Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Beyond the Pylons: A tribute to Kenneth Grant

Beyond the Pylons.
A tribute to Kenneth Grant

Beyond the utmost pylons
Of life’s limit
an endlessly echoing gong
reverberates my anguish

and throngs with eerie song
the shadow-haunted place
where sound itself lies dumb
and weaves its mantras out of space.

From “Beyond the pylons”
Kenneth Grant, Convolvulus

I am deeply saddened to hear of the recent passing of Kenneth Grant on January 15th 2011. Although I have never met, spoken or even written to him, I find myself engulfed with a great sadness that a man whose work has (and will continue) to provide such insight, inspiration and wisdom is gone and have been moved to write a few words to perhaps help others to discover his work and wisdom.

We know very little about Kenneth Grant, by all accounts he was an intensely private man. I am perhaps fortunate in that whilst I have never met Mr Grant, I know, love and respect some of his friends; and know that people who do know him speak of him as a kind generous man, a perfect gentleman and a devoted husband to his wife Steffi. All this is supported by the many people around the world who have written to him; to which he has written back, adding deep insight and wit to his fans revelations and ideas.

One of my eternal regrets is that I did not write to him myself despite plenty of opportunity. I felt at the time that I did not want to waste his remaining years with my own occult ramblings; however now in sadness I wish I could have created that slight touch of personal contact. Not necessarily so as to receive a reply, but rather to have just sent him a letter saying thank you for the inspiration he has given.

Kenneth Grant was one of the most notable occultists and magicians of the 20th century. As the last student of Aleister Crowley, Grant spent time with him in Netherwood. Crowley must have been highly impressed with Kenneth Grant when in his diary he noted “"Value of Grant: if I die or go to U.S.A., there must be a trained man to take care of the English O.T.O.". There are however suggestions that like any relationship, there were disagreements between the two men; but never so deep as to cause a lasting friction between them. Notably Aleister Crowley gifted Kenneth with the portrait of Lam and inspired in him a deep understanding of Thelema.

After Aleister Crowley’s death we know from the excellent Zos Speaks that the Grants were in London in very regular contact with the visionary artist Austin Osman Spare. From here, through the 1960s to almost the present day Kenneth Grant founded the Nu-Isis lodge and then produced a number of highly respected tomes on magic; notably the Typhonian Trilogies although there are a number of other important and interesting books also in his opus. It is interesting to note that many occultists, even those which have been somewhat antagonistic to the politics surrounding the OTO keep a full shelf of Grants books.

I don’t really wish to dwell of the politics between the various OTO’s which have manifested since Crowley. There are; of course; earthly orders which hold that name; perhaps the most prominent two are the Caliphate and the Typhonian OTO. I am not a member of any occult organisation and am saddened that such wisdom as we have inherited from the past, reified through Grant, Crowley and many others has become distastefully coloured with issues of copyright and vulgar law, especially since there are many wise teachers in both OTO’s. This is sad and perhaps a condition of our times where Mammon rules and corporate greed whores the world. Really I wish that all people who study the secret ways can get on in harmony. Together we will all be able to do extraordinary things.

In many ways I see both OTO’s are incorporating different aspects of Aleister Crowley’s legacy. The Caliphate very much preserving the body and the teachings of Crowley, preserving the work of a great teacher (and for all his flaws, let us look past them to what his writings teach) and propagating the law of Thelema. If the Caliphate can be said to be the body, the Typhonian OTO embody Crowley’s spirit, his energy and dynamic. The eternal questing part of Crowley; enflamed with the burning starfire of Aiwas, opened vistas anew and set humanity on a new vision of magickal growth. This really is one of the sidereal stars which illuminate Kenneth Grants work.

