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* Austin Osman Spare & Egypt

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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 in disguise. 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, now 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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A Day of Talks in Celebration of the Life & Work



(23rd May 1923 – 15th January 2011)


“KENNETH GRANT (1924-2011) stands out as one of the most original and prolific esoteric authors of the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century. Apart from his work promoting and publishing the works of the occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and the artist Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956), Grant is known as the creator of a particular current in contemporary occultism usually referred to as the Typhonian Tradition . . .”

Henrik Bogdan, Introduction, Kenneth Grant: A Bibliography.

“. . . The last living link to Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Eugen Grosche, and Austin Osman Spare, his legacy is yet to be fully assessed and we shall not see his like again.”

Matthew Levi Stevens, Remembering Frater Aossic, The Late Kenneth Grant.

Typhonian Day Speakers, 9th Jan 2016Above: Typhonian Day Speakers, 9th January 2016. L-to-R: Henrik Bogdan, Edward Gauntlett, Chris Giudice, Michael Staley; in front: Emma Doeve, Caroline Wise. [Special Thanks to Matt Baldwin-Ives for the use of his photo.]

This past Saturday, Michael Staley & Caroline Wise of Starfire Publishing presented a Day of Talks in celebration of the many different aspects of the Life & Work of Kenneth Grant at Treadwell’s Bookshop in Store Street, London. The event also doubled as a launch for Henrik Bogdan’s Kenneth Grant: A Bibliography – substantially revised & expanded from the original 2003 edition, and profusely illustrated with many rare or even previously unseen images – as well as the new edition of Grant’s Outer Gateways, the latest reprint of the first volume of the last of his ‘Typhonian Trilogies.’

It was a great day, clearly very much enjoyed by all those both involved and attending. What follows is not so much a formal Review as a series of Notes of the Talks, accompanied by suggestive and suitable images, by way of presenting a snapshot of the day.

‘Advaita Vedanta & Occultism: The Case of Kenneth Grant’ by HENRIK BOGDAN.

After Michael Staley’s Introduction, the first Talk of the day was from Henrik Bogdan, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Gothenberg, who has worked on a number of book relating to the Western Esotericism in general and Crowley & Thelema in particular, including Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley: A Correspondence (Teitan, 2010) and, of course, Kenneth Grant: A Bibliography.

Despite Kenneth Grant’s lifelong dedication to the Life & Work of Aleister Crowley, promulgation of the Law of Thelema, and Outer Headship of his Typhonian recension of the Ordo Templi Orientis, as he wrote in the Introduction to his memoir, Remembering Aleister Crowley (Skoob, 1991):

“My main interest was (and still is) in Oriental Mysticism. When I volunteered for the army, at the age of eighteen, it was with the expectation of being sent to India where I had hopes of finding a guru.”

It was not to be, of course, but this interest would later lead to him for a while becoming a follower of Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950), the ‘Sage of Arunachala’ and leading proponent of Advaita Vedanta, and writing a number of articles for Indian journals in the 1950s* such as Ananda Varta, The Call Divine, and The Vision.

“Advaita Vedanta asserts that Absolute Reality (Brahman) is infinite, formless, non-dual awareness, and that the supreme goal of human life is the realization that the inner self (atman) is not separate from Absolute Reality.”

Below: Sri Ramana Maharshi“Atman is Brahman.”


Here is Kenneth Grant’s definition of Advaita, as given in the Glossary to The Magical Revival:

“Advaita (Skt.): Lit. Not-two. The Vedantin doctrine of Non-duality, which reveals the supreme nature of Self to be One, not two or many; i.e. nothing exists apart from the Self (Atman), yet all things are forms assumed by the Self.”

All images arising and ‘bubbling up’ are aspects or masks of the Self.

Kenneth Grant saw Thelema’s pursuit of realising one’s True Will as equated to Maharshi’s essential meditation “Who am I?”

Neo-Advaita in Kenneth Grant’s work:

  • The appeal of Neo-Advaita on occultism
  • Focus on Experience (Gnosis)
  • Universalism as a strategy of legitimacy

This focus on Eastern systems in general and Advaita in particular would not come as any surprise to those familiar with the Typhonian Trilogies, but what was perhaps more of a  revelation was when Henrik began to tell us about Grant’s ‘Spiritual Crisis’ of the mid-1950s. Perhaps something of this could be anticipated from a reading of his novel, Grist to Whose Mill?, in which the narrator’s feelings regarding the clearly Crowley-inspired character ‘Ruthven Seeley’ and his legacy are strongly ambiguous, to say the least. Apparently in Spring 1953 Grant felt that he was turning away from Crowley & Thelema, back to “Oriental (especially Indian) systems of Mysticism” – going so far as to write in a letter of the 27th of March, 1953, to German Thelemite, Friedrich Lekve:

“I wish to be rid forever of any connection I may have had in the past with AC’s doctrine or practice . . . suffice it to say I have had enough.”

