Austin Spare and Egypt, part 2

Illustration: Zos dancing with a Kia bird, by Austin Osman Spare (1904)

Zos dancing with a Kia birdSpare chose the name ‘Kia’ as the best possible expression for something which is essentially unknown, a concealed mystery. Origins – it has been suggested – may well be Kabbalistic: ‘Chiah’ (> Kia), in Hebrew, means an “illimitable, indefinable idea.” In the Kabbalistic World there’s a word indicating ‘Atziloth’ – incomprehensible God. This is only the tip of the iceberg though. Spare would differentiate the Kia within the context he happened to be using. In The Focus of Life for instance, or The Book of Satyrs, Kia has a more reptilian connotation, and of course Kia is also used in compound form, such as ‘Zos-Kia’ (for another, see below.)

Continuing to muse on Spare’s inspired and inspiring borrowings, references, and transformations – with particular attention at the moment to all-things-Egyptian – and finding that the Two Grimoires [Starfire, 2011] richly rewards a closer reading (and that goes for the images as much as the excellent accompanying essays by Messrs Wallace & Pochin!)

AOS Two Grimoires

Prompted by a recent discussion of the Kia-bird and the pre-dynastic vulture goddess, Nekhbet, I found myself reconsidering this image from The Arcana of AOS & The Consciousness of Kiā-Rā.

Nekhbet, a tutelary deity of Upper Egypt – referred to in the Book of the Dead as “Father of Fathers, Mother of Mothers, who hath existed from the Beginning, and is Creatrix of this World” – was often depicted hovering, wings spread, over the pharaoh, frequently holding the shen ring symbol in her claws, representing eternal protection. Her shrine at Nekheb was one of the oldest oracles in Egypt, and her priestesses – known as muu, meaning “mothers” – wore robes of vulture feathers.

Nekhbet, colour

Is it too much of a leap to see the shrouded figure in the accompanying picture as analogous to the initiate – submerged in the “sleep” of la petit mort/mystical trance/Death Posture, going down into Amenta as the mummiform Osiris – being watched over by the Kia-bird, an avatar of the goddess?


Austin Spare and Egypt

AOS-Egypt - Copy (3)

Earth Inferno dedication

Spare’s engagement with Egypt and its gods was intense. They were not his only visual resource and inspiration, but an essential one, nevertheless. By itself, an interest in Egypt is nothing extraordinary. You might say the world and its dog share in it.

Austin Spare did something inimitable with it. You can trace the origin of a particular drawing back to Egypt, but Spare made its visual idiom uniquely his own. With his great gift for line, the glyptic (carved or engraved) quality in Egyptian art was one attraction, the chthonian mysteries of its religious culture, the proliferation of the gross and barbaric, another. The monstrous hybrids that are the Egyptian gods suited his creative instincts down to the ground (and even further down.) Nothing has matched Egypt in balancing a state of mind that was both earth-tending and earth-rejecting.

AOS-Egypt - Copy (2)


W. Wallace does a good job analysing and showcasing the influence of certain features of the Egyptian Book of the Dead that Spare borrowed and then transformed in parts of EARTH INFERNO.

An example: Spare admired E. A. Wallace Budge’s translation of the Book of the Dead into English. This passage here, to name but one, would have spoken to AOS:

. . . the traverse of eternity, the old man who maketh himself young (again), with myriads of pairs of eyes and numberless pairs of ears, whose light is the guide of the god of millions of years . . .

Spare drew a picture, ‘Youth Unmasks’, a re-juvenation Spare makes explicitly sexual when he draws a phoenix (or Bennu bird) as analogous to the phallus as depicted on the abdomen of the youth.

Earth's Inferno-Youth unmasks


AOS-Egypt - Copy








scibe and baboon 2

Hermopolis Magna (Khmun in Ancient Egyptian), the once opulent city sacred to Thoth, now lies mostly in ruins. Still, some traces remain and one of the most impressive is the tomb of Petosiris, high priest of Thoth – Hermes to the Greeks – who lived in the 2nd half of the 4th century BCE.

tomb of Petosiris highpriest of Thoth 1

He was also a Magician, because it was not enough to have wisdom, good intentions and the full knowledge of religious observance. There was no real separation between religion and magic, anyway. Petosiris would also have been an initiate to the mysteries.

dead priest on a funerary bed

On the walls inside the tomb are paintings which combine ancient Egyptian and Roman deities of the time. There are fair-haired Roman-nosed figures in ‘Pharaonic’ poses; there are curly-haired angels. There’s a zodiac on the ceiling and a bearded Janus figure. In a curious amalgam of Egyptian and Graeco-Roman symbols, the owner of the tomb is featured standing on a turtle and holding aloft a snake and a fish. It marks a time of transition – it is the time of the Greek Magical Papyri!

