I: The Magical Revival
II: Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God
III: Cults of the Shadow
IV: Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare
V: Nightside of Eden
VI: Outside the Circles of Time
VII: Hecate's Fountain
VIII: Remembering Aleister Crowley
IX: Outer Gateways
X: Hidden Lore
XI: The Stellar Lode
The British occultist Kenneth Grant has been a controversial and even influential figure in Thelemic circles. As his writings have recently come back into print after more than a decade there is likely to be a resurgence of interest in his theories. For this reason I felt it would be useful if the new generation of Magicians had a guide to these strange and curious waters. In this series (which originally appeared in IAO Camp's Herald-Tepaphone) I examine each of Mr. Grant's major works in sequence, giving suitable background material as necessary.
I should probably add here that these reviews represent nobody's opinion but my own, and if you don't agree with what I say feel free to e-mail me about it. Comments which are sufficiently interesting and/or amusing may wind up posted here somewhere.
So without further ado. . .
In his first book Grant takes a more or less straightforward historical approach. He declares that the Thelemic Current as embodied in the sexual Magick of Aleister Crowley is the latest manifestation of what he calls the "Draconian Tradition" of Ancient Egypt. It was this that inspired the Tantric sects of India, and Grant intimates that the ultimate origin of all this lies with a matriarchal pre-Dynastic culture in Africa.
Now considering that next to nothing is known about the historical origins of Tantra (scholars can't even determine if Hindu or Buddhist texts are older) Grant's assertions are about as good as anyone's. Unfortunately he offers no real support for all of this; we are apparently required to accept this as the Gospel Utterance of an Initiated Teacher. The book can certainly not be called scholarly; Grant rarely identifies his sources, even for direct quotes, and when he does it is often not helpful. He refers often to an unpublished "Initiated Tantric Comment" as substanciating his theories (which mostly seem to deal with the Magical virtues of vaginal secretions,) but we are given no idea as to its authorship or authority. One long quote, referring as it does to modern Western medical practices, makes it clear that this "Comment" is of recent composition, but I see no reason to regard it as more than a reasonably valid interpretation of Tantric ritual. Grant claims it is the One-True-Recieved-From-On-High doctrine, which sounds like classic B.S.-to-the-third-power to me.
As near as I can figure, Grant takes most of his archaeology from 19th century sources, some of which were not taken seriously even then. In his search for support he even treats as legitimate sources the works of "Inquire Within," a notorious conspiracy theorist and occult-basher of the 1920's!1
Grant's theology is rather odd: he identifies the God Set with Hoor-Paar-Kraat and with Aiwass. We are also given to understand that the star Sirius is the source of the Thelemic Current. At one point he tries to connect Thelema with the fiction of the New England horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Now, as HPL did base most of his works on his dreams, there is a case for "occult inspiration" but the table Grant produces is so superficial and unconvincing as to make one wonder just how familiar he is with either man's work.2
There is not a lot of Qabalah in this book (in his later work the alphabet-soup can take up whole chapters,) but there is one real zinger: "Twenty-six (twice thirteen), is the number of Achad Unity." To be fair, this is probably a typo (note the misplaced comma) and it is corrected in the errata sheet of the Skoob edition (but you would think that for a 35-dollar reprint they could afford to correct the actual text, but nooo. . .)
In the later chapter Grant concentrates more on the work of modern Magicians: mostly Crowley of course, but also Frater Achad, Jack Parsons, Dion Fortune and Austin Osman Spare. This is where the book is really useful as Grant actually knew most of them. He was Crowley's secretary in 1944-5 e.v. And his friendship with Spare covered the last decade of that artist-shaman's life. Grant is Spare's executor and is largely responsible for reviving interest in his work, an achievement not to be sneered at. The two chapters on Spare are perhaps the best in the book. In fact Grant often seems to have a better understanding of Spare's system than of Crowley's, notwithstanding that he claims to be the latter's successor.