But by September 1955, with his article ‘Resignation’ in the Indian magazine The Call Divine, Grant had clearly overcome his conflict over Crowley, just before launching New Isis Lodge.

The notion that Western and Eastern Traditions are essentially the same are at the heart of Grant’s Typhonian Trilogies:

East contemplates ever-tranquil and immutable Shiva, “Let things take their course.”

West embraces active Shakti, via “Do what Thou wilt.”

In closing, Henrik defined the Typhonian Tradition as:

“A bricolage of Advaita, Western Sexual Magick, Surrealism, UFOlogy and Lovecraftian Gnosis, within the framework of Thelema.”

[Interestingly, Michael Staley revealed in the brief Q&A after Henrik’s Talk that even as late as the 1980s, Grant still maintained several sessions of meditation practice on a daily basis.]

*Kenneth Grant’s writings from this period were later collected and commented upon in At the Feet of the Guru.


‘The Wisdom of S’lba and transmitted texts’ by MICHAEL STALEY.

Michael Staley discovered the work of Kenneth Grant in the early 1970s, soon after becoming a member of the Typhonian O.T.O. and then in 1986 launching the magazine Starfire. Since the late 1990s he became Grant’s publisher, committed to seeing all of his works into print, as well as continuing to oversee the Typhonian Order.

Michael started by defining a received text in this instance as being communication from a praeterhuman intelligence.

Examples include: Dee & Kelley, The Angelic Conversations; Crowley, The Book of the Law; and further back: Moses, The Ten Commandments; and Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon. (One could also include Blavatsky’s Stanzas of Dzyan, Nema’s Liber Pennae Praenumbra, and an example that Kenneth Grant also gave a number of times, the mammoth and mysterious ‘Kosmon Bible’ Oahspe.)

The primary example here is, of course, Liber AL vel Legis, The Book of the Law, received by Aleister Crowley in Cairo, a chapter at a time during one hour sessions extending from Noon, 8th – 9th – 10th April 1904, dictated by AIWASS – but Michael stressed that there was a period of preparation, with Crowley performing Rites to make ready after first signs of ‘Contact’ via his wife, Rose Kelley.

The first reference to S’LBA is given in an account of a dream from 1939 (‘The Cavern Initiation’) which Grant describes in Chapter 8, ‘Initiation of Aossic’, in his Outside the Circles of Time:

“One night in 1939 I dreamed of entering a winding cavern. At each turning the darkness grew denser so that it came as a shock when, after groping around yet another turning, I was suddenly dazzled by a brilliant light . . . I saw that its source was a mysterious sigil emblazoned on the rock . . . The sigil, although unfamiliar, had for me an instant personal appeal . . . I adopted it instinctively as a secret cypher of my Magical Self . . .”

The whole text of what became known as the ‘Wisdom of S’lba’ included in Outer Gateways started as early as Grant’s dream in 1939, was elaborated during his time with Crowley and then Austin Osman Spare, and then finally reified through New Isis Lodge.

In Beyond the Mauve Zone, Grant describes finally meeting Crowley, when he was coming towards the end of his stay at The Bell Inn, Aston Clinton. It was December 1945, and as they shook hands for the first time the song ‘Shine On Harvest Moon’ was playing on the radio in the background. Grant showed Crowley some of the first fragments of S’lba, and although he was initially “positive” he then sensed a threat to his authority . . .


Above: Kenneth Grant & Aleister Crowley, c.1944.

S’lba was later identified as a ‘Goddess’ enthroned on the ‘planet’ beyond Pluto [=New Isis] from which the Trans-Yuggothian currents were broadcast.

The Wisdom of S’lba was received fragmentarily through various means, including ritual magic in which priestesses of the New Isis Lodge would become oracular. Then there was the long careful process of collating and arranging (and even an attempted interpretation, ‘The Qabalahs of Besqul’ – which is also included in Outer Gateways.)

Michael Staley’s contention is that such received texts are an upwelling of images from a continuum of consciousness, the collective unconscious:

“You might like to bring to mind the image of islands jutting up from an ocean – the more local areas, the shallows, are where we draw down inspiration from.”

Such inspiration is universal, cosmic, comes from the depths of consciousness “outside the human bandwith.”

Nu-Isis Aossic

‘Against the Light: Kenneth Grant’s use of Imagination, Fiction, and Dreaming True’ by EMMA DOEVE.

Emma Doeve’s Work should be well known to readers of this blog, but of particular relevance here is the emphasis that Caroline Wise placed in her Introduction on Emma’s informed, insightful and intuitive Commentary on the Life & Work of both Kenneth Grant and Austin Osman Spare.

There is a secret ingredient to the Work of Kenneth Grant: Dreams & Dreaming. Drawing on the notion of ‘Dreaming True’ put forward in George Du Maurier’s debut novel, Peter Ibbetson – in which two lovers, unjustly separated, find through the strength of their desire they can imagine themselves into each other’s dreams and thus share a life together – then combining with the mechanism of building up the Magical Personality that Dion Fortune describes in her novels, to create the astral equivalent of the ‘composition of place’ put forward by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises, that: “If you put yourself in a posture of prayer, you will feel like praying.”

