“She would visualize certain animal forms and—the language of the subconscious being pictographic not verbal—each form represented a corresponding power in the hidden world of causes. It was necessary only to ‘plant’ an appropriate sigil in the proper manner for it to awaken its counterpart in the psyche. Resurging from the depths it then emerged, sometimes masked in the form to do the sorcerer’s bidding.”4
Undoubtedly, one of Spare’s major objectives in using the trance state was to tap energies which he believed were the source of genius. According to Spare, “…ecstasy, inspiration, intuition and dream…each state taps the latent memories and presents them in the imagery of their respective languages.” And genius itself was “a directly resurgent atavism” experienced during the ecstasy of the Fire Snake—Spare’s term for magical sexual arousal.
Spare’s unique magical approach took several years to unfold, however, and while ancient Egyptian deities and other pagan entities abound in his drawings, his first book, Earth Inferno—published as a limited edition in 1905—seems to have been strongly influenced by the Qabala and other elements of the western mystical tradition. Here Spare tends towards dualism, regarding the phenomena of life as generally either positive or negative, spiritual or materialistic, real or delusory. His concept of Kia has a clear counterpart in the transcendent Ain Soph Aur of the Qabala, and there is a strong emphasis on the superficial and essentially false nature of appearances. Man, says Spare, should learn to shed his dependency on material security, which inevitably shrouds him in the falsehoods of conventionality. Instead he should search beneath his “mask” to uncover the potentials of his subconscious.
In Earth: Inferno Spare is intent on exploring the relationship between Zos and Kia—between individual awareness and the Universal Consciousness or Primal Energy. He concurs with the traditional mystical perspective that the Godhead lies within, and by now has begun to embrace the view that he should follow the beckoning of the Universal Mother of Nature—the “Primitive Woman”—who can guide him pantheistically back to the Source of All Being. Spare has also taken a magical name to epitomize his mystical quest: Zos vel Thanatos.
In Earth: Inferno Spare makes it clear that the magical journey is one which is undertaken beyond “the parapet of the subconscious.” Here Spare depicts the world of everyday awareness as a circular pathway along which visionless old men dodder hopelessly, looking to their candles for light while
simultaneously remaining unaware of the “Great Beyond.” Spare also shows us a depraved young man making lustful advances to the Universal Woman in his failure to see beyond her enticing outward appearance. This clearly involves an issue of insight: the Universal Woman is the wise and all-seeing Sophia of the Gnosis and is not to be mistaken for the Scarlet Woman of Babalon. Spare maintains that he himself did not commit this error: “I strayed with her, into the path direct. Hail! The Jewel in the Lotus!”
Nevertheless, at this stage Spare still finds himself caught between the inner and outer worlds: as he proclaims in his text, “I myself am Heaven and Hell.” He has begun to encounter the dark night of the soul, and realizes that he will have to venture through the illusions of everyday life and the debris of the subconscious in order to experience the transcendence of Kia. Spare talks of this in a reflective way: “The barrenness of this life but remains, yet in despair we begin to see true light. In weakness we can become strong. Revere the Kia and your mind will become tranquil.”
Spare already believed that every human being is innately divine, though most failed to perceive it. “I have not yet seen a man who is not God already,” declares Spare provocatively. All man has to do is confront himself as he really is, and he will find God. This in turn involves the death of the ego, for it is the ego which isolates us from the realization of the unity which sustains all aspects of creation. For Spare, death could even be seen as a positive element because it destroyed the pretence of the personality. “From behind,” writes Spare, “Destiny works with Death.” And death is a precursor of enlightenment. In Earth: Inferno Spare presents us with a vision which draws on both the Qabala and the Major Arcana of the Tarot:
On entering at the Gates of Life Lo, I behold Knowledge the Jester Capsizing the Feast of Illusion.
The drawing aside false Truth He shewed us a//—
The World, The Flesh and
This is the Alpha and Omega.
