Kenneth Grant

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This article is about the English occultist. For the Canadian Presbyterian missionary, see Kenneth J. Grant. For the Scottish Roman Catholic bishop, see Kenneth Grant (bishop). For the West Indian cricket umpire, see Kenneth Grant (umpire). For the photographer, see Ken Grant.
Kenneth Grant
Kenneth Grant.jpg
Grant in the library of his Golders Green home.
Born (1924-05-23)23 May 1924
Ilford, Essex, England
Died 15 January 2011(2011-01-15) (aged 86)
Nationality English
Occupation Novelist; writer; ceremonial magician
Spouse(s) Steffi Grant (m.1946–2011)

Kenneth Grant (23 May 1924 – 15 January 2011) was an English ceremonial magician and prominent advocate of the Thelemite religion. A poet, novelist, and writer, with his wife Steffi Grant he founded his own Thelemite organisation, the Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis, later renamed the Typhonian Order.

Born in Ilford, Essex, Grant took an interest in occultism in his teenage years. After several months serving in India with the British Army, he returned to Britain and became the personal secretary of Aleister Crowley, the ceremonial magician who had founded Thelema in 1904. Crowley taught Grant his esoteric practices, initiating him into his two active ceremonial magic orders, Argenteum Astrum and Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). When Crowley died in 1947, Grant was seen as his heir apparent in Britain, and was appointed as such by the American head of the OTO, Karl Germer. Founding the New Isis Lodge in 1954, Grant added to many of Crowley's Thelemite teachings, bringing in extraterrestrial themes and influences from the work of H.P. Lovecraft. This was anathema to Germer, who excommunicated him from the OTO.

In 1949, Grant befriended the occult artist Austin Osman Spare. In 1969, Germer died and Grant proclaimed himself Outer Head of the OTO; this title was disputed by the American Grady McMurtry, who took control of the OTO in the U.S. Grant's Order became known as the Typhonian OTO, operating from his Golders Green home. In 1959 he began publishing on the subject of occultism, and proceeded to author the Typhonian Trilogies, as well as a number of novels, books of poetry, and publications devoted to propagating the work of Crowley and Spare.

Grant's writings and teachings have proved a significant influence over other British occultists. They also attracted academic interest within the study of western esotericism, particularly from Henrik Bogdan and Dave Evans.

Biography[edit]

Early life and Aleister Crowley: 1924–1947[edit]

Grant was born on 23 May 1928 in Ilford, Essex, the son of a Welsh clergyman.[1] By his early teenage years, Grant had read widely on the subject of western esotericism and eastern religions.[2] He had made use of a personal magical symbol ever since being inspired to do so in a visionary dream he experienced in 1939; he spelled its name variously as A'ashik, Oshik, or Aossic.[3] Aged 18, in the midst of the Second World War, Grant volunteered to join the British Army, later commenting that he hoped to be posted to British India, where he could find a spiritual guru to study under.[2] He was never posted abroad, and was ejected from the army aged 20 due to an unspecified medical condition.[4]

Crowley, who became Grant's guru.

Grant was fascinated by the work of Aleister Crowley, having read a number of the occultist's books. Eager to meet Crowley, Grant unsuccessfully wrote to Crowley's publishers, asking them to give him his address; however, the publisher had moved address themselves, meaning that they never received his letter.[3] He also requested that Michael Houghton, proprietor of Central London's esoteric bookstore Atlantis Bookshop, introduce him to Crowley. Houghton refused, privately remarking that Grant was "mentally unstable."[3] Grant later stated his opinion that Houghton had refused because he didn't wish to "incur evil karma" from introducing the young man to Crowley,[5] but later suggested that it was because Houghton desired him for his own organisation, The Order of Hidden Masters, and thereby didn't want him to become Crowley's disciple.[6] Persisting, Grant wrote letters to the new address of Crowley's publishers, asking that they pass his letters on to Crowley himself.[7] These resulted in the first meeting between the two, in autumn 1944.[7]

