Weekend links 58

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Oya by Alberto del Pozo (1945–1992). Also known as Yansa, Oya is Changó’s third wife. She is the goddess of the winds and of lightning and is mistress of the cemetery gates. Passionate and brave she fights by her husband’s side if needed. Her favorite offerings are papaya, eggplant and geraniums. From Santeria at BibliOdyssey.

Austin Osman Spare is a good example of the dictum that quality will out in the end, no matter how long it remains buried. Overlooked by the art establishment after he retreated into his private mythologies, a substantial portion of his output was equally ignored by occultists who wanted to preserve him as a weird and scary working-class magus. One group dismissed his deeply-felt spiritual interests in a manner they wouldn’t dare employ if he’d been a follower of Santeria, say (or even a devout Christian), while the other group seemed to regard his superb portraits as too mundane to be worthy of attention. Now that Phil Baker’s Spare biography has been published by Strange Attractor we might have reached the end of such short-sighted appraisals and can finally see a more rounded picture of the man and his work:

[Kenneth] Grant preserved and magnified Spare’s own tendency to confabulation, giving him the starring role in stories further influenced by Grant’s own reading of visionary and pulp writers such as Arthur Machen, HP Lovecraft, and Fu Manchu creator Sax Rohmer. Grant’s Spare seems to inhabit a parallel London; a city with an alchemist in Islington, a mysterious Chinese dream-control cult in Stockwell, and a small shop with a labyrinthine basement complex, its grottoes decorated by Spare, where a magical lodge holds meetings. This shop – then a furrier, now an Islamic bookshop, near Baker Street – really existed, and part of the fascination of Grant’s version of Spare’s London is its misty overlap with reality.

Austin Osman Spare: Cockney visionary by Phil Baker.

Austin Osman Spare: The man art history left behind | A Flickr set: Austin Osman Spare at the Cuming Museum | HV Morton meets Austin Spare (1927).

• More quality rising from obscurity: Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End. Skolimowski’s drama is one of unpleasant characters behaving badly towards each other. Anglo-American cinema featured a great deal of this in the 1970s when filmmakers disregarded the sympathies of their audience in a manner which would be difficult today. John Patterson looks at another example which is also given a re-release this month, the “feral, minatory and menacing masterwork” that is Taxi Driver.

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Echú Eleguá by Alberto del Pozo. Among the most ancient of the orishas Echú Eleguá is the messenger of the gods, who forges roads, protects the house, and is heaven’s gate-keeper. In any ceremony he is invoked first. He owns all cowrie shells and is the god of luck. A prankster, Echú Eleguá frequently has a monkey and a black rooster by his side. Like a mischievous boy he enjoys gossip and must be pampered with offerings of toys, fruit, and candy.

Minutes, a compilation on the LTM label from 1987: William Burroughs, Jean Cocteau, Tuxedomoon, Jacques Derrida, The Monochrome Set, and er…Richard Jobson. Thomi Wroblewski designed covers for a number of Burroughs titles in the 1980s, and he also provided the cover art for this release.

Mikel Marton Photography: a Tumblr of erotic photography and self-portraits.

From Death Factory To Norfolk Fens: Chris & Cosey interviewed.

NASA announces results of epic space-time experiment.

Oritsunagumono by Takayuki Hori: origami x-rays.

Plexus magazine at 50 Watts.

Mother Sky (1970) by Can | Late For The Sky (1974) by Jackson Browne.

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

Aleister Crowley on vinyl

ac1.jpgThe appearance of occultist Aleister Crowley on the sleeve of Sgt Pepper is well-documented—here he is looking rather grainy on my CD insert—although I always forget which of the Beatles it was who put him in the list of “people that we like”. I’d guess John Lennon who would have appreciated Crowley’s obscene poetry, copious drug intake and ability to consistently épater la bourgeoisie.

Less well-known is what I presume must be the first outing for Crowley’s voice on this rare undated single from the mid-Seventies. Along with the cassette tapes I discussed earlier, this was another item turned up during a recent clearout of household junk. I’ve yet to see a detailed description of the origin of these Crowley recordings. I have the first CD pressing and haven’t looked at later editions so can’t say whether those contain more information about what are supposed to be wax cylinder recordings copied to acetates. The first complete collection of these was a vinyl release produced by David Tibet in a limited edition in 1986. I was among those that ordered a copy.

