Paroxysms of Magick
by Lionel Snell
Recently I drew a comparison between the two systems of ideas
arising at the same moment in history (1904): Einstein's theories
of space-time relativity, and Austin Osman Spare's theories which
I described as "a relativity of belief". It was
interesting that the year of the writing of the Book of the Law,
i.e. the first year of Crowley's New Aeon, should have been the
time when traditional ideas of "the absolute" came
under attack on two fronts.
Einstein undermined the idea of absolute position. So such
questions as "does the sun go round the earth or the earth
go round the sun" were demoted from being questions about
absolute truth to questions about human choice. The answer is
that from an everyday perspective it is easiest to think of the
sun as circling the earth: it allows us to go on using handy
expressions as "sun rise" and "sun set". But
in a scientific framework it is much simpler to work with the
idea of the earth circling the sun - because the equations are
Because I saw this idea as very basic to magic, the nature of
belief has been a recurring theme in mine own ideas. In SSOTBME I
pointed out that the question "do you REALLY believe in
spirits", which is typical of the non-magician, is not very
interesting to the magician. The latter is more likely to argue
as Crowley did that "I perform certain actions and certain
results follow"; and, as with the scientists' heliocentric
equations, the spirits often provide a neater model of the
phenomena than any psychological or coincidental theory of magic.
We all recognise the power of absolute belief - fanaticism can
move mountains - but we see that it is a power which tends to
rule the believer. Magic is more concerned with ruling over power
than being ruled by it. The struggle is perhaps to "beef
up" our carefully chosen beliefs by making the unconscious
accept them as absolute, but without handing over our control in
the first place.
It is because of this confusion about belief - the heavy
associations which linger with the word - that I have wondered
about finding an alternative or replacement concept. Instead of
"believing in" some idea, might we not "delight
in" it? or "rejoice in" it? Or perhaps it is
better to kidnap a dated phrase and say "instead of
believing in ideas I am going to dig them". So the answer to
"do you really believe in spirits?" becomes "no,
but I really dig them!"
This "digging" principle was in a sense the serious
message behind the "Manifesto of the OTTO" published in
Aquarian Arrow number 21. This manifesto was a send-up of
"heavy heavy" New Aeon occultism, but also a
justification of it. It began with the plea: "What happened
to the occult loonies, the hairy mega-thelemites of the late
sixties? Where are they now?
"When was the last time you attended a festival thronging
with bordello witches, warlocks with long beards and flowing
cloaks, all heavy with ankhs, pentagrams and all the trappings of
kitschcraft. When were you last greeted in the streets of London
with cries of 'Do what thou wilt'?
"Over-the-top occultism is dead. Long live Over-the-top
The general theme of the argument was "When occultism
disassociated itself from the worst excesses of Dennis Wheatley,
it castrated itself; for the worst excesses of Dennis Wheatley
are where it's at."
The manifesto ended:
"The OTTO is the order that makes the Typhonian OTO look
like the Mother's Union; makes the age of Maat sound like the
whisper of a politely restrained fart at a Conservative Ladies
luncheon gathering; makes Chaos Magick feel like a slightly limp
cucumber sandwich remaining on a plate at the end of an
exceptionally dull vicarage teaparty.
"So put on your cloaks, tattoo yourselves with sigils,
vibrate names of power at the Café Royale, fill braziers with
incense, wave kitsch swords
Exceed! Exceed! But ever unto
The idea behind the OTTO is this. In our early days, when we
first become acquainted with the occult, it is often an
awe-inspiring thing. After reading "The Devil Rides
Out" we see an advert for the Sorcerer's Apprentice in
Exchange & Mart and send off in trepidation for a catalogue
of amazing incenses and weird paraphernalia to read by
torch-light beneath the bedclothes with chattering teeth -
expecting hellfire to blast us at any moment. A few years later
we have worked our way through W. E. Butler, Dion Fortune and
plucked up courage to read Crowley and we are ready to argue the
psychological validity of magical technique with anyone. What we
have gained is wisdom and understanding. What we have lost is
that old gut-wrenching excitement.
We know enough to steer clear of the ego-tripping looney with
the piercing gaze and long black cloak. We see through his act
and congratulate ourselves. But we overlook the fact that a good
act can be a delight, a piece of street theatre, an art-form, an
invocation in its own right.
The OTTO message is this: now we have grown up enough that we
no longer are in awe of the charlatan, it means that we are now
free to delight in the charlatan - to dig the charlatan.
Now we are mature enough to realise there aren't any ancient
brotherhoods with secrets passed down from time immemorial, we
are now free to dig those brotherhoods who put on a good
act of being just that.
Now we know that all paraphernalia is just trappings with no
value other than surface appearance, let us therefore maximise
that residual value by making surface appearance utterly
When the 70's occultist says "there's no point in using a
silver censer when a coffee tin serves just as well", the
OTTO initiate replies "there's no point in using a coffee
tin when a 800 year old human skull looted from the ruins of a
Mexican temple serves just as well."
The excitement of the OTTO is the excitement of overdoing it,
and I suggest that this approach has something to offer us now.
Let's consider an example of its application.
A typical problem of a hard core magical group is getting
things to happen on time: after all the excitement of planning a
really staggering ritual, when it comes to the day no-one turns
up on time, and then they sit around chattering and smoking dope
for a few hours before anything happens. If the master of rituals
gets stroppy and says that late arrivals will be fined or
excommunicated, then everyone protests that he is on an ego power
trip - and quotations like "let there be no difference
", "every number is infinite" and
"do what thou wilt" start flying around.
Now the OTTO approach might be as follows: the master or
mistress of ritual, with eyes blazing and flecks of foam at the
mouth, would scream "at the first stroke of midnight the
door of the temple will be NAILED SHUT, and the ritual will
commence!" Instead of rebelling at this apparent power trip,
the brethren of the OTTO say "Wow! NAILED SHUT! That's
really over the top! We dig it! And the ritual happens on time.
Paroxysms of delight can indeed be magical. They are an
expression of the affirmation that pierces clouds of doubt. I can
become so entranced by the loopiest of New Age festivals that I
can even end up digging the high prices
In a sense I see the OTTO as spiritual heirs to the Fabulous
Furry Phreak Brothers. Was not much of the "magic of the
sixties" a product of people's willingness to cast aside
doubt and indulge in paroxysms of delight? Some ageing hippies
still insist that the Pentagon really did levitate when they
surrounded it with linked hands
In the terminology of Crowley's essay on the subject, perhaps
the Hunchback (?) has now had a long enough innings, and it is
time to reinstate the Soldier (!).
And now at last we are fortunate enough to have once more a real incentive to encourage our actions. When the brethren of the OTTO find their enthusiasm for blood sacrifices and desecrated churchyards to be in wane, they have learnt to sit in a circle, link hands, breathe slowly and deeply, and meditate on the image of an apoplectic Geoffrey Dickens.