Outside the Circles of Time, by Kenneth Grant

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The premise of this book is hurled at the reader like another climate catastrophe: there exists, we are told, an existential threat to humanity which requires us to buck up spiritually or face an Atlantis-like destruction. Taking the opportunity to provide the solution himself to this rather vague threat, Kenneth Grant’s suggestions are some of the most inventive that I have heard in response to imagined or real catastrophes. It would seem that the impending doom can be averted if we are able, collectively, to make contact with alien beings and achieve “ultra-dimensional” consciousness, and, most importantly, all pass through the “Ordeal of the Abyss”. So far so ordinary – but if only it were that simple! The threat is immediately complicated because, he says, Aleister Crowley and Meher Baba failed to utter the all-important “Word of the Aeon”, which means that in addition to the unspecified and presumably nameless perils, there’s also the problem of a “Wordless Aeon”, something “which has been dreaded and abhorred by the prophets of the past” (though, sadly, nowhere in print), which has to be faced without the usual “guidance from the supernal influences”. Fortunately for us, Kenneth Grant doesn’t need (or want) any guidance from supernal influences: he instead maps out a path through the dark Tunnels of Set/Qulielfi/Choronzon to our final rendezvous with the glorious MacGuffin Aeon of Maat. The depth of our spiritual plight means that the only way forward in this spiritual desert is, yes, to have astral sex with an assortment of “monsters” from the dungeon dimensions, whilst evoking “teratomas”,[1] in an attempt to make contact with such lovelies as “the daemonic Octopus from whose tentacles hangs the star-spawn of Cthulhu”. I’m pretty sure that this is the same Cthulhu, a giant squid created by H. P. Lovecraft in fiction, whose waking is meant to precede the destruction of humanity by his own tentacle. This does raise questions about Grant’s method of saving humanity, especially if one gets off on the wrong foot by calling him an octopus. However, he is far from restrictive in his recommendations, so if Cthulhu doesn’t take your fancy, you might prefer to help balance the spiritual budget by entering a relationship with a whole range of “unnatural blasphemies […] nurtured in the outermost reaches”, including the presumably very hungry Spider-Queen said to perch at the centre of the universe whose representation adorns the book’s cover; or perhaps the arch-demon Choronzon, who might be free on weekdays. Remember: it’s all for the benefit of humanity, and if any of it seems a bit yucky, Grant advises that you build up to it by a “systematic derangement of the senses”. But even if, after systematic derangement, prudish readers should remain chary of consorting directly with the vast numbers of imaginary invertebrates that are presumably just gagging for it, one can hypnotise (human) women for the purpose instead. Grant points out that Aleister Crowley might already have reincarnated as a woman, so even black-clad occultists may be in luck. It all sounds very reasonable, I’m sure you’ll agree; but what happens if one does… you know… with a gigantic squid/spider/nameless horror? Grant doesn’t go into details, although he does later talk about the Spider-Queen having necrophilic predilections, which ought to be enough to alert the careful reader. To support all this advice, Grant provides a number of loose analogies drawn from gematric correspondences in Crowley’s Sepher Sephiroth, as well as visions recorded by his colleagues, which seem to follow closely on the heels of instructions in how to induce a state of hypnagogia or waking dream – a sequence that I can only assume is deliberate. However, the text is broken up with a number of illustrations by several artists following p.148, and these definitely deserve a mention. Whilst it’s difficult to escape the sense that some of these illustrations seem quite derivative, principally of Spare and Crowley, with hints of Giger and 50s American horror-fic, and whilst the possibly unintentional juxtaposition of Michael Aquino and the Star Trek “Spock” is arresting, nevertheless the general standard is pretty good and the images themselves quite evocative. It’s possible to get a glimpse of the world inhabited by Grant and the members of his Typhonian O.T.O. Order by sampling these plates, though the text does resume immediately afterwards, which I suspect is more than most readers will manage. Of course, the fact that many people struggle to read Grant or take him at all seriously is argued to be because of the depth of his vision. Those who would seek to criticise the author for the various positions he adopts in relation to Egyptology (he seems to rely entirely on Gerald Massey and E. A. Wallis Budge), or for random statements such as “The Atlantean designation of the Lunar Current was the word Zin”, and the view taken by the author that the Necronomicon is somehow a genuine historical document, do so apparently because they don’t fully comprehend him, or because they’re Caliphate O.T.O. members[2] – not because of any reasonable reservations they may have, on the basis of… erm… anything really. And perhaps with awareness of the fact that practically no-one can stomach even a single Kenneth Grant book, it’s apparently necessary (Grant’s followers say) to read all of his books in order to be in a position to criticise him; and whilst Grant’s themes (which draw heavily on various Left Hand Path occultists of his acquaintance) seem both repetitive and nonsensical, nevertheless he points out that “there are […] many entities incarnate today that are hostile to the Draconian Tradition […]”, and so any reluctance to greet “the promise of further intercourse with the Great Old Ones” with anything but exultant joy is to be understood as part of the greater threat to humanity (if not book sales). This all amounts, I can only suppose, to a formidable intellectual position. In fact, he seems to be seeking a religious imperative with that suggestion. That is, something to compel devotion to the darkness, materiality, horror and death that pervade his fantasies. This imperative is sought through highly abstract and vague notions based on his very individual and embarrassingly limited reading of Crowley,[3] though it relies more frequently on the greater abstractions of other post-Crowley commentators whom Grant regards as authoritative, such as