The Death Posture and The New Sexuality

Taken from THE MAGICAL REVIVAL by Kenneth Grant

From the earliest times; from the mystical mummy cult of ancient Egypt to the ritual assumption of God forms as practised in the Golden Dawn when the Chief Adept simulated the role of Christian Rosencreutz and lay in the pastos, ready to resurrect, the concept of death has been inextricably linked with that of sex.

The illustration entitled The Death Posture, which forms the frontspiece to The Book of Pleasure, contains, in an allegorical form, the whole doctrine of the New Sexuality.

The figure of Zos*(1) is seated at a circular table strewn with strange images. His right hand is pressed to his face, sealing the mouth and hindering the flow of breath (life-force) to and from the nostrils; his eyes stare with fixed intensity at YOU - the witness. With his left hand he writes the mystic characters which embody his desires in sigil form. The identity of hand and serpent (i.e. phallus) is here made patent. About him are the innumerable images of past desires concealed in figures human and bestial, elemental and fey, some transfixed with the metal of hate, some exalted to his right hand to the place of love, some in attitudes of gaiety, contemplation and seductive surrender, another glows - an inscrutable mask of inward ecstasy, transcending duality in a mode of pleasure which baffles the understanding. Before Zos, above him, and to his left side, are the winged skulls of the dead. The skull - emblematic of death - is prominently featured, buried in his thick tousled hair. Thus, death dominates thought, or, more precisely, all thought is dead, utterly abolished, and a compelling intensity of voidness streams from the eyes which regard one hypnotically; and, under the eyes, the hand supports the head as a pedestal supports a chalice.

*(1) The name Zos is not only the magical name of Austin Spare, for in The Book of Pleasure, he writes: “The body considered as a whole I call Zos.”

The two magical implements - the Eye and the Hand- are here made subject to death; they have accomplished their unified task and found apotheosis in annihilation. No breath (life-principle, prana) stirs the immobile shapes around them. A state of suspended activity is implied, a suspension which simulates Death (ONE). Death or thane is the motto of Zos, whose full magical motto was Zos vel Thanatos. He says, in Earth Inferno (1905); “Death is All.

All the religions and magical cults of antiquity laid emphasis upon the idea of death, which was interpreted as a birth on to another plane of existence. The tomb and the womb were interchangeable terms denoting the comings and goings of the ego at various levels, for the purpose of enacting the laws of karma decreed by destiny. Death is “the coming forth of the suppressed; the becoming by going; the great chance: an adventure in Will that translates into body”. This is the key to the Death Posture, really an imposture, a simulation of death for the purpose of allowing the suppressed dream to emerge and translate into body.

But the Death Posture is more than a ritual simulation of death, just as in the supreme rite of Masonry there is (or should be) a true resurrection born of the imitated resurrection rehearsed for the purpose of externalizing the interior truth.

In the Alphabet of Sentient Symbols which Spare devised to form the basis of his Language of Desire, the sign _ (it looks like two ovals intersecting to form what looks like a V) symbolizes the Ego, the principle of duality, while _ (the exact opposite of the first, two ovals intersecting to form what looks like an upside down V) symbolizes the Death Posture, the dissolution of duality in the formless state of Absolute Consciousness.

The “preliminary sensation” of the Death Posture (see The Book of Pleasure) is a fine example of Spare's ability of “visualizing sensation”. The figure is hunched upon itself in a concentration of inner awareness and bliss, and the six-rayed Star of Will blazes at its heart; the right hand clasps an invisible weapon. The hand symbolizes the Creative Will, and the Eyes, which symbolize both desire and imagination, are closed or covered. It is easy to interpret the picture as meaning intense power locked within the body, pending its explosive outpouring in any desired form.

It is at the junction between life and death, between the active current of Will and the passive current of Imagination - the junction of Hand and Eye - that the concept of the New Sexuality is born. A full understanding of the Death Posture leads to a full understanding of the primal, unmodified and “new” (because ever fresh) sexuality.

Spare describes the Death Posture as “a simulation of death by the utter negation of thought, i.e. the prevention of desire from belief, and the functioning of all consciousness through the sexuality”.*(2)

*(2) The Focus of Life, 1921.

