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Being a Collection of the Following Essays :

* An Introduction to Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956)

* Austin Osman Spare & The Great Witch

* Austin Osman Spare & The Erotics of Making Magical Art

* Austin Osman Spare & Egypt

A5 chapbook, perfect bound, 56 pages, 7 full-colour illustrations

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Mystery at Eleusis



Prologue : The Myth

Persephone, daughter of Demeter, was playing and picking flowers one day in the fields with the daughters of Oceanus. Unknown to her, but sanctioned by Zeus, Hades, god of the Underworld, was setting a trap for her. She came upon a narcissus, the flower of the Underworld, which was blooming so beautifully that she could not resist reaching out to pluck it. Immediately, the ground split open to allow Hades in his chariot to emerge into the field and abduct the girl. No one heard her cries, except for Hecate and Helios.

Demeter, aware that something had gone wrong, began to search for her daughter, but no one was willing to to tell her what had befallen Persephone. After wandering ten days without nourishment, she met Hecate, who told her that she had heard Persephone’s cry, but had not seen what had transpired. So, the two of them decided to seek out Helios, the watchman of the gods. Helios, pitying Demeter, told her the truth : that Zeus had allowed Hades to kidnap her daughter.

At this news, Demeter fell into deep sadness and removed herself from Olympus, bitter at Zeus. While she was resting at the Well of the Maidens in the town of Eleusis, she encountered the grand-daughters of Eleusis himself, who did not recognize the goddess because she was disguised. Demeter told them that she was from Crete and had been carried here by pirates and was now looking for employment. In due course, Demeter was hired as the household nurse for the girls’ family and was given the care of their youngest sibling, a boy. Secretly, Demeter fed the boy ambrosia, nectar of the gods, and placed him into a fire each night, slowly turning him into an immortal. Her plan, however, was uncovered by the mother, who thought Demeter was trying to kill the child. In anger, Demeter informed the queen that her son could have become immortal, but now would only live to an old age. Then, the goddess demanded that a temple and altar be built to her on a hill, that she might teach the people of Eleusis her Mysteries.


Part I

Those that took part in the Eleusinian Mysteries were said to be in possession of a secret that was not to be divulged on pain of death, literally: the story goes that two young men were executed for breaking into the sanctuary while the secret ceremony was in process.

Before the multi-layered Mysteries, a pilgrim seeking initiation was a mystes, a person with eyes closed and therefore blind to the truth, afterwards he or she had become an epoptes, one who sees the truth.

The Goddess Demeter was the presiding deity at the sanctuary of Eleusis (together with her daughter, Persephone – and in the background Hekate, in her form as Crone.) First and foremost, She was the Mater Dolorosa, connected with Death and the Afterlife.

Along the narrow, almost ruined bridge across the brackish water of a swamp, a great number of pilgrims – at its height they came in their thousands ! – made their way in the Autumn to the sacred Temple grounds of Eleusis. The bridge was too narrow for vehicular traffic, and for the pilgrims it was also a ‘crossing’ between worlds, for the region beyond was deemed to have a particular affinity with the realm of the departed spirits.


Part II

Part of the multi-layered myth forming the basis of the Eleusis Mysteries includes the Great Mother, Demeter, disguised as an old woman playing nursemaid to a royal child, whom she intends to immortalise by, quite literally, nightly ‘baptising’ him in fire. [Almost exactly the same incident occurs in the story of Isis, when she too is in hiding, after the murder of Osiris . . .]

The sanctifying and protective power of fire was tended for its magical properties long before its more practical applications – perhaps even in imitation of other forces that early man had seen and, without fully understanding, could only interpret as a kind of fire.

Such traditions are commemorated even into such a relatively late saying as “He who is close to me is close to the Fire”, but similar manifestations go way, way, back – almost to the very beginning in fact.


Part III


For many, it has been a challenge of the ages to ‘solve’ the Eleusinian Mysteries, and over the last half-century-or-so many self-appointed experts have gamely stepped forward with their idea of an answer.

Taking Nietzsche as their starting point, most have alighted upon the kykeon – the potion of barley steeped in water, perhaps with a little mint, consumed after the fast which preceded the Rites – as the key. The assumption, of course, has been that it must have contained some sort of mind-altering substance – the suggested culprit changing over time (to avoid apparent objections and obstacles), from psilocybin to claviceps purpurea, LSD to DMT – even the ‘vine of the soul’ ayahuasca ! – thereby also keeping nimbly in step with ever-changing fashions as psychedelics give way to entheogens . . . 