After several further meetings and an exchange of letters, Grant agreed to work for Crowley as his secretary and personal assistant. Now living in relative poverty, Crowley was unable to pay Grant for his services in money, instead paying him in magical instruction.[8] In March 1945, Grant moved into a lodge cottage in the grounds of Netherwood, a Sussex boarding house where Crowley was living.[9] He continued living there with Crowley for several months, dealing with the old man's correspondences and needs. In turn, he was allowed to read from Crowley's extensive library on occult subjects, and performed ceremonial magic workings with him, becoming a high initiate of Crowley's magical group, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO).[10] Crowley saw Grant as his potential successor, writing in his diary, "value of Grant. If I die or go to the USA, there must be a trained man to take care of the English OTO."[10] However, they also argued, with Grant trying to convince Crowley to relocate to London.[11] On one occasion Crowley shouted at him: "You are the most consummate BORE that the world has yet known. And this at 20!"[11]

Grant's family disliked that he was working for no wage, and pressured him to resign, which he did in June 1945, leaving Netherwood.[10] Crowley wrote to Grant's father, stating that he was "very sorry to part with Kenneth" and that he felt that Grant was "giving up his real future."[10] To David Curwen, an OTO member who was another of his correspondents, he related his opinion that "I may have treated him too severely."[12] Crowley put Curwen in contact with Grant, with Grant later asserting that he learned much from Curwen, particularly regarding the Kaula school of Tantra; in his later writings he made reference to Curwen using his Order name of Frater Ani Abthilal.[13] Although they continued to correspond with one another, Crowley and Grant never met again, for the former died in December 1947.[14] Grant attended his funeral at Brighton crematorium along with his wife Steffi.[15]

The New Isis Lodge and Austin Osman Spare: 1947–1969[edit]

Steffi Grant met the occult artist Austin Osman Spare in 1949, shortly before introducing him to Kenneth.[16] At the time, Spare had fallen into poverty, living in obscurity in a South London flat. Although making some money as an artist and art tutor, he was largely financially supported by his friend Frank Letchford, whom he affectionately referred to as his "son".[16] There was some animosity between Letchford and Grant, although it is apparent that Spare preferred the former, having known him for 12 years longer, and placing him first in his will.[17] Grant desired a closer relationship, and in 1954 began signing his letters to Spare "thy son."[17] Letchford claimed that Spare often told the Grants "white lies... to boost a flagging ego."[18]

Grant had continued studying Crowley's work, and a year after Crowley's death was acknowledged as a Ninth Degree member of the OTO by Karl Germer, Caliph of the OTO.[19] Grant then successfully applied to Germer for a charter to operate the first three OTO degrees and run his own lodge, which was granted in March 1951.[20][21] As this would mean that his lodge would be the only chartered OTO body in England at the time, Grant believed that it meant that he was now head of the OTO in Britain.[19] Germer put Grant in contact with Wilfred Talbot Smith, an English Thelemite based in California who had founded the Agape Lodge, knowing that Smith was the only man who had practical knowledge of the OTO degree work. Smith was eager to help, and wrote an length on his experiences in founding a lodge, although he was made uneasy by Grant's magical seal of "Aossic" for reasons that have never been ascertained, and their correspondence soon petered out.[22]

In 1954, Grant began the work of founding the New Isis Lodge. The lodge became operational in April 1955 when Grant issued a manifesto announcing his discovery of an extraterrestrial "Sirius/Set current" upon which the lodge was to be based.[23] Germer however deemed it "blasphemy" that Grant had identified a single planet with Nuit, the goddess associated with infinite space in Thelemic theology. On 20 July 1955, Germer issued a "Note of Expulsion" expelling Grant from the O.T.O.,[24][21] and naming Noel Fitzgerald as the leader of the British section of the Order.[25] Grant however ignored Germer's letter of expulsion, continuing to operate the New Isis Lodge under the claim that he had powers from the "Inner Plane".[19] Upon learning of Grant's expulsion, Smith feared that the OTO would split up into warring factions much as the Theosophical Society had done following the death of Helena Blavatsky.[26] Grant's Lodge continued to operate until 1962.[27]

Grant believed that the OTO's sex magic teachings needed to be refashioned along tantric principles from India. This was part of his growing interest in Asian religious traditions; in the 1950s he became a follower of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, "the Sage of Arunchala", and from 1953 to 1961 immersed himself in the study of Hinduism, authoring articles on Advaita Vedanta for Indian journals like the Bombay-based The Call Divine.[28]

