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Austin Osman Spare: His Life & Printed Works

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)

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Reviewed by: Tina Caro

Born December 30, 1886, died May 15, 1956, Austin Osman Spare was a British artist and an occultist. His work has heavily influenced chaos magick.

Austin Osman Spare is one of the most interesting figures in Literature in the early 20th century. Not only was he talented writer, but he also stood out due to the quality of his paintings and his practices with the occult, making him one of the key figures in the latter during that time period.

He practiced automatic drawing and automatic writing and developed Spare’s technique of creating sigils.

His artistic works were surrealist and art nouveau, grotesque and heavily symbolic.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

His printed works include “Earth Inferno” (1905), a groundbreaking exploration of mysticism and art, and “A Book of Satyrs” (1907), a collection of his distinctive drawings and writings that challenged conventional beliefs.

“The Book of Pleasure” (1913) stands out as Spare’s magnum opus, delving into the concept of sigils and personal magic, introducing readers to his innovative and highly influential “Alphabet of Desire.”

In “The Focus of Life” (1921), Spare delved further into his mystical ideas, exploring themes of consciousness, spirituality, and the subconscious mind through his esoteric art and writings.

“The Anathema of Zos” (1927) marked a later work where Spare expanded upon his magical theories and continued to inspire generations of occultists and witches with his unique perspective on the occult, making him an enduring figure in the world of witchcraft and esotericism.

His work

While Osman never had a huge body of work, there was still enough interesting material when it comes to his books. He was also known for self-publishing his work, making him one of the first major writers in getting his work out there in that regard–and some of his work was even illustrated by himself.

Something worth pointing out is the fact that Osman’s literary body of work was centered around his ideas and flirtations with the occult, thus giving us a greater insight about his experiences in that area, and how it evolved through each publication.

We are going to put each book in chronological order of publication so you can have a clear perspective of how each one worked, and what was Austin Osman’s mindset at the time.

Aida by Austin Osman, 1954, Art Now and Then

Printed Works by Austin Osman Spare

Earth Inferno (1905)

Earth Inferno
42 Reviews
Earth Inferno
  • Spare, Austin Osman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

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One of the most interesting aspects regarding this book is that Austin Osman Spare wrote it at the tender age of 18 years old. For an author to not write a book of this ilk, but to also do it through self-publishing, goes to show the kind of mentality and ambition that he had during that particular timeframe.

Regardless, this was an anti-establishment piece that a lot of poems and aphorisms done in a very elegant manner, with several illustrations having comments made by Austin Osman Spare himself. The whole creative direction was done by himself and that played a big role in the reception that the book received at the time.

It is also worth pointing out that this book was the first time that we see glimpses and themes regarding Osman’s beliefs and spiritual leanings, with mentions to the Book of KIĀ, which would become a fundamental aspect of his career as an artist and occultist. Zos is also mentioned here, which would also become very important a few years down the line.

There is a heavy Dante’s Inferno influence in this book, and it shows how Austin Osman Spare’s writing is still developing, which is fairly normal for a vast majority of writers in their first book as they are still working to find their own voice. This was certainly the case with him during the writing of Earth Inferno.

A Book of Satyrs (1907)

A Book Of Satyrs
3 Reviews
A Book Of Satyrs
  • Spare, Austin O. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

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Once again illustrated by Austin Osman Spare himself, it’s in this book where we start to see a major growth from his part as both an artist and as a writer. In many ways, this could be interpreted or understood as the moment that the man in question found his voice and identity as an artist.

A Book of Satyrs has a lot of influence of art nouveau and many different kinds of symbolisms, which shows us a version of Austin Osman Spare that is pushing his creative envelope and trying to go further beyond than what he did in Earth Inferno a couple of years ago. It is a very interesting read when you consider the historical context behind this piece, and how it can complement the author’s vision on many different levels.

As the title suggests, there is a lot of satire to be found here, and it also shows a lot of Austin Osman Spare’s tendencies as an artist, just as the vivid ways he can depict stuff such as the mystical, sexual and disgusting sides of life. This is the kind of elements and virtues that made him stand out from the rest of his competition during his life, and is one of the many things that make A Book of Satyrs a very compelling read.

It is also worth pointing out that this is the kind of book that is enjoyed a lot better if there is a historical context behind what was written because some of the things depicted here might be lost in translation due to modern readers not having a lot of information or knowledge in that regard.

Definitely a major step in Spare’s evolution as a writer and an occultist.