Petosiris tomb paintings 2

The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs


MUWSB cover mock-up, WHITE background


The Magical Universe of William S. Burroughs


Matthew Levi Stevens

(Forthcoming from Mandrake of Oxford)

I was very impressed by the sheer amount of material you put together, which itself makes your point . . . There’s definitely a readership, and it will do Burroughs good to have this kind of approach (rather than the cultural and political ones that dominate in academic studies)- Oliver Harris, Professor of American Studies at Keele University and Author of William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination.

“It is a job well done. And one that is all the more welcome because long overdue . . .- David Conway, author of Magic: An Occult Primer and Magic Without Mirrors.

“. . . Vitally unorthodox and yet true to the core, this is an essential text for anyone looking to go beyond the page into an alternative reality, where magic lives. – Nina Antonia, author of 13 Knots and Rock Journalist extraordinaire

Look for the preview in the latest issue of Beatdom magazine, number 15, OUT NOW and available via Amazon or directly from

Here’s a taste in the meantime :

“. . . What Stevens has done is compose a very readable, very informative book that goes well beyond the usual story. For the Burroughs scholar – like your humble reviewer – there is plenty of new information. He has thoroughly explored the origins of Burroughs’ magical inspiration and traced the genesis of his beliefs and the trajectories of his influence far beyond previous consideration . . .”

Also – the first excerpts are now available to read online, at the following locations :

Firstly, a look at the friendships between William S. Burroughs and  his two young amigos, Ian Sommerville and Mikey Portman – the “Technical Sergeant” and “The Medium” of the Third Mind, respectively – in a chapter titled “The Lost Boys” over on the premier online Burroughs Community, Reality Studio :


Mikey Portman, Ian Sommerville, William S. Burroughs, Cheyne Walk 1966


And this, looking at WSB’s engagement with Aleister Crowley and H. P. Lovecraft – among Other things ! – in the slightly more offbeat “The Beat Godfather, The Great Beast, & The Necronomicon.” Graced with original artwork by the generous and very talented Mr. Billy Chainsaw, it can be read online at Reality Sandwich :


For MUWSB - 'everything is permitted' by Billy Chainsaw


As well as Mr. Chainsaw’s contribution, there will also be original artwork from Ms. Emma Doeve and Mr. Philip Willey and a selection of photographic material, including images courtesy of Mr. Graham Masterton, Ms. Ruby Ray, and Mr. Baron Wolman . . .

+ More details will follow as they are confirmed +

In the meantime, please see also

'Black Sun Bill' for MUWSB


Reading EPOCH: The Esotericon & Portals of Chaos, by Peter J. Carroll & Matt Kaybryn

Anubis Psychopomp, weighing a life in the balance:



“It may sound odd but I always write for myself. By that I mean that I write primarily to organise ideas to my own satisfaction. I don’t rely on writing to make a living, so I can explore whatever interests me. If others find the material of use and interest well great; but I’d still do it anyway. I would hope that anyone with an interest in magic, esoterics, religion, off-piste science, and philosophy will find plenty of surprising material in it; I certainly had plenty of minor and major epiphanies during its creation.” – (from an interview with Peter J. Carroll by Jason Mankey)




“Whilst dreams of  eternal life may seem fanciful to us now, the ancient Egyptian sages understood much that we have since forgotten: – Imagining how you would feel about yourself at the end of life leads to better behaviour now: Imagining that any after-world must exactly resemble, (or even actually consist of), this one, leads us to try and create an agreeable world here: An economy with surpluses of food and labour can spend it on extravagant funerary industry rather than on excess consumption, war and conquest.”

Anubis 2

Finally (for now!) – here is artist Matt Kaybryn‘s realisation of Anubis for EPOCH: The Esotericon & Portals of Chaos:


Surrealism & The Tarot

Although this is only a first introductory look, we’ve been thinking a lot recently about how a number of the artists labelled “Surrealist” – either self-declared, fellow travellers, or otherwise claimed – had more than a passing engagement with Magic & the Occult. One particular manifestation of this that has caught our eye has been The Tarot:


In 1940-1, in an extensive collaboration between Victor Brauner, Andre Breton, Rene Char, Oscar Dominguez, Max Ernst, Jacques Herold, Wilfredo Lam, Andre Masson, and Benjamin Peret, an “official” Surrealist Tarot, Le Jeu de Marseille, was created …

Victor Brauner - The Surrealist (1947)

Further, the Romanian-Jewish Surrealist painter & sculptor Victor Brauner clearly used the traditional Marseilles Tarot image of Le Bateleur (“the juggler”, an earlier form of The Magician) as the basis for his 1947 painting, The Surrealist

In the last decade of her life, the British Surrealist, Ithell Colquhoun, created her own personal Tarot, which had a much more abstract, elemental simplicity …

Ithell Colquhoun - Taro

But for now I want to concentrate for a moment on the legendary “Salvador Dali Tarot” – which although it was almost certainly created by Dali’s protégé, the French singer model and artist of uncertain age (was she born 1939, 1942, 1946 or 1950? And even her gender was called into question, apocryphal gossip suggesting “she” had been born a boy, and that Dali had paid for a sex change!) Amanda Lear, with the maestro most likely coming in at the end to add a flourish here and a signature there, is still an exquisite thing of rare beauty.

