Austin Osman Spare

Brief Biography (c) 2008 Fra. Petros Xristos Magister (8=3)

London Times obituary, 1956:

AUSTIN SPARE (1886-1956), an artist of unusual gifts and attainments and of an even more unusual personality, died on May 15th 1956, in hospital in London at the age of 67. A dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions, he had that complete other-worldliness so often depicted in romantic fiction and so rarely found in real life. Money meant nothing to him. With his talents as a figure draughtsman he might easily have commanded a four-figure income in portraitive, but he elected to live quietly and humbly, rarely going out, painting what he wished to paint, and selling his works at three or four guineas each. Even in outward aspect he conformed to type - with his untidy shock of hair, small imperial, and a scarf instead of a collar. But for most of his fife he did not mix in what are called `artistic circles'. Not Chelsea, Fitzroy Street, Bloomsbury or Hampstead claimed him, but for years a little flat `in the south suburbs by the Elephant' far removed from the coteries, deep-set in the ordinary life of the people.


A.O. Spare was the son of a policeman, born in late Victorian London thirteen years after Aleister Crowley and only a few years removed from the founding of the Order of the Golden Dawn, though he was never a member. He was a member, however, of the ACTHP APΓOC (Silver Star) for a period of time, but found his own personal vision too compelling to remain a member of any organization (however Thelemic) for long. Spare lived the life of Thelema -- True Will -- without having to explicitly function as a proselyte for the Law; rather, he found himself living this life by example. "Chose" is the wrong word; such lives have a cosmic inevitability about them. Crowley must have seen in Spare a kindred spirit; for Spare, like Crowley (who was not his "mentor," for Spare needed none) found liberation and consciousness expansion in the comingling of spiritual and sexual energies. Both men were pioneers in this field, six decades before the "sexual revolution" made such explorations part of our cultural milieu.

Spare published his first drawings when he was only nineteen, titling the work Earth Inferno. In the best "decadent" style of the era, he called for a return to the fleshly, anarchistic indulgences imagined to belong to primitive society. Spare continued in this vein for his entire life, producing and exhibiting numerous works with evocative titles such as The Book of Pleasures and showing an artistic sentiment reminiscient of William Blake, with a fiery iconoclasm that could only have come from Nietzsche, if Spare was at all familiar with the German philsopher whose works were only beginning to be known in England in the early twentieth century. Blake, of course, was well-known as a fellow Londoner and visionary, and a spiritual brother who also championed the body and fought the political hypocrisy of his own day nearly a century earlier.

Much of Spare's work was what is known as "automatic" drawing and writing, i.e. work received while the artist was in a trance state. Spare felt himself guided by spirits and various occult influences. He was a natural in this respect. His drawings (like those of modern Voudon technologist Michael Bertiaux) -- of sexually aroused demons, satyrs, nymphs and stranger creatures still -- often possess the disturbing quality of outsider art, generating a nameless, hard to define anxiety deep in the subconsciousness of the viewer. This in itself is an act of magic. Spare's most significant contribution to modern magickal practice, however, was his creation of the "Alphabet of Desire," a system of distilling desire down to its essence and implanting it in the subconscious to do its work. It is, basically, a system of talismanic magic in which the practitioner writes his "desire" (wish) in sentence form, then crosses out any repeating letters. The remaining letters are then combined into a symbolic form that, most importantly, bears no resemblance to the original sentence. The resulting symbol becomes a charged talisman which the practitioner is to stare at and allow to burn itself into his brain. The energy of the desire is then to be consciously forgotten, while it works within the subconscious to come to fruition. Modern Chaos Magick owes much to Spare in its use of the Alphabet of Desire, and Spare has become something of a patron saint of chaos magickians.

Spare received little recognition during his life, as the London Times obituary of 1956 shows. He was essentially unknown outside of metaphysical circles. Perhaps his most important association was with fellow British occultist and author Kenneth Grant, who was also associated with Crowley. After Crowley's death in 1947 Grant went on to develop a rival O.T.O. organization and has done much to advance the reputation of Spare by incorporating his art and philosophy in his own magickal theories of Typhonian technologies