“By the Death Posture the body is allowed to manifest spontaneously and is arbitrary and impervious to action. Only he who is unconscious of his actions has courage beyond good and evil, and is pure in this wisdom of sound sleep.”*(3)

*(3) Ibid.

In order to assume this posture successfully it is necessary to have remembered that remote layer of subconscious memory where knowledge reverts to instinct and becomes law. At this moment, which is the moment of generation of the Great Wish, inspiration flows from the source of sex, from the primordial Goddess who exists at the heart of the matter. “Inspiration is always at a void moment, and most discoveries are accidental, usually brought about by exhaustion of the mind”:*(4) i.e. when conscious “knowledge” has been discarded and pure instinctive awareness has taken its place.

*(4) The Book of Pleasure, 1913.

The Death Posture is the summing up of the four major gestures which constitutes the magic spells of Zos. Will, Desire, and Belief, are a threefold unity capable of stirring the subconsciousness and forcing it to yield its content. This varies according to the nature of the desire and the amount of “free” belief which the sigil contains.

Methods of energizing belief vary, but imagination suggests the best means. In other words, be spontaneous, do not make it a matter for thought. To reify the dream or wish, Spare employs the hand and eye. The intense nostalgia reaches backwards into remote “awayness”, and vivid wishfulness craves impact with “all otherness”- the Self with the not-Self - so that a long-forgotten familiar spirit arises and obsesses the conscious mind; then, and then only, the ancient experience is re-lived and takes on flesh.

The embodiment of resurrected selves, evoked by the yearning to know them once more, appears actual, luminous to the eye and tactual to the hand. In this manner is the body resurrected, not as a misty dream, but as palpable to all-feeling touch and perceptible to all-seeing vision. “Out of the Past cometh this new thing.

The resurrection of the body is always occurring, even in everyday life, but it is an involuntary resurrection, usually mistimed and therefore unwanted. By use of the autotelic theurgy of Zos it is possible to live all lies and incarnate all dreams, now, at once. In the Zoetic Grimoire of Zos, Spare makes it plain that “identity is an obsession, a composite of personalities, all counterfeiting each other; a faveolated ego, a resurging catacomb where the phantomesque demiurgoses seek in us their reality”.

Through the Death Posture our thisness is realized as identical with the thatness of so-called others; a quality that is really no-quality, partaking as it does of neither this nor that. And with the apprehension of Kia (Self) as Neither-Neither, is born the new aesthetic or sexual sense, which is our thisness in a new dimension, and the source of all thatness that we constantly project as female bodies.

This introduces a weird concept of sexuality which Spare used as the basis of his theurgy. All women are seen as forms of our desire; they are desire sigilized, and because of the conditioned quality of our belief, they are conditioned and subject to change, appearing to us as “all otherness” desiring union with our thisness. “Fortunate is he who absorbs his female bodies- ever projecting-for he acquires the extent of his body.”*(5)

*(5) The Focus of Life.

Spare does not limit the meaning of the word “body” to the fleshly body; if this were the case there would be no sense in his declaring “Death is All”, and in glorifying the simulation of a condition which writes finis to the physical organism. The phrase, “the extent of his body”, involves a state of sentience of which the physical organism is but a single reification and resurrection. Spare's ultimate doctrine implies the unification of sensation on all planes simultaneously, so that the ego may be fully aware of its myriad entities and identities in a “now” and a “here” that is everlasting. This is what is meant by “acquiring the extent of his body”.

In the Grimoire he says: “We are never fully aware of things except by the influx of sexual will awakening us”, and the Death Posture concentrates all the senses and turns them back into the primal sense - the sexual - which infuses the body with total awareness on all planes at once. Without knowledge of how to assume the Death Posture “entity exists in many units simultaneously, without consciousness of Ego as one flesh. What greater misery than this?”*(6)

*(6) Ibid.

In the same book, Spare asks: “For what reason is this loss of memory by these bewildering refractions of my original image- that I once made?” The Death Posture contains the answer for, by uniting vital belief (i.e. organic desire) and dynamic will, the “extent of his body” is acquired.

Ecstasy, perfect Self-love, attains its apotheosis in the Death Posture, for “when ecstasy is transcended by ecstasy, the 'I' becomes atmospheric and there is no place for sensuous objects to conceive differently and react”.*(7)

*(7) The Book of Pleasure, 1913

And so we arrive full circle at the hindrance to conception which is the basis of Zos Kia Cultus, and which is implied by the sigilization of desire in a figure bearing no pictorial resemblance to the nature of the desire.

