Spare, Austin Osman (1886-1956)

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Spare, Austin Osman (1886-1956)

Artist and magician. Spare was born on December 13, 1886, in London. At the age of seven, he met a Mrs. Paterson, a fortune-teller and witch, with whom he kept company for many years. She eventually initiated him into her magical work. At the age of thirteen he dropped out of school and began to work in a stained glass factory while attending school at night. He won a scholarship to the Royal Academy and in 1905 published his first book of drawings, Earth Inferno. He emerged as a precursor to the surrealists by calling attention to an inner world. The book also brought him to the attention of magician Aleister Crowley, who commissioned drawings by Spare for his magazine, The Equinox.

Spare served in the British army in Egypt during World War I and then settled down to life as a poor painter, his pictures being the expression of the inner world he was exploring. Integral to that world was sexuality, and Spare took many partners through his lifelong practice of sexual magic. Spare died on March 15, 1956, in London. Though Spare wrote, illustrated, and circulated two books during his life, The Focus of Life and The Book of Pleasure, it was only after his death that some appreciation of his system could be found and his work made available to the larger magical community.

Spare's teachings have been referred to as the cult of the Zos and Kia, centered upon the polarized (positive and negative) interplay of sexual energy. The two currents are symbolized by the hand (touch) and the eye (vision). The hand and the eye become the magical instruments of the innate obsession to embody the cosmic in the flesh. Expositions of Spare's system have been offered by Kenneth Grant, head of the British OTO in several books.


Ericson, Eric. The World, The Flesh, and the Devil: A Biographical Dictionary of Witches. New York: Mayflower Books, 1981.

Grant, Kenneth. Cults of the Shadow. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1976.

. Images of Austin Osman Spare. London: Frederick Muller, 1975.

Spare, Austin Osman. A Book of Automatic Drawing. London: Catalpa Press, 1972.

. The Book of Pleasure (Self-Love): The Psychology of Ecstasy. London: Co-operative Printing Society Limited, 1913. Reprint, Montreal: 93 Publishing, 1975.

. The Focus of Life. London: The Author, 1921.