Grant and his fellow initiates of the New Isis Lodge would significantly build on this, weaving a shared dream-world from the materials they drew from the pulp fictions and weird tales they so much enjoyed together, their beloved H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Richard Marsh, Sax Rohmer and Bram Stoker.

As Grant says in the introduction to The Ninth Arch:

“When a lodge comprising skilled magicians dreams – that is, invokes – identical images in concentrated collectivity, the ensuing phenomena become a shared and vivid experience.”

In Against the Light, Grant creates a magical world, often quite a dark world. It is not for nothing that it is subtitled “A Nightside Narrative.” The narrator – “Kenneth Grant” – introduces us to an alleged uncle, the sinister Phineas Marsh Black, MD; an ancestor apparently burned at the stake for Witchcraft, Margaret Wyard; as well as the likes of Aleister Crowley, David Curwen the alchemist, mentions of Clanda the Water Witch from New Isis Lodge; and other members of his family who appear as characters, sometimes in quite startling aspects. Other elements that feed into the mix: Spare’s Spirit-Guide Black Eagle, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Sax Rohmer’s dubious and sinister Orientals.

Rogue's Gallery

Right at the beginning we are introduced to the idea of a Grand Grimoire, or – with a play on words – the GRANT Grimoire, or Il Grimorio Grantiano, as this strangest of heirlooms is sometimes called, like their very own family Necronomicon! It materializes and de-materializes, it is found and then lost again, before being re-discovered, but it’s always hovering . . .

The Grant Grimoire weaves in and out, and gradually you realize that the novel itself is the Grimoire, a feat Grant pulls off by a dazzling sleight of hand, weaving into it his own dream material. The erotic imagination quickens the astral medium much more than just mundane daydreaming; how much more a magickally trained Imagination fuelled by Will, which can use the libido as a key to Dream Control.

Later in the book, Uncle Phin tells the narrator: “If you hold it against the light, an altogether different picture will emerge.” [The light from the Yesodic Aethyr almost solidifies at this point and so a bridge or perhaps tunnel materialises to the physical realm of Malkuth, perhaps even overspilling to what lies below, beneath and beyond. It is a time for Dreaming True.] As well as explaining the novel’s title, this passage introduces the kind of sleight of hand – or perhaps eye – that is central to Grant’s magic. The use of techniques that relate to Dali’s paranoia-critical method, Rimbaud’s “total and systematic derangement of all the senses”, and even Da Vinci’s mantic stain.

There’s no doubt that Kenneth Grant was a visionary, and like many such he makes a strong case for the origin of that Vision beginning in childhood’s wondrous apprehension of the numinous.

It is finally revealed that the ‘Primal Grimoire’ that was the source for all of this fascination with magic tales of exotic, far-off lands, and witches and wizards, was a children’s book with a picture of the Sphinx on the cover, much beloved of the young Kenneth Grant.

As the quote from W. B. Yeats at the beginning of the book puts it:

“There is some one myth for every man, which if we but knew it, would make us understand all that he did and thought.”

1. Against the Light

‘Grant, the Goddess, and a Visualization Journey’ by CAROLINE WISE.

Caroline Wise has worked for Psychic News, managed The Atlantis Bookshop, and also worked at Skoob Books, where she was instrumental in initiating the re-publication of the Work of Kenneth Grant. A  longstanding member of the Fellowship of Isis, Caroline has also been a member of the Typhonian Order, and is now associated with Starfire Publishing with her husband, Michael Staley.

One thing unique to Kenneth Grant was his basic conception of Typhon – the monstrous and decidedly male Titan of Greek mythology – as FEMALE, a type of the primal Great Mother, and also that She is the Mother of Set – She is the Mother of the Child, the star-matter from which All things emerge.

He also conceived of Typhon as equivalent to the Egyptian Tauret, or Ta-Urt, the hippopotamus “Mistress of the Birth-House” – also a fierce mother protecting her young.

In Ancient Egypt, the Setian wands were made from hippo tusks, going back to shamanic origins.

Hippo tusk wands

Many of these primal goddesses have as their avatars animals that can move between two realms: both Tauret and the frog-headed Hekt can move between land and water, and this is indicative of the starlit earth, the earth open to and receptive to the stars and cosmic radiations therefrom.

Infinite Stars and Infinite Space

If the Milky Way is seen as a glyph of Nuit, then the Great Rift of the constellation Cygnus (The Swan, ‘Hamsa’) equates to Her womb and vulva, from which the Sun is given birth – and many early cultures also believed it was where the soul went to when you died, and where it was also reborn from.