On the Qabalistic Tree of Life, Kether is the first emanation from the infinite formlessness of Ain Soph Aur—the first act of Creation “out of nothing”— and this is the highest level of spiritual awareness any human being can theoretically attain. It is shown symbolically on the Tarot path which leads to Kether as the Jester, or the Foot—the person who knows No-thing. The Jester is therefore the wisest among all men for he has reached the highest possible state of consciousness. He has experienced Kia, or transcendent reality.
All of this involves a relatively orthodox Western mysticism, but Spare was already developing his own individualized philosophy—a system of magical thought which he hoped would be free of dogma or “belief.” As he saw it, Spare was now liberating his perception from the vices of the world—“fear many of his finest drawings as well as describing the essence of his new magical approach. Released, faith…science and the like”—and was preparing to plunge into his own personal unknown: his inner self.
With this perspective in mind, he now produced a book which would be the magnum opus of his magical and artistic career. Entitled The Book of Pleasure (Self Love): The Philosophy of Ecstasy, it featured in 1913, The Book of Pleasure was privately published and included a number of important new concepts.5 It is true that prior to this time a number of occultists had been emphasizing the role of the “will” in magical procedures. Golden Dawn member Florence Farr had outlined the need for intense mental concentration in her articles in the Occult Review (1908), and Aleister Crowley had emphasized the need for both a spiritual and magical focus in his central dictum “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Austin Spare was briefly a member of Crowley’s order, the Argenteum Astrum,6 and he adopted this view too, but only up to a point; he then moved in a different direction.
In The Book of Pleasure Spare explored methods of concentrating the will. Since the degree of effectiveness of any action is related to a thorough understanding of the command behind the action, Spare developed a way of condensing his will so that it was more readily grasped as a totality. He did this by writing his “will” (=desire) in sentence form and by combining the
basic letters, without repetition, into a pattern shape, or sigil. This could then be simplified and impressed upon the subconscious mind. Spare describes the process:
“Sigils are made by combining the letters of the alphabet simplified. Illustration: the word “Woman” in sigil form is:
The idea being to obtain a simple form which can be easily visualized at will…”7
What was to be done with the sigil once it was arrived at? And what was the significance of the sigil itself? We must first of all consider some related ideas.
As has been noted earlier, Spare spoke of Kia as the Supreme Principle in the Universe: it was akin to a dynamic, expanding Vortex of Energy, ever in a state of becoming. Most human beings were unaware of its full potential simply because they did not let it manifest within themselves (“Are we not ever standing on our own volcano?”). Instead, most people would shut themselves off by means of the various “insulating” devices employed by the ego. The only way in which the cosmic energy could manifest, or be aroused within, was by thoroughly opening oneself to it.
According to Austin Spare it was when the individual was in a state of mental “vacuity”—or ultimate openness—that Kia became “sensitive to the subtle suggestion of the sigil.” This state could be arrived at by emptying the mind of all its thought-forms in an effort to visualize non-manifestation—for example, by meditating on blackness or emptiness. This in turn usually involved inducing a state of meditative trance in which the individual became oblivious of his surroundings as he focused only on the Inner Void.
Because we all proceed from the Godhead originally, argued Spare, it should be possible to track back through the mind to the First Cause. Like many mystics, Spare believed in reincarnation and he therefore regarded the subconscious mind as the “potential” source of all his own earlier physical embodiments or personalities, right back to the Beginning.8 The psyche, as it were, consisted of a number of different layers—the resulting impressions of
successive lives, most of which were subconscious. All of these were an aspect of the individual’s own “reality”:
“Know the subconscious to be an epitome of all experience and wisdom, past incarnations as men, animals, birds, vegetable life, etc.: everything that has, and ever will, exist. Each being a stratum in the order of evolution. Naturally then, the lower we probe into these strata, the earlier will be the forms of life we arrive at: the last is the Almighty Simplicity.”
Spare’s intention was to gain knowledge of his concealed mental states through “regression” and eventually to lose his sense of self in an indescribably ecstatic union with Kia—whose energy he had now come to consider as basically sexual. The dark void of the mind, emptied of thought- forms through an act of concentration, could now be penetrated by the will by employing a sigil suitable for one’s purpose. In theory, and according to one’s ability, one could project the sigil to all possible recesses of the subconscious mind and in this way gain access to the entire sphere of the imagination.