Kenneth Grant carried this on and took us into to new realms entirely. Beyond the earthly OTO’s there is a deeper OTO, that of the heart. Here I believe the true magical realities first come into perception and the spirit and soul of the current descends into our awareness. For this OTO, outside of earthly politics and manoeuvring, Kenneth Grant was the true head of the order, embodying the questing energy of Crowley, teaching us to not fear the depths and yet soar to new heights. Grant’s Typhonian trilogies; works of genuine magic in its most literal sense; opened the way for so many people to arcane, magickal and mystical heights showing that he really was an earthly representative to the inner planes; the true OHO of the OTO. No one else has extended the current since Crowley quite like Grant.

There are a number of themes with which Kenneth Grant’s work is famous for and I feel that they are topics which are easy to misinterpret. I am not convinced that I understand many of Kenneth’s concepts but I would like to think that I am at least approaching his orbit with my thoughts on his work.

I think that one of the most famous (or infamous) concepts woven into the Typhonian trilogies is that of HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and his references to the dread Necronomicon. Let us start by saying that we know HP Lovecraft invented (or stole from mythology) many of the names of entities in his stories. Cthulhu was made up (or may be Kutulu, Sumerian “Man of the underworld”, Dagon is a Palestinian God). We also know as a fact from scanning the literature there are no references to the Necronomicon prior to Lovecraft.

However, this really does not matter. Kenneth Grant (in “The Magical Revival”) lists a number of similarities between the Cthulhu mythos and concepts in the work of Crowley. In the rest of the trilogies he evokes the mythology of these concepts further with their climax perhaps occurring in the erudite “Hecates fountain” where Kenneth speaks of rituals to summon Cthulhu and compares Crowley’s “Book of the Law” with the Necronomicon.

This is beautiful writing and I am certain that Kenneth was aware of the literary history of Lovecraft’s creations. All human myths, all human religions, all human spiritual practices start with a mystic contacting the ineffable. Maybe Lovecraft was an unconscious mystic/psychic who could perceive these things; then shied away with uninitiated horror. Maybe Lovecraft made them up. At the very least Grant was able to recognise familiar mystical patterns in the Cthulhu mythos and weave them around his practice. All myths and religions started in a similar way; and quite literally and with utter respect (to) Cthulhu is a real as any other mythological being; albeit one from our repressed darker sides

Perhaps we could understand this idea more if we consider a fictional storyteller who is creating a new serial killer for a novel. They would use certain patterns, certain archetypes in their creation which are actually manifested in real serial killers. As such our virtual serial killer is a symbol for the spirit of serial killings which underlies the madness in all the ones we encounter (or hopefully not) in our world. So in a sense a fictional Hannibal Lecter, properly realised is as real as Jack the Ripper and under the correct circumstances the Peter Sutcliffes and Fred Wests of this world.

From here perhaps we could ask why would one want to encounter night-side entities such as Cthulhu. I believe that Mr Grant has an unfairly gained reputation for being dark and that perhaps this reputation is due to fluffy-bunny occultists not really understanding that the Universe (and by extension ourselves) is composed of light and darkness. It is vital to carefully (and safely) explore these energies because whilst on one level they are out there and nasty, they are also within us and potential. Remember Freud’s ideas of the need to assimilate repressions; in a magickal sense this is why one faces the darkness, to bring it into the light rebirthed as a wholesome energy rather than left as a repressed dark time bomb ready to explode. A lot of Grants work here is really an insightful glimpse at the Theosophic concept of the Dweller on the threshold; and serious occultists do not work with the dark-side to harm; bit rather to regenerate their own darker repressions into the light of a loving self.

The highest grade of occultism according to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is “Ipsissimis” which means “ones’ self complete”, one has healed and assimilated all ones fractures, all ones broken parts, all ones personal demons into a perfect being in knowledge of their true (unified) will. This is more potent, more healing than meditating upon dolphins and unicorns and I feel that to misunderstand “dark” as being creepy and scary is to totally miss the ideas in Kenneth Grants writing and actually his work shows him to be one of the sanest occultists out there.

