Kenneth Grant (born 1924) is a British occultist, founder of the Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis, and author of The Typhonian Trilogies (which includes his most celebrated work Outside the Circles of Time).
Grant is currently enjoying a modest popularity within occultism, largely thanks to his autobiographical accounts of his relationship with the two greatest pin-ups of twentieth century magick, Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare.
As a prominent figure within occultism, and significant contributor to the history of twentieth century magick, just what is Grant's take on magick? What concepts does he promote within the occult sphere, and what exactly did he learn from Crowley and Spare?
Grant’s Typhonian Trilogy
Grant has written nine books expounding his magical thought, and I think Alan Moore, reviewing Against the Light: A Nightside Narrative in Kaos 14, sums it up best when he says:
To open any Grant text following his relatively lucid Magical Revival is to plunge into an information soup, an overwhelming and hallucinatory bouillon of arcane fact, mystic speculation and apparent outright fantasy, as appetising (and as structured) as a dish of Gumbo…Sometimes it seems as if inferior ingredients have been included, from an unreliable source: the occult data and the correspondences that simply fail to check out when investigated, knowledge that appears to have been channelled rather than researched…
For all its inaccuracy and impenetrability however, Grant’s work is strangely absorbing. Imaginative and eclectic magical systems, much like ex-theosophist Michael Bertiaux’s colourful Voudon Gnostic Workbook (which, I kid you not, includes instructions for contacting the spirits of the ‘Hoo’ and the ‘Doo’), can offer a highly entertaining view of the world, as chaos magicians have enthused for decades. Suggestively, Grant gives an overview of the like-minded Bertiaux in his Cults of the Shadow, and I think both can be considered contemporaries of the school of occultism that I like to call magical fantasy.
But within Grant’s work, beside the joy of arbitrary and creative occult connections, we come across many supposedly factual feats of magick that defy credibility, and in terms of Grant’s relationship with Crowley and Spare, a number of stories that appear self serving.
Grant’s relationship with Crowley
Grant met Crowley towards the end of his life in 1944. A year later, Crowley wrote a letter (recounted in Remembering Alesiter Crowley) to the young twenty-one year old stating exactly what he thought of him:
This is a terrible defect in your outlook on life; you cannot be content with the simplicity of reality and fact; you have to go off into a pipe-dream.
Crikey. I wonder what Ol’ Crow would have made of his Typhonian Trilogy?
It’s not all bad though; later, in 1946, Crowley went on to note:
Value of Grant: if I die or go to USA, there must be a trained man to take care of the English OTO.
In other words, there was no other ‘trained man’ in England at the time, and Crowley recognised some potential in Grant. If the correspondence in Remembering Aleister Crowley is anything to go by – with every other letter from Crowley expressing his disappointment with Grant – we can surmise perhaps Crowley overestimated his young Chela…
Ordo Templi Orientis
With Crowley’s death, Karl Germer took over caretaker duties of the OTO, and Grant went on to set up the New Isis Lodge in England. Unfortunately, Grant got ‘creative’ with the New Isis manifesto, falsely identifying Germer as the ‘World head of the OTO in the Outer’, and implying his endorsement. Grant got the boot, mysteriously changed his mind about Germer’s role as OHO, and proclaimed himself the genuine successor to Crowley. After all, didn’t Crowley identify Grant as a possible successor in the note above?
The Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis (TOTO) was born, and never mind that Grant was now the self proclaimed successor to the Great Beast Himself, the TOTO was more importantly going to carry on Crowley’s vision of the Great Work….wasn’t it?
In Starfire Vol. 2, No. 2, the TOTO officially states its ultimate aim:
Briefly, the plan comports the eventual dissolution of all existing terrestrial governments. For these governments will be substituted ‘kingdoms’ administered by specially appointed ‘Kings’ of OTO, in the Tenth Degree. The Kingdoms will, in turn, be subject to a central government directed by a ‘Supreme and Most Holy King’ who shall be the Outer head of the Order. The Kings will be assisted by members of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Gnosis in the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Degrees. They will prepare the way for Opening specified Outer Gateways to permit the influx of a great regenerative Magical Current.
When the entire Planet becomes Thelematized by the vibrations of the Typhonian Current, then only will it have been prepared for restoration to Those that once possessed it, and that originated the initial life-wave.
What a beautiful, beautiful dream…
So just to clarify: the Great Work isn’t enlightenment for yourself and then everyone else, but the preparation of humanity for the arrival of our space brothers. Ok…
If we are to believe the account set forth in The Magical Revival, Grant was privy to one of Crowley’s greatest secrets, especially bequeathed to Grant in the form of a pencil drawing of a large headed individual. According to Grant, the subject of the drawing was an extraterrestrial entity called LAM, who contacted Crowley during the Amalantrah Working in 1918. LAM has since become a focus for the magical work of the TOTO.
I’ve covered the available historical evidence for the origin of the LAM portrait in my article Chinese Whispers: the Origin of LAM to which I refer the reader, so let it just be said that the publication of Crowley’s ‘big secret’ has obviously resulted in a few book sales and a certain notoriety for Grant.
Grant’s relationship with Spare
Grant met the artist and sorcerer Austin Osman Spare in 1948, and much like his relationship with Crowley (see Remembering Aleister Crowley), Grant spent most of his time providing Spare with material goods until his death in 1956 (see ZOS Speaks!).
