Saturday, 10 October 2015

Strange Journey, Strange Travellers

It is with some misgivings that I present to a sceptical audience this unlikely report obtained by dubious methods from an undisclosed source. It must be said at once that no independent evidence can be found to confirm the existence of the EOU and exhaustive research has failed to disclose any trace of a similar organisation operating at that time. Furthermore, as the substance of the report is so far-fetched, if not reprehensible, the likelihood that the cautious reader may feel it to be an example of a literary hoax must be very high. Alternatively, the less charitable will simply dismiss the entire farrago as crazy delusion masquerading as outrageous fact. Even so, it may be admitted that our anonymous redactor has deployed a not inconsiderable accumulation of telling details to bolster an otherwise flimsy survey, imparting an air of plausibility if not verisimilitude to the proceedings. Finally, I might mention the inclusion of an article ‘Gnostic Alchemy of the Imagination’ in Nox: A Magazine of the Abyss No 1 (1986) – but this, of course, proves nothing.

Dedicated to the ‘exorcism of illusion’ the Esoteric Order of the Ultrasphere (EOU) provides an intriguing footnote to the occult history of Britain in the late nineteen seventies.
Founded around 1979 by Comus Klingsor and Astrodamus Niger, the Order of the Ultrasphere appears to have been based upon an ideology of anti-mystical aesthetic nihilism. Although sharing some features with modern occultism of the Crowley-Spare-Typhonian variety, a close inspection of the ‘Ultrasphere Manuscripts’ leads to the conclusion that the philosophy of the organisation represented a return to the dark-side of the Enlightenment era.
A fixation with Sturm und Drang, anti-clericalism, libertinism and with the noir Gothic themes of the late eighteenth century ensured that the artistic practices and aesthetic ideas of Klingsor and Niger were rooted in the world of Goya and Sade. They sought to continue the dark, pessimistic tradition that links those artists, via Baudelaire and Lautreamont, with the incendiary actor-poet Antonin Artaud and some other Surrealists. Rimbaud’s Lettres du Voyant are a recurring point of reference in the manuscripts.
One must accept that the origins of the OU will remain forever shrouded in the deepest mystery. The earliest document that has survived is the first letter of a small collection of correspondence known as The Colchester Papers. Addressed to a recipient known simply as ‘NQNQ’, the letter proposes a future grimoire of ‘new demons’ with mildly ludicrous names based on typing errors (‘Ogdogon’, ‘Dawneophyte’, ‘Occultor’ and ‘Desiravle’ among others). Also, the writer (Klingsor) claims affinity with the Black Brothers (‘defectors/challengers of all belief systems – of belief systems as such’) and calls for the Grand Oeuvre (Great Work) to be aligned with the notion of self-initiation, claiming there are ‘no true gurus, teachers or spirit guides’.
In the second letter (Third Thoughts) a system of seven degrees of attainment is outlined but takes the form of an anti-image or mirror image of the traditional cabalistic scheme derived from the Golden Dawn and other mainstream societies. This mirror image of occult attainment arises from the application of the Formula of Reversion – a key concept of the Ultrasphere, just as the mirror was a key symbol. The author says: ‘Mirrors and reflections, images of the anti-verse, anti-matter, black holes…’ The term ‘anti-verse’ may refer to a literary as well as to a cosmological theme.
In another letter with the title Notes Written on Trains, Klingsor demands the construction of ‘new system of magic’ to oppose ‘the black magic of the world theocratic power elite’ who use faith as ‘a mechanism for draining the energy of the masses.’ The new magic of the Ultrasphere will be ‘materialistic, anti-abstractionist, non-mystical…the magic of the shamans v the magic of the priests.’ In this text (under the formula Reality = 0) Klingsor summarises the OU worldview thus: ‘in politics – Anarchism, in morality – Nihilism, in science Relativity, in art – Dadaism, in space – Black Holes.’ 
These documents date from 1979 (the year of The Postmodern Condition and the year the Voyager probes reached Jupiter), but in the archives of the Ultrasphere are numerous other artefacts and images, many of them of obscure date, many dated earlier than the Colchester correspondence. Colchester was often referred to by its Roman name Camulodunum and ‘NQNQ’ may be the same person listed on the membership register as Frater Camulodunumensis.
