Thursday, February 25, 2010 Austin Spare

What attracted you to, than held you to, the works of Austin Spare?

And it was in London, and not in Istanbul, that I met my best black magician. People had told me about him. They said: “He’s an old man now, but his hair is still dark and wild. He lives in a tenement. You’d never dream what a lot of magic is still practised there. Why! He can remember when there was a cage of skinned live cats on exhibition in the street, and there was a boy who bit the heads of live rats for a sixpence. It’s atmosphere, isn’t it?”
Well, there was a strange little card on his mantelpiece. I asked him about it. “That!” he shrugged his shoulders. “That’s nothing much. Just a sigil to make it hail tomorrow.”
(…) “Is he your familiar?” I suggested.
“He is,” the black magician boasted, “the most amazing mouse in London.”
We sat watching the hole. I didn’t know whether I was expected to will anything, so I tried to fill my mind with cheese.
Presently a mouse peered, sniffed, darted forward, gobbled the cheese, retreated...

- Oswell Blakeston, Magicians in London: A Recollection.

It's hard not to like Austin Spare, at least from my point of view. So what drew me to him? He drew cool pictures, man. And he had neat Alphabet things that made shit happen. I figured, what the Hell is more magickal than that? Seriously?

Anyway: I realized immediately that Spare was spitting out his unconscious mind pure and wholesale to the world, for it to see. And I realized how courageous that had to be. I've envied artists ever since I learned that art was awesome, which took quite a while. I have pictures in my head, and I wish I could put them on paper. So I really envied that talent and the fact that it was the arte part of magick. It's something that's occasionally distinctly missing, or worse, completely dismissed. Then I read what he had to say and realized I was being confronted with a slew of archaic words, and that I didn't understand half of what he was saying! Which meant I'd have to sit my happy ass down and just pore over every goddamn sentence with a dictionary just to get anywhere. (This, by the way, is the reason he is nigh universally loathed. I'm convinced of it.) What's worse? He used some of those words the wrong way! Except, I think he was coding shit into his texts. And someday I'll figure out what. Maybe. That takes a level of obsession that even I presently lack.

So I just kept re-reading them. Every time I made some new trick work, I went back to Spare's work. And then I turned to Alan Moore. See, Spare shows up in Promethea right before the Abyss. He's standing beside the Black Tower, above which wheel the heavens, and he's peering forward into the Abyss. The Abyss is the fountain of all knowledge, it's the Death's Head. It's all the shit in the world, but in a way every fucking Alchemist loathes. Because it's hard to work with. Spare explains the Tower to Promethea, and then wanders off to hang out with the Black Adepts who have stopped at the Tower to acquire knowledge from its storehouse of the hidden wisdom of the past and the self. But it doesn't end there! Spare shows up again, after the Abyss as an old man. He doesn't remember meeting Promethea. But he has indeed crossed the Abyss.

What the devil is Alan Moore getting at? Well, he's explaining a discrepancy in Spare's texts. The early works are works that drip with vitriol and anger. They show how Spare is doing the exact same thing that most practitioners of the occult do, but almost in reverse. (I can explain this later.) But his later texts have softened. He's become the bearded, grumpy and poor artist-man-witch-sorcerer of London. The same guy who refused to leave his house during World War II because he loved it so much, and it had his cats. In fact, as Kenneth Grant tells it, a bomb fell into Spare's house. Spare scrawled sigils all over it and sat in his house, willing it not to explode until the cleanup and recovery folks showed up in the morning. Why's he so soft? He Neither-Neither'd his happy ass out of the Abyss! It doesn't mean it happened, but its certainly one way of looking at the subject.

Spare does change, though. And I guess that made me grin a bit. It was a clear sign that whatever we are when we start, we will not be that in the end. And so I mostly stick with Spare whenever I can. But I also turn to Crowley, and a slew of recent (and recently deceased, unfortunately) authors for whom I have a good deal of respect.

Also: Spare had a white-fro. It made mine less horrid to think about. And he liked cats!

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