by the classical gods of ancient Egypt and also by his personal link
with an elderly witch named Mrs Paterson and an inner-plane entity
called Black Eagle, Spare moved rapidly from conventional figurative
art to an inspirational style of magical surrealism.
career had begun in an impressive but orthodox way when he won a
scholarship to the Royal College of Art at the age of sixteen. Admired
by Augustus John, George Bernard Shaw and John Sargent, he was considered
an artistic prodigy and was later commissioned to illustrate a handful
of books, including Ethel Wheeler's Behind the Veil (1906)
and a book of aphorisms titled The Starlit Mire (1911). In
the early 1920s he was co-editor with Clifford Bax of an excellent
illustrated literary journal called The Golden Hind which
ran for eight quarterly issues (1922-24) and featured articles by
such luminaries as Aldous Huxley, Alex Waugh and Havelock Ellis.
Spare's drawings for the journal were mostly of sumptuous, naked
women and there was only a hint of the magical world which had already
begun to profoundly inspire him. If Spare had continued to move
in conventional literary circles he may, perhaps, have become better
known as an artist - at least as well known, for example, as the
noted illustrator Edmund J. Sullivan who provided images for The
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and whose graphic style was in many
ways comparable to Spare's early work. But Spare had already decided
that he would self-publish his writings and drawings dealing with
the exploration of magical consciousness. Indeed, his esoteric inclinations
were already leading him away from the cultural mainstream.
cosmology is complex but instructive. He believed in reincarnation
and claimed that all his former lives, whether as a human or animal,
were deeply embedded in the subconscious mind. The mystical purpose
of man was to retrace those existences back to their source, and
this could be done in a state of trance - whereby one allowed oneself
to be possessed by the 'atavisms' of former lives.
termed the primal and universal source of Being 'Kia', and he referred
to the human body as 'Zos'. For Spare, the latter was the ideal
vehicle through which to manifest the spiritual and occult energies
of the otherwise hidden universe. He regarded this level of the
mind as 'an epitome of all experience and wisdom, past incarnations
as men, animals, birds, vegetable life... everything that exists,
has or ever will exist'. His actual technique of arousing these
primal images - the technique he named 'atavistic resurgence' -
involved focusing his will on magical sigils, which he developed
to represent 'instruction like 'This is my wish; to obtain the strength
of a tiger' into a single graphic anagram composed of the letters
in the sentence.
established his core sigil, Spare would then close his eyes and
focus both on the sigil and the associated wish-intent that accompanied
it. According to Spare's friend and fellow occultist, Kenneth Grant,
the effect was dramatic:
immediately he sensed an inner response. He then felt a tremendous
upsurge of energy sweep through his body. For a moment he felt
like a sapling bent by the onslaught of a might wind. With great
effort of will he steadied himself and directed the force to
its proper object.'
had visited Egypt during World War I and was impressed by the magnetic
presence of the classical deities depicted in monumental sculpture.
He considered the ancient Egyptians to have been a nation of people
who understood very thoroughly the complex mythology of the subconscious
symbolised this knowledge in one great symbol, the Sphinx, which
is pictorially man evolving from animal existence. Their numerous
Gods, all partly Animal, Bird, Fish ... prove the completeness
of their knowledge of the order of evolution, its complex processes
from the one simple organism.'
Spare, impressions from earlier incarnations and all mythic impulses
could be reawakened from the subconscious mind: 'All Gods have lived
(being ourselves) on earth,' he wrote, 'and when dead, their experience
or Karma governs our actions in degree.'
artist learned his technique of atavistic resurgence from Mrs Paterson,
who claimed a psychic link with the witches of the Salem cult. He
also began to produce automatic drawings in the trance state through
the mediumship of an entity he called Black Eagle, and who took
the form of an American Indian. Spare claimed to see him several
times and, in general, lived in a perceptual universe where the
everyday world and the images of trance and hallucination seemed
to intermingle. On one occasion, while riding in a double-decker
bus, Spare found himself surrounded by a group of 'imaginary' passengers
- an assembly of witches bound for the Sabbath!
