Cult of One: Reviews

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In the years to come, it’s my suspicion that the lecture given by Robert Ansell on Saturday for Treadwells, The Cult Of One, will be considered a landmark event.

I still find it difficult to believe that the lecture lasted 90 minutes: the time absolutely flew past. Robert is, of course, the foremost expert on Austin Osman Spare but his background in one of the great auction houses and in publishing might lead one to fear that the lecture would be a little, well, a little ‘dusty’. Far from it: this was an opportunity to hear from a man who really understands Spare, someone who knows what he really meant, intuitively.

I was privileged to have been invited to attend – thank you so much for this and so much else, Christina and Ian – and was planning to write a detailed account of the proceedings. And then I discovered the account by Chyldecatcher in his LiveJournal Blog. I could do no better, so read on for the best account possible of a really rather enchanting evening.

The drinks after were pretty good, too!
Reproduced with kind permission from

10 November 2007 (Saturday)

The Cult of One

Magic and Art of Austin Osman Spare

Illustrated Lecture by Robert Ansell


A Treadwell’s event

The Cult of One is an analytical exploration of the celebrated artist and psychic Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956). In a 90-minute in-depth slide lecture, Robert Ansell will offer a radical re-analysis of Spare’s metaphysical philosophy and creative magical practices, drawing upon evidence from both traditional esoteric sources and recent developments in cognitive science. It will examine Spare’s primary techniques, including the Death Posture, the Neither-Neither principle and his philosophy of Self-Love, considering them in the context of the artist’s key influences. The lecture will be illustrated throughout with large projections of Spare’s art, many from the Fulgur archives. The evening will appeal to long-established devotees and newcomers alike.

Robert Ansell is a leading expert on Austin Spare. He first encountered the artist over 20 years ago in his career with the fine art auctioneers Sotheby’s. In 1992 he co-founded Fulgur Limited with the aim of creating ‘a nexus between the creative current that informs the work of Austin Osman Spare and modern collectors and students of the occult.’ Since then, Fulgur has published most of the key works by and about the artist, including: Zos Speaks!, Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare, The Book of Ugly Ecstasy and Borough Satyr: The Life and Art of Austin Osman Spare. He currently lives in Somerset.

VENUE: Dragon Hall, 17 Stukeley Street, London


With everybody well in their seats by 7.30. Christina of treadwells introduced Robert Ansell to the audience, some of which had traveled far and wide, from parts of Europe and even the US.
Robert immediately engages the audience by taking a quick straw poll. How many were introduced to Austin Osman Spare by the writings of Kenneth Grant? Hands shot up. How many by Peter Carroll? This time not so many.

The AOS that Grant and Carroll knew were influenced by the age in which they met. Grant meeting AOS in his Mrs. Paterson, witch phase – Carroll in the punk era, echoing Chaos magick.
Robert Ansell’s previous well received lecture on Spare had focused on the outer life. Tonight’s lecture would focus on the inner life.

Spares early background was in Kennington in London. This initiates the first of many high quality slides, of the Kennnington of his time. A vibrant part of the city as it was then.

He went to St Agnes church and catholic school.

AOS’s first attempt at drawing was at the age of 4. At 14 he produced his first automatic drawing.

The first surviving artwork from 1901 is shown – ‘the head of a Native American atop a short pole fixed to a ‘skateboard’. It looks very similar to a later portrait of ‘Black Eagle’. But what is the nature of this ‘skateboard’? Maybe we get an idea later on in the lecture, where the device turns up in further works by Spare.

1902 – gives us a Middle Eastern Theme
1902 – 1903 a Beardsley style is in effect
1903 – shows the influence of G F Watts in the figures
1904 – A work is submitted to the Royal Academy
1905 – After the adoration to this work, ‘Earth Inferno’ is created as reaction to the social pressure he feels to conform as a role of the artist in polite society.

It has influences going back to Blake, the ‘Rubaiyat’ of Omar Khayyam and Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ as illustrated by Dore. ‘Earth Inferno’ was subversive in nature.

It also contains aspects of Theosophy and ‘The Book Of The Dead’

We then explored the key themes of ‘Earth Inferno’

Feminine as archetypes
Death as a transforming event
Kia as absolute
Earth as corrupting
Conflicting dualities

It’s at this point as in all good illustrated lectures a technical hitch develops with the slide projector. Robert is not particularly flummoxed as he tells us over the many years that he’s worked with Spares work, something invariably goes astray – something to do with the energy inherent in the work. ‘If anything can go wrong it will’.

The hitch is soon sorted out and a slide of Dr. Roger Sperry is projected. A pioneer specialist in how the brain works.

In the 60’s he had studied patients with spilt brains, where the two halves of the brain had been severed. This separation in the brain of epileptics, reducing the fits.

