Austin Osman Spare’s Sigil Crafting
by Jake Block
The stela depicted here is one of Austin Osman Spare’s most famous sigils, being “The Formula of Zos.” Most of Spare’s magical philosophy was codified in his writings on the concept of “Zos,” which he explained briefly in “The Book of Pleasure” in 1913, where he wrote, “The body considered as a whole I call Zos.” Spare was an excellent artist, and it shows in the attention to detail of all of his surviving art pieces, but in the realm of magic, it is exemplified in this stela.
Spare coined the term “atavistic resurgence,” which in a nutshell is the concept that “all dream of desire, all wish or belief, anything in fact that which a person nurtures in his innermost being may be called forth in the flesh as a living truth by a particular method of magical evocation.” Atavistic resurgence is “a method of wish fulfillment which involves the interaction of will, desire and belief.”
— Peter J. Carroll (Chaoist)
Spare’s theory of sigils was a tripartite magical operation in which, using is all encompassing concept of Zos, called tapping the subconscious, wherein resided a system of sigils, the “alphabet of desire,” and the use of “sentient” symbology. These are illustrated in the stela of the Formula of Zos vel Thanatos. The formula is deceptively simple, being the crystalization of the desire in a short statement and then writing out the statement to display each letter, but omitting duplicate letters. The next step is to combine these letters into a single “glyph” (You can see examples of this depicted in the stela.). After doing this, the desire should be consigned to the periphery of memory, allowing the glyph that one has created to act as a visual stimulant to its importance.
The third side of this triad involves prophecy and divination by “sentient symbols,” which Peter Carroll described as, “By a form of Delphic Oracle involving the use of sigils and by intruding a sigil into the subconsciousness, it is able to think for us, and, if the sigil resumes a query concerning some future event, will breed from its own sentiency the true child of its symbolic parts. If a glyph is correctly constructed so that no superfluous elements remain to breed useless ramifications, it will—surely as a geometrical symbol—give birth to its own truth or answer, for every query whatsoever has its solution inherent within it.”
Gaze upon Spare’s stela, and you’ll see not only the work of a masterful artist, but a man possessed of a truly magical mind, as well. He trained as an artist and a draughtsman with the Royal College of Art in South Kensington, the only entirely postgraduate art and design university in the world, offering postgraduate degrees in art and design to students from over 60 countries. Training and talent aside, I have always found his illustrations to be much more inspiring and engaging that the primitive and less-skilled works of the more commonly cited “occultists” of the genre.
As a side note, one of the things that I find interesting about Spare is his self-documentation in the form of self-portraiture, both in caricature and beautifully rendered drawings and paintings from young adulthood until shortly before his death. It’s something that I have done photographically, from time to time, partly in vanity, and partly as a magical exercise. You can do a google search of Austin Osman Spare Self Portraits for a view of his self portraits and his portraits of others as well.