Austin Osman Spare

British artist and occultist 1886 – 1956

AOS is very interesting to me because of his depictions of the esoteric and the way he chose to express those ideas through diagrams, sigils and symbols that both reveal and hide the message.

He started out his artistic career at The Royal College of Art in London where his interest in strong line work (influences of Aubrey Beardsley and EJ Sullivan) apparently made him unpopular with the contemporary art scene. Throughout his life he worked in a variety of mediums: paintings, drawings, pastels and etchings. After developing his interest in Western Esotericism these subjects informed all his work from this point on and he developed his own powerful and unusual system of mysticism centred around his ideas of ‘Zos’ – the human consciousness and ‘Kia’ – the universal consciousness.

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The Death Posture, 1913 (A self portrait. Interestingly the white horned statue of a woman is an ancient carving of Ishtar/Astarte that currently resides in the Louvre).

Many of his artworks from this time were ‘automatic drawings’ that were created during magical trance states and that he believed were created when his conscious mind was held at bay. The elements in his artwork which are of particular interest to me and my research are his use of sigils in his work. The sigils are created from words, letters, images and distilled into almost unintelligible symbolic diagrams. The messages within the sigils and their intent should bypass the conscious mind and find action in the unconscious mind. The desire and conscious understanding of both the practitioner (artist/occultist) and the viewer should be dispelled by the indecipherability of the sigil. It is preferable that neither viewer understands the meaning and that it is filtered through the unconscious mind and the meaning extracted without thought or desire.

“For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is in every way perfect.”
(Liber al vel Legis, Chapter 1, No.44 – Aiwass via Aleister Crowley, 1904)

The following quote expresses the feelings of a viewer who realised that Spare was creating diagrammatical infographics of his ideas as a method of communication, but that he did not have the necessary knowledge to understand them. Whether this is important or not is debatable as it was perhaps not the intention of AOS to communicate these ideas in a didactic form to a viewer who was uninitiated in the symbology of his mysticism.

In a 1914 review of The Book of Pleasure, the critic (anonymous) seems resigned to bewilderment, “It is impossible for me to regard Mr. Spare’s drawings otherwise than as diagrams of ideas which I have quite failed to unravel; I can only regret that a good draughtsman limits the scope of his appeal”.
(Review of ” The Book of Pleasure, the Psychology of Ecstasy” (by Austin Osman Spare) in The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 26, No. 139, (Oct., 1914), pp. 38-39)

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Protection Against Evil People

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The Formula For Atavistic Resurgence

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The Death Posture

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AOS and his cats

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AOS painting in his studio

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4 thoughts on “Austin Osman Spare

    1. They’re intriguing aren’t they? He was such a talented painter in the traditional school that it enabled him to translate his visionary trance states in a way most ‘outsider’ artists can’t match.

  1. Firsly great blog that you have here!😀

    I really think that AOS is one of the most underrated artists in history. Especially as most people whom view his work especially his automatic drawings have no real understanding of the occult.

    Therefore many people are still unable to really appreciate what these works really mean. One can interpret them from an intellectual university type point of view I know that.

    However unless the true occult meanings of “Zos and Kia” along with so many other atavisms are studied and experienced for one’s self? Then many of the hidden meanings are lost to the general public out there in my opinion.

    Those of us whom have really studied the occult, but not art in my case, are just left in stunned awe at this man’s intellect and productivity. Despite the fact when he lived in such poverty his work was still his obsession and the love of cats too.

    After my own NDE many perceptions of this “mere mortal life” changed in so many unexpected and unchangeable ways afterwards. The reason I’m writing this is because this experience made me understand where AOS’s occult artwork was really coming from.

    Then I was able to easily do automatic writing in spirit and then automatic drawing. Not that I’ve got his talent in art unfortunately. Whereas before my NDE a lot of his worked seemed quite alien and strange.

    However now I realise that he was not only an incredibly great artist capable of so many different styles of artwork but a man with such a rich inner spiritual world.

    At times his work looks to be from such a very deep dark personal place. His own inner daemons within his own psyche almost taunting him and haunting him at the same time. As well as the collective unconsciousness of Carl Jung is there for all to see of course.

    AOS’s love of the occult and his spiritual studies using sigils, as well as his own life experiences and hidden inner feelings of course that were able to be expressed by him in his artwork.

    Out of everything this great man achieved his mind is what fascinates me the most. As well as his “inner spiritual world” Zos Kia and his sigils ectera really fascinate me the most. I just happen to be reading another book about him ATM.

    Austin Osman Spare was one of the most underrated artists in his lifetime, If only he were still here to see how much his work fascinates and is loved by so many people. ❤️❤️❤️

    Blessed Be & Namaste,
    CazWytch.⭐️🙏🌙

    1. Hi CazWytch! Oh I am so sorry I forgot to reply to your great comment! I got married earlier this year and everything got a bit disorganised in the rest of my life, I came on to do some admin on my blog and realised I hadn’t replied to you.
      Yes, AOS really was one of a kind. What interests me greatly about him was how little he cared for the material world, for material comforts and relationships. He seemed to be able to put that all aside in pursuit of his spiritual quest, which was really nothing like anyone else’s that I have come across.
      There are a number of magickians out there who seem to have a practice that is very particular to themselves and perhaps isn’t even suitable for much exploration by others; Rosaleen Norton maybe? Kenneth Grant I would definitely put in this category. Very, very different from someone like Crowley who has outlined his practices and system in a way anyone can follow and benefit from with a bit of perseverance and patience.
      Great to hear from you – please comment on anything else I post which piques your interest 😉 it’s all alchemy for me at the moment!

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