Before Caroline became involved (via Skoob Books) with the world of Kenneth Grant & the Typhonian O.T.O., she had joined the Fellowship of Isis. Most occult orders do not permit the joining of other groups, which was also true of the TOTO, but it seemed to make one exception for the FOI. Derry Robertson, who had co-founded the FOI with his sister, Olivia, had corresponded with Grant; they had exchanged books and he held him in high esteem, and had invited him to join the FOI – but Kenneth declined, saying he couldn’t join another spiritual order because he had his own to run – but he was always supportive of the FOI and wrote that he was “totally for the Goddess.”

Olivia & Lawrence Durdin-Robertson

Above: Olivia & Lawrence Durdin-Robertson of the Fellowship of Isis.

Caroline described how when she was doing her probationary within the TOTO she was surprised by the similarity of the ritual structure for invoking the Goddess that Grant put forward to those of Olivia’s in the FOI.

Both Grant and Olivia Durdin Robertson felt strongly that the splitting of the atom and the dropping of The Bomb had changed Nature forever, created “a crack in the universe.” Olivia saw an ingress of Isis that would come and “sort us out” (her view was more optimistic), whereas Grant was more pessimistic about our possible fate – but that either way, the Incoming Current had to be prepared for and adapted to.

Kenneth Grant often talked about a Trans-Plutonic planet, and apparently in 1955 he wrote to the Royal Astronomical Society, asking if they had any knowledge of a planet “beyond Pluto” – which he referred to as “New-Isis.” They told him ‘No’ but mentioned that there was an asteroid, ‘42 Isis’, that had been discovered by English astronomer N. R. Pogson in 1856. Unfortunately, they neglected to tell Grant the correct date of Pogson’s discovery, so he never knew that it was in fact what would become his own birthday 68 years later, the 23rd of May!

Goddesses of Space

[In closing, Caroline led us all in a very moving Visualization, in which one ended up looking down into the Black Rift of the whirling Cosmos as if it was a gigantic scrying mirror of the Heavens, through which we were each invited to connect with the Goddess as the Primal Source.]

‘The Art of Steffi Grant and the Typhonian Tradition’ by HENRIK BOGDAN.

“Great art is always simple . . . true art expresses Eternity.” – Kenneth Grant, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God.

Henrik mentioned that Art is essential to the function of the Typhonian Trilogies – that the text illustrated the pictures as much as the pictures illustrated the text. They totally complement each other. He then proceeded to treat us to a wonderful slideshow of the works of Steffi Grant, accompanied by some appropriate quotes about Art and Magick from Kenneth’s books.

In Outside the Circles of Time, Grant writes concerning Spare, Sime, Dali, Tanguy:

“These artists accomplished a leap into other dimensions and – this is the important point – returned to record their extra-dimensional experiences. This appears to be the crux of the matter, that certain artists entered another dimension and were permitted, or were able, to return to mundane consciousness and leave an account of the Vision. In days of antiquity this was known as the Vision of Pan.”

Steffi montage

Above: Artwork by Steffi GrantThe Sign of the Enterer, The Mystic Eye, Shrine of Set, & Priestess of the Fire Snake.

Elsewhere, Grant also mentions the Surrealists Brauner and Delvaux (as well as of course in fiction and poetry Baudelaire, Huysmans, Lautréamont, Lovecraft, Machen, Mallarmé, Rimbaud . . .)

Great art speaks directly to the subconsciousness, and the true artist is able to access other dimensions.

Outside the Circles of Time, p.37: “Yet art, in the true and vital sense, is an instrument, a magical machine, a means of occult exploration which can project the seer into the realm of the Unseen, and launch the waking mind into the seas of the subconsciousness.”

Below: Steffi Grant, self-portrait

Steffi, self-portrait

Kenneth Grant would use Art as a means of occult exploration, a gateway through which to enter the Mauve Zone. [We are reminded of an anecdote that Mogg Morgan shared after Grant’s death in 2011: “When I was in the OTO (his recension now renamed The Typhonian Order) I remember a friend sent him a book about the French Surrealist artist Yves Tanguy. KG’s eventual response was how much he enjoyed projecting himself into the artist’s creations – this says it all.”]

‘From Central Africa to the Mauve Zone: Gerald Massey’s Influence on Kenneth Grant’s idea of the Typhonian Tradition’ by CHRIS GIUDICE.


Christian Giudice is a doctrinal student in the Department of Literature History of Ideas and Religion, also at Gothenberg University. His particular interests include the influence of Aleister Crowley on later occultists, and influences on the work of Kenneth Grant.

Chris chose a difficult topic: the work of Gerald Massey (29th May 1828 – 29th October 1907), English poet and writer on Spiritualism and controversial ideas of Ancient Egypt, can be quite dry and rather heavy-going, but it is also an essential source for the ideas of Kenneth Grant and the basis of his ‘Typhonian Tradition’ – and he did an excellent job of making it more accessible and opening it up for a non-academic audience.

