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FROM WHITE GODDESS TO GREAT MASTURBATOR:

The Erotics of Making Magical Art


Emma Doeve



Once upon a time there was the Muse one of a number of Goddesses of inspiration and
knowledge who would motivate and stimulate the artist, and make him a favourite on
whom she would bestow Her special gifts. It was an idea popularized by the poet Robert
Graves, who brought together medieval Celtic and Troubadour traditions, and fashioned them
with the help of the Romantic poets into the familiar notion of the Artist and his Muse.

Before, you would have to be a Classical Scholar (Graves was a considerable one himself) to
even learn about the Muse(s), whose original patronage was a more formal educational affair.
Both the artist and the poet cultivated an intense relationship with a female Presence, whose
names are legion. In his celebrated book, Robert Graves called Her The White Goddess even
though naturally and excitingly She had Her dark side, too. He was in correspondence
with a number of practising witches, one of whom wrote to him that once the dam, which
kept the flood of the old knowledge at bay, would burst:
[T]he whole of humanity is going to be submerged by fifty thousand years of pre-
history, swamping the neat subtopian conventions of the last thousand years.
- Robert Cochrane, in a letter to Robert Graves.
One thinks of Sigmund Freud expressing the same kind of fear to Carl Gustav Jung, about the
black tide of mud of occultism threatening to inundate the so-called civilized world...
For Graves, the Goddess was to be found in distant lands, on mountains and glaciers, even
near volcanoes.

Robert Graves and Austin Osman Spare may have shared a love of The Rubaiyat of Omar
Khayyam, but the Cockney artist & occultists Goddess and Muse was definitely a Black one.
With him, the Muse had begun to make Her journey back into the primordial creative psyche
where She was born. She was no longer distant and high above him. The Muse couldnt get
any closer: She had become part of the artist himself, flesh of his flesh, blood of his blood,
and he would at times portray both himself and other characters that appear in his work as
such as Male and Female both, in one body. She would not solely move him, as before, to
make Great Art: he would become Muse to his own artistic Self. The clock had been turned
back to a pre-Christian gnosis the old knowledge spoken of by Cochrane, or perhaps
even the black tide of mud Freud feared so much. There was an Atavistic Resurgence,
accompanied by an inversion of the senses, until attraction and repulsion negate each other.
In an omitted illustration for 1913s The Book of Pleasure, Spare called the practise the
love-feast of the supersensualists.

According to Phil Bakers excellent biography of him, Spare told a younger friend who
may well have been the occultist Kenneth Grant that before the age of sixteen, he had an
affair with a hermaphrodite (not to speak of a Welsh maid with a violent temper, and a
dwarf woman with a snub nose and a protuberant forehead.) Many years later, he would
draw a picture of just such a creature or perhaps of this very same creature as s/he was
remembered. It is impossible to ascertain whether these events actually happened, or whether
they sprang from an overheated and strangely morbid fantasy life. As with his stories of
Mrs. Paterson there may have been a kernel of truth in them, which he later embellished.
Also, in the same spirit he might engage in sexual intercourse with aged, even repulsive,
women. From early on, Spares imagination and vision were invested in daemonic personae
of hermaphroditic force. But he would recall and nourish and nurture these affairs (fantasies
or not), carrying them forward into his later years, and some of them would become the
material for terrific artwork.

In the original folio of preparatory drawings for what would become Austin Spares 1921
book, The Focus of Life, are some extraordinary images of an intensely sexual nature: a
prone, nude, masculine woman, face and breasts cleverly disguised or hidden, but with
genitals exposed, is surrounded by grotesque cavorting creatures engaged in every kind of
sexual activity imaginable. Their bodies are a riot of male and female attributes in every
possible combination. Proportion-wise the womans body is much bigger in two of the
drawings we see part of an almost-familiar mop of hair peeping out and the arms in one,
below the elbows, are remarkably muscular and hairy. Could these be portraits of the artist
himself, transformed and in disguise, but unmistakably Austin Spare? And what are we to
make of the obscene polymorphous activity also decorating the drawing sheets? Did he not
say: All things fornicate all the time...?