Frater ZAX of Pyramid Lodge once remarked that Grant's virtue was that he is almost the only biographer of Crowley who focused on the man's Magick rather than on his unorthodox lifestyle. This may be so, but Grant's interpretations semm to miss more often than they hit, and in style he often reminds one more of A.E. Waite! Most of Crowley's remarks about Waite in the Equinox could just as easily be aimed at Grant. There is even the impenetrable vocabulary with words such as "praeter-human," "transmundane," "enchiridion," "subserved," "openly-unavowed representatives" (a typo?), "efflux," "objurgations," "discreted," "clepsydral horologue" (my personal favourite,) and "reification" (Grant's favourite.) The list could go on, and will as we consider his other books.
In his Introduction Grant declares that he has "introduced no blinds, no deliberately misleading statements or vague allusions to formulae that cannot be shown to be as precise in their action and reaction as their analogues in the more orthodox sciences." If you think this is ironic in view of my comments here, please be assured that you have seen nothing yet! Our subject has not yet begun to perplex.
1 In his later books Grant often cites works of fiction and scholarly works indescriminately.
2 I have produced a more exact set of tables in 777 format here.
In this, his second book, Kenneth Grant abandons the historical approach of The Magical Revival to focus on the doctrines of the "Draconian Tradition," his term for the ancient Tantric Current embodied in the work of Aleister Crowley and Austin Spare.
Now, the historical reality of this "Tradition" as a cohesive cross-cultural entity is a bit suspect, but this is nothing compared to Grant's interpretations. There are many schools of Tantra so it seems a bit unfair for Grant to say he has the One True Interpretation of Tantric doctrine (based, again, on a "Secret Comment" of unknown provenace.) What this seems to come down to is endless discussions of the Magical virtues of vaginal secretions and menstrual blood. For Grant the female is the one source of the ultimate oracle, the male serving only as a controller and stimulant, or so it seems at first. It is quite easy to miss the two passages where, out of the blue, he proclaims that, "in the current Aeon, the Aeon of Horus, the menstruum is semen." Grant barely attemps an explanation of this change, he gives no practical advice for Workings, and he certainly never explains why he devotes so much space to obsolete, or at least superceded, formulae. He does, however, promptly launch into a description of the Aeonic sequence that owes more to H.P. Blavatsky's "Root-Race" cosmology and a very garbled reading of Lovecraft than to Liber AL.
Later on Grant redefines the nature of XI Workings, saying that Crowley had it wrong and that the true Eleventh pertains to IX during the woman's Lunar flow. Now, as I always understood that the XI was Crowley's innovation it seems a bit presumptuous to contradict him. Beyond that is the simple fact that Grant's reasoning makes no sense: he takes words like "Qadeshim" ( a Semitic euphemism for male temple prostitutes) and "catamite" and uses them as if they refer to women. Is Grant playing Humpty-Dumpty and words mean whatever he says they do, is this one of those "deliberate mistakes" to confuse the Profane, or does he just not have a clue? I have seen some material from members of Grant's "Typhonian O.T.O." and he seems to enforce his interpretation as a sort of Official Party Line, so I think we can rule out the second possibility. Actually, it is worth mentioning here that while he claims to be the real O.H.O. Of O.T.O., many modern Thelemic scholars doubt that Grant ever made it beyond III, so your guess is no worse than his and could well be better.
Grant also gives a chapter on his method of "dream-control by sexual Magick." The term is something of a misnomer as it is really a method for perfoming sexual Workings with spirit partners in the dream state. This is a good example of Grant spoiling his own work with obscure presentation.
On the plus side there are some chapters on Austin Spare's system, most particularly his formula of the Witches' Sabbath, as well a his method of generating Sigils. There is also an analysis of H.P. Lovecraft as a reluctant visionary of the Typhonian Current. This part would be pretty good except that Grant often misapplies Lovecraft's terminology. For example he identifies the fish-like Deep Ones with the extra-terrestrial Great Old Ones.