attraction to the ageing Mrs Paterson was quite understandable when
we consider the magical context of their relationship. According
to Spare she was able to transform herself perceptually from being
a 'wizened old crone' to appearing quite suddenly as a 'ravishing
siren'. For Spare, the idea of a woman with no apparent fixed or
finite form had great appeal - and the Universal Goddess was, after
all, a central aspect of his magical cosmology. Spare was adamant
that the Goddess could not be culturally or mythically contained:
'...nor is she to be limited as any particular goddess such
as Astarte, Isis, Cybele, Kali, Nuit - for to limit her is to turn
away from the path and to idealize a concept which, as such, is
false because incomplete, unreal because temporal.'
used different techniques for entering trance states. On some
occasions he used total physical exhaustion as a means of opening
himself to a state of 'total vacuity'. At other times he used
sexual orgasm to bring about the same sense of mystical ecstasy.
He believed that the sigil, representing the act of conscious
will, could be planted like a seed in the subconscious mind
during such peak states of ecstasy since at this special moment
the personal ego and the universal spirit blended together:
'At this moment, which is the moment of generation of the Great
Wish,' wrote Spare, 'inspiration flows from the source of sex,
from the primordial Goddess who exists at the heart of Matter
... inspiration is always at the void moment.'
of Spare's drawings depict the Divine Maiden leading the artist
into the labyrinthine magical world. One of his most important single
works, The Ascension of the Ego from Ecstasy to Ecstasy -
which is included in his self-published masterpiece of 1913, The
Book of Pleasure - shows the Goddess welcoming Spare himself,
who on this occasion appropriately has wings issuing forth from
his head. Spare's 'ego', or personal identity, is shown merging
with an earlier animal incarnation and the two forms transcend each
other in the form of a primal skull - union with Kia. And in another
fine work, Now for Reality, the Maiden is there once again,
lifting a veil which leads to the mysterious realm beyond.
the foreground are all manner of creatures - an owl, a field mouse,
a horned devil - but clearly reality lies 'beyond' - in the nether
regions revealed by the Goddess.
one of Spare's major magical objectives in using the trance state
was to tap energies which he believed were the source of genius.
As Spare himself commented, '... ecstasy, inspiration, intuition
and dream ... each state taps the latent memories and presents them
in the imagery of their respective languages'. Genius, according
to Austin Spare, was a 'directly resurgent atavism' experienced
during the ecstasy of the Fire Snake or Kundalini...'.
New Zealand-born, Australian artist Rosaleen Norton (1917-1979)
provides us with one of the few reasonably close parallels
to Austin Spare. Bohemian, eccentric and extraordinarily talented,
she has left her mark in Sydney folklore as 'the Witch of
Kings Cross' and as a painter of the supernatural who was
presumed during the moralistic social era of the 1950's to
indulge in 'Satanism and pornography'. This view of her reflects
the narrow judgemental attitudes that hounded her for most
of her creative life.
"Lucifer" by Rosaleen Norton
father was a captain in the merchant navy and a cousin of musical
composer Vaughan Williams. The Norton family emigrated to Sydney
her parents had orthodox religious beliefs, young Rosaleen made
contact with the magical world very early indeed. At the age of
three she was already drawing animal-headed ghosts and when only
five observed an apparition of a shining dragon beside her bed.
Later in secondary school in Sydney she illustrated Saint Saens'
Dance Macabre - complete with vampires, ghouls and werewolves.
Her pagan orientation was noted by the teaching staff and in due
course she was expelled from the school under a cloud - her headmistress
commenting that she had a 'depraved nature which would corrupt the
innocence of the other girls'.
her teen years, after working briefly as a writer for Smith's
Weekly, Rosaleen studied art with the famous sculptor Rayner
Hoff, became one of Australia's first women pavement artists and
then drifted from one job to another - designing for a toy manufacturer,
assisting in night-clubs, and doing stints of waitressing and modelling.
