When I first started an in-depth study of occultism, I tried to read everything that was available. I quickly realized that the available books generally fell into two large categories, books that were mostly ridiculous inventions by their authors to take advantage of people interested in occult topics and books that were older material or about older material, perhaps with modern commentary. After a period of reading everything, it became fairly easy to separate the good from the bad, the serious from the ridiculous, the wheat from the chaff. And then came Kenneth Grant’s first book, The Magical Revival.
I read this book not knowing what to believe about it. I had been reading H.P. Lovecraft’s fantasy fiction for years. Now, an author was claiming that his strange fantasy worlds were actually Lovecraft’s own revelation and he only presented them as fiction…they were real! Grant’s book also looked at the history of occultism as being focused around sex magick and variations of what Aleister Crowley called Thelema. He also goes into more modern occultists such as Frater Achad and Austin Osman Spare.
Israel Regardie, it turns out, did not like the book and gave it a scathing review. Other reviewers gave it very high or very negative marks, showing vast differences of opinion. Who was this Kenneth Grant?
Grant was born in 1924. He claimed to have had contact with non-human entities as early as 1933. A decade later he became the secretary for and studied with an aging Aleister Crowley. He discusses this and includes some of the letters and notes between them in his 1992 book, Remembering Aleister Crowley. When I first read that book I was reminded of a naive, young Regardie, also Crowley’s secretary, who was mocked by Crowley over things such as poor fingernail care. It seemed as if Crowley were mocking Grant, too, at times with patience while at other times with exasperation. He also had high hopes for Grant, seeing him as a potential head of his Order, the O.T.O.
Upon Crowley’s death in 1947, Carl Germer became the head of Crowley’s O.T.O. and in 1948 gave Grant a charter to run a group. It rapidly grew in size, but in 1954 Grant had a revelation that Thelema was focused around the star Sirius and the Egyptian deity Set. Unhappy, Germer expelled Grant in 1955. Grant believed that Germer didn’t understand what was going on, and with that expulsion effectively turned the order over to Grant, making him the head of the Order.
Grant’s version of the O.T.O. continued, eventually battling in court over the name (and rights to publishing Crowley’s works). For a time, the Grant group became the “Typhonian O.T.O.” and later the “Typhonian Order.”
During this time, Grant wrote nine books sharing his concepts and theories, known as the “Typhonian Trilogies.” He also edited works by Aleister Crowley and wrote about artist/occultist Osman Osman Spare.
There is no doubt that Grant was a controversial figure. Still, without him we might not have had the current interest in the works of Nema, Spare, Achad, Lovecraft, and the actual practice of magick (as opposed to the theoretical study of magick). Without Grant, Chaos Magick might not have developed.
There was a time when the occult world was filled with quirky, original, and progressive thinkers—”personalities”—including Crowley, Regardie, Gardner, Martello, Weschcke, Leek, Motta, Spare, Achad, and others. The were experimenters, innovators, and what author Colin Wilson referred to as “Outsiders.” Most of them, sadly, are now gone.
I have never met anyone who was indifferent about Kenneth Grant. His books absolutely deserve to be read and studied, either to be used as guides or considered the bizarre ramblings of someone who was crazy.
Kenneth Grant died on January 15, 2011. You may love him or hate him, but one thing is sure.
He will be missed.