After both Crowley and Spare's death, Grant began to focus more on his own writing career.[29] From 1959 to 1963, Grant published the Carfax Monographs, a series of short articles on magic published in ten installments, each at a limited print run of 100. They would eventually be assembled together and published as Hidden Lore in 1989.[29]

In 1969, Grant co-edited The Confessions of Aleister Crowley for publication with Crowley's literary executor John Symonds.[30] At this point, Grant began describing himself as O.H.O. (Outer Head of the Order) of Ordo Templi Orientis, asserting that he deserved this title not by direct succession from Crowley but because he displayed the inspiration and innovation that Germer lacked.[30] A document purportedly by Crowley naming Grant as his successor was subsequently exposed as a fake created by Robert Taylor, a Typhonian OTO member.[31] His competing organisation was commonly called the "Typhonian" Ordo Templi Orientis, but is now officially renamed the Typhonian Order. The New Isis Lodge was absorbed into Grant's Order in 1962.[21]

Publications and growing fame: 1970–2011[edit]

In 1972, Grant published the first book in his "Typhonian Trilogies" series, The Magical Revival, in which he discussed various historic events in Western esotericism and also encouraged future interest in the subject.[32] He followed this with a sequel published in 1973, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, in which he examined Crowley's sex magick practices and the Tantra.[33] This was followed in 1975 by Cults of the Shadow, which brought the first Typhonian Trilogy to an end with a discussion of the Left Hand Path in magic, making reference to both Crowley and Spare's work, as well as to Voodoo and Tantra.[33] That same year, Grant also published Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare, a collection of his late friend's images based on 20 years of research. The volume did not sell well, with much of the stock being remaindered, although became a rare collector's item in later years.[33]

Oh all OHO contenders, [Grant] made the greatest effort to expand and build upon Crowley's work rather than confine himself to the letter of the law. During the 1970s, he was only one of a handful of people editing material by Crowley and Austin Spare, and he was practically alone in offering new contributions to the literature of magick. While his system differs considerably from Crowley's, he gets high marks for originality."

– Crowley biographer Richard Kaczynski, 2010.[30]

In 1977, Grant began the second Typhonian Trilogy with Nightside of Eden, in which he discussed some of his own personal magical ideas, outlining magical formulae with which to explore a dark, dense realm that he variously called 'Universe B' and 'the Tunnels of Set', conceived as a 'dark side' of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Grant made connections between this realm and the extramundane deities of H.P. Lovecraft's horroir fiction. The book proved controversial among occultists and Thelemites, and starkly divided opinion.[34] The sequel appeared in 1980 as Outside the Circles of Time, and introduced Grant's thoughts on the relevance of Ufology and insectoid symbolism for occultism.[35] This would prove to be the final Grant volume published by Muller, and his next book would not appear for another eleven years.[35]

In 1991, Skoob Books published Grant's Remembering Aleister Crowley, a volume containing his memoirs of Crowley alongside reproductions of diary entries, photographs, and letters.[35] In the next few years, Skoob reissued a number of Grant's earlier books,[35] and in 1992 published the sixth volume in the Typhonian Trilogies, Hecate's Fountain, in which Grant provided many anecdotes about working in the New Isis Lodge and focused on describing accidents and fatalities that he believed were caused by magic.[36] The seventh volume of the Typhonian Trilogies, Outer Gateways, followed in 1994, discussing Grant's ideas of older Typhonian traditions from across the world, with reference to the work of Crowley, Spare, and H.P. Lovecraft. It ends with the text of The Wisdom of S'lba, a work that Grant claimed he had received clairvoyantly from a supernatural source.[37]