To introduce Massey’s ‘Egyptosophy’ ( = a pun on ‘Egypt’ and ‘Theosophy’ as his ideas cannot in any way be thought of as orthodox Egyptology), Chris started off by reading Massey’s poem from the opening of his 1,000-page magnum opus of 1907, Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World:

“It may have been a million years ago

The Light was kindled in the Old Dark Land

With which the illumined Scrolls are all aglow,

That Egypt gave us her mummied hand:

This was the secret of that subtle smile

Inscrutable upon the Sphinx’s face,

Now told from sea to sea, from isle to isle;

The revelation of the Old Dark Race;

Theirs was the wisdom of the Bee and Bird,

Ant, Tortoise, Beaver, working human-wise;

The ancient darkness spake with Egypt’s Word;

Hers was the primal message of the skies:

The Heavens are telling nightly of her glory,

And for all time Earth echoes her great story.”

Horus & Set

The Egyptian Mysteries form the core of the Western Magical Tradition.

Between 1898 and 1900, Aleister Crowley had learned most of what he would need as basis for his later development from his superiors in the Golden Dawn. Ancient Egypt as a source of supernatural power sanctioned his role as prophet.

Massey is the source for Kenneth Grant’s sense of the afrocentric and physiological basis of Gnosis – “The oldest symbols and religions originate in Africa” – as well as the Myths of the Origin of Typhon and the Birth of Set.

The mysteries transmitted to posterity were physiological in origin.

The Great Goddess was connected with the constellation of The Plough, Goddess of the Seven Stars of the North, Her son the Dog Star, Sothis or Sirius, whose heliacal rising appeared above the horizon just before the inundation of the Nile.

Ta-Urt, also known as Typhon, and Her son Sut or Set.

The term ‘Typhonian’ was used for those who worshipped the Primal Goddess.

Members of the Stellar Cult fled East, taking their wisdom with them, when the Solar worshippers gained the ascendancy.

“It was the god Set I was being called upon to honour . . .” wrote Grant in the Foreword for The Magical Revival (revised edition, Skoob 1991.)

Grant’s major innovation was to link the Typhonian Tradition to Modern Occultism.


Above: Gerald Massey (29th May 1828 – 29th October 1907)

“All ‘others’ are merely forms of oneself” by EDWARD GAUNTLETT.

As well as a lifelong interest in Magick, Edward Gauntlett has studied literature, philosophy and religion to MA level, and is the author of the recently published Shades in Mauve: A History of the Typhonian Tradition (Von Zos, 2015.)

Edward opened with a reference to the Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – also the film loosely adapted from it, Blade Runner – with their shared central concern:

“When is a person really a person?”

He went on to mention the film, The Prestige, in which a character based on the inventor Nikola Tesla creates a kind of teleportation device, which works not just by beaming you across space but by producing replicants, resulting in the very real problem “How do you deal with the other one?”

He then posed a series of questions:

Is mind a product of the brain or is the physical universe a product of mind?

Does our consciousness arise from or consist of the projection of images? Creating the ‘illusion’ of the world?

Is consensus reality just a shared hallucination we all agree on?

All of which was interesting enough, but just sketched out the parameters of . . . something. It seemed like a collection of Notes in search of a Talk.


Edward then began a discussion of the condition of macular degeneration – how the deterioration in eyesight can result in hallucinations because the brain ‘fills in’ the gaps, before referring to H. P. Lovecraft’s short story, Hypnos, which opens with the following lines from another one of Kenneth Grant’s favourites, Baudelaire:

“Apropos of sleep, that sinister adventure of all our nights, we may say that men go to bed daily with an audacity that would be incomprehensible if we did not know that it is the result of ignorance of the danger.”

The ‘danger’ is fear / threat of the destruction of the ego

Ramsey Dukes, long before The Matrix, suggested we are already living in a computer-generated Virtual Reality.

Alexandra David-Neel and her tulpa-monk, Dion Fortune and her fenris-wolf: both started to take on objective existence, being seen by other people, and required some effort to be re-absorbed.

What appears to be the physical universe is only images in the mind, we can’t get beyond sensory data.

In closing, Edward summed up:

“The imagination as the image-making faculty is the supreme instrument of both magician and artist.”

After the Talk from Edward Gauntlett, there followed a further presentation from Henrik Bogdan, introducing his new book. We were treated to a slideshow giving an overview of the many different facets of the Work of Kenneth Grant – from his non-fiction and later fiction to a range of magazine articles, rare volumes of poetry, and also the various privately published documents of the New Isis Lodge and the Typhonian Order – accompanied by many rare and even previously unseen images, many of which are reproduced in Kenneth Grant: A Bibliography.

For further details about Kenneth Grant: A Bibliography, Outer Gateways, and all other titles by Kenneth Grant, please go to:


Starfire logo

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Victor Benjamin Neuburg Argenteum Astrum Ordo Templi Orientis Frater Lampada Tradam Omnia Vincam Aleister Crowley

Victor Benjamin Neuburg 

(6th May 1883 – 31st May 1940)

Victor Neuburg was friends with Austin Spare for over thirty years and the plan at one point was that Spare would create illustrations to a selection of Neuburg’s poems. Nothing came of it, alas, because Neuburg died before much could be done.

