Visual Magick: A manual of freestyle shamanism by Jan Fries
Published by Mandrake.Oxford. 2000.

“No matter what the medium, a talented priest can communicate, without preaching or didacticism. Art shows rather than tells. All great artists function as priests, whether they think of themselves as priests or not.”

This retrospective review (the book originally appeared in around 1991) was prompted by the interview on this site with Mogg Morgan where this book is mentioned.

If you are an eclectic magickian or shaman, or have any interest in Austin Osman Spare, this is a book for you. Spare said, “All desire, whether for pleasure, knowledge, or power, that cannot find ‘natural’ expression, can by sigils and their formula find fulfillment from the subconscious”. This book is at least in part a modern view of the sigil magick that derives from AOS. But it is much, much more.

Fries has written on several subjects, including the Tao and Rune magick, but this work shows a very good awareness and ability with Spare’s techniques, cross-fertilised with some of the more well-known methods of shamanism and his own innovations; hence the subheading.

Fries makes the important point that sigils can not only be designed by the operator (for whatever magickal purpose) but also RECEIVED from entities too… and in those cases there is often a useful secret to be discovered within the sigil: “it should be noted that, while the sentience behind these sigils appears independent, their aesthetics are usually suited to the personality of the receiver. The best kind contains a blend of known and unknown…half revealed and half concealed”. This also stands as a beautifully short summary of perhaps what Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law are about- obviously it is in AC’s writing style, but has so much more within. And Kenneth Grant’s work on the Tunnels of Set is supposedly largely based on received sigils.

Regardless of occult debate about whether these received messages derive from a neurological or a non-human source, which is not within the scope of this review, it makes perfect sense for them to appear in this ‘mixed’ manner. If they were completely incomprehensible they would be ignored, and if they were completely ordinary and fully known already, then they would be un-remarkable and pass from consciousness as quickly as yesterday’s newspaper headlines. The half-unknown element makes them all the more tempting and interesting to the magickian, like a partly open door.

Avalanches of really good points are made by JF, which are eminently sensible, humourous and useful. Not for him is gibberish pontificating about very fine points of obscure theory; his stance is very much of the Chaos magician- ‘get off your ass, find what works, use it and keep trying new things’ and get out of your conditioned tunnel realities, rather than relying on dogmatic magickal techniques that often descend from book to book, unchanged and without ever being challenged. He makes the very important point that you must allow yourself to make mistakes, and perceive them as that, and not as something else that is kinder to one’s often bloated magickal self-view:

“‘Failure’ is recognized as a threat to ego… the same ego that so happily pretends to have divine power and authority… and so the whole thing is usually considered a ‘challenge’ or ‘ordeal’ in such cases- anything rather than accept that one might be wrong” – Indeed: in magick, strange things happen, to the point where, as Ramsey Dukes has said (somewhere): “‘cock-up’ is the word of the Aeon”

As the title suggests, there is a distinctly artistic bent to this work, but you don’t ever need to have sketched anything before to be able to join in with this stuff- it’s not the quality of what you produce, it’s the intent of the experiment: Fries encourages everyone to experiment with drawing sigils, automatic writing etc, but in all of this to take credit or debit for the works created (and the results of using the sigil magick method): “Frequently people need to insist on the ‘automatic’ origins of their creations (and behaviour) when they dare not assume responsibility for them. It’s so much safer to claim ‘I can’t draw but sometimes the spirit of Leonardo comes over me…’ as if that spirit has nothing better to do!... It’s always easier to blame some spiritual agency than to assume the responsibility of recognizing and developing one’s own talents”

Having dealt at length with visual methods, Fries then describes ‘Chaos language’, a kind of glossolalia, which can be seen as a way of making auditory sigils with the voice. The book is worth the cover price just for this part. Awesome! Jan Fries:- add him to the growing list of ‘people we like’. Superb, inspiring book.

In the UK; Visual Magick can be got from Mandrake, or your nearest good bookshop. In the USA try Mandrake first, your local supplier or Amazon US

Advertisment: Just heard this from Mogg, re a forthcoming book from Mandrake:

History of Fun by Mary Hedger ISBN 1869928636 £8.99/$14 in paper

In an explicit sex magick orgy, History of Fun recounts the origins of a powerful occult phenomenon, the cult of Thelema.

Artist and mother Est, can no longer numb the magnetic pull of her destiny with drugs. Newly aroused instinct propels her to a fateful encounter with Stritch, half starved rock god and member of The Beast's secret cult. Est is inevitably attracted towards the hub of their organisation.

The Beast 666 and his Scarlet Woman 156, luxuriate in ritual sex magick devised to attract new acolytes, while Mama Shag uses Ridelands, her country estate, for secret gatherings of the cult's inner circle. Here acolytes are tested and newcomers initiated, proving their allegiance in the mysteries which unfold within the underground chamber.

‘I want to thank you for the feast you provided with further pages of ‘History of Fun’. I am beginning - just beginning, to become conscious of the sheer scope and depth of your vision, to say nothing of the subtleties which lurk in almost every line.’ - Kenneth Grant

Kate Hoolu