Grant's scholarship has not improved. He still rarely gives his sources and this time does not even bother with a bibliography. The obscure jargon is well-represented, however, with such words as "adumbration," "exudations," "bodies-forth," "equinoctial colure," "teratoma," "the type of," "glyphed as," and "transdivine." he does coin one useful word though: "Aeonology."
In the final analysis this book has a few good points, but overall it is not as good as The Magical Revival. It is probably just as well that it is "not designed as a manual of practical Magick."
If this were a comedy segment on The Late Show with David Letterman, Paul Shaffer would come up with some campy Vegas-esque theme-music for the occasion, something like this:
So if the Reader will supply the music we may proceed.
"Oh, those Cults!
Yeah, those crazy Cults,
Those crazy, crazy, crazy
Cults of the Shadow-w-w-w!"
With its predecessors, The Magical Revival and Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, Cults of the Shadow forms Kenneth Grant's Typhonian Trilogy dealing with various schools of sexual Magick. This time he presents his interpretation of several such "Cults" (Grant has a perverse affection for lurid terminology) and attempts to show them as parts of one primordial Current.
Grant first discusses a number of West African/Voudon deities, linking them to appropriate Paths on the Tree of Life. This part is quite interesting and well done, but Grant spoils it by insisting that these are the prototypes of the Ancient Egyptian pantheon. There is just not enough resemblance; and if there were, would it not make more sense if the ancient Egyptian Gods were the ancestors of the modern African dieties? After all, just because African religions are supposedly "primitive" does not mean they have remained unchanged for 6,000-plus years.
Grant then gives a rather peculiar history of Egyptian religion (one can't help thinking it would have helped to consult even one book on Egyptology published since 1907), and moves on to Tantra. He maintains that Hindu Tantra was imported from Egypt, citing some implausable bits of etymology to prove it: Egyptian "Bast" and "Sekhmet" to Sanskrit "Pashu" and "Shakti" for example. While this may look good in print at first glance, Ancient Egyptian and Sanskrit are very different languages from very different families, and the actual pronunciation of Egyptian is far from certain anyway. So it will take more than a few lucky similarities to convince me.
Grant still focuses on one Tantric Tradition to the exclusion of all others. He also performs some rather odd feats of logical gymnastics. He joins orthodox Tantrics in denouncing Prayoga, whereby intercourse is had with Succubi, yet he later advocates his personal method of "dream-control" which involves exactly that!
Finally he comes to more contemporary sects with two chapters on Crowley and Thelema (which he insists on calling "The Cult of the Beast.") Much of this is devoted to legitimising Grant's "Typhonian" O.T.O. He denounces formal Initiations as "mere copies of masonic rituals having little magical value," eliminates Lodges in favour of "power-zones" and generally scuttles all of Crowley's ideas for the reform of society. Grant states that the O.T.O. devotes itself to Kundalini Yoga and "establishing a gate in space through which the extraterrestrial or cosmic energies may enter in and manifest on earth." Trans-Plutonic planets and the star Sirius figure largely in Grant¹s personal-mythology-presented-as-objective-fact.
He then deals with the career of Charles Stansfield Jones, better known as Crowley's "Magical son" Frater Achad, who had such a promising start: he discovered the secret key to Liber AL, and then went off the deep end. By 1926 Achad decided that Crowley was "unable" to utter the Word for the Aeon of Horus because, having identified himself with the Beast, he became "inarticulate." So Achad came up with a Word of his own, which appearently didn't work because in 1948 he announced a whole new Aeon, that of Maat or Ma-Ion! Achad is an excellent example of "ego-abcess" and paranoid obsession, besides being the first Thelemic "heretic." The major problem in this chapter is that Grant's commentary is so unclear it's hard to tell if he is simply reporting Achad's theories or actually supporting them.
The book ends with a short piece on Austin Spare's Zos-Kia Cultus, but before that we get two chapters on something new: Michael Bertiaux's La Couleuvre Noire (the Black Snake Cult.) This is a (theoretically) Voudon-oriented group centred in Chicago. I say "theoretically" because there is little recognisable Voudon in it; Bertiaux is incredibly eclectic and has a fetish for pseudo-technical jargon that must be seen to be believed. The curious reader may consult the Voudon Gnostic Workbook, a collection of Bertiaux's correspondence courses that is about the size of a large city's phonebook, and has about the same literary and Magical value, if that. Grant quotes mostly Lovecraft-oriented material in this section.
