I was reading Valentine's “Chasing Pidgins” entry and reflecting on it earlier in the week and trying to figure out how to respond. He brings up a number of interesting critisms of Austin Spare, while also waxing poetic on his preferred madman: William S. Burroughs. And who doesn't love them some Burroughs? The man looked at the world and said, no, you are fucking Queer.
Amongst the comments he discusses some of the absurdity that Spare got up to, such as insisting that the power of his sigils was derived from encountering the hieroglyphs of Egypt. The simplified fetishization of Spare's methods that occurred during the height of the Chaos Magick days does, indeed, tone down it's discourse when it comes to such things, which is totally a lingering problem.
Back in the day, a friend and older magician I consider a mentor asked me if there were any books he could pick up so I could read. I immediately, as I didn't own it then, talked to him about Stephen Mace's Stealing the Fire From Heaven due to the discussions on Mace's text in Fr. UD's High Magic series and other works. He instead picked up Stealing Fire From Heaven: Austin Osman Spare by A.R. Naylor. Given the similarity in the title, I didn't realize that I wasn't reading Mace's book right away. I'd just read The Focus of Life and Anathema of Zos, along with looking at the beautiful works of draughtsmanship in two of his other works. You can imagine the shock I got as I read the compiled evidence by Naylor that Spare had, in fact, stolen some of his work from other artists and presented it as his own in Form magazine. It left a bitter taste in my mouth and forced me to yet again confront the fact that no one is exempt from certain social pressures, nor can anyone truly ever bare the careful and scrutinizing eye of those that come after them. This fact will bear out with any of the older generation of magicians, almost everyone including those of us today, and is also an issue with Brother Valentine's beloved Burroughs.
This commentary does not extend, however, to the techniques of either. I just plain don't like getting into a discussion involving comparing Spare's techniques to those of Grant Morrison. Morrison may have arrived at some of his conclusions and extensions based on his understanding of Spare's work. That does not, however, mean that they were utilizing precisely the same process nor suffer from the same problems. Spare's problems were uniquely his own, and Morrison has hardly driven off his fans by becoming (however temporarily or long term is up for debate) King Mob through the vehicle of his art and work. It's apples and motherfucking oranges, man.
Getting into the interpretations of reality between those different personages is also cumbersome and boring, because it's just more magicians rattling off names and swords as if those influences matter half as much as what we do and learn ourselves. I'm tapped out on that bullshit for a while, sorry.
So my point and only real contribution, lame as it may be, is that no one holds up to scrutiny and wonder stories rarely work out in reality half as well as they do in the narratives that magicians use to prop themselves up. Spare's big contribution to us is his process, which works, and his tech. The same remains true of Burroughs. But if we scrutinize either, the wonder stories fall apart. That's how it always works out. Myth is the utterance of emotion in words, ritual in actions and all that. Cull from both, because they're both worth stealing from.
But they aint – either of 'em, nor are any of the others – perfect nor should we prop them up by pretending they were.