The Magick of Margaret Bruce

Margaret Bruce is as unknown now as she was when living and working at her isolated farm retreat deep in the countryside. There is next to nothing about her on the Internet. Yet she wrote and privately published what may be the most original and instructional book on the subject since Eliphas Levi’s Transcendental Magic.

Margaret Bruce Magick: Daemon

No sooner is a temple built to God, but the devil builds a chapel hard by (Herbert)

Belief  alone makes your world what it is. You have been conditioned to believe in illusion. Let me teach you to believe in reality!

Those who see me as the Sphinx, propounding riddles, are those who have difficulty understanding most other things in life. But others may say, as was said of Lady Godiva, “She reveals too much!” Let them take comfort however. The greatest Occult Secret of all, proclaimed in ringing tones from every rooftop in the land would be perfectly safe.

Few occult students appreciate the arrogance of their demands. Many an enthusiastic young hopeful, armed with regalia, ritual and Words of Power, sets out to invoke some Cosmic Entity only to find that his boss wants him to work overtime that evening. The hilarious incongruity of the situation fails to register and his appointment with the Cherubim and Seraphim is postponed sine die while he helps with the stock taking.

The following legend is emblazoned inside the front cover of the book, Margaret Bruce’s coveted collection of Tried, Proven and Practical Natural, Goetic, Theurgic, Transcendental and Illusory MAGICK as inherited, professed and practiced through seven generations from the year of Our Lord 1777 to the present day.

TAROT CARD NUMBER TEN

Margaret Bruce Magick: Drop-cap

N the Temple of HATHOR served a priest called Nefer-hotep. His path from Zelator to Magus took threescore years and led through realms of Fire and Ice and many ordeals. One day a woman gave alms at the Temple. A group of actors and clowns, seeing the coins, were filled with envy and greed. Exchanging their motley for priestly robes, they banged on drums and blew trumpets to attract the crowds. “Miracles and Blessings for sale!” they shouted; and soon the simpletons in the town were flocking to buy. When the simpletons found they had been swindled, the clowns were far away, selling more Miracles to more simpletons.

The clowns grew ever bolder in their new trade and their boasting grew sillier. Each tried to outdo the other and they squabbled and fought among themselves. “I can make the old young again!” cried one. “I can transform goats into maidens!” screamed his rival. Until even the simpletons could see that, for all their priestly garb, the clowns were nothing more than clowns.

A thrice told lie is believed by the liar, and the clowns began to believe they had miraculous powers. Thus came their downfall. For Nefer-hotep was hated by the Demons he had exorcised in the past but they could not harm him because his Heart, when weighed in the balance of THOTH was not one breath lighter or heavier than the Sacred Feather of MAAT.

But the Demons saw the clowns in priestly garments and smelled the corruption beneath the stolen robes of office. So entered the Demons into the souls of the clowns and destroyed them, thinking they had destroyed their enemy Nefer-hotep. The flesh of the clowns fell from their bones and the serpent made her nest in their skulls until, in time, the bones themselves became dust; and this dust mingled with the sands of the desert and was borne upon the wind. Their names, if names they ever had, are forgotten.

The Temple of HATHOR remains. Nefer-hotep remains.

And a new band of strolling clowns and actors approaches.

And the Demons wait with infinite patience.

Margaret Bruce MAGICK

Each chapter of MAGICK by Margaret Bruce, her only (known) published work, is a single page, lavishly illuminated with antique line drawings and arabesque motifs. The pages are not numbered but the text is printed on different coloured papers, as Bruce explained in her Preface.

This is not simply a book of Magick, but a Magick book. The pages are unlimited by numbers and the Magick dwells in the pauses between the reading of each word and the turning of each page. Just as music is mere noise without the measured periods of nothing between the notes and chords, so the art and craft of Magick comprises the placing of apparent nothings in dynamic relationship with apparent realities in order to create a desired result. In order to do this, it is necessary to learn the difference between illusion and reality—a task which may be attempted by perhaps one suitable person in a million. Of a million such aspirants, one partial success might be an optimistic estimate. The ability of the reader to comprehend this basic fact is all that limits the Magick of this book.

