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A Question of Balance

Joined: 51 years ago
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I much enjoyed the Spare memorial event at Fleet Street...
particularly the talks by CAROLINE (Oops!) Wise and Robert Ansell.
Robert brought up a very interesting issue regarding a somewhat neglected aspect of the Death Posture, reiterating a point he made in his Introduction to Borough Satyr: 'Figures are... seen kneeling or standing precariously on strange wooden altars manufactured especially to be imbalanced -forcing the practitioner to develop his sense of equilibrium'.
I have long found these ink-and-wash drawings from the 'Earth inferno ' period, dated 1904-1906, particularly worthy of close study, and could hold many clues to Spare's magical praxis: there are some fine examples in
Borough Satyr and some in Gavin Semple's Zos Kia but there are some I have only ever seen in the Fulgur collection of slides! (Had the privelege of using them myself for a talk in Bath last year).
There is one that depicts what has been described as a 'psychic skateboard'... an elongated board with the head of a Red Indian (Black Eagle?) raised on a short pole at one end: in his talk, Robert suggested it might actually be a planchette: he also remarked that heads balanced on poles are a recurrent theme in Spare's works.
I can't help but speculate on whether these objects and costumes ever had a physical existence: after all, this was a period when Spare's style was white satin sashes and Italian mirrors rather than Woodbines and gaberdine macs! I remember seeing (can't remember where- perhaps among the slides) one of these pictures in which Spare is kneeling before a wooden altar that has a kidney-shaped hole in the side, like the handle of an orange-crate, suggesting either that (a) it has been made from an orange-crate or (b) that it has been designed to be portable: to me, this purely practical detail suggests an actual physical object rather than something purely imaginary or symbolic.
I am tempted to experiment with those 'balance-boards' available from athletics suppliers... it perhaps says something of the prevailing values of our society that an Internet search for the terms 'Balance' and 'Meditation'
yields a number of sites claiming that meditation improves one's sense of balance, but none about the effects of balance on meditation!
A search for 'Spare' and 'Balance', of course, just returns endless sites
about John Balance!


Joined: 51 years ago
Posts: 0

Hi Chris,

Interesting post. I tend to agree with you that Spare actually made some of these objects, from orange crates or whatever came to hand. There is an echo of reality about their homespun charm against the projected glamour of the ritual robes that often appear in the same pictures.

For me, the notion of balance is really important in understanding Spare's work. It was a recurrent theme to many of his works and is far more important than sigils, which only appear twice in his long career: 1910ish and 1949-1955. And to think, there were those who thought Steffi's positive/negative designs in Images and Oracles were just artistic licence...