In the Spring of 2013 a 79-card, hand-painted tarot deck created c.1906 by the mystic and artist Austin Osman Spare, was identified within the collections of The Magic Circle Museum in London.
The tradition of divination using the 78 cards of the Tarot deck dates back to Protestant and Masonic sects in the 18th century. It later became an important part of the philosophy of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the 19th Century occult organisation which included Aleister Crowley, the so-called “wickedest man in the world”, as well as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among its members. Golden Dawn had its own Tarot deck, apparently designed by one of its founders, S.L. MacGregor Mathers. Austin Spare’s life-long interest in cartomancy is well documented, yet very few of his own fortune- telling cards were thought to have survived. This compelling new example of the artist’s early work demonstrates his precocious involvement with the currents that shaped the British Occult Revival at the beginning of 20th century, and his interactions with some of the period’s lesser-known protagonists.
Draughtsman and occultist Austin Osman Spare – the progenitor of Chaos Magic – was a one-time collaborator with Crowley and a member of his mystical order Argenteum Astrum. Spare’s illustrative style was known for its use of monstrous and sexual imagery. In the Spring of 2013, artist and curator Jonathan Allen rediscovered a unique hand-painted tarot deck created c.1906 by the artist. In his talk, Allen discusses the deck's provenance, its place in Spare's oeuvre and within the wider histories of cartomancy.
Jonathan Allen is a London-based artist and writer whose work addresses the various magics at play within secular modernity. His work has been featured in many exhibitions, live projects, and publications, most recently at MassMoCA, Frankfurter Kunstverein, and David Risley Gallery. He is an associate curator at The Magic Circle Museum, London.