Margaret Bruce Magick: LyonesseWhen I came back from Lyonesse with magic in my eyes… The photograph (left) is of Margaret Bruce as a child of six years. It is placed with ‘Images Within Images’, on the centre pages of the book—which was “written, designed and printed from the outsides towards  the middle, the page numbers are only in your mind”. What little is known about Margaret Bruce derives either from what she disclosed in her book and letters, or that resides in the memory of those who were fortunate to have corresponded with her. She was a recluse, living in a remote farmhouse surrounded by rescued animals, and would not entertain human visitors. All proceeds from her apothecary and the book went to Margaret Bruce’s Animal Sanctuary for neglected and ill-treated farm animals and wildlife. Her grandfather was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and collected a huge store of arcane knowledge, including secrets of incenses, oils and all manner of potions and charms. It is clear that he passed on this knowledge, gathered from translating countless manuscripts and much more besides, to his daughter.

According to Margaret Bruce, some of the recipes were from Voodoo Queen Octavia Labeau.

When she visited Britain in 1909 to demonstrate clairvoyance to the Spiritualist groups she stocked up with perfumes from my grandparents and allowed my grandmother to copy some 600 recipes and spells from the hand written minute-book she carried on her travels. These recipes, translated from the curious Creole French of Madame Labeau’s original, now form part of my own hand written grimoire that runs to several volumes.

It is not known whether the precious grimoire still exists. We first knew of Margaret Bruce through Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, co-founder of the SOL Association, who gave us the recluse’s address in Ireland. From there we requested her catalogue and soon became regular customers. Her incense, oils and other products were of unsurpassed virtue. The little book, MAGICK, is among the most highly valued of rare books in our library.

All sanity, all reality, all nature is, together with magick, retreating from the suffocating menace of mankind. If you wish to discover real magick perhaps you should hurry!


Quotations from Magick [Angel Press, 1984].

1. Tarot Card Number One
2. Epilogue
3. Magick and the Supernatural
4. Preface
5. Voodoo—Religion or Racket?
6. Magick and Madness

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© Oliver St. John, 2018

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Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism

Surrealism and magick: Throughout the long dark history of humanity there have been magi. While some are known for their works, be it art or literature, there must be countless men and women that have either failed to develop their innate gift or have succeeded in mastering it while keeping silence to the end. Of those that fail to develop the gift (or curse)—whether by refusing it, fleeing from it in horror or becoming insane, there is little to be said. Of those that master it, whether partially or fully, some are known and others will never be known since they did not utter a word.

The word of a magus is irrevocable, as we shall see, though it is said that failure to utter a word is equally irrevocable since it must beget an abortive child. The momentum of the immense forces that first push the soul onward and then draw the soul inexorably inward towards annihilation of ego identity is sufficient to split the atom or, in psychic terms, to fragment the soul until its very name is forgotten and it endures dispersion and ultimate oblivion. The magical child, however, of which it is the object of the art of magical alchemy or of the Great Work to produce, is not the result of any cause. The ancient chestnut of determinism has become a poisoned apple in the hands of modern philosophers and rationalists. The magical child of consciousness—otherwise termed the True Will—grows as a seed in the silence of the womb of the cosmic Matrix. The fruit and the flower, nonetheless, has preexisted the seed. For this reason, the magi have oft been reported as stricken with awe at the sight of a portentous star where no star previously was seen, or plunged into rapture at the sight of a wild orchid blooming in a desert where a single drop of rain would amount to a miracle.

Surrealism and magick: The Magus of Power, Ithell Colquhoun

The Magus of Power, from Ithell Colquhoun TARO

Surrealism and the Occult

Automatism in the arts is frequently confused with mere techniques. True automatism is an inexorable condition of mind and soul that to all intents and purposes is exercised outside and beyond the will of the person, whether they are destined to become a master, a magus, or merely another victim swallowed up by an incomprehensible universe. For ordinary purposes, we may define artistic automatism thus:

The avoidance of conscious intention in producing works of art so that subjectivity forms the primary basis of the work.

Automatism was not an invention of the Surrealists, or of Sigmund Freud, but has always existed in magick and alchemy. Among the finest examples are the sigils or magical signatures of the Qabalistic Intelligences and Spirits of the planets as given by Cornelius Agrippa in Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1531) and centuries later copied into The Magus, by Francis Barrett (1801). These beautiful designs, along with other more abstruse signatures that can be found in medieval grimoires, were written on virgin parchment by the hand of the spirit, not that of the scribe. We also have the evidence of the Enochian language received through the invocations and skrying of Elizabethan mage John Dee and his assistant seer, Edward Kelley.

Surrealism and the Arts

Occult artist and writer Ithell Colquhoun—a friend of André Breton, Aleister Crowley and later, Kenneth Grant—was a member of the Surrealist School. Ithell Colquhoun defined her use of automatism as super-automatism, presumably to distinguish the method from the same term that is used in psychiatry and law. We shall from hereon adopt the term as used by Colquhoun, super-automatism, when we are referring to spiritual, magical or artistic method or even natural inclination.