Grant's style remains consistent in terms of scholarship (damn little) and peculiar expressions (lots.) For those keeping score here are the new ones: "efflorescence," "Uranography," "co-types," "infra-liminal vibration," "audile," "comports," and the truly amazing "sexo-somniferous magnetization." All I can say is that this book is better than Bob Larson's Guide to Cults, but I won't put it on any "recommended reading" lists anytime soon.
A. O. Spare (1886 to 1956) was almost certainly the greatest occult artist of the last century, as well as being a powerful Magician who devised his own highly effective system of thaumaturgy. He has had considerable influence, especially on the Chaos Magick movement, even though his few published writings are couched in a very obscure and idiosyncratic style, besides being hard to find in the first place.3
For these reasons it is fortunate that we have an in-depth analysis of Spare's system by an occultist who knew the man well and can therefore make things plain. Shockingly enough, he turns out to be Kenneth Grant.
Readers of these articles will have noticed that I consider Grant's chapters on Spare to be the best part of his oeuvre, and now that he devotes an entire book to the subject he seems to leave his bad habits (sloppy scholarship, peculiar vocabulary, dumb ideas, and general loopiness) almost entirely behind. Grant has a firm grasp on this material that he lacks in other areas and he presents matters clearly and succinctly. The first half of the book is a brief biography and character sketch of Spare that gives one a clear sense of knowing the man. Grant then launches on a discussion of Spare's philosophy and Magick system. In this he quotes liberally from both published and unpublished material (Grant is Spare's literary executor) occasionally reproducing actual manuscript pages from Spare's uncompleted opus, The Zoetic Grimoire of Zos.
The book also includes liberal amounts of Spare's finished artwork and sketches, many of them automatic drawings, that makes this a fine introduction to the Artist as well as the Magician, although one wishes some of these could have been reproduced in colour.
I was pleased to hear recently that Skoob Books plans to reprint Images and Oracles soon; as this is the only one of Grant's books that really deserves to be kept in print I was certain that this would never happen4. Let us rejoice in this miraculous defiance of universal degeneration.
3 Click here to peruse some of Spare's works.
4 Alas! I spoke too soon! Since this was written (Summer, 1995 e.v.) Grant has been dropped by Skoob and is once more without a publisher.
After completing his Typhonian Trilogy (The Magical Revival, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, and Cults of the Shadow), Grant embarked on a new series of studies in his "Draconian Tradition." The first of these is a specialised discussion of the Tree of Life based on the Class A book, Liber CCXXXI. Grant's premise (partly derived from Fr. Achad's "Formula of Reversal") is that there are two sides to the Tree: the normal "Dayside" which is familiar to all Magicians in the Golden Dawn / A... A... Tradition, and the "Nightside," or "back" of the Tree, which is the source of the Qlippoth. The Qlippoth are normally said to form an upside-down Tree depending from Malkuth and are to be avoided at all costs. Grant, however, considers them to be a dark "mirror image" in Universe B, a "non-existent" reality underlying our normal Universe A. Here, instead of the Paths, we find the strangely looping "Tunnels of Set" winding their way through the "dream-cells" of the collective unconscious. This realm consists not of "evil spirits," but of the most ancient atavisms that may be accessed by the intrepid Magicians in quest of knowledge and power. The means for doing this are provided by the sigils in Liber 231 utilized in conjunction with sexual Magick.
"Very well," you say, "let us see how Grant deals with this." First of all, it must be noted that he does not present all of 231, merely the Qlippothic sigils and individual verses. He does not give, or even mention, the "Dayside" material at all. Perhaps there was some worry about copyright infringement if the entire Liber was included, but I suspect that this omission reflects an overall tendency of his to concentrate on the "dark side" of Magick to the exclusion of all else. The entire first half of the book is a long, rambling, disjointed collection of weird Qabalistic goo that generally leaves one wondering just what the point is.5 It often seems that this section was chopped into chapters at arbitrary intervals, especially since the chapter titles usually have only a tenuous connection to the material they introduce.