Spare seems to have often preferred a third approach for bypassing the ego. This involved a state of self-induced trance in which the body became rigid, ceased to function, and underwent what Spare called “the Death Posture.”
In reality this was much harder to achieve than the theory suggests. Obviously, it depended upon a number of crucial factors:
- An ability to derive a suitable sigil.
- An ability to prevent random thought-forms from unintentionally disturbing the “black void” and thus rendering “impure” the individual’s attempt to become a pure vessel for the energies of Kia.
- An ability to reach further into the subconscious by totally renouncing the worldly context of one’s aspirations. Ultimately this task would involve rejecting one’s sense of humanity and eventually destroying the ego altogether—a most unworldly intention!
Naturally the last condition was the hardest to achieve. Spare acknowledged that “total vacuity” was difficult and unsafe for those “governed by morality, complexes etc.”—that is to say; for all those governed by the “superstitions” and intellectual conceptions that most human beings surround themselves
with. Indeed, Spare maintained that one would have to cast aside all contrived or finite rationalizations. He therefore tried to think of various situations where a sense of the rational was minimal or absent, and he emphasized three such circumstances:
The first of these was the state of physical exhaustion. If one had a “desire” or “concentrated thought” in this situation, Spare argued, the mind would become “worried, because of the non-fulfillment of such desire, and seek relief. By seizing this mind and living, the resultant vacuity would become sensitive to the subtle suggestion of the sigil.” In other words, by exhausting the body, one made it impossible for normal mental intentions or commands to be carried out physically. The mind would then be forced into manifesting the concepts embodied in the magical sigil. Sheer exhaustion can be brought about in a number of ways, and this includes the climax of sexual orgasm itself. The tantric yoga technique of using orgasm as the “leaping off” point to visionary states of consciousness was well known in Western esoteric circles at the time Spare was writing.
The second method lay in exploiting the mental state of extreme disappointment, experienced, for example, when one lost all faith in a close friend, or when a cherished ideal had been destroyed. Spare felt that this state, too, could provide its own sense of opportunity:
“When fundamental disappointment is experienced the symbol enshrining a quota of belief is destroyed. In some cases the individual is unable to survive the disillusionment. But if at such times the moment is seized upon and consciously experienced for its own sake, the vacuum attracts into itself the entire content of belief inherent in the person at the time of disappointment.”
Spare is saying, in effect, that when we thoroughly lose faith in a belief or ideal, that we are given the option of transcending it, and transcendence of belief can lead to a state of ecstasy as we are drawn into the vortex of Kia.
However, Spare seems to have often preferred a third approach for bypassing the ego, a method which could be used for generalized changes in the personality and also for specifics. This involved a state of self-induced trance in which the body became rigid, ceased to function, and underwent what Spare called “the Death Posture.” He describes a preliminary exercise designed to bring this about:
“Gazing at your reflection (e.g. in a tall mirror) till it is blurred and you know not the gazer, close your eyes and visualize. The light (always an X in curious evolutions) that is seen should be held onto, never letting go, till the effort is forgotten; this gives a feeling of immensity (which sees a small form whose limit you cannot reach.”
Spare considered that the Death Posture exercise should be practiced daily for best effect. “The Ego is swept up as a leaf in a fierce gale,” he wrote. “In the fleetness of the indeterminable, that which is always about to happen, becomes its truth. Things that are self-evident are no longer obscure, as by his own will he pleases; know this as the negation of all faith by living it, the end of duality of consciousness.” Here Spare is alluding to the Kia dimension, which is beyond time and space but which nevertheless represents the central basis for all life and human potential. Spare believed that achieving the state of openness necessary for Kia to manifest would also enable him to direct his magical will into the cosmic memory. By doing this he could acquire a full and detailed knowledge of the earlier life-forms which were both an aspect of oneself and of Kia as a whole. The Death Posture provided the possibility of a link; the magical sigil confirmed the possibility.