Whereas Grant’s kow-towing to Crowley only resulted in the gift of a shitty drawing, his brown-nosing of Spare was a much better pay off: a number of never-before-released magical texts penned by Spare, all of which he published after Spare’s death (most notably The Logomachy, The Zoetic Grimoire: The Formulae of Zos Vel Thanatos and The Living Word, all reproduced in ZOS Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare). Again, Grant was revealed privy to a great magician’s secrets, which can now be yours for a measly £40.
The Myth of Spare
In his books, Grant promotes a number of stories related to Spare that have largely become occult folklore. For instance, Spare supposedly received his occult education from a witch called Paterson. The development of her myth can be tracked through Grant’s books: The Magical Revival (1972) states Paterson was descended
from a line of Salem Witches, and could materialise thoughts; in Cults of the Shadow (1975), Paterson is the embodiment of ‘the sorceries of a cult so ancient that it was old in Egypt’s infancy’; with Outside the Circles of Time (1980), she becomes ‘Yelg Paterson’, ‘who had spiritual rapport with disembodied American Indian sorcerers, who in time long past had established a Gate for the Great Old Ones’; finally, in Outer Gateways (1994), ‘Yelg Paterson’ transforms into ‘Ye Elder Paterson’, confirming Spare’s initiation into a Lovecraftian Mythos lineage.
Despite the fact Spare never mentions the witch Paterson in any of his books (in fact, Spare claims his method of sorcery as his own invention. See my article Austin Osman Spare and the Source of his Magic); there is one reference to Paterson outside of Grant’s work, by Spare’s friend Frank Letchford, who supposedly heard Spare mention the witch in vague terms. However, it is unclear how much of the information concerning the mention of a significant woman from Spare’s past is coloured by Letchford’s contact with Grant. As Letchford says, ‘[Paterson’s] portrait is said to appear in The Focus of Life’. Said by whom?
Grant was also responsible for perpetuating stories of Spare’s incredible magical prowess, such as the time Spare conjured an elemental in the form of a ‘green mist’ that drove two occult tourists mental (Man, Myth and Magic). Grant was somewhat caught with his pants down after claiming in Nightside of Eden that a ritual involving a sigil of Spare’s resulted in a number of deaths, only for Doreen Valiente to give a very different account in The Rebirth of Witchcraft.
It would however be unfair to simply point the finger at Grant as the sole arbiter of the Spare myth. Sadly, it seems Spare was just as much a magical fantasist as Grant, and ludicrous accounts of Spare shaving without the aid of a razor or growing his schlong so large no prostitute could accommodate him can be found in his correspondence in Zos Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare. That is of course if Spare actually wrote all of those letters…
Zos Kia Cultus
Not only is Grant the self confessed successor to Crowley’s OTO, but he is also the supposed co-founder and successor of Spare’s little magical group the Zos Kia Cultus, despite the fact Spare never mentions setting up such a group.
In summary, we can see that Grant has constructed a self serving magical fantasy based on what he managed to ‘inherit’ from his time with both Crowley and Spare, namely a strange drawing and some grammatically confused manuscripts.
Despite his numerous ‘mathematical proofs’, dubious accounts of magical rites and second rate channelled material, nowhere do we find a record of Grant’s engagement with the Great Work of Enlightenment. Has Grant obtained the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel? What about crossing the abyss?
With no experience of the key elements of the Western Tradition, on what basis is Grant considered to offer an adequate opinion of magick?
Has Grant ever understood magick? A quote from Outside the Circles of Time, a favourite amongst his supporters, is rather telling:
One final point is here relevant, and I state it without apology. It is not my purpose to try to prove anything; my aim is to construct a magical mirror capable of reflecting some of the less elusive images seen as shadows of a future aeon. This I do by means of suggestion, evocation, and by those oblique and ‘inbetweenness concepts’ that Austin Spare defined as ‘Neither-Neither’. When this is understood, the reader’s mind becomes receptive to the influx of certain concepts that can, if received undistortedly, fertilize the unknown dimensions of his consciousness…
…One cannot over-emphasize or over-estimate the importance of this subtle form of alchemy, for it is in the nuances and not necessarily in the rational meanings of the words and numbers employed that the magick resides.
So let me get this straight: the function of the non-dual (Neither-Neither), which Grant appears to believe can be found in his ideas (the reason Spare called it the Neither-Neither appears to have escaped him), is to give the reader a glimpse of a possible future, and in order to practice magick, we need only read Grant’s books?
Wow – and there’s me thinking magick is a ritual practice that results in the direct personal experience of non-duality.
Explains a lot about the popularity of his books though.
Kaos 14, edited by Joel Biroco
The Voudon Gnostic Workbook by Michael Bertiaux
Starfire Vol. 2 No. 2, edited by Michael Staley
The Rebirth of Witchraft by Doreen Valiente
ZOS Speaks! Encounters with Austin Osman Spare by Kenneth and Steffi Grant
Remembering Aleister Crowley by Kenneth Grant
Nightside of Eden by Kenneth Grant
Outer Gateways by Kenneth Grant
Outside the Circles of Time by Kenneth Grant
Man, Myth and Magic, edited by Kenneth Grant
The Magical Revival by Kenneth Grant
Cults of the Shadow by Kenneth Grant
Against the Light: A Nightside Narrative by Kenneth Grant