Illustration VII from a set of images titled Codex Archon (1976) carries the title ‘Ultrasphere (Apocalypse)’ there are two other images from the same year, one called ‘Archon Of The Ultrasphere (The Sacrament)’, and another called ‘Life For Art’s Sake (Initiates of the Ultrasphere)’. The first picture is a pencil drawing; the others are photomontages (collages) in the style of the Surrealists or earlier Dada artists like Hanna Hoech and John Heartfield.
The earliest reference to the mythos of the Ultrasphere in the collection is a different image, this time dating from 1975 and called The ‘Archon of Goth’, another photo-montage showing a volcanic seascape and a demonic figure identified by the artist as the ancient god Set. This quasi-mythology of Archons is clearly derived from certain interpretations of Gnosticism, while the appearance of the god Set may reflect a Typhonian influence. Elsewhere Klingsor and Niger refer to a ‘Gnostic alchemy of the imagination’.
The Ultrasphere Manuscripts comprise four sub-collections. Three collections of holograph manuscripts and a small set of typescripts (photocopied) comprising the Colchester Papers, the letters to NQNQ already mentioned. There are replies from NQNQ, but not collected here.
The three collections of hand-written holographs are numbered and titled Primary Papers of the Ultrasphere (15 documents), Supplementary Papers of the Ultrasphere (10 documents) and a final group of 8 documents called Rearguard Aesthetic. This final collection seems to comprise a set of notes for some kind of artistic manifesto – an unrealised programme for ‘Ultraspheric Art’ in conflict with both the traditional canons of high culture and the official avant-garde..
The bulk of these documents consist of hastily scrawled notes and tabulations, a very few are fragments of continuous text. Separate from the documents are a number of occult illustrations or diagrams intended to visualise various tenets and themes of the system or in some cases to operate as Liberation Symbols or pictorial fetishes. These illustrations may have been intended to form part of a larger, synthesised text or grimoire.
In the papers there is reference to another text or project, Codex Sardonicus: Existence in Theory and Practice (1976-1979), predating the Order, but which Klingsor and Niger used as a point of reference, the basis of their anti-method of ‘attainment’. This was the core of the system, usually referred to as the Axis Mundi (or ‘Axis of the Ultrasphere’) – kind of ‘world-tree’ or central, axial structure that functioned, like the well-known cabalistic diagram, as an ontological framework. But, as described, the Axis was a reversion, or inversion, of usual expectations: it was a katabasis or descent, not an ‘ascension’ model of ‘higher’ attainment. The initiate of the Ultrasphere was expected to navigate downwards, to plumb the depths of his/her own personal hell, or unconscious. The ironical collage ‘Life For Art’s Sake’ shows a group of dandified initiates in the guise of eighteenth century dilettantes in a kind of submarine art gallery full of curious works – above them, on the surface, is the Sadean universe of Terra (terror); the ‘world’ as we know it.
Considerations of space preclude detailed exposition of the theoretical occultism of the OU. A summary of the various topics covered in the Primary and Supplementary papers will, however, provide a glimpse of the range and scope of the collection.
The first three Primary Papers deal with the Paths and Keys of the Axis Mundi. The fourth paper sets out a version of the Grades of attainment. The fifth paper is a list of projects and recommended authors (Auctores Damnati) whose works form the Books of Vital Doctrine or Diamond Dogmas. All these documents date from 1979.
The titles of the rest of this set are as follows: Infinite Initiation, Psychoanalysis, Anxiety, Nihilism, Initiatory Cycle, Fiat Lurks, Magia Innaturalis, Bardo Cartography, Beyond Rebirth and Initiation: The Ultimate Myth.  Paper XI (Fiat Lurks) deals with the macro-history of initiation including such topics as the ‘collapse of tradition’, infinite self-creation and the ‘rupture of the normal’. Magia Innaturalis (Paper XII) talks of ‘radical disengagement’ and introduces various art-historical concerns because ‘cultural evolution reflects the initiatory process’, although, according to Third Thoughts, the ‘object of the exercise’ remains ‘the infinite transfiguration of the self’.