It would seem to be the case that contemporary commentators simply cannot conceive of a meaningful psycho-spiritual experience without the need for an underlying physical cause – as if that would ever ‘explain’ away the Mysteries, anyway.


Part IV

It was never simply one thing only. As time went on – and the Initiations continued for some 2,000 years ! – the legends, the myths at their heart, became more layered. Stories are retold and embroidered along the way; variants are combined, and new characters and events are added in ways that do not always make the greatest sense.

As well as the more obvious story about the crops, the seed, fertility, the life-cycle of the plants and the seasons – the fact that Winter seemed a kind of death : the seeds going into the ground, like the dead, only to return and bring new life or at least the source of new life with the next Spring – there is more. 

There is also a kind of ‘family romance’ about shifting roles between Mother and Daughter, as the latter comes of marriageable age. There’s the upheaval for the Mother of apparently losing the Daughter, the way the men of the tribe or family were often complicit in what must have seemed like a theft, if not rape. Then, the reconciliation of the Mother to her Daughter’s new role as a bride and potential mother in her own right. Only after the Mother seeks the advice of the Crone figure and ‘role-plays’ being the older grandmother-like figure herself [Demeter disguised as the old woman], can the reconciliation between Mother and Daughter actually begin.

Wrapped up in the middle of all this there’s a lesson about the continuance of Life beyond this incarnation: that mothers and daughters, fathers, sons, siblings, and lovers, will all be re-united and go on to new forms of Life.

Death is not the end and the eventual reconciliation of Demeter as the Mother, the Source of Life, with Hades, King of the Dead, via her Daughter’s union and the way they end up sharing her, as it were, is a representation of the balancing of these two engines, Death and Life, and the varying roles they each require.



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MAYA DEREN (29th April, 1917 – 13th October, 1961)

“I make my pictures for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.”

Maya Deren (29th April, 1917 – 13th October, 1961)

Maya, smoking

“I am not greedy. I do not seek to possess the major portion of your days. I am content if, on those rare occasions whose truth can be stated only by poetry, you will, perhaps, recall an image, even only the aura of my films.”


Maya Deren was in born 29th of April, 1917, as Eleanora Derenkowskaia, in Kiev, Ukraine. Her family were Jewish, and in 1922, they fled the country because of anti-Semitic pogroms, settling in Syracuse, New York, where the family surname was typically shortened to “Deren” but at least her father was able to pursue his work as a psychiatrist.

Maya montage

After earning a Master’s Degree in English, and having married the Czech photographer and film-maker Alexander Hammid  himself better known as ‘Sasha’ under his influence and inspiration, Deren began to make the transition from would-be poet to film-maker. She also felt that another change was in order, as Hammid would later explain:

“Maya wasn’t always Maya. She used to be called Eleanora. Her mother used to call her Elinka, in Russian.  She confided in me that she was unhappy about her name, and she asked me once to find a name for her. So I just went to the library and looked through a lot of books, mainly books on mythology. I came across the name ‘Maya’ in different connections, for instance with water – but Maya also was the name of the Mother of Buddha. In Hinduism, Maya was the name of the goddess who wove the veil over our eyes – a veil of illusion that prevents us from seeing spiritual reality behind it . . .”

Sasha, cat, Maya

Maya with Sasha and cat

Maya became personal assistant to Katherine Dunham, an African-American dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist, whose fieldwork was largely concerned with Afro-Caribbean culture. Deren traveled with Dunham’s dance troupe as they toured around segregated America, and the racism she witnessed during those trips left a deep impression on her. It was during this time that she was also introduced to the interwoven relationships between dance, ritual, iconography, and metaphysical transcendence in Haitian culture, which would become such a major influence in her later life and work.

Katherine Dunham

Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe

Speaking of the transition from poet to film-maker, Deren wrote in 1953:

“It was like finally finding a glove that fits. When I was writing poetry, I had, constantly, to transcribe my essentially visual image . . . into verbal form. In motion pictures, I no longer had to translate . . . and I could move directly from my imagination into film.”


Dance also had always been an integral part of Deren’s sensibility, long before she came to film.

