Austin Osman Spare was born on the 30th of December 1886. He was born of humble roots, the middle child and only son of five children. His father was a policeman who often worked the night shift. Money was short for the Spare family but when the young Spare began to show an unusual propensity for drawing and art, they managed to find enough funds to send him to art school.
At the age of seven somewhat alienated and oppressed by the females of his family, his mother and four sisters. Spare was befriended by a mysterious old women, a sorceress by the name of Mrs. Patterson. Spare would often refer to her as his second mother, his ‘Witch-mother’. She taught Spare how to visualize and evoke spirits and elementals to reify his dream imagery. She also initiated Spare into witchcraft during a sabbat meeting and gave him his craft name ‘Zos’.
Mrs. Patterson greatly influenced the young Spare. It was said that she could change her appearance from an old women to that of a young temptress at will. She also had other unusual powers as well. A portrait drawing Spare drew of her at the time, is reputed to change before the eyes of those who look upon it.
Spare left school at the age of 13 to serve an apprenticeship in a stained glass works. During the evenings he continued his education at an Art College in Lambeth, South London. This led to a scholarship at the Royal College of Art where he began to study in earnest.
In 1904 at the age of 17 years, Spare exhibited his first pictures at the Royal Academy. His pictures caused a storm and excelled his popularity in the Art world. He then published his first book in 1905 entitled ‘Earth Inferno’. This was a book of drawings depicting human figures in grotesque postures and contained some of the semi-human spirit forms he was able to visualize. It also included commentaries that show his insight into the workings of the human mind and his spiritual leanings.
In 1908 Spare opened an exhibition at the Bruton gallery in London were his drawings and paintings soon became popular among the London ‘Smart set’, the Intellectuals, Art collectors, and Dandy’s of his time. He also came to the attention of Aleister Crowley who commissioned Spare to create drawings for his magazine ‘The Equinox’. This led Spare into joining Crowley’s ‘Argentium Astrum’, an occult society known as the ‘Order of the Silver Star’ in 1910.
However, his association with Crowley didn’t last long, for Spare had begun work on his best known book ‘The Book of Pleasure’, and was beginning to form his own ideas concerning the practice of magic. The Book of Pleasure is considered one of his most important works, as well as drawings, it includes detailed instructions for his system of sigilization and the well known ‘death postures’. He has much to say about human hypocrisy, religion and the meanings of true personal freedom and power.
Spare joined the army in 1916 and served as an official ‘War Artist’ during the First World War. He was posted to Egypt were the animal-headed gods and magical religions of Ancient Egypt appealed to his insightful nature as an artist and mystic. During the Second World War while working at home in London, his house was hit and devastated by a ‘blitz’ bomb blast. Spare was injured and left paralyzed down his right side. Many believed he would never draw again but within six months he had regained the use of his right arm and once again began to draw. Many credit the speed of his recovery to his personal elementals and familiars.
The Focus of Life
In 1921 Spare published ‘The Focus of Life’, another book of drawing containing his unique magical commentaries. Here he mentions the word ‘Chaos’ in relation to the normality of chaos as the natural order of things and in the self: “The more chaotic – the more complete I am”, he say’s. He philosophizes and speaks of existence, sex, ecstasy and sensation, also about self-love, belief and the ‘chaos of the normal’.
By 1924, Spare was at the height of his artistic success, but his success as an artist began to conflict with the philosopher within. He became disenchanted with his trendy ‘Jet Set’ friends and the benefactors with whom he had become so popular. He excommunicated himself by writing another book entitled ‘The Anathema of Zos’, and flaunted their hypocrisies in their faces. He returned to South London where he lived in relative obscurity as a recluse.
Little is known of his activities during this time except that he lived in a small basement flat caring little for money or fame. He made a small living drawing portraits of common people in the local pubs and selling them for small amounts of money. While he wasn’t publishing during this time, he continued to write and develop his philosophy, art and magic.
In 1947 Spare met with Kenneth Grant and gradually become more involved with other occultists of the time. He met Gerald Gardner in the early 1950’s who engaged him to create sigils, magical talismans and other ritual aids. At the same time he began work on a definitive Grimoire called the ‘Zos Kia Cultus‘, this was to contain the accumulation of his magical secrets. Austin Osman Spare died on the 15th of May 1956, his work on the Grimoire unfinished.
In his later years Spare became obsessed with sex magic and immersed himself in the worship of Isis and other Egyptian deities. He then integrated this into his practice of Witchcraft, as reflected in his artwork of cultural themes. His obsession with sex magic turned him to many perverse sexual activities that the society of his time could not understand. He believed that sexually repulsive acts caused certain chemical changes within the body, thus transforming the magical consciousness.
Little could he have realized the impact his work would have on the future generations of witches and magician’s. His work was finally recognized and led to the formation of the “Illuminates of Thanateros” (IOT) in England in the late 1970’s, a tradition practicing what is now known as “Chaos Magic”.
In the late 1970’s some twenty years after the death of the great “Austin Osman Spare” (1886-1956), a Mr. Carroll and Mr. Sherwin formed the “Illuminates of Thanateros” (IOT), a new tradition that became synonymous with Chaos Magic. Chaos Magic is based primarily on the workings and philosophy of Austin Osman Spare. It would seem to me that Chaos Magic is not exactly Witchcraft. While it incorporates witchcraft, its the cutting edge of “High Magic” and is more into the realm of the Magician than that of the Witch.
To explain Chaos Magic I can do no better than to quote the authors introduction to a book I have recently read, “Understanding Chaos Magic – by Jaq D. Hawkins”. I do so in the interest that shared information helps us all, and have adapted the text slightly for use here:
“Chaos Magic is the newest and fastest growing area of hands-on practical magic available to the modern magician. It is an area of study that disposes of the need for religion, or pre-packaged philosophy and superstition in the use of magic. The Chaos Magician seeks to understand the natural laws behind the workings of magic, and the- reasons behind the use of ritual in the performance of a magical working.
Chaos magic leaves the practitioner free to establish his/her own ideas of method, ethics and the appropriate uses of magic. It is magic for a liberated free thinker who is able to go beyond the teachings of any book to the outermost reaches of imagination in the creation of one’s own magical world.
It is magic based on the concept of the primal creative force itself, a realm of infinite probability. Creative Chaos is a subject most useful to experienced magicians who can determine for themselves the risk factor in the release of powerful spells that work.
While the actual practice of this form of magic is recommended only for the experienced magician, the subject is of interest to anyone who can understand the way the mind can effect our environment.
Chaos Magic is based on natural laws, many of which are only just beginning to be understood by the scientific community. Stripped of superstition and religious bigotry, it is a realm where fact meets theory, and results are the objective.
This is a magical philosophy that transcends tradition and dogma. It is a journey toward results rather than hierarchical megalomania. It is as useful and effective to the individual as it is for a group, and infinitely adaptable to the needs of the many or the few. Any and all methods are allowed and encouraged, the only requirement is that it works.
Chaos Magic is the cutting edge of modern magic. It is on the minds and lips of magic users of all descriptions and in many parts of the world. As we learn more and more about the nature of magic and reality, we are beginning to realize that behind all forms of magic, are the natural laws of Chaos”.