The Supplementary Papers of the Ultrasphere recapitulate similar themes and ideas. The First two Supplements return to the topic of self-initiation. Initiation I is called ‘Unio Mentalis’, Initiation II is called ‘The Sanctum of the Art’. There follow three items of continuous text dealing with blood symbolism (with reference to some quotations from Artaud), death doctrines and the theme of Atavistic Resurgence (this item blatantly assimilated from the New Sexuality of Austin Osman Spare). Another paper Bestial Atavisms attempts to interpret various Symbolist paintings as images of the atavistic phenomenon. The last four papers in this group are titled as follows: Invasion/Obsession, Great Year of Renovation (rough notes on occult macro-history), Springboard to the Aethyrs and Transmutation of the Real. The term ‘aethyrs’ implies a familiarity with Crowley’s The Vision and The Voice and, therefore the ‘angelic’ scryings or workings of Dee and Kelly.
Separate from these manuscripts is another document in a different hand headed Known Members of the Order 1979-1981. There are nine names listed, all of which are ‘magical’ pseudonyms. It should be borne in mind that the nomenclature is deliberately ‘absurd’ in the ‘pataphysical’ spirit of Alfred Jarry. These include NQNQ; Nyktikorax, the Night Raven; Chryse Planitia, Mistress of the Cathedrals; Rodrigo Terra; Imbroglio Korgasmus; Sarchasmus Caesaromagus; Citrus Zest the Whore of Babylon; Comus Klingsor (707z); Frater Retrogradior and Ponerologicus Astrodamus Niger.
It appears that these alleged members of the EOU assigned extravagant titles to each other. For instance one was known as the Purple Legate of the Third Degree Below Zero (zero is the symbol of psychic death or nirvana), another, the Supreme Pontiff d’Estrudo and yet another, Cardinal of the Oversoul (the ‘Autarch’, the ultimate level of self-transfiguration, or initiation, in the Ultrasphere).
There is also an enigmatic note referring to ‘inner plane adepts’ of special interest or importance to the Order. One, a semi-legendary figure named Curion Orphee le Deranger, was thought of as a kind of wandering ‘Cagliostro’ figure and composer of wild musical works, and the other, the very sinister Archon of Othona, was also known as ‘Lord of the Dark Face’. Othona is the old Roman name for modern Bradwell, a fort on the Saxon Shore. The Essex towns of Colchester (Camulodonum) and Chelmsford (Caesaromagus) are linked with Bradwell in a kind of psycho-geographic affinity. Unfortunately, no further explanations are given.
One is left with the notion that the OU was an attempt to formulate a kind of nihilistic counterpart to the psychedelia of the preceding decade, an eclectic ‘counter mythology of inner space’ using the Axis grade system as a framework. Primary Paper IV is a fragmentary list of the grades, ranging from Grade Double Zero (Student) through Grade Zero (Mendicant) to Supreme Pontiff (Beyond the Abyss) and Magus Maximus or Autarch. These grades or levels are restated in the fourth letter of the Colchester Papers: Kinx Om Pox (1980) where each level is associated with a key attribution. For example the Mendicant is associated with the key of Fear/Hate, The Retreatant with Disgust, the Preceptor (Purple Legate) with Cynicism and the Magus Maximus with Autarchy, the infinite transfiguration of the self. Each grade key of the Axis was represented by its own particular Sigil or Liberation Symbol and every key was linked by one of the twenty-two paths mapping out the ‘Strange Journey’ of the initiate.
Here is a quotation from Primary Paper VI Infinite Initiation (Unio Innaturalis):

‘No one has time for politics. Nothing is psychotic. Initiation is total – infinite, the infinite totality of the cosmos in microcosm. The infinite totality of the microcosm writ large in the macrocosm. Each grade creates his own universe, his/her own myth, each grade is creator of his/her own dream…’

There is a lost poem by Comus Klingsor and an illustrative collage picture (still extant in the archive) with the title ‘Strange Journey, Strange Travellers’ – a very strange journey indeed.

Illus: Ultima II, 1979
Illus: Strange Journey, Strange Travellers, 1976

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