“My reason for creating [films] is almost as if I would dance, except this is a much more marvellous dance. It’s because in film, I can make the world dance!”

Speaking of dancers, a close friend and collaborator was the African-American actress Rita Christiani, who as well as appearing in such Hollywood fodder as Road to Morocco alongside Bob Hope & Bing Crosby, and the 1943 shlock-horror I Walked With A Zombie, featured in Deren’s Ritual In Transfigured Time (1946), along with dancer Frank Westbrook and a somewhat desultory Anaïs Nin.

Rita in Ritual, Frank in background

Rita Christiani in Ritual in Transfigured Time, with Frank Westbrook in the background

Years later, interviewed about her friendship with Deren, Christiani remarked:

“I came from Trinidad at five years of age, and later on I found out that Maya had come from her country at five years of age, and on a boat also – so that was a commonality that might not have been expressed, but was felt by some psychic mean between the two of us . . . Because coming here, at that young age, unless you’ve experienced it you don’t know what it is: everything is new to you, and everything is so frightening to you – the people, the places, the way people talk, the way they act – and then you had to speak English, to become an American, and that was the goal: that you become American, you know?”

Maya Deren, Kiev, c.1921

Another expat who had made America into her adopted home was the born-to-Cuban parents French bohemian Anaïs Nin, an erotic adventuress who had poured out her encounters, fantasies, and observations in short stories, novels, and essays  but it was the many volumes of journals [kept over 60 years, and at least 15 volumes published within her lifetime] in which she gave detailed accounts of her friendships and often intimate relations with writers such as Antonin Artaud, Lawrence Durrell, Henry (and June) Miller, and Gore Vidal, as well as her therapist, Otto Rank, and very probably her own estranged father that had really made her into the notorious celebrity she had always wanted to be.

Maya Beach Nude by Sasha

In the summer of 1944, when she and her friends were taking a walk on the beach of Amagansett, New York, Anaïs Nin encountered a strange scene. A woman was lying on the shore, letting herself be pummeled by the waves while two people filmed it. Later, Nin found out the woman was Maya Deren, already making a name for herself as an avant-garde filmmaker, who was filming the opening scene of At Land (1945). Nin was naturally attracted to Deren, and eventually got so involved with her films that Deren wrote a part specifically for her in Rituals in Transfigured Time (1946).

Typically, Nin  who can be seen positively pouting in her one-or-two brief appearances in the finished film (not perhaps realising, as with her comparable misadventures with Kenneth Anger and Marjorie Cameron, that her time had simply been and gone) – would characteristically attempt to have the last word, as usual, grumbling in one of her indeterminable diaries for May 1946:

“We gave (Deren) our time, our energy, and even our money . . . We believed in her as a filmmaker, we had faith in her, but we began to feel that she was not human . . . We were influenced, dominated by her, and did not know how to free ourselves.”

Anais Nin

Anaïs Nin, as she appears in Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)

One wonders if Nin had ever been aware of this unpublished poem that Maya wrote before the filming even began:

For Anaïs Before the Glass

The mirror, like a cannibal, consumed, carnivorous, blood-silvered, all the life fed it.

You too have known this merciless transfusion along the arm by which we each have held it.

In the illusion was pursued the vision through the reflection to the revelation.

The miracle has come to pass.

Your pale face, Anaïs, before the glass at last is not returned to you reversed.

This is no longer mirrors, but an open wound through which we face each other framed in blood.

(By Maya Deren, August 19, 1945)

Maya_Deren_Still by Sasha from Unreleased_Film, c.1942-3

“Myth is the facts of the mind made manifest in a fiction of matter.”

The Point of Departure:

“Myth is the twilight speech of an old man to a boy. All the old men begin at the beginning. Their recitals always speak first of the origin of life . . .”

Her anthropological field-work broke all the rules, but with her film and book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, she left behind an important document of direct encounter with the Voodoo mysteries:

“All ceremonials begin with the salute to the guardian of the Crossroads, the Loa principle of Crossing, of Communications with the Divine World . . . but that World of Les Invisibles is also the cosmic cemetery of the souls of all the Dead.”

She was actually welcomed, invited in, so to speak, when she went to Haiti to make her film – and was permitted to become an authentic initiate, because the Voodoo Community recognised her sincerity – and, more to the point, they felt she had been called by the loa.