But at this time she also began to research psychology, magic and
metaphysics - studying in depth the writings of Carl Jung, William
James and occultists like Eliphas Levi, Madam Blavatsky, Dion Fortune
and Aleister Crowley. She also discovered techniques that could
heighten her artistic perception: through self-hypnosis, for example,
she learned how to transfer her attention at will to inner planes
of awareness. These experiments, she later wrote, 'produced a number
of peculiar and unexpected results... and culminated in a period
of extra-sensory perception together with a prolonged series of
following extracts come from a transcript of an interview between
Rosaleen Norton and a psychologist, L. J. Murphy, conducted at the
University of Melbourne in 1949. They provide a fascinating insight
into her visionary exploration of trance states:
decided to experiment in self-induced trance, the idea being to
induce an abnormal state of consciousness and manifest the results,
if any, in drawing. My aim was to delve down into the subconscious
mind and, if possible through and beyond it. I had the feeling
(intuitional rather than intellectual) that somewhere in the depths
of the unconscious, the individual would contain, in essence,
the accumulated knowledge of mankind; just as his physical body
manifests the aggregate of racial experience in the form of instinct
or automatic reaction to stimulus.
order to contact this hypothetical source, I decided to apply
psychic stimulus to the subconscious: stimulus that the conscious
reasoning mind might reject yet which would appeal to buried instincts
as old as man, and which - I hoped - cause psychic 'automatic
reflexes'. (Religious cults use ritual, incense etc for the same
reason.) Consequently, I collected together a variety of things
such as aromatic leaves, wine, a lighted fire, a mummified hoof
etc ... all potent stimuli to the part of the unconscious that
I wished to invoke. I darkened the room, and focusing my eyes
upon the hoof I crushed the pungent leaves, drank some wine, and
tried to clear my mind of all conscious thought. This was a beginning
(and I made many other experiments which were progressively successful).
a surge of curious excitement, my brain would become emptied of
all conscious thought: my eyes would shut, and I was merely aware
that I was drawing on the blank sheet of paper in front of me
... I seemed while experiencing a great intensification of intellectual,
creative and intuitional faculties, to have become detached in
a curiously timeless fashion from the world around me, and yet
to be seeing things with a greater clarity and awareness than
Image by Rosaleen Norton
I interviewed Rosaleen Norton in 1977 she told me that her visionary
encounters with the magical creatures who appear in her paintings
and drawings were extremely "real'. Whereas such figures
as Zeus, Jupiter and Pan are usually associated with myths and
legends and therefore have a sense of remoteness about them
for most people, for her they represented supernatural forces
that had their own causality and were not merely a projection
of the subconscious mind or the creative imagination.
came to have a special reverence for the Great God Pan and regarded
him as the Totality of All Being - the true God of the World and
Overlord of the Balance of Nature. There were other major deities
too - Lucifer, Baphomet, Hecate and Jupiter - but according to Rosaleen
they would only appear to her in her trance visions if it pleased
them - it was not a case of the magician summoning the gods
to answer every beck and call!
there were lesser forces in Rosaleen's occult hierarchy as well,
including a number of demons, spirit beings and astral forms. Some
of the magical entities that appear in her artistic works seem to
be atavistic hybrids - half-human, half-animal and often naked -
revealing the primeval aspects of humanity's spiritual evolution.
like Austin Spare, Rosaleen Norton came to regard her art as a means
of depicting an alternative, and potentially much more impressive
reality than the world of familiar appearances. In an early entry
in her magical journal she wrote
are senses, art forms, activities and states of consciousness
that have no parallel in human experience ... an overwhelming
deluge of both Universal and Self-Knowledge presented (often in
an allegorical form) every conceivable aspect ... metaphysical,
mathematical, scientific, symbolic ... These comprisea bewildering
array of experiences, each complete in itself yet bearing an interblending
and significant relationship to every other facet. One such experience
could be compared with simultaneously watching and taking part
in a play in which all art forms, such as music, drama, ceremonial
ritual, shape, sound and pattern, blended into one...'
of Rosaleen Norton's art was influenced by the Vorticist and Cubist
schools of modernism but her visionary imagery retains a strength
which is uniquely its own. The images were first published in 1952
in a controversial volume entitled The Art of Rosaleen Norton,
co-authored with poet Gavin Greenlees. While Rosaleen's drawings
do not seem especially confrontational now, they must have in the
1950's because the book's publisher, Wally Glover, was summoned
before a magistrate and fined for publishing a work which contained
illustrations 'offensive to public chastity and human decency'.