Switching to the Typhonian OTO's own imprint, Starfire, as a publisher, in 1997 he published his first novel, Against the Light: A Nightside Narrative, which involved a character also named "Kenneth Grant". He asserted that the work was "quasi-autobiographical", but never specified which parts ere based on his life and which were fictional.[37] In 1998, Starfire published a book co-written by Grant and his wife Steffi, titled Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare, in which they included 7 years' worth of diary entries, letters, and photographs pertaining to their relationship with the artist.[38] The following year, the next volume in the Typhonian Trilogies, Beyond the Mauve Zone was published, explaining Grant's ideas on a realm known as the Mauve Zone that he claimed to have explored.[39] A book containing two novellas, Snakewand and the Darker Strain, was published in 2000, while the final volume of the Typhonian Trilogies, The Ninth Arch, was published in 2003. It offered further Qabalistic interpretations of the work of Crowley, Spare, and Lovecraft, and the text of another work that Grant claimed had been given to him from a supernatural source, Book of the Spider.[39] That same year, Grant also published two further volumes of fictional stories, Gamaliel and Dance, Doll, Dance!, which told the story of a vampire and a Tantric sex group, and The Other Child, and Other Tales, which contained six short stories.[40]

Grant died on 15 January 2011 after a period of illness.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Grant was largely reclusive.[2] however he was married for many years to his artist wife Steffi who worked magick with him.

Legacy[edit]

Historian Dave Evans noted that Grant was "certainly unique" in the history of British esotericism because of his "close dealings" with Crowley, Spare, and Gardner, the "three most influential Western occultists of the 20th century."[41] The occultist and comic book author Alan Moore thought it "hard to name" any other living individual who "has done more to shape contemporary western thinking with regard to Magic" than Grant,[42] thinking him "a schoolboy gone berserk on brimstone aftershave."[43]

The historian of Western esotericism Henrik Bogdan thought that Grant was "perhaps (the) most original and prolific English author of the post-modern occultist genre."[44] Grant was a significant influence over various ceremonial magical traditions, including chaos magic.[2]

Occult writer Peter Levenda discussed Grant's work in his 2013 book, The Dark Lord. Here, he asserted that Grant's importance was in attempting to create "a more global character for Thelema" by introducing ideas from Indian Tantra, Yezidism, and Afro-Caribbeam syncretic religions.[45]

Bibliography[edit]

Grant published his work over a period of five decades, providing both a synthesis of Crowley and Spare's work and new, often idosyncratic interpretations of them.[41] Evans described Grant as having "an often confusing, oblique, and sanity-challenging writing style" that blends fictional stories with accounts of real-life people.[2]

The Typhonian Trilogies[edit]

Title Year Publisher ISBN
The Magical Revival 1972 Muller 0-87728-217-X
Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God 1973 Muller 0-87728-250-1
Cults of the Shadow 1975 Muller
Nightside of Eden 1977 Muller 1-871438-72-1
Outside of the Circles of Time 1980 Muller
Hecate's Fountain 1992 Skoob 1-871438-96-9
Outer Gateways 1994 Skoob 1-871438-96-9
Beyond the Mauve Zone 1994 0-9527824-5-6
The Ninth Arch 1994 0-9543887-0-4

Other works on the occult[edit]

  • Remembering Aleister Crowley Skoob Books, 1992. ISBN 1-871438-12-8
  • Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare, Fulgur Limited, 1998.
  • Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare, Fulgur Limited, 2003.
  • Borough Satyr, The Life and Art of Austin Osman Spare, (includes a contribution from Steffi Grant), Fulgur Limited, 2005.
  • At the Feet of the Guru: Twenty Five Essays, Starfire Publications, 2006. ISBN 0-9543887-6-3
  • Hidden Lore: The Carfax Monographs by Kenneth & Steffi Grant, Fulgur Limited, 2006.
  • Dearest Vera Holograph letters from Austin Osman Spare to Vera Wainwright, edited by Kenneth & Steffi Grant, Fulgur Limited, 2010.

Poetry[edit]

  • The Gulls Beak
  • Black to Black
  • Convolvulus

Novellas and short stories[edit]