Charles Stansfeld-Jones and Soror Nema – aided by a lot of gematria. This does little to help construct a convincing case for consorting with imaginary oozy-squidgy-bitey things, and is to be contrasted with the more open-handed theories of other writers such as Pete Carroll, who regarded the “inclination toward the darker side of magic” as quite natural; or Anton LaVey, who regarded the dark or satanic impulse in man as a valid and essential half of human nature – failure to engage with it being hypocrisy. However, Grant is headed in a different direction to Carroll or LaVey, who don’t object to the rather universal and seemingly tautological top-down concept of a spiritual hierarchy in which light/spirit/God is above darkness/matter/Devil. Those authors are happy to regard engagement with the “dark side” as selfish, and essentially limited to the earthly realm, whilst repudiating ethical objections as narrow-minded or hypocritical; but Grant, on the other hand, uses abstract notions to elevate ultimate evil (at least temporarily) to the place of godhead, on account of this special circumstance that he calls “the Wordless Aeon”. He doesn’t abolish the “problem of good”, but offers temporary relief for those who share Carroll’s “natural inclination to the darker side of magic”, although at the cost of forcing the practitioner to assume an essentially passive rôle in respect to the entities being called upon; which again contrasts with the much more vigorous, and one might say courageously perverse, approach of LaVey and his followers: to be strong and selfish, to embody evil and to hell with it all! Now, whilst Grant’s views are certainly unusual, they aren’t very original: rather, they seem to derive mostly from his ex-teacher. A glance at the book’s index shows that Crowley is invoked more frequently than anyone or anything else. However, his characterisation of Crowley’s teachings seems curiously and very specifically contrary to Crowley’s actual teachings. For instance, Crowley wrote a great deal about Choronzon,[4] the demon of the Abyss, as the spiritual enemy and antithesis of magick and of the “Secret Chiefs” (i.e., those above the Abyss in the Golden Dawn/Crowleyan world-view), but Grant identifies Choronzon as the “supreme concentration” of the “Great Old Ones” (i.e., monsters and things like Cthulhu), at the same time identifying the “Great Old Ones” with the “Secret Chiefs”; which to anyone versed in Crowleyana will appear decidedly contrary if not downright bonkers. And perhaps it’s too obvious to mention, but Grant identifies himself as a Left Hand Path practitioner, whilst Crowley’s stance on the matter is well known; but this doesn’t stop Grant from imputing, quite gratuitously, a Left Hand Path motivation to Crowley (and John Dee)[5] on every possible occasion, claiming to understand things better than they did, and therefore apparently believing himself entitled to make any kind of statement about them too. When it comes to discussing Crowley, his general justification is that he knew Crowley personally (omitting to mention that Crowley did in fact reject him quite forcefully) and that Crowley, he says, failed to understand the universe quite as well as his quondam pupil. However, the strength of Grant’s denial of Crowley’s “Word of the Aeon” (and therefore of his much-vaunted grade of “Magus 9°=2 A∴A∴”), combined with the elevation of “Lam” in his place,[6] suggests a clear intention to take Crowley down a peg or two. One might say it’s equivalent to pissing on Crowley’s grave whilst saying “That’s what he would have wanted.” Actually, knowing Crowley, he might have done; but that’s to confuse the planes. Anyway, with spiritual contortions of the sort offered by Grant, it’s rather difficult to believe this isn’t just Grant’s way of settling a score with the teacher who rejected him. There’s no doubt that Crowley would have (and probably did) regard Grant’s devotion to the “Black Lodge” as contemptible, and Crowley’s denunciation on similar grounds of one of Grant’s most familiar colleagues, Austin Osman Spare, has passed into legend; but whatever Grant’s motives, the fact remains that he has undeniably been misappropriating the terminology and symbolism of, in particular, the Golden Dawn and Thelema, and to no real effect. There is an immediate parallel in the work of one of Grant’s other colleagues, Michael Bertiaux, who did something similar for voodoo: not an outright rejection of the name “voodoo” and all it represents in search of something else, but a twisting of the premises and practices of voodoo to an almost 180° angle, in a manner considered bizarre by traditional voodoo practitioners. An analogy might be to a person who insists that the symbol “=” means “is not equal to”, or who goes around altering one side of every equation and calling the end result “mathematics”. It’s simply boorish. Nevertheless, the views expressed by Grant through his gruesome metaphysical meanderings have a certain lingering appeal for some, although the blurring of the lines between fiction, fantasy and consensus reality put him in broadly the same category as the “Call of Cthulhu” roleplaying game, or the currently-in-hiding “Amado Crowley”. At least, there is a general unwillingness to treat spirituality as a search, however hopeless, for truth, rather than as a game where you can invent the rules as you (or the “game master”) go along. With that in mind, it’s perhaps rather pointless to condemn what appears to be a need amongst the small but devoted group of his followers to regard his teachings as being full of mystique and hidden depths. One might as well criticise Dungeons & Dragons for lacking rigour.

– Sir Anon.
11th February 2010

[1] The Oxford English Dictionary defines a teratoma as “[a] tumour, esp. of the gonads […]”. [2] Although the latter criticism can no longer apply, given the recent resolution. [3] Who, it has to be pointed out, sought “Light, Life, Love and Liberty” and who – contra Grant – did claim to have uttered the Word of the Aeon in a book later edited by John Symonds and (nominally) Kenneth Grant: Magick in Theory and Practice – amongst other places! [4] Particularly in Liber Aleph vel CXI. [5] e.g., he suggests, in typically ludicrous fashion, that Dee was trying to “establish subtle intercourse with the denizens of the Meon [spiders and things]”. [6] “Lam” is the subject of an untitled painting by Crowley which supposedly depicts a lama.

© 2010 The Magickal Review. All rights reserved.

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