AOS SelfieAustin Osman Spare
(30th December 1886 – 15th May 1956)

They’d met through Aleister Crowley. At the time both were members of the A.’. A.’., and Neuburg dedicated a couple of poems to Spare which appeared in the same issue of The Equinox as some automatic drawings by Spare. They lost touch but were later re-introduced by the poet Vera Wainwright.

A.'.A.'. certificate

Their association with Crowley were not positive. AOS soon came to detest Crowley, calling him “a poseur, exhibitionist and a buffoon who paraded himself dressed like a male-prostitute.” For Neuburg, his involvement with Crowley was more disastrous. Jean Overton-Fuller writes in The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg that:

“Victor … did have a feeling that a deep profanation of the mysteries had taken place, and it worried him that he could never put his finger on the point at which things had gone wrong with Crowley before he met him, and that the elements which later made his personality so monstrous were there from the beginning only Victor did not at the beginning perceive them.”

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“A strange red-haired girl . . .”

At the Fork of the Roads

Above: The only known photo of Althea Gyles, portrait of Aleister Crowley, and a caricature of W. B. Yeats

More than prepared to turn her back on her wealthy Irish family and endure – perhaps even enjoy – poverty and hardship for her art, Althea Gyles (1868-1949) was a talented artist, designer and poet who clearly made an impression on more than a few of the notorious magician-poets of her day . . .

Margaret Althea Gyles, to give her full name, did not start out as a starving bohemian. She was born in her family home, Kilmurry, County Waterford, in 1868 to the daughter of Edward Grey, Bishop of Hereford. According to the poet W. B. Yeats, her father was “mad, controlling”, and apparently the family were considered so haughty by their neighbors that they sarcastically referred to them as “The Royal Family.” Almost inevitably, Althea ran away from home to Dublin, after quarreling with her father, to study Art — barely managing to support herself by selling a watch and writing some stories for a newspaper.

Bookplate for Lady Colin Campbell (aka Gertrude Elizabeth Blood), a member of The Golden Dawn, drawn by Althea Gyles circa 1895.

Above: bookplate drawn by Althea Gyles c.1895 for Lady Colin Campbell (aka Bertrude Elizabeth Blood), a member of The Golden Dawn.

Yeats first met her living in a Theosophical commune in Dublin, alongside critic, poet, and Irish Nationalist George William Russell, who also wrote of his mystical experiences under the pen-name Æ’ (short for ‘Aeon’.) The landlord, E. J. Dick, had come across Althea “starving somewhere in an unfurnished or half-furnished room” apparently living for many weeks “upon bread and shell-cocoa, so that her food never cost her more than a penny a day.” Yeats described Gyles as “a strange red-haired girl, all whose thoughts were set upon painting and poetry, conceived as abstract images . . . and to these images she sacrificed herself with Asiatic fanaticism.” 

W B Yeats, The Secret Rose

After falling out with Dick and his wife, and writing a short novel which remained unpublished, The Woman Without A Soul (the plot of which concerned a black magician), Gyles moved to London in 1892 to continue her Fine Art studies, this time at the Slade. She befriended Oscar Wilde, and resumed her association with Yeats — later designing covers for volumes of his poetry, such as The Secret Rose (1897), inspired by Cabalistic iconography and his interest in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Yeats heaped praise upon her, saying:

“Miss ALTHEA GYLES may come to be one of the most important of the little group of Irish poets who seek to express indirectly through myths and symbols, or directly in little lyrics full of prayers and lamentations, the desire of the soul for spiritual beauty and happiness.”

He likewise complimented “the beautiful lithe figures of her art half mortal traged, half immortal ecstasy” in an essay for The Dome magazine.


Inevitably, through the Golden Dawn and London Literary Circles, Gyles came into contact with the The Great Beast, with whom she had a short-lived affair (one commentator describing her as “the woman who dumped Aleister Crowley.”) Crowley caricatured her as ‘Hypatia Gay’ in his short story ‘At the Fork of the Roads’ (with her “steely virginal eyes”) in which he paints himself very much as the noble esoteric hero, opposing the ‘lank dishevelled demonologist’ Yeats (= ‘Will Bute’) over the very soul of the poor misled girl.


In 1899, Gyles illustrated Wilde’s The Harlot’s House, which was published by Leonard Smithers, a London publisher best known for his association with the Decadent movement, and later designed the covers for Ernest Dowson’s Decorations. Her subsequent relationship with Smithers, a bad-tempered alcoholic and drug-addict whom many considered as little better than a pornographer, alienated her from most of her friends, including the previously supportive Yeats. Only a year later, the poet Arthur Symons found her living in an empty room at 15 Granby Place, Hampstead Road, “without a thing in the place, except five books (one a presentation copy from Oscar Wilde) and one or two fantastic gold ornaments which she used to wear; chloral by her side, and the bed strewn with manuscripts.” In a bid to help her, he tried to arranged for Duckworth to publish a collection her poems, but they said they would do so only if she removed her dedication to “the beautiful memory of Oscar Wilde” (this was after the Trial and Scandal, of course.) Gyles refused, and this loyalty to a dead friend – “the kindest man she ever met” — meant the book was never published.

illus for 'A Harlot's House' by Oscar Wilde

Above: illustration for The Harlot’s House, by Oscar Wilde.