As for the text itself, we learn among other things, that the O.T.O. Degree system is "old Aeon," that "Choronzon manifests as the Scarlet Woman," that nuclear experiments have caused an invasion of "powers from the other side," that Ain = Ayin, and therefore 0 = 70, that apes are "the outcome of pre-human magical experiments by extra-terrestrials who copulated with primitive women6," and all manner of bizarre lore culled from Blavatsky, Bertiaux, Massey and others. He also seems determined to reduce every possible Deity to an aspect of Set, no matter how unlikely the subject.
Another point to be made here is that while Grant denies that the Nightside is really evil, and advocates working with these energies as a spiritual necessity, he can't seem to help always dragging out the most lurid descriptions possible, often reminding one of a bad horror novel rather than a serious occult tome. It is as if he cannot see any way to invoke the Tunnels except through fear. In my humble opinion, anyone working with this material stricly from Grant's perspective is in for a very wild ride.
Part Two is more coherent, simply because it follows the very obvious structure of discussing each of the twenty-two Tunnels in turn. The sigil of each guardian is given along with a few pages describing its nature and powers. Much of this is simply taken from 777. Grant puts special emphasis on the specific type of sexual Magick worked by the adepts of each Tunnel, thus making this a comprehensive, if overly specific grimoire. The major idiosyncracy here is,of course, Grant's re-definition of the XI to cover menstuation. He goes on for so long about how Moon-Blood is the true original sacrament and how it breeds abhorrent monsters in the Aether that it seems both offensive and ridiculous.
Whilst reading this book, I thought at first that Grant had finally run out of perplexing words. In fact, it was just that he was saving his strength for a supreme effort of amazing proportions. Here we are faced with "discreted," "insee," "teratomas," "appertained," "entifying" and its cousin, "entification," "expatiating," the "inferior Hebdomad" and the "superior Hebdomad," "advert to," "aduced," "impubescent," "equipollence," "pre-eval," "olid," "keraunograph," and the ultimate "excrementious manifestation."
As a final note, I must say that I regard this book not so much as a completely wrong-headed project, but as a worthwile idea that got ruined in the execution. Those wishing to explore the mysteries of Liber 231 are directed to The Shadow Tarot by Linda Falorio and Fred Fowler, available from Black Moon Publishing, which provides a far superior treatment of this same material.
5 Some years ago a group in the Bloomington, Indiana area did considerable work with this material. Some of the participants had their photocopies of Part One out of order and did not notice the fact until they specifically looked at the page numbers! They also said putting things back in the correct order didn't seem to help much.
6 To be fair, later on Grant says this is to be understood symbolically.
In some of his earlier books Grant touched on the later work of Frater Achad; namely his proclamation of the "Aeon of Maat" to supercede the Aeon of Horus. Now he devotes an entire book to the subject, bringing in the related work of Nema (then known as Andahadna) and others in Cincinnati's Bate Cabal.
From the opening chapters, it would seem that Grant has accepted Achad"s assertion that Crowley "failed to utter a Word for the Aeon of Horus." "Thelema" cannot be the Word because it is the "word of the Law," not of the Aeon! This is most charitably described as excessive hair-splitting, and I really can't imagine why in the Macroprosopus Grant would want to undermine his own work and authority, which is supposedly based on Crowley's, in this way. Evidently our author thinks better of this, for most of the book is devoted to demonstrating that Maat is a future Aeon after all, but that certain adepts have been able to intercept this Current-to-be now, hence the book's title.
We spend a good deal of time sipping Grant's usual, and increasingly outre, Qabalistic soup du jour . I would describe it, but it really must be experienced: the numbing sensation is unique. He sort of ties this book in with Nightside of Eden by refering to some transmitted writing called the Qabalas of Besqul which he declines to quote or describe in any detail.