There is much more here which we could explore. For example Grants novella “Gamalial” shows how clearly he understood the occult concept of Vampirism, not as poncy Eastern Europeans in a jacket and a Bella Lugosi smile, not even as hungry ghosts such as Dion fortune explored in “The Demon Lover” (although that is an important aspect of this phenomena). More as a transaction of energy of a deeper level which can lead to a depletion of vitality, of life, of being. Both Aleister Crowley and Austin Spare touch on Vampirism in their writing; Grant jumps straight in however and this is one of the sidereal strands which tie his writings together.

Kenneth Grants fiction goes deeper that eldritch horror however and his work illuminates all sorts of glittering vistas. Some stories are very Lovecraftian; others deeper and more esoteric. The Psychic Quester and mystic Paul Weston recently commented to me that there is an underlying connection between the Egyptian Queen (technically King) Sobek-Noferu, Bram Stokers “Jewel of the Seven Stars” and Grants own “The stellar Lode”. There is a theme here from ancient Typhonian practices (which even Dion Fortune hinted at in “Moon Magic”) through to modern horror as a vessel and flume of occult ideas.

My favourite interpretation of “Jewel of the Seven stars” is Hammer Horrors “Blood from the Mummies Tomb”. This is pure 1950s elegance with the half-naked Valerie Leon as the (un)mummified and still vital and highly sexy corpse of Tera (aka Sobek-Noferu aka Sa’re) surviving through the centuries to revive in modern types; a more modern and occult take on Stokers tale, and one more true to the sidereal legacy of Grant and Spare. In my view it is the most Typhonian film ever made; albeit slightly less accurate (on an archaeological level) that other films of the story, but one can easily slip into a state watching the film where the learned Kenneth Grant steps out of the shadows to explain the narrative (in fact he practically does in the early volumes of his Trilogies). The lustre of the starry plough however; so beloved of Sobek-Noferu still shines and SHE is returning with the gnosis.

I think that Grants message with the nightside is that we must not be afraid of it; however we should be cautious with it. Jack Parsons was not afraid, but perhaps not wise and his adventures ended in tragedy and horror. Grant expects bravery but caution; not foolhardiness. We all have a nightside which must be explored, with wisdom. I remember being fortunate enough to attend the book launch of Kenneth Grant’s “The Ninth Arch” to hear Michael Staley note in his address that “The adept stands with his feet in hell and his head in heaven”. These are wise words indeed.

Grant’s novels do plunge us into sheer eldritch excitement however; My favourite novel is “Against the Light”, and here we need to understand that “against” means “next to” and certainly not “opposed to”. “Against the light” is woven through with threads from Kenneth Grant’s own past; he mentions the dealer in Charing Cross road in London where he purchased a stature of Mephistopheles ; the same dealer is mentioned in the factual “Hecate’s Fountain”. There are references to the (maybe fictional) Grimoire Grantino, fictional personages from various strange tales such as Helen Vaughan and such a blurring of fiction and reality that the levels shatter. This is all to the good in that as it leaves us all wondering what reality it. Perhaps the truth is that it is all fiction; all true. Perhaps our own lives are all fiction, all truth. The borderline haziness is where the magician, the artist and the poet all stand and it is clear that Grant was all these and perfectly comfortable in this twilight zone.

I am sure that I can go on forever. Kenneth Grant lived an extraordinary life and he was truly an extraordinary man. Mike Magee recently posted a picture of Kenneth Grant smiling happily next to a shelf of esoteric tomes; this really is a wonderful picture to see a man so happy with his life and grinning with such, well, niceness. To see this framed in a room of esoteric books, some of which were written by Kenneth just adds the icing to the cake.

I am sorry not to have taken the opportunity to have written to him and would love nothing more than for Starfire to produce a book such as “Remembering Kenneth Grant” as a collection of memories from the people who knew and loved him. The world is a poorer place with his passing, however I am certain that he is still out there somewhere, touching our dreams and exploring outside the Circles of Time, probably sharing an adventure with Queen Sobek-Noferu under the stellar radiance of Nuit-Isis and the light of the Starry Plough.

Kenneth Grant, you are sorely missed. Thank you so much for all you have done for the Magickal traditions and for keeping alive things worth preserving, you and your work will never be forgotten.