Surrealism and Hermeticism

Within the modern Hermetic magical tradition there are some notable examples of super-automatism. Aleister Crowley claimed that he magically received, through the mediumship of his wife Rose, the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, in Cairo 1904. When the book was first received, Crowley added a note to the manuscript saying:

This is a highly interesting example of genuine automatic writing.

Crowley later insisted the book was dictated by a praeterhuman intelligence named Aiwass, his Holy Guardian Angel. In fact, there need be no essential contradiction between magical super-automatism and contact with a praeterhuman agency. Crowley was very sensitive, however, as to how the book might be viewed by posterity. He did not want what he considered to be his most important work compared with drawing room séances and psychism.

Magical Art: Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Magical Surrealism: Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Artist Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956), who was associated with both Crowley and occult writer Kenneth Grant, used super-automatism in drawing, painting, and in the creation of magical scripts and even textual narratives. As super-automatism has been used in magical and Hermetic disciplines since time immemorial it can readily be seen why Surrealist artists shared ideas in common with occultists. Automatism is sometimes compared to free association, a method used by Sigmund Freud to plunder the so-called unconscious mind of his clients. The French poet André Breton, who published the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, became aware of automatism through the work of Freud. Breton here defined Surrealism as follows:

Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

The method used by Breton and others involved writing down as rapidly as possible anything that comes to mind. Thus modern automatism began as a literary method. Artist Max Ernst supplied the ‘first’ visual automatism by making collages from sections cut out from magazines, catalogues, advertisements or anything else that was available. Other painters enthusiastically took up automatism, from Joan Miro, André Masson and Ithell Colquhoun to Jackson Pollock, noted for his development of abstract expressionism. Although automatism is usually regarded as a separate method from that which Salvador Dali termed paranoiac critical, the end or object is really the same. Paranoiac critical can be defined as:

The artist invoking a paranoid state with the intention of deconstruction of the psychological concept of ego-identity.

Paranoia is taken to mean the fear that one is being manipulated or controlled by others. This may of course include the paranoid manipulation of others. Some of the tricks that Dali liked to play were very much inclusive of the ‘audience’, so the boundaries between who was doing what to whom were blurred, increasing the paranoia for all concerned! The aim of the method, however, is that subjectivity becomes the primary basis of the work. It is to defeat the rational mind, prohibitions and censorship that stem from ego.

Ithell Colquhoun (1906–1988) described her work as “mantic”. Mantic means, ‘pertaining to divination or prophecy’, and is derived from the Greek, mantikos, ‘divination’, mantis, ‘prophet’. Unlike other artists, Colquhoun deliberately wished to connect Surrealism with magick, both philosophically and in terms of method or technique. In her own writings she drew comparisons between visual art and the medieval art of alchemy. Colquhoun wanted to achieve a union of natural and spiritual forces as well as a union of the disciplines of art and the occult. The union of subject and object, the I-Self with all that is ‘other’, the Not-Self, is the goal of yoga or union, and is a prerequisite for magick and mysticism at advanced levels.

Surrealism in Literature: Phallus of Cosmic Recollection

Thomas De Quincey employed a type of super-automatism, comparable to Salvador Dali’s paranoiac critical; in so doing, De Quincey may have endured, and attempted to describe in his writing, the equivalent ordeal in a Rosicrucian Hermetic fraternity called the Curse of a Magus. Any attempt to describe the indicible is doomed to failure, hence the “curse”, for as cleverly suggested by Aleister Crowley in his The Book of Lies, there is a certain obligation to speak truth even while knowing full well it will be fatally misconstrued or otherwise perceived as alogia or simple incoherence.

Others will also see the utterer of the truth, the irrevocable word, as a liar, madman or fool. The magus must utter an irrevocable word yet must reverse consciousness to sail a vessel against the flow of time and return to the source of the fountain of all life. To meditate upon Wisdom herself is to behold divinity face to face, the magical power of Chokmah—it is also to court with madness. According to Thomas De Quincey (1856 Revision to Confessions):

If in this world there is one misery having no relief, it is the pressure on the heart from the Incommunicable. And if another Sphinx should arise to propose another enigma to man—saying, What burden is that which only is insupportable by human fortitude? I should answer at once—It is the burden of the Incommunicable.


Notes

Extracts from the book, The Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism.
© Oliver St. John 2016, 2018
Hardback edition: The Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism
Paperback edition: The Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism

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