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From Atavism to Zos: Spare's Philopsophy and Magic

Mark Pilkington
Spare produced three books of magical writing and drawing, Earth Inferno (1905),
The Book of Pleasure (Self Love): The Psychology of Ecstasy (1913), which conta
ins the core of his philosophy, and The Focus of Life (1921). At the heart of hi
s cosmology lies the Kia, the state of 'inbetweenness' or 'Neither-Neither' that
might be equated in the language of mysticism with the Ain Soph of the Kabala,
the Tao, even Jung's Collective Unconscious: it is the one truth, the source of
all manifestation, what, if you like, was there before the Big Bang. The other k
ey element is Zos, the human in body and mind, which also served as Spare's magi
cal name. As Nevill Drury puts it, Kia is the Primal Energy and Zos the human ve
hicle for receiving it.
A firm believer in reincarnation, Spare felt that each person's past lives, in a
variety of human and animal forms, were retained in the subconscious. This coul
d be tapped into, allowing one to observe and communicate with the many embodime
nts of the self that dwelt there. It was such inner journeys that inspired the f
antastical menagerie of creatures and semi-human figures visible in so much of h
is art.
"Know the subconsciousness to be an epitome of all experience and wisdom, past i
ncarnations as men, animals, birds, vegetable life, etc., etc., everything that
exists, has and ever will exist."
Spare sought ultimately to pass back through the various levels of being until h
e had reached the very end, and so the beginning, the Almighty Simplicity. At th
is point he would be united with the Kia in an eternity of bliss. But, crucially
, he also found that by tapping into the energies of these beings, through a met
hod he dubbed "atavistic resurgence", it was possible to attain immense power.
""A microbe has the power to destroy the world If you were to dismember its limb,
the mutilated part would regrow, etc. So by evoking and becoming obsessed or il
luminated by these existences, we gain their magical properties, or the knowledg
e of their attainment."
Spare is said to have used this technique to do all sorts of wonderful things: l
ifting heavy objects, mind reading, manifesting hideous thought forms, even magi
cally procuring a pair of slippers for one startled gent, the Hon Everard Fieldi
ng (an associate of Bligh Bond [See FT143:40].
The thinking behind the process is complex, but essentially Spare felt that one'
s desires could be focussed and embodied as sigils, ideograms composed of words
and phrases that encapsulated a wish. These potent symbols were then hidden or d
estroyed in order to banish them into the subconscious. For example a sigil to a
cquire great strength was drawn thus:
(Of course not all of us are blessed with Spare's skills as a draughtsman, but i
t is the process of creating the sigil that is most important to a spell's succe
Key to the technique is the action of propelling the sigilised desire into the s
ubconscious. For this to happen the mind must be blank, devoid of all rational t
hought, images or desires, the practitioner entirely without ego. It was vitally
important to forget one's initial desire, allowing it to take root, grow and ev
entually become real: "When conscious of the Sigil form (any time but the Magica
l) it should be repressed, a deliberate striving to forget it, by this it is act
ive and dominates at the unconscious period, its form nourishes and allows it to
become attached to the sub-consciousness and become organic, that accomplished,

is its reality and realization."

The best
a trance
ed to as

way to achieve this state of void, Spare discovered, was through sheer
exhaustion, a highly effective method being the time-honoured Tantric t
of masturbation. He also utilised a form of yogic meditation to induce
state in which his body would become rigid and immobile; this he referr
The Death Posture, the subject of a number of his drawings.

At a time when much magical practice involved elaborate ritual, an obsession wit
h occult paraphernalia and often ponderous psychodrama, Spare's solitary, shaman
ic and, on the surface at least, simple techniques must have seemed nothing shor
t of revolutionary. Certainly they are far more in keeping with his own characte
r, as one who rejected the pomp and glory of the Royal Academy in favour of his
own rich inner world. His brief experience of Aleister Crowley's Astrum Argenteu
m order was evidently not a happy one: "Others praise ceremonial Magic, and are
supposed to suffer much Ecstasy! Our asylums are crowded, the stage is over-run!
" he wrote in The Book Of Pleasure.
As Lionel Snell writes in Exploring Spare's Magic (from the 1987 Divine Draughts
man exhibition catalogue): "If the extrovert wants to become successful he shoul
d hang up "I'm the greatest" posters and constantly affirm his desire, while the
introvert would do better to blow his desire on a sigil, and then try so hard t
o fail that he eventually becomes an underground cult figure." While Crowley may
be the most infamous magician of the 20th century, his copious volumes of dense
writing are read only by the dedicated few, his rituals practiced by an even sm
aller number of devotees. In the past twenty years, as awareness of his artistic
genius continues to increase, Spare's deceptively simple sigilisation process h
as been adopted and adapted by a new generation of so-called "chaos magicians",
and incorporated into art works, the music of Coil (See FT 142)and others, writi
ng and comics, most popularly Grant Morrison's The Invisibles.
Like a buried sigil growing deep in the collective unconscious, Spare's Zos Kia
Cultus lives on.