Maya Camera

Although it may not have been Babalon in so many words, in her experience of possession by the loa Erzulie, Deren surely had a direct and empowering experience of the Female Divine:

“What I do in my films is very – oh, I think very distinctively – I think they are the films of a woman, and I think that their characteristic time quality is the time quality of a woman. I think that the strength of men is their great strength of immediacy, they are a ‘Now’ creature, and a woman has strength to wait – because she’s had to wait: she has to wait nine months for the concept of a child. Time is built into her body in the sense of Becomingness – and she sees everything in terms of it Being in the stage of Becoming. She raises a child knowing not what it is at any moment but seeing always the person that it will Become . . .”

Maya, by Sasha, 1941

The lovely though fierce Maya Deren was not only capable of being a personification of Erzulie, but was also told by her mambo that she had a warrior spirit in her as well. Once, she was invited to administer Voodoo Rites and lay on a Reception for the Wedding of a Haitian dancer, but as the day progressed Deren became increasingly angry that the loa were not being properly honoured. Jane Brakhage Wodening – at the time the wife of Deren’s fellow experimental film-maker, Stan Brakhage – describes what happened:

“And so, when all the people were gathered at the Recepetion, Maya Deren became possessed by the voodoo god Papa Loco. She went into the kitchen and she started to roar and she picked up the refrigerator that weighed several hundred pounds and she threw it across the kitchen.”

Luckily, some members of the Wedding party who understood voodoo carried Maya upstairs to her room and stayed with her, where she sat rolling her head from side to side and roaring:

“She asked for rum to be brought and set aflame . . .

“Stan went up to Maya’s room and she was sitting up in her bed and rolling her head and roaring. The other people there, Haitians, were caring for her and not afraid because they knew it was Papa Loco. And the rum was burning with blue flames in a bowl beside the bed and Maya put her hands into the bowl of blue flames and flung them all over Stan . . . and blessed him in the name of Papa Loco.”

Arguably, this tremendous drive helped her to get her work done – often against the odds – but undoubtedly contributed to her early burn-out.

Maya Deren died in 1961, at the age of 44, from a brain haemorrhage.

Maya with cat 2

According to Mark Alice Durant, writing in a special feature for the film & photography magazine, Aperture, No. 195, in Summer 2009, Deren might not have adjusted very well to the changing times of newly-emerging underground film that she herself had unwittingly helped to create:

“As the 1950s wore on, the taste for Deren’s careful, literary, Old World aesthetic was overshadowed by less formal approaches to experimental film, such as the irreverent Pull My Daisy (1959) by Robert Frank, Alfred Leslie, and Jack Kerouac. Such films were anathema to Deren’s work. In both words and pictures, she did not indulge in casual spontaneity; it is as if, to borrow her phrase, she choreographed her life for camera.”

Luckily, we at least have the legacy she left behind of films, field recordings, and her marvellous book, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti.

Maya Deren - The Voodoo Gods (1975 UK Paladin paperback edition!)

The Voodoo Gods – Paladin paperback edition (1975, U.K.) of Deren’s The Divine Horsemen


Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) – with Alexander Hammid.

At Land (1944) – with Hella Heyman, Parker Tyler, Philip Lamantia, Gregory Bateson, John Cage, Alvin Lustig, and Alexander Hammid.

A Study in Choreography for Camera (1945) – with Talley Beatty.

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946) – with Rita Christiani, Frank Westbrook, Hell, and Gore Vidal.

Meditation on Violence (1948) – with Chao-Li Chi, music by Teijo Itō.

The Very Eye of Night (1958) – in collaboration with Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, music by Teijo Itō.

Maya Deren stills grid

Stills from various films by Maya Deren

Among the archives of the New York Film-Maker’s Co-Op, lovingly preserved by Jonas Mekas, there are also a number of short, unfinished works, such as Witch’s Cradle made with Marcel Duchamp in 1943, the touching 1947 home-movie with Sasha Hammid, The Private Life of a Cat, as well as lost and unfinished fragments such as Medusa (1949), Ensemble for Somnambulists (1951), as well as something called “Lascivious Folk Ballet” – apparently the only surviving sequence from a project entitled Ritual & Ordeal, which is notable if only for the fact we get to hear Maya sing, in her smokey, late-night, husky voice, a kind of proto-Blues Rock, whose lyrics run:

“I got stones in my head,

I got pebbles in my bed,

In my head they rattle,

In my head they pound,

Cant ya hear ’em ?