References[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b O'Neill 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e Evans 2007, p. 285.
  3. ^ a b c Evans 2007, p. 286; Kaczynski 2010, p. 533.
  4. ^ Evans 2007, p. 285; Kaczynski 2010, p. 533.
  5. ^ Grant 1980, p. 87.
  6. ^ Grant 1991, p. 1; Kaczynski 2010, p. 533.
  7. ^ a b Evans 2007, p. 286.
  8. ^ Evans 2007, p. 286; Kaczynski 2010, p. 533–534.
  9. ^ Evans 2007, p. 286; Kaczynski 2010, p. 534.
  10. ^ a b c d Evans 2007, p. 287.
  11. ^ a b Kaczynski 2010, p. 534.
  12. ^ Evans 2007, p. 288.
  13. ^ Bogdan 2013, pp. 188–189.
  14. ^ Evans 2007, p. 289.
  15. ^ Evans 2007, p. 289; Kaczynski 2010, p. 549.
  16. ^ a b Evans 2007, p. 293.
  17. ^ a b Evans 2007, pp. 293–294.
  18. ^ Evans 2007, p. 297.
  19. ^ a b c Bogdan 2013, p. 196.
  20. ^ Starr 2003, p. 324; Kaczynski 2010, p. 555; Bogdan 2013, p. 196.
  21. ^ a b c Koenig, P.R. (1991). Kenneth Grant and the Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis.
  22. ^ Starr 2003, p. 324.
  23. ^ Starr 2003, p. 324; O'Neill 2011.
  24. ^ Starr 2003, pp. 324–325; Kaczynski 2010, p. 556; Bogdan 2013, p. 196.
  25. ^ Orpheus, Rodney (2009). "Gerald Gardner & Ordo Templi Orientis". Pentacle Magazine (30). pp. 14–18. ISSN 1753-898X. 
  26. ^ Starr 2003, p. 325.
  27. ^ Bogdan 2013, p. 197.
  28. ^ Bogdan 2013, pp. 196–197.
  29. ^ a b Evans 2007, p. 306.
  30. ^ a b c Kaczynski 2010, p. 557.
  31. ^ Staley 2008, p. 121.
  32. ^ Evans 2007, pp. 306–307.
  33. ^ a b c Evans 2007, p. 307.
  34. ^ Evans 2007, pp. 307–308.
  35. ^ a b c d Evans 2007, p. 308.
  36. ^ Evans 2007, pp. 308–309.
  37. ^ a b Evans 2007, p. 309.
  38. ^ Evans 2007, pp. 309–310.
  39. ^ a b Evans 2007, p. 310.
  40. ^ Evans 2007, pp. 310–311.
  41. ^ a b Evans 2007, p. 284.
  42. ^ Moore 2002, p. 162.
  43. ^ Moore 2002, p. 156.
  44. ^ Bogdan 2003, p. viii.
  45. ^ Levenda 2013, p. 60.

Bibliography[edit]

Baker, Phil (2011). Austin Osman Spare: The Life and Legend of London's Lost Artist. London: Strange Attractor Press. ISBN 978-1907222016. 
Bogdan, Henrik (2003). Kenneth Grant: A Bibliography from 1948. Gothenburg: Academia Esoterica. 
Bogdan, Henrik (2013). "Reception of Occultism in India: The Case of the Holy Order of Krishna". In Henrik Bogdan and Gordon Djurdjevic. Occultism in a Global Perspective. Durham: Acumen. pp. 177–201. 
Evans, Dave (2004). "Trafficking with an onslaught of compulsive weirdness: Kenneth Grant and the Magickal Revival". In Dave Evans. Journal for the Academic Study of Magic: Issue 2. Oxford: Mandrake. pp. 226–259. ISBN 978-1869928728. 
Evans, Dave (2007). The History of British Magick After Crowley. n.p.: Hidden Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9555237-0-0. 
Kaczynski, Richard (2010). Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (second edition). Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-0-312-25243-4. 
Levenda, Peter (2013). The Dark Lord: H.P. Lovecraft, Kenneth Grant and the Typhonian tradition in Magic. Lake Worth, FL: Ibis Press. ISBN 978-0-89254-207-9. 
Moore, Alan (2002). "Beyond our Ken". Kaos (Babalon Press) 14: 155–162. 
O'Neill, Declan (4 March 2011). "Kenneth Grant: Writer and occultist who championed Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare". The Independent. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
Staley, Michael (2008). "Instrument of Succession: An Apology". Starfire: A Journal of the New Aeon 2 (3). London: Starfire Publishing. p. 121. 
Starr, Martin P. (2003). The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites. Bollingbrook, Illinois: Teitan Press. ISBN 0-933429-07-X. 

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