Looking back on this situation now, it seems clear that Rosaleen's
admittedly pagan drawings touched a nerve which challenged narrow
Judaeo-Christian sensibilities. Her best work certainly has an archetypal
power of its own.
Esoteric Study, for example, an angry demon leers across
from the chaotic Qlippothic realm, counterbalanced by a diamond
form of white radiance, while in Individuation we are
shown a mythic being that fuses animal, human and divine elements.
Similarly, her representations of Geburah - a vortex
of dynamic power in the Qabalah - shows a powerful human male
torso with the winged head of a hawk. The god has a scorpion's
tail and clawed feet, and very much embodies a sense of raw,
warlike aggression. Her holds a sphere in his right hand which
could almost be the puny globe of Earth - encompassed by his
"Individuation" by Rosaleen Norton
Austin Spare, Rosaleen Norton was adept at exploring the states
of trance consciousness in which she would have her visionary encounters
with the gods. When she died in 1979 she had already become a legendary
figure - but for all the wrong reasons. In her day - plagued by
charges of obscenity and also accused by the tabloid press of holding
Black Masses in her Kings Cross coven - Rosaleen Norton was considered
a pagan deviant, and her artworks were judged to be bizarre and
pornographic. Today we can re-evaluate her work in a new light.
Her images seem now to cross a type of frontier, giving form to
archetypal and visionary realities which for most people do not
intrude into consciousness. Perhaps in the 1950's this is what made
her work seem so shocking - that she dared to bring to light images
from that deep layer of the psyche which for most people remains
forgotten or repressed.
known as the creator of The Alien for the movie of the same name,
Hans-Ruedi Giger was born in Chur, Switzerland, in 1940. Unlike
Austin Spare and Rosaleen Norton, Giger did not initially develop
his unique form of visionary art within a consciously acknowledged
esoteric tradition. Rather, the art-forms evoked from his psyche
drew him increasingly towards the magical realm. Giger's images
often take shape in ethereal misty-grey light, leading the viewer
into nightmarish caverns or into magical spaces from which there
is no tangible means of escape. In recent years Giger has become
very much an intuitive magician - his art providing a haunting testimony
to the potent energies which stir deep down within the wellspring
of the psyche.
a child Giger built skeletons of cardboard, wire and plaster and
had an 'overwhelming disgust of worms and snakes' - a loathing which
still manifests itself in his paintings today. Also, while training
at the Zurich School of Applied Arts, he became fascinated by images
of torture and horror - a fascination stimulated by being shown
photographs of the hideous murder of the Emperor of China in 1904,
and also by learning of the legends associated with Vlad the Impaler
- the historical figure on which the Dracula tales were founded.
Giger later became intrigued by the fantasy writings of H. P. Lovecraft,
especially his Cthulhu mythos and Necronomicon. Part of the
appeal, as he has himself acknowledged, was that the Necronomicon
purported to be ...'a book of magic which would bring dreadful misfortune
to mankind should it fall into the wrong hands. It includes the
legend of the great gods with almost unpronounceable names, such
as Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth, who slumber in the depths of the earth
and oceans and who will arise at a certain time - when the stars
are right - to seize world domination'. Giger's friend and mentor
Sergius Golowin later suggested Giger's Necronomicon as a
title for the first major book on the artist's visionary art-works
- a remarkable collection of esoteric images first published in
Basle in 1977 and later released in an English edition.
of Giger's most distinctive paintings are based substantially on
the beautiful actress, Li Tobler, whom Giger met in 1966 - when
she was 18 years old and living with another man. Giger moved into
her attic apartment and in due course they became lovers. Giver
recalls that Li 'had enormous vitality and a great appetite for
life'. She also wanted her life to be 'short but intense'.
Tobler is the prototype for the many tortured but ethereal women
in Giger's paintings who peer forth from the torment of snakes,
needles and stifling prison-vaults fashioned from bones. Giger painted
Li's body several times with an airbrush and there are a number
of photographs of her posing naked - like a woman of mystery struggling
to emerge from a nightmare that has possessed her soul. Regrettably,
the life of Li Tobler came to a sudden and tragic end. Drawn increasingly
into an intense schedule of theatrical performances around the country
and also plunged into emotional turmoil following a succession of
other lovers, Li shot herself with a revolver on Whit Monday 1975.
