by Robert Fitzgerald
One of the classical methods of teaching, dating to the First Millennium, though no doubt much older, was Ars Memoria, the veritable ‘Art of Memory’. This exact science concerned itself with generating a virtual psychic space replete with idols, statues, animals, household gods, signs, symbols and numbers, whose singular and collective representations prefigured entire palaces and closeted corridors of things to be recalled to mind at a moment’s notice. How this mental cataloging system operated was through resonance — a speech could be instantly remembered and recited verbatim by opening a door inscribed by a symbol relating to the subject of the speech. A lion for example, could be used to recall a speech upon strength and virtue.
Ars Memoria was originally the exclusive domain of monks, especially those who were scribes, in charge of transcribing multifold texts, often from memory alone. The science escaped the cloister, however, and was embraced by theologians, magicians, academics, and alchemists, who served to transmogrify the science into a magical art form. In this, the two mages Raymond Llull and Giordano Bruno were the most thorough … and imaginative.
As time moved forward, the science fell into disrepute and neglect till it was no longer taught in university or monastery. Gradually, its essence faded — except among a handful of cunning folk and artists, representing irony at its finest. But the science was altered to the point of unrecognizability, for it concerned itself not only with simple tricks of memory, but with the literal resurrection of living and sentient atavism.
Atavism. The word conjures something out of the past (Time), and from the visceral matrix of nature (Being). It is something forgotten, yet thriving in the subconscious memory like the human fetal stage, reptilian in visage; it sleeps, but it lurks.
Perhaps the most prominent contemporary practitioner of the sorcerous comprehension of atavism, and the art of its conjuring, was the 20th century artist Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956). Spare believed in ‘atavistic resurgence’, or a magical memory activated through sexual and sorcerous praxis. In Images and Oracles of Austin Osman Spare, Kenneth Grant describes the process thus:
Spare’s system also suggests a new Obeah, a science of resurgent atavisms, a primal magic based upon obsession and ecstasy. The subconsciousness, impregnated by a symbol of desire is energized by reverberant ecstasies on the supposition that the primal deep, the void, responds to ancient nostalgias re-living their original obsessive ‘beliefs’.
Spare called the void Kia, or the Neither-Neither; the flesh (including all atavism), he called Zos. He believed that atavism resurges and becomes sentient nostalgia, claiming that “Desire must be organic, or not at all.” This magical philosophy, driven by the arcana of the carnal body, distinguishes Spare’s stance as a sorcerer from the theurgic ideology that dominated the magic of his day, which sought to eschew the bestial nature of humanity in favor of an exalted godhead. In essence, it also aligns with earthen sorcery and witchcraft, focused as it is upon the body, eroto-magical ritual, and communion with the spirits of the dead.
Throughout his later years Spare wrote a grimoire of his sorcerous ideas, which Grant dubbed ‘The Grimoire of Zos’. Further on the subject of atavism, Spare wrote:
Nostalgia … is born of the impact of awareness of particular and immediate experiences which, conjuring their latent counterparts in the subconscious, become imbued with their energy and knowledge, and with this knowledge comes the power and the ability of magical reification.
Here then is a process whereby an instinct becomes aware, a nostalgia becomes sentient, releasing a primal power through which any type of magic may be actualized. This actualization most often took the form of sigils, alphabets, stelæ, artwork and asemic writing delineating itself to itself. It was a sorcery of both Form and Absence, and one that resonates with both Ars Memoria and old European Witchcraft. The Ars Memoria may best be thought of as a system of imaginal ciphers, highly visual in nature, that use their ‘native’ arcana to encrypt the will of the magician, and thus call to memory that which is desired. In Spare’s magical imagery, this process is in play visually, for his compositions often feature a constellation of things past, forming a confluence into a present subject. A ‘modern’ man or woman may thus be seen to be ‘fed’ or animated by a stream of past incarnative forms: archaic humanity, animals, goddesses and gods, and myriad sigillic cyphers. The substrate thus established is one of remembered selves, which, far from being alienated from the present body, inform it vitally.
Spare’s ‘system’ of atavistic resurgence was taken to another level by the late magician, Andrew Chumbley (1967–2004). In his The Azoëtia: A Grimoire of the Sabbatic Craft, Chumbley revealed a sigillic and lettered sorcery whose purpose was to align the sorcerer, via spirits and sentient nostalgias, with various astral forces and elemental entities. This was exacted via ritual and dream whereby the holy letters, resurgent with atavistic force, served to open dimensional pathways.
The goal of The Azoëtia was to generate a ‘New Flesh’ for the sorcerer, woven of atavism, spirit and sentient nostalgia — for the sorcerer to become, in essence, wholly other in Will, Desire and Belief — an ‘unholy’ trinity of the Azoëtic Path. In writing upon one of the vagaries of this particular sorcery, and the sacrifice it entails, Chumbley writes:
For it is said that the Ancestral Shades will flock unto such an Offering that they may perchance regain some small spark of Light and Life, and if such Spirits be of the Sorcerer’s Past then it is to partake of Magical Power that they draw nigh unto such a Sacrifice. Also Spirits of Bestial and Elemental Form shall gather that they may taste of the Shade of a Living Man; this being advantageous to their own evolution. The Sacrifice of the Shadow is not simply a Veneration of the Ancestral and Totem Manes, it is an Initiation and a Rite of Transformation.
The ritual order Cultus Sabbati, of which Chumbley served as Magister from 1991–2004, is the living embodiment of the Sabbatic Tradition, a coalescence of initiates both living and dead. Comprised of both the amalgam of spirit-sentiences, pre-incarnative states, Memory, and the stream of power linking initiate to initiate, it is the active, collective form of the Sentient Nostalgia, as charged by the rites of the Sabbat. Not only is it convoked from that which has gone before, but it also proceeds forward, via the Art Magical, into a constellation of potential or future bodies: the Millions of Forms of Being of Azoëtic provenance.
In order for sentience to be bestowed upon a memory or an image it is first necessary to sacrifice the emblems and bodies of one’s subtle nature. Thus the Body, Mind, Spirit and Shade is offered as a sacrifice or else as the means of manifestation. Without Blood and Thought, the Light and Dark of the Soul, nostalgia remains dormant, unaware and lacking all form. It is thus a fleeting thing, devoid even of shadow. The allowance of these sacrifices, made often and repeatedly throughout one’s incarnation, breeds a retinue of atavistic spirits, the veritable ‘Children’ of one’s Sentience and Substance.
This becoming ‘other’ through atavistic resurgence not only resembles the Witches ‘Flight to the Sabbat’, it also encompasses the idea of the fetch and the shape-shifting familiar. It thereby reveals the overarching design of Nostalgia as the origin of the sorcerous power of witchcraft. Ultimately this is the inner secret of the Familiar: that it is the sentient nostalgia which has gained the most potency through the agency of Blood (Form) and Spirit (Memory), and thus leads the Animist and Animalistic zoötypes into futurity and ever-increasing awareness.