In the second of the drawings in which the masculine woman occurs, a large, virile hand
(attached to a remarkably heavy and quite possibly hairy underarm), with an inviting gesture
beckons the sizeable phallus at the front of the picture to approach and enter the specially lit
locus for which it is made. To the right of this ready membrum virilus, Spare has sketched
what can only be interpreted as members on the make fleshy protuberances that are
beginning to look like they might be ready for action later, or perhaps they never will. They
are too flaccid and misshapen. Or perhaps they have already served their purpose. Spare is
playing receptive Dana to his own Zeus as a Shower of Gold except that the Gold is
not of the metal variety.

In the last drawing in this series, the masculine woman who is the artist, shows candidly she
has been de-flowered she is bleeding from the vagina while below where she is resting,
the horde of grotesques keep on fornicating. His act of Self-love has made him complete.

Drawing strange-looking masculine women and himself transgenderized was not uncommon
for Spare. He certainly did not shy away from exploring his own and other peoples sexual
identity, or playing around with it. But Spare the Artist being also Spare the Occult Sorcerer,
there was, of course, more to it than that. In 1905, he drew himself as a masculine woman,
unshaven and with a dcolletage, standing next to another (sullen) portrait of himself, which
would appear with the title The Despair as one of the illustrations in Earth: Inferno. That
same year he started a magical notebook out of which the aforementioned Focus of Life: The
Mutterings of Aos would grow. He signed it Amen-AOS. There are more learned or occult
interpretations of the name: for instance, in Ancient Egypt, Amen means hidden. Amen
was also the name of a god:
[S]aid to be the maker of things above and of things below and to have more forms
than any other god.
- E. A. Wallis Budge, The Mummy.

In 1909, on briefly joining Aleister Crowleys magickal order the Argenteum Astrum, Spare
adopted the magical name of Yihoveaum, drawing together the name Yihovah and Aum, said
to be the original of Amen. In the Kabbalah, wrote Madame Blavatsky, YHVH or
Jehovah, expresses a He and a She, male and female, two in one ...

So Austin Spare, the magical artist, the supreme draughtsman, adopts obscure monikers and
neologisms, to explain his own drawings to himself? It seems unlikely. However much his
fans love his writings, Austin Spare the visual artist vastly outstripped Spare the Cockney
sage delivering his books of wisdom, and a cascade of often impenetrable aphorisms. We
overestimate the artists ability to know exactly what he is doing and why. To quote Kenneth
Grant:
The degree of his achievement is in direct ratio to the degree of his absence when the
work is performed.
- Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, p. 36
The decision-making process may not often, or even rarely, be in his hands, except as in
Spares case at times to unconsciously guide his hands during his automatic drawing
(which with Spares is instantly recognizable, but is not the work under discussion here.)

It is not difficult to form the impression that Spare desired to be the progenitor of, at the very
least, his own artistic life, and to not have to stop at being only a man:
The I surfeit-swelled is the end of compassion the indrawing of sex to Self-love.
Fortunate is he who absorbs his female bodies ever projecting for he acquires the
extent of his body.
- Austin Osman Spare, The Focus of Life.

The idea of a hidden, androgynous self has been around for a very long time. A member of
Platos Symposium, Aristophanes, tells the assembly how originally humanitys nature
contained three sexes: male, female and a third, the androgyne. It was Zeus who cut what was
once whole into two, and the separated parts have been looking for each other ever since, in
order to become one whole again. This is Aristophanes concludes how Eros came into
existence. For Austin Spare this was the New Sexuality. Perhaps because its antecedent
was so ancient, and its present occurrence so urgent and yet occult at the same time, it had to
be discovered and created anew:
I assert this Self-love to be a most secret ritual hidden by blasphemous Ideographs:
and he who calls, pronouncing the word fearlessly, the entire creation of women shall
rush into him.
- Austin Osman Spare, The Focus of Life.

In spite of his often nefarious creations, Spare nevertheless wished them to see the light of
day, and to realize his will to, as he said himself, reify the inherent dream to make
what sounds like mere abstraction (such as the speech of Aristophanes in the Symposium),
more real. The Ancient Egyptians called it Coming Forth by Day, which gave the more
correct title of what we are used to calling The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Considering
Austin Spares circumstances, after his initial flush of success and acknowledgement, Spare
as Man-Woman was also very much about being completely self-sufficient, and not needing
anyone else. With his magical brush and pen and pencil, he could make it come true, at least
on paper. As he wrote in a sketchbook:
I am Gyman! [woman-man] the great Masturbator.



Emma Doeve, January 2014.

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