Grant procedes on a lengthy account of the writing of Nema's Liber Pennae Praenumbra, which is supposedly the Holy Book of Maat, in the early Seventies. Here I must say that I am operating with Inside Information, as I personally know someone who was involved in those Workings. My informant tells me that Grant's account of the events is seriously inacurrate, and that when pressed for an explanation, he proclaimed himself to be more interested in the mythology of the events and put pressure on Nema to resign from his "Typhonian" O.T.O. Incedentally, none of those involved had been in his order at the time of the Workings, something Grant just manages to not quite make clear. In fact some people saw this entire book as an attempt by him to acquire some of the credit for Bate Cabal's work.
To be brief, Nema's writings7 often seem more like bad New-Agey science-fiction than Magick. Indeed, with her "intergalactic transmissions," time-travel, planetary gestalt race-conciousnesses and the "Comity of Stars8," she often sounds like a UFO channeler who took a wrong turn on the way to Sedona. Grant ties this in with his fixation on Lam, whose portrait he was given by Crowley (and which, I am told, overlooks Grant's writing desk to this day). This picture, which Crowley called "The Soul of a Tibetan Lama," does bear a strong resemblance to some descriptions of UFO aliens, and Grant stretches this for a lot more than it is worth.
It gets worse as Grant covers Nema's other major channeling, the Books of the Forgotten Ones, where we are treated to ninety-third-rate Lovecraft pastiche. The "Forgotten Ones" are apparently primal atavisms in the human racial unconciousness that were sealed away at some point and are now returning because modern nuclear explosions have re-opened the gateway. In the course of Grant's commentary we are treated to such revelations as this:
"On the ground that they have misinterpreted the magical allegories and types, we discount the theories of Dickhoff and others who exalt the Elder Gods as Martians, and abhor the Great Old Ones as the snake-like and invading spawn from Venus. The Elder Gods are the Maatians (not Martians!) who, when manifesting as the Ophidian Current are known as the Great Old Ones."
Grant's style remains consistent, though marked by increasing shifts between first and third person. Certainly there are more than enough new strange words to satisfy anyone. We get "undistortedly," "sub-cthonian," "imbibition," "id-entifier," "kalography," "astronomical plenilune," "oneiric perichoresis," "Voodic," "blent," "lucubration," and the rather puzzling "co-sexual."
All things considered, I don't think it is too remarkable that it took Grant over a decade to get another book in print.
7 The original material in question may be studied in the early numbers of the Cincinnati Journal of Ceremonial Magick (Black Moon Publishing), and in the recently released Maat Magick (Weiser, 1995) by Nema.
8 Maat herself is apparently a sentient neutron star out in space somewhere.
". . . and now you are very deep, but I'm going to take you even deeper!"
Grant seems to have hit a fallow period in the Eighties, publishing nothing after Outside the Circles of Time in 1980. He now returns with a new publisher and even weirder stuff for his fans.
This book seems to have a split personality. Partly it is an account of certain Workings at his "New Isis Lodge" in the Fifties and early Sixties, and partly it is the usual strange meanderings where he attempts to turn Liber AL into the Necronomicon! This involves possibly the most peculiar exegesis of CCXX you will ever run across; Grant dips into Lovecraft, Frater Achad, Michael Bertiaux, Arthur Machen, Sax Rohmer, Jack Parsons, and occasionally even Crowley with abandon. . . and without bothering to notice that much of what he is citing is fiction! At least this suits his breathless and disjointed narrative style, not to mention the aforesaid Workings.