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The Marabo single features two of the same recordings, of course, albeit in slightly poorer quality. (And I love the way it has a removable centre, as though it might well end up in a jukebox.) One feature of the continual reissuing of the recordings is that sound quality has improved over the years. The versions of The Pentagram and La Gitana on YouTube sound better than the ones on my CD. The occult resonance of Crowley’s voice (which always reminds me of Winston Churchill) have inevitably made it a popular sampling source. In the pre-sampling era 23 Skidoo and Psychic TV (both with David Tibet) used loops of the Enochian Calls. Bill Laswell later took to using samples on his ambient releases and the most recent CD version includes an entire disc of ambience with Crowley’s voice subjected to digital processing.

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The sleeve art was by Steffi Grant, occultist wife of occultist Kenneth Grant, and it’s possible the pair sing backing vocals on the less-than-compelling B-side, a soft rock number entitled Scarlet Woman by Chakra. The song is credited to “Ponton/Ayers/Grant/Magee” so even if one or other of the Grants didn’t sing they helped with the lyrics. It should be noted that Mrs Grant’s artwork is often better than these illustrations and does much to enliven her husband’s volumes of occult philosophy. Some of their work was also featured in the seven-volume encyclopedia, Man, Myth and Magic, which featured Kenneth among the staff of consultants.

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Before anyone asks: no, the single isn’t for sale. I’ve sold a lot of old vinyl over the past few years but I’m keeping this particular item. I know a couple of unreleased recordings by Chakra exist; if anyone has further information about the group, please leave a comment.

Update: Jok posted a link which resolves the mystery. It was indeed Kenneth Grant on backing vocals.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Old music and old technology
The Man We Want to Hang by Kenneth Anger
The art of Cameron, 1922–1995
Austin Osman Spare

Ginsberg’s Howl and the view from the street

howl.jpgJames Campbell in The Guardian this weekend writes about the arrest fifty years ago of Lawrence Ferlinghetti for his publishing Allen Ginsberg’s paean to ecstatic drug use and gay sex, Howl and Other Poems. Ferlinghetti was arrested on charges of selling (or “peddling”, as these prissy turns of phrase always have it) literature likely to be harmful to minors, even though it’s hard to imagine there were gangs of schoolkids rushing into his City Lights bookstore to buy a volume of experimental poetry. The ensuing trial was the first in a series of cases in the late Fifties and early Sixties which finally established (in America, at least) that the law needed to try and keep its hands off literary works.

America since 1957 has managed to grow up on one level, with Howl now regarded as a classic work of 20th century poetry, and grow more infantile on the other, with And Tango Makes Three, a childrens’ book about gay penguins, being the most-challenged book of 2006 according to the America Library Association; you can still rely on the “g” word to get the would-be book-burners agitated. The growing gulf between perceptions of morality in the US versus those in Europe can be seen in the way that US librarians need to hold an annual Banned Books Week to draw attention to the ongoing war between prudery and licence while there’s no equivalent to this in the UK. Britons used to look enviously at America’s freedoms of speech but the atmosphere has relaxed considerably here over the past twenty years while in America it sometimes seems that the clock is running backwards. That said, Russ Kick pointed out several years ago how, even among freedom-loving librarians, some books are more defensible than others.

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The City Lights bookstore is located at 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, and by coincidence I’ve spent the past couple of days exploring that locale using Google’s remarkable Street View facility which is now a feature on their San Francisco map, together with those for New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Denver. Not all the streets in these cities have been photographed yet but it’s fascinating to not only see places you’ve already been to but then turn down a side street and see the places you missed. If you want to know what it’s like to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge then here’s your chance.

Continue reading “Ginsberg’s Howl and the view from the street”

Austin Osman Spare

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Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of one of my favourite artists, Austin Osman Spare.

Like many people in the 1970s, I was introduced to the work of Austin Spare by Man, Myth and Magic, a seven volume “illustrated encyclopedia of the supernatural” published weekly in 120 112 parts by Purnell. My mother was a Dennis Wheatley reader so we had a couple of occult paperbacks in the house, among them one of William Seabrook‘s accounts of voodoo in Haiti and a copy of Richard Cavendish’s wonderful magical primer, The Black Arts, (later retitled The Magical Arts). Cavendish had been chosen as editor of Man, Myth and Magic and included occultist and writer Kenneth Grant on his editorial staff, a decision that gave the book’s producers access to Grant’s collection of Spare pictures. In a rather bold move, they launched Man, Myth and Magic in 1970 with a detail of a Spare drawing on the cover, a work often referred to as The Elemental although the authoritative Spare collection, Zos Speaks has it titled as The Vampires are Coming. It’s a shame that AOS didn’t live for a few more years to see this; after labouring in poverty and obscurity for most of his life he would have found his work flooding Britain, with this first issue on sale all over the country and the cover picture being pasted on billboards and sold as posters. It’s possible there were even television adverts for the book (although I don’t recall any), since there usually were for expensive part works like this.

Continue reading “Austin Osman Spare”