Tag Archives: occultists

Occult figures

There’s even more press for the Windows to the Sacred: An Exploration of the Esoteric art exhibition touring in Australia, which is at the S H Ervin Gallery through September 29th, 2013, and which may be of interest. John MacDonald writes a bit about his impressions of the exhibition and of how these “[a]rtists cast a wicked spell as popular culture embraces all things supernatural, mystical and demonic” over at “Occult figures“.

“‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,’ was the personal motto of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), once known to the headline writers as ‘the Great Beast’ and ‘the Wickedest Man Alive’. It was a philosophy that would endear him to the counterculture of the 1960s and make him a hero for rock stars such as Jimmy Page and Jim Morrison. Perhaps the sealer for Crowley’s second coming was his inclusion on the album cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), at John Lennon’s insistence.

A famous sorcerer such as Crowley has an obvious appeal for a popular culture saturated in stories of witches and vampires, but he was no Harry Potter. Selfish, brutal, addicted to drugs and sexual perversion, Crowley was a terrifying but hugely charismatic individual. Those who fell under his spell often found themselves ruined for life. Today, Crowley probably has more disciples than ever before, but his image has been cleaned up for public consumption. The Great Beast has been transformed into the Great Libertarian.

Like Crowley himself, the study of the occult has become almost respectable, although the price is a high degree of Disneyfication. One of the revelations of Windows to the Sacred at the S.H. Ervin Gallery is the extent to which contemporary occultists have adopted the trappings of popular culture.

It is a sign of the times that such a show could be held at the S. H. Ervin. Not long ago it would have been unthinkable that a gallery operated by the National Trust would host an exhibition of ‘esoteric art’, featuring work by figures such as Crowley, Rosaleen Norton — the so-called ‘witch of Kings Cross’ — and Austin Osman Spare, a notorious British artist devoted to the supernatural.

This doesn’t mean the S. H. Ervin has become a haven for mystics and Satanists. It would be more accurate to say that nowadays those mystics and Satanists are about as controversial as the Australian Watercolour Institute. If the pictures by celebrated figures such as Crowley and Spare have a hermetic feeling, the works of contemporary esoteric artists such as Barry William Hale and Kim Nelson seem to be pitched at a mainstream audience, rather than an elite group of initiates.” [via]

Red Shambhala

Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy, and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia by Andrei Znamenski from Quest Books is available. You may also be interested in an interview with the author over at “Buddhists, Occultists and Secret Societies in Early Bolshevik Russia: an interview with Andrei Znamenski” [HT Occult of Personality].

Andrei Znamenski's Red Shambhala from Quest Books

“Many know of Shambhala, the Tibetan Buddhist legendary land of spiritual bliss popularized by the [date] film, Shangri-La. But few may know of the role Shambhala played in Russian geopolitics in the early twentieth century. Perhaps the only one on the subject, Andrei Znamenski’s book presents a wholly different glimpse of early Soviet history both erudite and fascinating. Using archival sources and memoirs, he explores how spiritual adventurers, revolutionaries, and nationalists West and East exploited Shambhala to promote their fanatical schemes, focusing on the Bolshevik attempt to use Mongol-Tibetan prophecies to railroad Communism into inner Asia. We meet such characters as Gleb Bokii, the Bolshevik secret police commissar who tried to use Buddhist techniques to conjure the ideal human; and Nicholas Roerich, the Russian painter who, driven by his otherworldly Master and blackmailed by the Bolshevik secret police, posed as a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama to unleash religious war in Tibet. We also learn of clandestine activities of the Bolsheviks from the Mongol-Tibetan Section of the Communist International who took over Mongolia and then, dressed as lama pilgrims, tried to set Tibet ablaze; and of their opponent, Ja-Lama, an “avenging lama” fond of spilling blood during his tantra rituals.” [via]