These one suspects of being at least somewhat fictionalised. New Isis Lodge seemed to specialise in rather bizarre dramatic rituals that drew from, and often mixed, a variety of traditions as well as Grant's own theories. Many seem to have been based on his "Tunnels of Set" cosmology as given in Nightside of Eden. They are often related to various relics in the Lodge's "Magical Museum," such as Crowley's Magical Dagger. Photographic illustrations are provided, unfortunately many of these are in Outside the Circles of Time! It seems rather poor sport to send the reader scurrying to a book that's been out of print for ten years. In any case Grant has, as the years go by, an increasing tendency to put irrelevant illustrations in his books, which is a bit irritating even if we do get to see new Spare pictures. And speaking of irrellevant, the various ritual accounts and the exegesis are often mixed together without the slightest rime or reason, as if two different manuscripts have been shuffled together.
The rituals described also share another trait: they all seem to go horrendously wrong. Grant calls this a "tangential tantrum," but I can think a stronger words to describe one's students dying or going insane. Alleged instances include a trapeze artist falling off a giant Tree of Life framework into an open well, aquarium monsters emerge to have sex with a Priestess, and an Indian temple baboon dissapears into a column of purple smoke never to be seen again. To be sure, some people derived benefits from these rites: one woman supposedly became a great dancer after she sucked off a giant Mayan squid-bat in an abandoned chapel in Wales (pp. 243-6)! The reader may begin to understand my skepticism, and if anyone who was involved in New Isis Lodge ever reads this (increasingly likely as this goes on the Web,) I would love to hear some other reports of these Workings. I cannot, of course, say if these "tantrums" were the invariable results of Grant's rituals or if he just selected certain "unfortunate" records for this book, but either way one cannot call this good publicity for his work.
A Lovecraftian Tree of Life is included which is a distict improvement over the "corespondences" in The Magical Revival. There is also a chart from the New Isis Lodge Manifesto giving a "structure of the O.T.O." (more of a curriculum, really,) that bears no resemblance to the Order at any point in its history! Here, as elsewhere, Grant displays that complete lack of comprehension as to the nature of the Order he claims to rule.
As with all Grant books, we are treated to a lovely new collection of Wierd Words. Here we have adjectives like "delusively," "deaginous," "pullulant," "transakashic," "ornecephalic," "ojasic," and "sexomagnetic." We also learn of the "astro-audile sphere," "ideational essences," and "somniform receptivity."
While it is well known that the young Kenneth Grant acted as a secretary to Aleister Crowley for a time during World War Two, this book is his first attempt to give an detailed account of his time with the Beast. As such the book is something of a dissapointment in that it is mostly the letters that Grant received from Crowley on such mundane matters as travel plans and book orders. There are a few letters on Magical topics, as well as some good anecdotes (one of which features Grady McMurtry as a surprise guest star.)
It is interesting to note that, according to one of Crowley's letters, Grant's writing style was already pompous and effusive. Grant takes issue with this point in his running commentary, but as his own letters have not survived, he cannot back up his refutation by printing whatever writing of his that Crowley was criticising. The absence of Grant's letters somewhat diminishes the historical value of the collection. In addition there is no real attempt to address the circumstances of Grant's leaving, though the last letter (to Grant's father) seems to indicate familial pressures. Crowley was thinking of Grant as a sort of "assistant literary exectutor," but it is obvious that Grant washed out both mundanely and Magically, and he deserves credit for not attempting to hide the fact.
The book is rounded-out with several pictures of Crowley in his last years, reproductions of some of his letters, and colour photos of his Masonic regalia, all in Grant's possession. These items are the clue to the real nature of this "book." It is not really a memoir, nor is it a collection of correspondence: it is in fact a fifty-dollar advance-catalogue for Grant's estate sale!
Austin Spare's system of Magick as presented in The Book of Pleasure is very stripped-down and straightforward. Hardly anyone I know of, however, has noticed the footnote to the Introduction listing dozens of illustrations and chapters that were left out of the book. I have always wondered why these things were missing and in this book Kenneth Grant finally explains:
I have taken such pains to present this information because it constitutes almost the only useful portion of this entire 264 page book!
"Spare had intended using the illustrations but he never wrote the chapters suggested by them. Their substance [ . . . ] was destroyed during World War II. When I [Grant] got to know him, I persuaded him to reformulate the lost material. He did so, and it survives in the form of the Grimoire of Zos, parts of which I included nearly thirty years later in Images & Oracles of Austin Osman Spare."