So, here are just a few examples to whet your appetite – and, intriguingly enough, Atu XV El Diablo (“The Devil”) is, of course, a woman …

Dali Tarot, XV El Diablo

Women Artists, Surrealism, & The Occult

Nadia's Book

Published by Mandrake of Oxford, the ideas in Nadia Choucha’s thought-provoking book, Surrealism & the Occult, are many and rich and strange, not least the proposal that Surrealism and the Occult are bedfellows, inextricably linked.

“It is necessary to admit,” said the surrealist poet Benjamin Peret, “that a common denominator unites the sorcerer, the artist and the madman, which is none other than Magic.”

Practitioners noted the analogy between surrealist art and philosophy, and alchemy: after centuries of “domestication and insane resignation”  the imagination was being liberated by a “long, immense, reasoned derangement of the senses” (André Breton, quoting poetic prodigy Arthur Rimbaud.)

Max Ernst notes his first contact with the occult, magic and witchcraft and writes in his diary after WWI, how he died at the start of the war and “resuscitated” when the war ends “a young man aspiring to become a magician and to find the myth of his time.”

The author also introduces women surrealists, usually overlooked or ignored in other books on the subject, quoting Whitney Chadwick:

“The male definition of woman as a muse or intermediary is not an appropriate image for the creative woman.”

As Leonora Carrington remarked in 1983, looking back over her long life:

“I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse . . . I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.”

Leonora & Max

The territory Nadia Choucha explores is almost too large for its 126 pages. Nevertheless it’s a must-read for all those interested in the subject and the often hidden connection between Surrealism and the Occult. Despite its apparent accessibility and popularity (or perhaps because of . . . ?), historically the book – and, by extension, the author herself – have come in for a lot of pretty full-on criticism, from academics and self-appointed experts in both the territories of Occultism and Surrealism . . .

Of course, the way we see it the problem is one of what exactly is meant when we attempt to talk about “surrealism?”

According to that fount of all online wisdom, Wikipedia:

Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 1920s, and is best known for its visual artworks and writings. The aim was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.”


That prime-mover and self-appointed Pope of Surrealism, André Breton, had been inspired  initially after the coining of the term ‘surrealist’ by his friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Breton made an attempt to define what he meant in the first Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924:

Dictionary: Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.

Encyclopedia: Surrealism. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life.

Valentine Hugo

It could be argued that Surrealist with a capital ‘S’ refers specifically to members of a formal group, or its acknowledged descendants and offshoots, most of which are limited to or bound by an historical, chronological, context. It is to be remembered that from this point of view, numerous exemplars, such as those arch-Surrealists Antonin Artaud, Salvador Dali (and, to a lesser extent, figures like the very young Brion Gysin) ceased to be Surrealists the minute they were expelled – one is tempted to say excommunicated – by Breton.

The Other possibility is that we think of surrealists – with a small ‘s’ – as those artists and writers who are attempting to apply such principles as were being set forth in the Surrealist Manifestos all those years ago . . .

Sleeping Women Surrealists

As well as the many-and-varied selection of books about individual artist-practitioners – such as Remedios Varo, Dorothea Tanning, Leonor Fini, Ithell Colquhoun, Leonora Carrington, and even Eileen Agar – without doubt one of the definitive texts has got to be Professor Whitney Chadwick’s Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (Thames & Hudson.) It was originally published in 1985 as a large-format hardback, just right for coffee table adornment, with one of Kay Sage’s brooding images on the cover; then there was a second edition in 1991, both in hardback and paperback, only this time with one of Frida Kahlo’s distinctive self-portraits on the cover.

WC, Women Surrealists

Also worth mentioning is The Esoteric Secrets of Surrealism: Origins, Magic, and Secret Societies, by Patrick Lepetit (new out from Inner Traditions/Bear & Co), and we are reliably informed that Dr. Leon Marvell has an excellent piece on Alchemy and Surrealism in the anthology Alchemical Traditions: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde (edited by Aaron Cheak, and published by our friends at Numen Books, whose other titles include the anthology Occult Traditions.)



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