In order to escape from the cycle of rebirth we must break free from the transmigratory cycle of belief, for we cannot believe in any one thing for any length of time. Therefore, by assiduously emptying belief of its charge and by directing the newly released energy towards a non-necessitousness and non-reactionary self-love the individual negates karma*(8) and attains to the realm of Kia (the Atmospheric “I”). True Self control is achieved “by leaving things to work out their own salvation. Directly we interfere we become identified and subject to their desire.”*(9)

*(8) Cause and effect.
*(9) Ibid.

This doctrine resembles, though it is not identical with, the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta or non-duality. Spare sums up with the words.

“So long as the notion remains that there is compulsory bondage in the world, or even in dreams, there is such bondage. Remove the conception of Freedom and Bondage in any world or state, by meditation on Freedom in Freedom by the Neither-Neither.”*(10) And he adds: “There is no need for crucifixion.

*(10) Ibid. The Neither-Neither is the Neti-Neti (Not-this Not-that) of the Vedantins.

In order therefore to appreciate the idea of the New Sexuality it is necessary that the mind be merged with the Kia, and that there exist no stresses (i.e. thoughts) in consciousness, for thoughts modify consciousness and create the absurd illusion of an individual owner of consciousness.

The concept of the Universal Women,*(11) She with whom Zos “strayed into the path direct” is both the inceptor and preceptor of the New Sexuality which transcends duality. She is the glyph of perfect polarity which cancels out to Nought. In Crowley's Cult she is Nuit, of whom 0=2 is the mystical formula.*(12)

*(11) See Earth Inferno, 1905, first drawing.
*(12) See Chapter I.

Absolute Consciousness (Kia, the Self), like Infinite Space (Nuit), is without a boundary; it is the plenum-void, formless and unlocatable; to all intents and purposes - nothing at all, except that it is the sole Reality.

In the deepest recesses of the subconscious this reality resembles lightning, or a flashing shaft of intense brilliance. It is the hieroglyph of potential desire, ever ready to leap into form and become “the actualization of our late God”, i.e., the embodiment of our latest belief.

This primal desire, this “new” or ageless sexuality, is the one sense of all the senses that is real. It is the one constant factor in our changefulness. The more this sense can be extended to embrace everything, the more the Self can realize itself, understand itself, know itself, and finally be itself, wholly, perpetually and non-necessitously. “The new law shall be the arcana of the mystic unbalanced 'Does not matter-need not be'; there is no necessitation, 'please yourself' is its creed (the Belief ever striving for denial is kept free by retention in this state).”*(13)

*(13) The Book of Pleasure.

This is very reminiscent of Crowley's creed of Do What Thou Wilt, but there is a difference. As the Negative Path of Taoism is to the Positive Path of traditional Hinduism, so is this creed of Self-Love and Zos-Kia to that of Thelema and Love under Will.

For Spare, woman symbolizes the desire to unite with “all otherness” as Self; not the individual manifestations of woman, but the primitive woman of which or of whom mortal women are refracted images.

Call this inconceivable concept sex, desire, emotion; or personify it as The Goddess, the Witch, the Primitive Woman, she is the cypher of all inbetweenness, the elusive ecstasy of the lightning pathway that Zos called “the precarious funambulatory way”. To adore her is not achieved by imprisoning her in an ephemeral form and limiting her to this or that, but by transcending the thisness and the thatness of all things and experiencing her in the unity of Self-love.

Spare did not embody her arbitrarily as Astarte, Isis, Cybele, or Nuit (though he often drew her in these god forms), for to limit her is to turn aside from the path and idealize the idol which is false because partial, unreal because non-eternal. “The possessive personalize, idolize love, and so the morbid awakening …”.*(14)

*(14) The Grimoire of Zos

The use of such idols is permissible, even desirable, for the purpose of storing free belief during an inactive or non-creative period, when energy is not required. But the main objection to the continued use of idols is that “the familiar induces fatigue; fatigue induces indifference; let nothing be seen in such a manner; let seeing be as vision- every sight a revelation. Fatigue disappears when this is the constant attitude,”*(14) i.e. when the image is always new, and the sexuality, therefore, always stimulated afresh.

