“The magician’s most important invocation is that of his Genius, Daemon, True Will, or Augoeides” writes Peter Carroll in Liber Null. “This operation is traditionally known as attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. It is sometimes known as the Magnum Opus or Great Work.”
In this episode, we explore magic and the Genius.
Looking back over the history of esotericism and occultism, there can be no denying that many of its better-known practitioners attempted to uncompromisingly embody their Genius or True Will. Many were widely traveled and most were accomplished, creative individuals (writers, poets, actors, and so on). And their legacy, though not well-known, has influenced creators over the centuries and decades.
- Founded in New York City by Russian emigre Mme. Helena Blavatsky, Theosophy (an esoteric movement of the late 19th century, now largely forgotten) was an influential force in anti-colonial politics in India and Sri Lanka.
- Probably the world’s most notorious and publicity-seeking occultist Aleister Crowley was also a poet, novelist, painter, mountaineer, and boxer.
- Austin Osman Spare, the inventor of modern-day sigil magic, was also, of course, a highly accomplished artist, who was exhibited by the Royal Academy at the age of 15, and who later worked as a war artist in World War I.
- A self-described “witch,” influenced by Jung, Kabbalah, and witchdraft, Rosaleen Norton was a visionary artist.
- Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposphy, was also the founder of the Waldorf school system, the creator of biodynamic farming, an artist, and an architect.
- And, of course, the membership of the early Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn included poet laureate W. B. Yeats, actress Florence Farr, and theater producer Annie Horniman.
Today, occultism can be studied at university (under the more respectable sounding title of “Western esotericism”). And, no longer the purview of a few dozen eccentrics in England, Wicca has been featured in women’s magazines and teenage movies.
Contemporary, popular occultism is a form of ersatz religion — a prepackaged identity that allows for just enough individuality for the individual to feel that they are dangerous, even though, generally, they are not.
“Society insists on conformity and is therefore the greatest enemy of the genius,” notes Kyler James. The craven desire for acceptance by society kills the genius within us.
As such, it is easy to forget that as a creative force, occultism or magic is fundamentally about the daemon or the genius. Hence, in the most literal sense, Crowley receiving the revelation of Liber Al vel Legis from his holy guardian angel Aiwass (if you believe Crowley’s account), Spare evoking the atavisms that lay deep in his unconscious, the visions of Rosaleen Norton, or the paintings and poetry of other occultists, misunderstood, misrepresented, and hated by the media in their day. We might add, too, that the emphasis on entering “gnosis” by the early Illuminates of Thanateros was, again, an attempt to contact one’s Genius.