Symons described Smithers as “a drunken brute whom no one could stand” who “left her as soon as he had alienated her other friends.” The breakdown of her relationship with Smithers led to a collapse in her health, from which Gyles never completely recovered. Although she continued to write and paint, taking an interest in casting horoscopes, Buddhism, anti-vivisection, and vegetarianism, she was beset with ill health and mostly drifted, moving from one cheap rented room to another. Around 1901 she was said to have suffered a breakdown, and refused to draw again. For a while she was supported by friends like the journalist and critic Clifford Bax — friend to Austin Osman Spare, with whom he collaborated on the artistic & literary magazine The Golden Hind  — but in the end Bax grew increasingly frustrated with Gyles, considering her little better than a parasite.  Her friend, Dublin-born artist & collector Cecil French, described Gyles as “a noble difficult being who invariably became the despair of those who had helped her.”


In later years a publisher encouraged Gyles to write her memoirs of the 1890s, as a result she wrote a novel, Pilgrimage, but it was rejected. She continued to publish verse occasionally in a variety of journals, and there was talk of another collection of her work, but it remained in transcript due to her inability to proof it, claiming “the effort would kill her” — but nobody else was allowed to correct it either. By the 1930s, Gyles was living in awful conditions with a big mongrel dog in a basement in Brixton, apparently, and the last address recorded for her was 19 Tredown Road, Lewisham — described as a bare room, but for a chaise longue on which she slept, a few ‘antiques’ of doubtful value, and her manuscripts.

Althea Gyles died in a nursing home in Kent on the 23rd of January, 1949.

Constance Markiewicz and Althea Gyles

Above: the only known photo of Althea Gyles, with her friend Countess Constance Markievicz, née Gore-Booth (Irish Nationalist, Sinn Féin politician, and Suffragette.)

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Marjorie Elizabeth Cameron Parsons Kimmel

(23rd April, 1922 – 24th June, 1995)

better known simply as


Cameron - self-portrait, 'Black Egg'

‘We are Stars and herald alien laws outside the Solar Wheel invading natural systems of the Earth.’


‘Mockery is the punishment of of the Gods. What fiendish laughter.’

Cameron - Pan

‘Mine eyes are terrible and strange but thou knowest me.’

Dark Angel (Portrait of Jack)

‘We dance a geometry of wizardry and wind the threads about our prey.’


‘We traveled Stellar webs to darker Worlds within the Lunar mirrors of Suicide.’

Cameron - Portrait of Jack

‘Death has been thy lover. Is there else to fear?’

Marjorie Cameron - Death Boat

‘Up the swirling scarf of smoke rise our invocations.’

Cameron - Portrait of Samson de Brier (1962)

‘In this hour I decide between nothingness and creation.’

one half of Cameron's 'Witch' diptych

‘And the hag with lizard eyes embraces shadows . . .’


Prior to the recent Cameron: Songs For The Witch Woman exhibition at MOCA Pacific Design Center (October 11, 2014–January 18, 2015), the largest survey of Marjorie Cameron’s artwork was The Pearl of Reprisal, a retrospective at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in 1989. The exhibition spanned thirty years, from the notorious Untitled “Peyote Vision” of 1955 to later pen-and-ink drawings that lent insight to the artist’s psychic state at the time.

Cameron - Peyote Vision

Before the opening reception, Hedy Sontag introduced a program titled An Evening With Cameron: The Pearl of Reprisal. Sontag screened two films that feature Cameron: Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) and Curtis Harrington’s lyrical documentary The Wormwood Star (1955). After the screening, Cameron emerged barefoot to give a dramatic reading of her poetry by candlelight.

This rare footage, courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, has been made available by MOCA on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKHALUlObgQ

Curtis Harrington’s The Wormwood Star (from which all the quotations above were drawn) can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlmQxOw__yk 


Wormwood Star: The Magickal Life of Marjorie Cameron by Spencer Kansa is still available in a revised & enlarged edition from Mandrake of Oxford: http://mandrake.uk.net/wormwood-star/

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“I met a dreamer from the land of Albion . . .”

superhenge 2

I met a dreamer from the land of Albion and this was what he told me:

“I saw a shaven-headed, robed priest standing over a shallow, wide bowl of some lustrous beaten metal, spread low in front of him, filled with water, glinting by torchlight. He spread his hands, making fulsome incantations as he passed them back-and-forth across the brazen vessel – his voice likewise, as the Words of Power ascended and descended the scale from sonorous to guttural and back again. Somehow, with an almost imperceptible turn of the wrist he managed to prick the thumb of his left hand and, as he did so, squeezed out thick, heavy drops of dark blood that he scattered across the surface of the water. At the same time – and with his other hand, the right – he drizzled a thin stream of green-golden oil1 from a delicate alabaster vessel that he had produced from deep within the folds of his robe . . .