The majority of this tome consists of endless disjointed ramblings on all the usual subjects, with a pronounced emphasis on UFOs. Grant postulates that such objects are in fact energy forms of extraterrestrial sorcerers and goes off onto weird Qabalistic tangents that mix authentic material and fictional names with abandon. He reveals that the ceremonies of the Drugpa Buddhists of Bhutan are inspired by Lovecraftian extraterrestrials, an assertion that would give any Drugpa the biggest laugh since Blavatsky said they could materialize letters over billiard tables in London. One also learns that "Count" Basie's "jump" jazz compositions provide ingress for the Outer Ones, which explains some of the alien life you see at jazz festivals. Later Grant enters a very odd digression about the evils of rock music that sounds like a channeling from Rene Guenon, of all people! He also takes time to plug some of his yet-unpublished occult novels.
Chapter 13 presents a "channeling" or "Holy book" recieved by Grant during his "New Isis Lodge" period entitled Wisdon of S'lba: The Doctrine of Self-Neither Attained through the Bliss of Non-mobile Becoming. This is a tract on non-dualist mysticism with great kinship to Hindu Advaita Vedanta and Austin Spare's theories. The subsequent chapters deal in Grant's Qabalistic exigesis of this text through what he calls "creative gematria" (more commercial candour!) which includes ruminations on Bela Lugosi!
As always we have more Strange Words: "mirroracle," "UFOlogicks," "synęthesis," "innerness," "mimesis," "impubescent," "miasmata," "egoidal," "paranomasia," "inheres," "metagnosis," "isopsephicism" and finally, "insectival sentience."
So if you've ever itched to have your mortal envelope shanghaied by a Yuggothian, this is the book for you!
From 1959 to 1963 (the height of Grant's "New Isis Lodge" period) Grant released a series of ten pamphlets in editions of 100 copies on occult subjects. Known as the Carfax Monographs, these are here collected in book form for the bibliophile. Most of these essays are rather basic, at just a few pages each they could be little else, with occasional hints at Deeper Mysteries. Four of these are actually written by Grant's wife, Steffi, who is much the better writer of the two. She also did nine of the ten colour plates tipped in to the book, the tenth being one of Austin Spare's magical Stellęs.
Frankly, this book is over-priced for the content. While the articles are interesting, most hinging on the relation of Eastern and Western esoteric ideas, Grant has largely superceded them in his later work (though he does refer back to them fairly often.) Most of the illustrations, which are very good, have since been reproduced elsewhere.
It appears that Grant has written several novels on occult subjects over the years (of course, there are those who say he's been writing little else but fiction all along. . . ) This work, which was originally written in the mid-fifties, is the first of these to be published, and in many ways is a more effective presentation of Grant's Magical theories than his "non-fiction."
First of all it must be said that this is not so much a novel as the detailed outline of a novel. Grant commits the common mistake of novice authors in that he "tells" us what happens rather than actually "showing" it as it happens. The characterisations are mostly weak and unlikely. He also forgets to mention several important developments in the plot until far too late, and from the way he barely mentions the climax (which is rather weak anyhow) it is obvious that he was thoroughly bored with the job and thus never really finished it. He never even seriously got around to salting the prose with his trademark strange vocabulary.
For those interested, the story itself is actually rather intriguing: the "Stellar Lode" of the title is a mysterious talisman (considering Grant's other works, I assume that it was created from solidified sexual fluids) designed to anchor the reincarnation of an Ancient Egyptian sorceress in modern times. One wishes that a more skilled author had gotten ahold of this one: Lovecraft or Machen would have produced a masterpiece, Sax Rohmer would at least have made a good pot-boiler. In fact, I strongly suspect that The Stellar Lode was inspired by a very similar novel of Rohmer's titled Brood of the Witch-Queen, as well as Bram Stoker's Jewel of the Seven Stars, which Grant is good enough to mention in this connection in Hidden Lore.