Stones . . .


'Woman of the Month'

In addition, she also released an LP of the wire-recordings she had made during various ceremonials while travelling in Haiti, and of course there were the many, many hours of footage she had recorded during her numerous visits over 18 months – mostly funded by the Guggenheim Foundation. These were eventually edited together from Deren’s extensive notes by her former husband, the composer Teijo Itō and his new wife, Cherel Winett Itō, with considerable financial assistance from Deren’s close friend, the wealthy philanthropist and poet, James Merrill.


NB: A free and legal version of both sides of this album, converted to mp3 form, and with the excerpted liner-notes from the cover, is currently available as part of the excellent U B U W E B : S O U N D online archive here :

Maya's Haitian bed

Maya Deren’s sleeping quarters in Haiti, c.1947-1952

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Arthur Machen, 150th Anniversary

Arthur Machen, portraits

Happy Birthday Arthur Machen

(3 March 1863 – 15 December 1947)


Far Off Things is the first volume of his lyrical, impressionistic memoir and it describes his childhood and youth in the Monmouthshire countryside, and his early years as a struggling writer in London. Beautifully written and full of humour, it evokes the lost world of the Welsh borders in the 19th century, and contrasts it with literary and cultural life in the imperial capital.”

A beautiful new edition has been published to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. For more details, please see:

Arthur Machen - Far Off Things

Please also see the website of the Friends of Arthur Machen:

Machen pilgrimage

Emma Doeve & Matthew Levi Stevens at the birthplace of Arthur Machen in Caerleon, Wales on a suitably wet, grey and atmospheric June (!) day in 2012

For details of a current exhibition celebrating the Life & Work of Arthur Machen, please see:

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The Ghost-Trap


The Ghost-Trap is the definition and the limit of meaning

The Ghost-Trap is the place wherein we haunt ourselves

The Ghost-Trap is remembering to forget

The Ghost-Trap is a container for our fears

The Ghost-Trap is the echoing of unfulfilled Desire

The Ghost-Trap is made up of the very substance of absence

The Ghost-Trap is the incubator of the Babe of the Abyss

The Ghost-Trap is a cancelled index of possibilities

The Ghost-Trap is a Stone Tape being erased, slowly

The Ghost-Trap is the irritation that forms an imperfect black pearl that no-one wants, not at any price…

The Ghost-Trap is the very essence of The Stumbling Block

The Ghost-Trap is the shadow that remains after the heat, the flash, and the blast

The Ghost-Trap is drawing a line, and then erasing it



The Ghost-Trap is the calm at the eye of the Storm

The Ghost-Trap is Beyond Good and Evil

The Ghost-Trap is The Space Between

The Ghost-Trap is never the same twice

The Ghost-Trap is a hole in the soul

The Ghost-Trap is decadent and symmetrical

The Ghost-Trap is how you disappear out between Midnight

The Ghost-Trap is Not True, and must never be Permitted

The Ghost-Trap is the emerald Beginning and End of Word

The Ghost-Trap is infinitely hot and infinitely dense

The Ghost-Trap is what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object

The Ghost-Trap is a Black Mirror within the Triangle of the Art

The Ghost-Trap is a circle of fire, lit against the Night

. .  .    .        .

Image: Emma Doeve + Words: Matthew Levi Stevens


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The Curvature of Time


‘The Book of Dark Things should not then be read primarily as an account of actual rituals performed & travels undertaken, but as an exploration of the role of the imagination and the power of dreams to transmute the familiar nature of our surroundings into something strange and wonderful.’


‘The Curvature of Time’ – Preparatory Sketches:


The Curvature of Time

wraps threads and tatters of memory

around you like a winding-sheet…

Each night that you sleep, and set sail upon Other currents,

Other tides – go down into the Darkness

as if your body had been lowered into the grave,

dark Mother Earth from whence you came

The Curvature of Time

will steer the course of your life

on mingled black currents of memory & forgetting…

“Life is a shadow with violence before and after

It is spirits, fighting”

You who were once ridden, are you now ready to ride?

Take leave of your shell – sit up, I tell you! Sit up and make ready I say!

(He folds the paper, with her name on it – he folds the paper and he draws the signs, traces the lines and makes the anointing)

The World Turned Upside Down!