He also found out that the right and left sides of the brain perceive the world in different ways

Another reference is made to Betty Edwards book ‘Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain’

We’re asked to look at our the back of our left hand, focus on the middle finger down to the knuckle, thinking that it looks very familiar but at the same time thinking it was the first time we had seen it. The idea is to produce a duality in the mind that Spare worked at achieving.

There was then more categories to explore

Early Ontology
Kia in Inferno
Revering the known
1903 – A drawing of Kia titled ‘Kia sat’
‘The Absolute One …..’ Quote from the Secret Doctrine
Mut as mother
Mut the vulture headed woman/goddess
1904 – Spare produces a drawing of a vulture headed woman
Amen the husband of Mut
1906 – a Grimoire
Spare saw himself as Amen
Kia in The Book Of Pleasure – similarities to the Tao
But then something strange happens as Spare makes no further reference to Kia for the rest of his life, although it holds great importance for him.
Another name Spare uses is ZOS. This only appears twice. Once in ‘The Book Of Pleasure’ – defined as a being condensed as a whole
Betty Edwards defines drawing as a global or ‘whole’ skill
A picture of Spare with eyes closed receiving the Kia

Praxis – Self Love
Annie Besant has a quote about the self
Self Love in Spares case exploring the use of onanism and ejaculation as death
The Death Posture
Self portraits of Spare staring into the mirror
1904 – Looking into the mirror
1907– Spare in drag staring into a mirror
1909– starring into the mirror (pencil sketch?)
1910 – Spare with intense eyes looking into mirror

Mirror gazing, producing a conflict between the observer and the observed. The right brain doing the recognizing

The Death Posture involves holding the arms behind the back. Spare made a series of works showing such a posture

1904 – a figure sits on a chair, which is balanced on only two of its legs
1905 – A figure stands on a board .. similar to that very early piece with the ‘skateboard’
1906 – Spare kneeling on a board that has three short legs

[Did Spare make these boards for spiritual exercises involving balance and awareness?]

1906 – An animal form with Spare standing behind
1907 – A drawing of outstanding draughtsmanship ‘the best of the Edwardian era’.

He holds his left hand behind his back, the other with two fingers either side of the nose – keeping the left nostril open, the right one closed. Its like a yoga exercise to produce a serene detached consciousness

This talk is producing marvelous revelations and insights to Spares work that I don’t think have been noticed before. It looks like Spare has produced a Grimoire not of words but of images, imparting the modes of occult practice.

1912 – a drawing showing the same posture
Amen with a cobra headdress

What are the physiological effects of this process?
A simple Cocteau type drawing is shown, it has an asterisk at the heart chakra
More drawings with different chakra’s appear
One has a word written behind the spine, it spells ‘mother’ – the divine mother
Pure Sexuality
The Neither-Neither
‘And unto the angel …..’ Quote from the Book of Revelation
Believe nothing in this book by the Neither-Neither
– Not this, Not that
Automatic Drawing
The hand must be trained to work in frenzy ….
Blind Drawing
Contour method
Betty Edwards has an exercise for her students to draw blind and feel the contour of what they are drawing …. The left side of the brain rejects this approach

Sacred alphabet

The letters capturing an essence of something, personal to the operator
…. Although by the end Spare cheated as he began using/incorporating Enochian characters

Artist and psyche
Producing a sense of oneness
The Myth
Incongruity in all forms
A figure is shown with two left feet
Another work shows a figure with two right feet
1907 – Spare in drag kneeling in front of an authoritarian religious figure
Exercises in the Grotesque
He liked women who were boss eyed
1921 – A reclining man with no genetalia
1925 & 1930 – exaggerated facial features and limbs
1933 – this time its subtle, the eyes of the face have one pupil bigger than the other
1947 – Clark Gable with horns
1933 – Judy Garland with exaggerated teeth
1954 – Head and shoulders portrait of Isis … but it’s a type of private joke. For it’s a painting of a friend that Isis is modeled on


Crowley didn’t like The Book Of Pleasure, most likely because he was a left brainer. He used words, he was very verbal. Spare was the right brainer, using images.
Crowley concurred that Spare had a tendency to black magic. That he used sentences without verbs.’ Neither-Neither’ was borrowed from J M Barrie’s ‘Never Never’

Robert contends that you have to perceive the book in the right brain mode. The very process of reading it is a magical act


Robert Ansell is not sure that Spare had a system of magic. If you have a system you have structure – and if you have structure it leads to becoming static – and static leads to convention, something that Spare rebelled against.

Instead, Spare became a conceptual body of knowledge

He committed to paper the state of oneness – the intangible by using paradox and contradictions.

By 9pm this superbly presented lecture was sadly all over, the one and a half hours passing by like 30 mins.

Questions at the end were unfortunately not fielded in the hall but attendees were invited to go onto the Sun public house a short distance away for a more cosy and informal interchange.

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