The Book of Pleasure (1913)

The Book of Pleasure: The Psychology of Ecstasy
72 Reviews
The Book of Pleasure: The Psychology of Ecstasy
  • Spare, Austin Osman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

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This one book could be viewed as the central piece of Austin Osman Spare’s body work, and the main representation of who he was in this aspect of his life. It is widely regarded as the most important work in his career, and arguably the most known book of his throughout the years.

The main reason that this book is regarded as the most important in Osman Spare’s career is due to the fact that it centers around his concepts and interpretations of the Sigils, which would end up becoming a major theme in the area of Chaos Magic many years down the line. It also represented a lot of his mystical and spiritual beliefs, serving as a snapshot of sorts about what he viewed in the realm of occultism.

It is also worth pointing out that this book is the first time that Osman explains his interpretation of incantation and how it works, which is something that would become quite significant in his career over the years. In that regard, this is a very special book because it kick starts that trend of his.

The Book of Pleasure is a very important chapter in the life and works of Austin Osman Spare, and if you want to have a major grasp of what his ideology and beliefs were in the world of occultism, then this is the best starting point for you in that regard.

The Focus of Life (1921)

The Focus of Life: The Mutterings of Aāos
31 Reviews
The Focus of Life: The Mutterings of Aāos
  • Spare, Austin Osman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

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If The Book of Pleasure proved to be the most important of Austin Osman Spare’s books, then The Focus of Life can be viewed as the most personal.

The reason for this is that eight years went by between both books, and this resulted in a lot of introspection from the author’s part, with the works here dealing with a lot of personal psychology, very deep insight, and also developing a concept that Spare called “the great duality”, which was about the deeper desires that one has.

It has an obscure, almost Nietzschean view of the world at times, but it is a very fascinating read as it shows Spare at his most personal, and also showcasing a lot more development as a writer and as an expert on the occult when compared to his original, younger version from eight years ago. In that regard, that is something worth taking into account when analyzing this book.

The Focus of Life might be the most challenging of his works as it has a lot of elements and themes, but it can also be the most rewarding for that very same reason, so that is something that makes the experience of reading that book all the more interesting.

The Anathema of Zos (1927)

Anathema of Zos: The Sermon to the Hypocrites, an Automatic Writing
4 Reviews
Anathema of Zos: The Sermon to the Hypocrites, an Automatic Writing
  • Austin Osman Spare (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

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This being the final of Austin Osman Spare’s bibliography, it reads a bit forced at times. Unlike his previous works that felt fresh and willing to go beyond traditional means when it came to writing and illustrations, this work of his is often perceived as more of a rant than actual insight.

The book itself is pretty bleak in terms of the message it tries to convey and how it conveys said message: it is often focused on the nature of humanity as a whole, and how we are always inclined to hypocrisy and self-loathing, thus trapped in an endless cycle of suffering. It is a very heavy subject and one where Austin Osman Spare holds no punches.

It is also a read that is a lot more appreciated if you are familiar with his previous works as you have a lot more to contrast and compared, but is definitely not an entry-level book for you to read and learn about his perspective on many different things.

Conclusion

If there is one word to define Austin Osman Spare, that would be “iconoclast”. His work was definitely ahead of its time, and he is widely regarded as one of the forefathers of Chaos Magic, which is something that should be taken into account when analyzing the historical value of his output. Definitely one that play a big role in the occult and its development through its writing.

There is also a lot of unconventional ways when it comes to his paintings and his line work, making him one of the most interesting painters of his generation, which is why a lot of his creative output is referenced by a lot of people even after his passing in 1956.

Austin Osman’s best sellers

Bestseller No. 1
The Book of Pleasure: The Psychology of Ecstasy
72 Reviews
The Book of Pleasure: The Psychology of Ecstasy
  • Spare, Austin Osman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
SaleBestseller No. 2
Austin Osman Spare, revised edition: The Life and Legend of London's Lost Artist
11 Reviews
Bestseller No. 3
The Writings of Austin Osman Spare: Anathema of Zos, The Book of Pleasure, and The Focus of Life
84 Reviews
Bestseller No. 4
The Pocket Austin Osman Spare
91 Reviews
The Pocket Austin Osman Spare
  • Spare, Austin Osman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
SaleBestseller No. 5
Lost Envoy, revised and updated edition: The Tarot Deck of Austin Osman Spare
6 Reviews
Lost Envoy, revised and updated edition: The Tarot Deck of Austin Osman Spare
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 344 Pages – 04/30/2024 (Publication Date) – Strange Attractor Press (Publisher)
Bestseller No. 6
The Focus of Life: and The Formulae of Zos vel Thanatos
10 Reviews
The Focus of Life: and The Formulae of Zos vel Thanatos
  • Spare, Austin Osman (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

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About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

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