“The two fluids overlap, intersect and collide as they trace strange diagrams across the surface of the water, and then sink slowly below. In his attempts to read them, he pictures to himself with some other sense-that-is-not-sight the veins and arteries coursing through the body of The Great Dragon. In doing so, he knows that he has scried the Life Lines of the Land, and also how they must be marked and honoured. The stones will be laid in such formation as to honour the waxing and waning of the Great Moon Mother – marker of the mysteries of woman’s cycles of fertility, also echoing the horns of the cattle2 sacred to Her – as we do when we raise our arms in salute of these Powers . . .”

auroch skull found in Britain

Then the Dream was gone, buried with the Rising of the Sun.


  1. At this time, olive oil would have been presumably a rare and precious commodity – having to come all the way from the Mediterranean – thereby making its sacrifice all the more valuable (along with the priest’s own blood) in the hope of receiving the gift of Vision by exchange.
  2. A species of wild cattle called aurochs roamed Britain more than 7,500 years ago. Fully grown, they stood 6ft at the shoulder and became extinct in the UK around 4,000 years ago.

auroch 2

7th September 2015 – Breaking News:

“Stone monoliths found buried near Stonehenge could have been part of the largest Neolithic monument built in Britain, archaeologists believe.

“The 4,500-year-old stones, some measuring 15ft (4.5m) in length, were discovered under 3ft of earth at Durrington Walls ‘superhenge’.

“The monument was on ‘an extraordinary scale’ and unique, researchers said.”


Curiously, whereas most of the well-known monolithic sites (such as Avebury, Callanish, and Stonehenge) are clearly arranged in circles, it would appear that, before being deliberately toppled and buried, the stones at this newly-discovered site were arranged in a crescent . . .

For the full story, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-34156673

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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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A Cautionary Tale of Conjuration . . .

 A cautionary tale about the need to banish and put down spirits and demons after conjuring them . . .


Benvenuto Cellini, creator of ‘Perseus with the Head of the Medusa’ (see below), writes in his autobiography of how he became acquainted with a ‘curious’ Sicilian priest who knew Latin and Greek, and possessed knowledge of necromancy and evocation (one might well ask what business a priest had to know these occult arts!) Cellini confessed an enduring interest in necromancy and tells the priest about this. Well, the priest tells him, if you dare and your heart is stout, we shall go to the  Colosseum and conjure the spirits. Cellini, who is nothing if not brave and boastful, jumps at the chance. He has long hoped to find someone or something to “reunite me with my Sicilian Angelica.”

They go to the Colosseum in the evening – it being thought auspicious to perform the ceremony in “a place where someone was killed in old times” – and the Colosseum, site of raw and often unspeakable  cruelty and bloodshed, certainly fits the bill! Cellini has brought a comrade, Vincenzio Romoli, a friend; the priest is accompanied by a native from Pistoja. A protective circle is drawn, a fire lit, expensive ‘perfumes’, most likely incense, are burned. The priest begins his incantations. The Colosseum fills up with apparitions of devils and the spirits of the dead. ‘Ask them something,’ the priest, who can barely contain them, urges Cellini. Cellini inquires about his love, Angelica, but there’s no answer. We have to come back some other time, says the priest; and next time bring a little boy, unsullied, of pure virginity.




When the time has come, Cellini brings one of his shop lads, 12 years of age. He is also accompanied by his friends, Vincenzio Romoli and Agnolino Gaddi. They make preparations, draw the circle – the necromancer had “reconstructed with art more admirable and yet more wondrous ceremonies” – and then the priest places a pentacle in Cellini’s hand, and invites him to place the boy beneath it. Next he proceeds with his ‘awful invocations’ and they come: “multitudes of demons who are captains of their legions.” Cellini wants to ask about Angelica, and is told that ‘they’ said that in a month you will be where she is.


pure vessel


Now it is time to dismiss the ghosts – back to Hell – but there are so many more than intended. The necromancer does what he can, burning copious amounts of the pungent-smelling asafoetida, but has a hard time of it. The boy is terrified, hiding his head between his legs, and so are the others. The priest finally takes off his robe, picks up his books and, leaving the circle prematurely, they all hasten home. But on the way the company is followed by two demons, “gamboling in front of us, skipping now along the roofs and now upon the ground. The necromancer assured me that, often as he had entered magic circles, he had never met with such a serious affair as this.” Perhaps not surprisingly, “each one of us dreamed all that night of devils,” Cellini records . . .

“Do not call up that which you cannot put down.” – H. P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.



 Detail of Cellini’s ‘Perseus with the Head of the Medusa’  (finished 1545)

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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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