I met Giger in his Zurich home in 1984, to film a sequence for the
television documentary The Occult Experience, it was clear
that he was still haunted by Li Tobler: the simultaneous agony and
job of living with her had helped establish a dynamic of fear and
transcendence in the paintings, and this was an ongoing legacy of
now lives in an atmosphere that simultaneously evokes a sense of
magic and paranoia. The main downstairs room in his two-storey terrace
house is dominated by remarkable paintings which feature Medusa-like
women with ghostly-pale skin, snakes in their hair and strange shapes
and forms writhing around their bodies. Claws, needles, machine-guns
and barbs have also become a central aspect of Giger's visual iconography.
In the centre of the long table which occupies his living room is
an engraved pentagram, and also a set of candlesticks whose flames
cast an eerie light on the paintings nearby. A tall row of shelves
in one corner of the room reveals a row of skulls and authenticshrunken
heads from a cannibalistic tribe. It is here that Giger has placed
his Oscar, won for special effects in Alien - a tribute to
his bizarre imagination.
Giger has his studio. At one end it is total chaos - a litter of
splattered paint, brushes and discarded works of art. Here he experiments
with his airbrush techniques, spraying patterns through metal grids
and exploring different textures of light and shade. At the other
end of the long, open room, is a large black table with bulbous
legs and an extraordinary mirror sheen on its pristine surface.
Fashioned substantially from heavy moulded plastic, it is accompanied
by several tall chairs surmounted with skulls and shaped to give
the impression of distorted vertebrae. An ash-grey version of these
chairs - seemingly formed from bone itself - has pride of place
at the head of the table. And gracing the long wall above is another
large panel - this time depicting a horned devil, a silver pentagram
and dark, hostile serpents.
asked Giger about his occult affiliations and he confirmed that
although he has studied the works of Aleister Crowley, he does not
perform rituals, engage in invocations or summon spirits. Nevertheless
one could hardly find a better temple of the black arts than Giger's
main living room, and the astral beings which inhabit his paintings
are themselves like a pantheon of demons.
would seem, then, that Giger makes magic spontaneously. 'I try to
come close to my imagination', he says in his broken English. 'I
have something in my head and I try to work it out - like a kind
of exorcism'. When the thin veil across Giger's psyche is drawn
aside just a little, remarkable and tempestuous visions come forth.
It is as if the dark gods are emerging once again from the nightmares
of his past.
I noted earlier there are distinctive parallels between Austin Spare
and Rosaleen Norton. Both were influenced by witchcraft and the
occult traditions of western magic, both utilised trance states,
and both believed that the realm of the gods had its own intrinsic
existence - the artist simply serving to manifest these archetypal
energies by acting as an inspired channel. It is also interesting
that both employed mental focusing techniques - using sigils or
specific physical objects to induce a state of trance. As in the
Eastern forms of meditation which utilise 'one-centredness of mind',
it seems that the focusing of intent is a valuable way of unleashing
stored psychic energy.
R. Giger, on the other hand, provides us with a somewhat different
orientation. His art does not derive from trance states per se,
but flows, nevertheless, from a type of exorcism of the soul. In
a foreword to a recent collection of Giger's works published in
1991, Timothy Leary confirms the impact of Giger's evocative art:
'Giger, you razor-shave sections of my brain and plaster them, still
pulsing, across your canvas ... Like it or not, we are all insectoid
aliens burrowing within our urbanoid bodies. Giger's fleshscapes,
his microscopic slides, are signals to mutate.'
is an extract from ECHOES FROM THE VOID: Writings on Magic, Visionary
Art and the New Consciousness, which was published by Prism/Unity
early in 94. Used in Shadowplay with the author's permission.
Pan's Daughter, a biography of Rosaleen Norton, has been reissued
in Britain by Mandrake of Oxford and is available in Australia (both
books through Peribo Distributors, Sydney)