itinerant poet with whom Crowley often identified.

Crowley isn’t a stranger to the comics world but this book is the first I’ve encountered that devotes itself to the facts of the man’s life rather than using his notorious persona as a general purpose scare figure. Crowley’s life was nothing if not eventful: in addition to the numerous rituals and magickal exploits, he was also a serious mountaineer, and something of a globetrotter before his inheritance ran out; he wrote novels, memoirs, several volumes of poetry, even more volumes of occult philosophy, and was a world-class drug-taker and libertine in an age when sexual escapades of the mildest sort could provoke the deepest outrage.

Given all of this you’d expect somebody to have tried to film his life by now, but doing so presents a number of problems. Period biopics are by their nature very expensive which is why they tend to take the least controversial figures for their subjects. Crowley isn’t only controversial, his life’s work remains esoteric and difficult for a general audience; you’d have to work hard to dispel Devil Rides Out clichés for people who’ve never opened an occult book. There’s no life without the magick, however, so you’re unlikely to get either trying to follow the costume-drama route. In the past I’ve thought that a better solution would be to adopt the jigsaw approach used in François Girard’s Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993); significant moments could be dramatised as they are in the Gould film while other sections could be more graphical, abstract or theoretical.

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Hayes and Stewart’s book goes for the traditional biopic approach (albeit with some deviations), there being no reason not to when you have an unlimited budget. It’s 1947, and Crowley in his Hastings nursing home remembers his life for a young visitor, delivering a narrative that ranges across seventy years, and which acknowledges the more scandalous moments whilst also repudiating some of the rumours. Hayes backs up his facts with copious endnotes, some of which offer more detail about disputed incidents. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell is the obvious progenitor here; both books show the strength of comics in being able to deliver historical material in a visual form without having to worry about the constraints of cinema.

Stewart’s artwork is from the sketchy, collaged Sienkiewicz/McKean school of comic art. In some scenes I would have preferred more visual detail but then having drawn historical comics myself I know how difficult it can be having to research the appearance of every last piece of clothing or furniture. (The lettering is also afflicted with a few typos.) Some of the scenes away from 1947 are delivered in a fragmented, hallucinatory style in which occult figures and symbols are confused with Crowley’s memories. The technique enables many years to be covered without padding the book to doorstop size while also keeping the magick as a continual background presence. It’s quite a change to have the aged Crowley as the focus for once, a dishevelled magus rather than the usual libidinous firebrand. After so much turmoil, there’s always a sombre atmosphere around the Great Beast’s less-than-beastly final days, although they were considerably more peaceful than those of some of his wives and associates. Whatever regrets or disappointments Crowley may have felt, his books are still in print, and we’re still talking about him.

The Atlantis Bookshop in London has been showing some of Stewart’s artwork throughout this month. I’ve always liked the way the Atlantis doubles as a mini-gallery, I saw some Austin Spare drawings there a few years ago; it’s a good venue, and the ideal place to view this work. The exhibition will run to December 24th.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Rex Ingram’s The Magician
The Mysteries of Myra
Aleister Crowley on vinyl

Abrahadabra

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01 First (1985).

I’ve linked to so many publications at the Internet Archive I’m a little surprised it’s taken me this long to find something featuring my own work. Abrahadabra was a Dutch periodical covering subjects familiar to readers of the esoteric magazines of the 1980s (RE/Search, Rapid Eye, etc): Industrial music of the TG/Psychic TV/Coil variety, transgressive writers such as Burroughs, Ballard and Bataille, weird fiction of the Lovecraft/Machen school, and a heavy emphasis on occultism. My friend Ed was one of the contributors which is how my Pan drawing ended up in the Witches issue in 1987.

For a publication with minimal resources the production was often impressive, the drawing on the cover of the Austin Spare issue, for instance, being printed in silver ink on black paper. The contents were mostly in Dutch but each issue featured interesting and often original graphics. I also drew a small Horus head for issue 11 (which I’d forgotten about until I saw it again), whose title design was used on the cover of issue 12. Some of the other issues I hadn’t seen before so it’s good to find them scanned and easily available. The 1980s was the last time print was used as the primary medium for underground culture to talk to and disseminate itself. By the end of the decade many of the small magazines had either evolved—both RE/Search and Rapid Eye turned into books—or expired. The final Abrahadabra is dated 1990.

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02 Second (1985).

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03 Third (1985).

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04 Sex (1985).

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05 Derangement (1985).

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Whirlpools

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This was a surprise. My first thought on seeing the cover for Ethel Archer’s “book of verse”, The Whirlpool, was that its swirling waters were borrowed from Harry Clarke’s typically astonishing illustration for A Descent into the Maelström by Edgar Allan Poe. The problem there is that the Ethel Archer book was published in 1911 while Clarke’s first collection of Poe illustrations didn’t appear until 1919. The cover for the Archer book was by Ethel’s husband, Eugene Wieland, the publisher of Aleister Crowley’s Equinox periodical/occult treatise, and also the publisher of this volume. Crowley provided an introduction to the book. Given these occult associations it’s possible that Harry Clarke might have seen a copy of this. Clarke’s work appeared in Austin Spare’s own occult periodical, The Golden Hind, and he wasn’t averse to producing occult art of his own. This isn’t to say that Clarke necessarily took anything from the Archer book—sometimes a whirlpool is just a whirlpool—but it’s not outside the bounds of possibility.

There’s a copy of Ethel Archer’s book currently on sale at eBay, together with some original drawings by Eugene Wieland. The cover above came via John Eggeling’s Flickr page of rare book covers. The Poe illustration is via 50 Watts.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The Sapphire Museum of Magic and Occultism

Weekend links 147

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Bestia Apocalypsi (2000) by Konstantin Kalynovych.

A funding page for Better Things: The Life and Choices of Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Maria Paz Cabardo’s documentary film about the late comic artist and illustrator.

• Phantasmaphile’s Pam Grossman has declared 2013 to be the Year of the Witch.

• At WFMU: The Space Ghost Coast To Coast Sonny Sharrock Tribute Episode.

I think that mass culture is idiotic. I always have. Even things that are the sort of trendy new whatevers, it’s always about money and sex and nothing else.

Laurie Anderson on music for dogs and Obama.

• It’s that…thing…again. Clive Hicks-Jenkins on his new Mari Lwyd designs.

• Rick Poynor’s Dictionary of Surrealism and the Graphic Image.

• “Why do gay porn stars kill themselves?” asks Conner Habib.

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If you’re staycationing in Scarfolk this year you’ll be pleased to hear the town now has 20% less rabies. Above: The 1972–73 prospectus for scarecrow and wicker man biology at Scarfolk Technical College. Related: A Day At The Seaside. I guessed the source even without the cryptic comments. Can you?

Laurie Spiegel designed a T-shirt for The Wire magazine.

Julia Holter covers Chiamami Adesso by Paolo Conte.

Strange Attractor has two new Austin Spare prints.

Forgotten Women Designers and Illustrators.

• RIP Alan Sharp, a sharp screenwriter.

• “Can You Pass the Acid Test?

Sonny and Linda Sharrock live at WKCR 03/21/74 | Many Mansions (1991) by Sonny Sharrock | Ghost Planet National Anthem (1993) by Sonny Sharrock