By not permitting free belief to be locked in a particular god form, the impact of sight as revelation is easily inculcated and sterility abolished. It is one of Spare's fundamental maxims that “the familiar is always sterile”,*(14) one cannot breed from familiar images. Familiarity leads to devitalization, laziness, and conventional attitudes - the easy way out of difficulties. “Let me overcome this cursed fatigue and I will become a God.”*(14)

The mind must be trained to see ever freshly, and Spare's formula for achieving this is to “provoke consciousness in touch, ecstasy in vision . . . Let thy highest virtue be Insatiety of desire, brave self-indulgence and primaeval sexualism.

The key to primaeval sexualism, or the New Sexuality, is given in The Focus of Life where Zos exclaims: “Dispense with all means to an end.” It is the path of Immediacy as against the procrastination of reality in an un-energized “as if” simulation: “Do it now, not eventually . . . for desire except by the act shall in nowise obtain.”*(15)

*(15) The Anathema of Zos, 1927.

And, again: “Realization is not by the mere utterance of the words 'I am I', nor by self-abuse, but by the living act.” Self-abuse is here used as synonymous with simulation; do not pretend to be “I”, be the Self absolutely, wholly and in reality, now.

This is the theurgy of making the Word flesh. In The Book of Pleasure, he asks: “Why assume ceremonial robes and masks, and simulate attitudes of the Gods?”*(16) Most emphatically, there is no need for repetition or feeble imitation. You are alive!” This is the reason for his rebuking magicians and those who merely “rehearse” reality, while mocking the very vitality they embody, and desire, by a simulation which in itself denies it.

*(16) This is, no doubt a direct criticism by Spare of the ceremonial techniques and the assumption of god forms practised in the Golden Dawn, of which he was a member in 1910. His motto was Yihoveaum.

Spare claims that magic merely ruins the reality by positing a moment, even, when the Self is not real and vital, when it is not all things, or, rather, when the power of becoming all things is not inherent in it. People “praise ceremonial magic and are supposed to suffer much ecstasy! Our asylums are crowded and the stage is over-run. Is it by symbolizing that we become the symbolized? Were I to crown myself King, should I be King? Rather should I be an object of disgust of pity.”*(17)

*(17) The Book of Pleasure

These teachings, evolved by Spare before the First World War, are very close to the doctrines of the Sudden School of Ch'an Buddhism, the texts of which have only recently be made generally available.

To dispense with all means to an end is simply said, but not so simply done. A full development of the aesthetic sense is required, for without it it is not even possible to accept the doctrine of the New Sexuality, either intellectually or symbolically. It may be done by saturating the body-mind complex in the subtle effluvia of Zos Kia Cultus, by following the thread of Spare's work into the deep and dimly illumined cells of the subconsciousness; by acquiring an ultra-sensitive awareness to events and things, as being not different from the Self. Spare understands all Nature (the objective universe) as the sum of our past, symbolized, crystallized apparently outside ourselves. The potential, alone, at the lightning-swift instant of its transudation is to be seized and be-lived (i.e. believed) in an ecstatic immediacy, for “when ecstasy is transcended by ecstasy, the 'I' becomes atmospheric and there is no place for sensuous objects to conceive differently . . .

But one cannot locate the Supreme Belief in Nature, because as soon as the Word has been uttered, the reality is of the past, is no longer reality now, can but live in resurrection when re-utterance makes it flesh; it is neither what is uttered nor he who utters, nor is it the utterance, but a vague and subtle inbetweenness concept that renders reality at the split-second of its actual transudation. “There is no spoken truth that is not past- more wisely forgotten.”*(18)

*(18) The Anathema of Zos, 1927.

In the Grimoire he says: “The fractional second is the path I would open . . ” This path and the path of lightning-swift assimilation are synonymous terms describing an indescribable state which is conceptless - the Neither-Neither, Self-love, Kia, or the New Sexuality.

Spare's art is not widely known, nor has it received the appreciation it deserves, and his intensely personal system of sorcery has not yet woven its way into the structure of present-day occultism. There are signs, however, that it will not be long before the “as if” simulations and the “as now' ecstasies give a powerful impetus to the magical current of the New Aeon, for if anyone sensed and interpreted this current right at its inception it was certainly Austin Osman Spare.