In the Mind’s Eye

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One of the posts last December concerned a short TV film by Alan Garner, To Kill a King, the final entry in the Leap in the Dark series which the BBC ran from 1973 to 1980. Each half-hour episode concerned the supernatural, presented in either drama or documentary form, which for me would have meant prime viewing but I don’t recall ever seeing the series. The Garner film was a strange piece of drama whereas In the Mind’s Eye (1977) is a documentary about ghosts presented by writer Colin Wilson. The film is almost more interesting for its production details than its subject, the Phantom Vicar of Ratcliffe Wharf, an alleged spectre whose murderous life is shown in a piece of unconvincing dramatisation. The Phantom Vicar was the invention of writer Frank Smyth who needed a supernatural story for the Frontiers of Belief section of Man, Myth and Magic during its publication as a part-work in the early 1970s. Smyth and friend describe hatching the tale then we hear a number of subsequent reports which show the story quickly became an East End legend. Between the interviews you get to see bits of the docklands area before the spirits of old London had been exorcised by redevelopment.

Previously on { feuilleton }
To Kill a King by Alan Garner
Dreaming Out of Space: Kenneth Grant on HP Lovecraft
MMM in IT
Terror and Magnificence

Spare things

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Cthulhu Cultus: The Sun is Sick (no date) by Austin Osman Spare.

I’ve been telling people about this drawing for years but I’ve not posted it here before. Spare produced this piece after Kenneth Grant gave him some of HP Lovecraft’s stories to read. I’ve never seen it dated but it’s probably from the mid-50s when Kenneth and Steffi Grant were corresponding with Spare and commissioning new artworks. What’s notable for me is that this is probably the first Lovecraft-derived drawing that wasn’t either a magazine or book illustration, or something done for one of the horror fanzines.

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The Call of Cthulhu (1987) by John Coulthart.

Lovecraft aficionados have never seemed aware of Spare’s drawing since Lovecraft studies tended until very recently to remain fixed on popular media and the often parochial world of genre fandom. When I came to draw the swamp scene for The Call of Cthulhu in 1987 I borrowed the faces from Spare’s pillar for the column in the centre of the picture.

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Bulldog Breed.

While we’re on the subject, and in the spirit of showing how all the obsessions here connect in one way or another, Phil Baker’s excellent biography of Austin Spare notes a surprising reference to the artist that predates Man, Myth and Magic via the psychedelic music scene. Bulldog Breed were a short-lived London group, one of many being promoted by the Deram label in the late 1960s. The group’s one-and-only album, Made In England, was released in 1969. The cover art is dreadful but the final song is a number entitled Austin Osmanspare [sic], a paean to the artist that turns AOS into a typical character from British psychedelia: an eccentric, oddly named, Victorian type with a sinister and mysterious glamour. According to Baker one of the band members had an aunt who knew Spare. It’s not a bad song, and the choice of magus gave them an edge over the Beatles who went for the more obvious Aleister Crowley. “They said he was before his time…”

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dreaming Out of Space: Kenneth Grant on HP Lovecraft
MMM in IT
Intertextuality
Abrahadabra
The Occult Explosion
Murmur Become Ceaseless and Myriad
Kenneth Grant, 1924–2011
New Austin Spare grimoires
Austin Spare absinthe
Austin Spare’s Behind the Veil
Austin Osman Spare

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.

Continue reading “Dreaming Out of Space: Kenneth Grant on HP Lovecraft”

MMM in IT

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“Are you your own master? Or are there forces beyond reason that shape your actions?”

This full-page ad appeared in issue 72 of International Times, Jan 28, 1970. The part-work encyclopedia, Man, Myth & Magic, was launched at the best possible moment, capitalising on the late-60s’ resurgence of interest in the occult and unorthodox spirituality. That bold declaration—”The most unusual magazine ever published”—might have seemed unconvincing to readers of the undergrounds, many of which made “unusual” their starting point, but there certainly hadn’t been a magazine/encyclopedia like MMM before, and none of the titles that followed could match its scope and authority. The ad also promises “From Adam and Eve to LSD, from lucky numbers to human sacrifice…” which its 112 issues went on to deliver.

This is the first press ad I’ve seen for MMM. A TV ad for the later American reprinting turned up recently, 30 seconds of film that sent Austin Osman Spare’s sinister goat-faced elemental into millions of Christian households in 1974. I keep hoping we might get to see the UK equivalent one day.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
Owen Wood’s Zodiac
Austin Osman Spare

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