The boat is coming

to carry your soul to the Other Lands,

beyond the Far Horizon,

over the Edge of the World

and along

The Curvature of Time

Like a bride called to your wedding, like a guest to the feast, raise yourself up and be ready I say!

(He draws the lines – he makes the sign – he calls and chants, starts his dance)

The portal is open and the way is clear –

And the drumming, and the rattle,

and the scourging and the song

spirit-vessel here to carry us on

The Curvature of Time


‘She Travels’ – Study:


‘In such moments of exhaustion & surrender, the sensible spirits are drawn in great commotion as if to quit the body corporeal for some other vessel that will carry them Up & Out & On across the Curvature of Time, White Darkness shadowed by the light of a Black Sun, strange absences made solid in unknown Spaces Between, as to make all our questing metaphysic seem but tracing childish patterns in the familiar sands of our nearest shore.’

. .  .    .        .

Images: Emma Doeve + Words: Matthew Levi Stevens


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Notes on Ballard

In Memory of J G Ballard, who died three years ago today, on 19th April 2009

. .  .    .        .

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
J. G. Ballard

James Graham “J. G.” Ballard (15 November 1930 – 19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and prominent member of the New Wave movement in science fiction. His best-known books are Crash (1973), adapted into a film by David Cronenberg, and the semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun (1984), made into a film by Steven Spielberg, based on Ballard’s boyhood in the Shanghai International Settlement and internment by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War.

The literary distinctiveness of his work has given rise to the adjective “Ballardian“, defined by theCollins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.”

Ballard was diagnosed with prostate cancer in June 2006, from which he died in London in April 2009.

In 2008, The Times included Ballard on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945″.

Below: J G Ballard at home in Shepperton, in front of Paul Delvaux’s ‘The Mirror’ (as reproduced by Brigid Marlin) – Ballard commissioned Brigid to recreate two of Paul Delvaux’s paintings that were destroyed during World War II – to the viewer’s left can also be seen the 1971 screenprint ‘B.A.S.H.’ by his friend Eduardo Paolozzi

“I don’t think you can go through the experience of war without one’s perceptions of the world being forever changed. The reassuring stage set that everyday reality in the suburban west presents to us is torn down; you see the ragged scaffolding, and then you see the truth beyond that, and it can be a frightening experience.”

“I would guess that a large part of the furniture of my fiction was provided ready-made from that landscape: all those barren hotels and deserted beaches, empty apartment blocks… the whole reality of a kind of stage set from which the cast has exited, leaving one with very little idea of what the actual play is about. All of that comes straight from the landscape of wartime Shanghai…”

“I have people coming here expecting the air to be heavy with the fumes of illicit substances, a miasma of child molesting, degradations… and in fact they find, I hope, a perfectly straightforward man who’s brought up three children who are happy, successful adults. I think there is a complete separation between what one writes and imagines, and what one is.”

“At the age of 16 I discovered Freud and the Surrealists, a stick of bombs that fell in front of me and destroyed all the bridges I was hesitating to cross…”

“Sadly, the only surrealists around these days are psychopaths. But we all need to fight off the growing suburbanization of the soul. I want the sane to become surrealists.”

“Everything happened during the sixties. The Kennedy assassination was the key event, the catalyst that got it all moving. Thanks to TV, mass communications, and all the rest, you got strange overlaps between the assassinations and Vietnam and the space race and the youth pop explosion and psychedelia and the drug culture. It was like a huge amusement park going out of control. And I thought, well, there’s no point in writing about the future. The future’s here. The present has annexed the future onto itself.”

Ballard signalled his allegiance to Surrealism in his novels, and in his essay ‘The Coming of the Unconscious’ published in New Worlds in 1966, he goes so far as to specify six key Surrealist paintings with a “direct bearing on the speculative fiction of the immediate future” by Giorgio De Chirico, Salvador Dalí, Rene Magritte, Oscar Dominguez and Max Ernst, listed twice for ‘The Elephant of Celebes’ (1921) and ‘The Eye of Silence’ (1943-44). In 1966 he insisted that his publisher use Ernst’s ‘The Eye of Silence’ as the cover image for the hardback edition of his novel ‘The Crystal World’

In 1966 Ballard wrote ‘Terminal Documents’ for Ambit #27, a Review of the Works of William S Burroughs, in which he nails his colours to the mast by describing him as “The first mythographer of the mid-20th century, and the lineal successor to James Joyce…”

The full text can be found on Rick McGrath’s excellent online encyclopaedia of all-things Ballard:


As late as The Paris Review of 1984 he said “I admire Burroughs more than any other living writer, and most of those who are dead.”

The complete Interview can be read online here:


There is an in-depth examination of the association between the two men and their attitudes towards each other’s work on Reality Studio here:


In an email exchange with Reality Studio, Our Reporter Matthew Levi Stevens told critic and cult author Keith Seward of his Contact with the ‘Oracle of Shepperton’:

‘I interviewed J G Ballard over the phone once for a fanzine, and he was really very amusing and an absolute gent – even though I was only about 15-16 at the time, he was perfectly happy to talk to me. Once we got on to Burroughs and Surrealism he really warmed up, so it was a great conversation. I met him once-or-twice in later years, and he was always very polite, friendly – referred to me once as “the schoolboy reporter” (even though I was about 18-19 by then!) Even though he seemed quite comfortable with the attentions of Graeme Revell and the SPK people – also the ‘grindcore’ band ‘God’, who gave him a demo-tape at one of his book-signings – he didn’t seem to have much time for Genesis P-Orridge. At WSB’s launch @ The October Gallery, the three of us intersected in our circulating – Gen was crowing about having signed some book deal or other (I think for “a book on Sex & Power”, to be written with Kathy Acker? They were involved at the time…), and at one point he turned, drink in hand, and confided “Of course, a publisher’s advance isn’t real money”, to which Mr Ballard replied “Oh, it can be Genesis, it certainly can be…”, and shot me an amused look.’

Later, in the Margin Notes for the new edition of ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ published by Re/Search in 1990, Ballard wrote:

“There is a British pop group called God. At a recent book signing the lead singer introduced himself and gave me a cassette. I have heard the voice of God.”

The ultimate online resource for ‘All-Things-Ballardian’ has to be the excellent ‘Ballardian: The World of J G Ballard’, which can be found here:


“There’s no music in my work,” states J. G. Ballard. He smiles, quoting the Futurist manifesto, “The most beautiful music in the world is the sound of machine guns.”

So let us give you a song to end on:

In 1977, a young Daniel Miller had just split up with his girlfriend and read ‘Crash’. He felt that Ballard’s writing “took him five minutes into the future”; it would be a major influence in the music he would produce as The Normal – his debut single (with which he incidentally founded Mute Records) citing Ballard as a major inspiration to the chilly, minimal electro-pop of ‘T.V.O.D.’ & ‘Warm Leatherette’


‘Sex times Technology equals The Future’ – J G Ballard, at the time of writing ‘Crash’ (1972)

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Women Artists, Surrealism & The Occult: Ithell Colquhoun

Ithell Colquhoun (9th October 1906 – 11th April 1988)

She was expelled from the English Surrealist Movement for her passionate interest in the Arcane and the Occult. She was artist, poet and novelist. In addition, she was a practicing magician. She did not compartmentalize because for her these activities were intimately related, different facets of her quest to comprehend nature and the myths and traditions of Cornwall where she spent most of her adult working life.

In pursuit of her Initiation, Ithell applied for membership of an offshoot of the Golden Dawn (but was turned down!), entered into Correspondence with Dion Fortune’s Society of Inner Light, and was a member of the New Isis Lodge of Kenneth Grant’s Typhonian O.T.O.  In addition, she was a member of W B Crow’s Order of the Keltic Cross, had an active involvement in Co-Masonry (at one time alongside Lady Frieda Harris), was associated with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, and was ordained as a Priestess of the Fellowship of Isis.

As well as over 80 contributions to various Magical, New Age and Occult journals, Ithell was also a published poet, had written two psychogeographical accounts of travels in her beloved Cornwall and rural Ireland, an Alchemical Surrealist novel ‘The Goose of Hermogenes’, and a study of the life of Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and his work with the Golden Dawn, ‘The Sword of Wisdom’

An excellent overview of her Life & Work, with many descriptions and detailed discussions of the whole range of her Writings, can be found here:


Green Figure with Wings – watercolour – 1971


“Gouffres Amers” 1939

Nude and Orange Sky

Alchemical Mandala

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Friday the 13th – Reading the Cards

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The Bull of Ombos

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