Monstrous Souls:
The Magical Art of Lautreamont and Rimbaud

1) Age of Disruption

Replete in the writings of the French poets Lautreamont and Rimbaud are contained imagery and references to an ancient occult tradition known as Typhonian. This Typhonian Tradition was part of a larger more ancient tradition known as the Draconian Tradition.

This ancient lore goes back to Sumeria and pre-Dynastic Egypt. Typhon was the serpent goddess who was the mother of the god Set, Shaitan, otherwise known as Satan. The Typhonian Gnosis is concerned with contacting entities from the adverse side of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is the symbolic, mystical system of the Qabalah that claims to represent all of the forces and elements of nature and the universe. This Tree is pictured with eleven spheres called sephirah with each sphere connected, in all, by twenty-two paths. It is believed that there is another side or dark side to this Tree of Life called the Tree of Death. This nether side is the side the Typhonian Tradition works with. Today's leading exponent of this tradition is occultist Kenneth Grant. Grant, one time student of infamous magician Aleister Crowley, claims that dark forces from the nether side of our world are seeping into our dimension and transforming this planet in strange and terrifying ways. Crowley called this transformation or New Aeon the Aeon of Horus, the bible calls it the Apocalypse, Satanist Anton LaVey called it the Age of Satan, and Grant and his associates call it the Ma-ion or Aeon of Maat. No matter what you call it, these groups are announcing a changing of the guard, an alteration of consciousness, a new world order whether we like it or not. Crowley wrote of this new order and the changes it would bring about:

Observe for yourselves the decay of the sense of sin, the growth of innocence and irresponsibility, the strange modifications of the reproductive instinct with a tendency to become bi-sexual or epicene, the childlike confidence in progress combined with nightmare fear of catastrophe, against which we are yet half unwilling to take precautions.

Kenneth Grant believes that certain poets and artists act as "sensitives" or receivers of these otherworldly forces that are seeping into our life wave. These "sensitives" receive impressions and images and impart them through their art. According to Grant these forces are the Qliphoth. Notorious in occult lore as evil and unbalanced, the Qliphoth are forces from outside our known universe trying to connect with us in order to complete our evolution, unite our "dayside" with our "nightside" or, in other words, open our conscious minds to the primordial depths of the dark unconscious. If the magician is properly prepared through the right rituals and has advanced far enough "spiritually" then contact with these forces will be relatively danger-free. The unprepared initiate can face insanity, destruction and the loss of his "soul" as a result of these encounters. However, there is a third way that combines both of these paths. That is the way of the artist or poet. Certain artists' neurons are so arranged as to act as antennae to "earth" these forces or invoke them and then to express their power through art. This can wreak havoc on an artist's nervous system but ultimately, through the expression of these forces they allow the rest of us a glimpse into this infernal domain. Lautreamont and Rimbaud are just these kinds of artists.

2) Bestial Mysticism

In his book Outside the Circles of Time Grant writes,

Certain fugitive elements appear occasionally in the works of poets, painters, mystics, and occultists which may be regarded as genuine magical manifestations in that they demonstrate the power and ability of the artist to evoke elements of an extra-dimensional and alien universe that may be captured only by the most sensitive and delicately adjusted antennae of human consciousness.

These fugitive elements are images or concepts that impart a strange feeling of other-ness to the reader or viewer of these works.

"The primary study of the man who wishes to be a poet", wrote Rimbaud "is his own knowledge, entirely. He seeks for his soul, inspects, tempts it, instructs it. As soon as he knows it, his duty is its cultivation... the soul must be made monstrous... I say that he must be a voyant, make himself into one. The poet makes himself into a seer by a long, tremendous and reasoned derangement of the senses."

It is just this derangement that opens up the mind to the forces of the dark unconscious. Within these primordial depths are to be found instincts long lost and forgotten by man, past incarnations that are represented, magically, by the Qliphoth. These instincts can also be dredged up through the rites of Lycanthropy; the belief in the transformation of man into wolf, tiger or hyena. This is what Rimbaud means by making the soul "monstrous".

There is a primeval belief that the way to godhead is through the animal. This can be seen in the ancient representations of the Gods of Egypt and Sumeria. More recently in the Twentieth Century art work of English magus Austin Osman Spare and in the various ritualistic, "yogic" practices of this artist one can recognize this method of using the Beast to get closer to the godhead. Spare believed in the power of atavistic resurgence in which the initiate draws power from a symbol or sigil made to represent a particular animal and ultimately to take on the abilities of that animal. This is a method of reaching godhead in which, instead of rising to god spiritually; you sink down to him, bestially. Since god is "All" whether you rise or sink makes no difference. The result is still the same. Granted the bestial method is fraught with more dangers - psychically and physically - than the spiritual, but there are some of us who cannot help but be more inclined toward the depths.

Grant writes: "It should be evident that those who let in the forces of the Qliphoth must themselves assume the Mask of the Beast. It is therefore not surprising to find that the entire gamut of so-called abnormal and perverted lusts has been exploited in attempts to transmit the vibrations of extra-cosmic or - at least - extra-terrestrial forces." These abnormal and perverted lusts are well represented in the works of Lautreamont and Rimbaud. The works of both poets are filled with blasphemy, degradation, perversion and violence. The forces of the id are released and allowed to spread the moral pestilence that is so common to the works of these men. Especially in the case of Rimbaud, his lifestyle expressed the intrusion of these forces in an uncompromising way. Certain images and symbols appear that show a correspondence between these poets and the Typhonian Gnosis as espoused by Kenneth Grant.

3) Lautreamont: Poet of the Predatory.

Le Comte de Lautreamont was the pseudonym of Isodore Ducasse. He was born in Montevideo, France in 1846 and died in 1870 of mysterious circumstances. He wrote the hallucinatory book Maldoror in 1868. The book has since become a classic, and has been heralded by the Dadaists and the Surrealists as a masterpiece. The Surrealists considered Ducasse their spiritual ancestor.

Philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote a fascinating book on Lautreamont in which he explores something that he calls "Lautreamontism". He believes that "Lautreamontism" can be summed up in the "will to attack". Joanne Stroud writes in the introduction to this book: "Bachelard pinpoints the 'complex of animal life' which he calls 'the phenomenology of pure aggression,' that he finds in the work of Ducasse." Throughout Lautreamont's Maldoror are descriptions of predatory beasts with claws that rip and rend their victims apart. The books central subject, the anti-hero Maldoror is, himself, almost always depicted tearing apart victims with his claws or a very claw-like blade. According to Stroud,

Bachelard sees a similarity between an animal and the human psyche - the human is as eager to strike out as is the animal in the jungle to seize its prey. Animal cruelty slashes its victim blindly, ignores all prior relationship, invalidates previous feelings. In like manner human cruelty returns us to the gratuitous animal gesture. Whenever we hate, the animal emerges: 'in the tiniest of hatreds there is a little, live, animal filament.'

In Maldoror it is written: "For my part, I use my genius to depict the delights of cruelty: delights which are not transitory or artificial..." because they are primordial and natural. "Cannot genius be allied with cruelty in the secret resolutions of providence? Or, can one, being cruel, not have genius?" This is the genius that Crowley speaks of when he writes of the "True Will", the inner-core of every man that is his true destiny, the bestial way as opposed to the spiritual.

In commentary about his associate magician, Michael Bertiaux, Grant examines this Lycanthropy, stating: "The assumption of monstrous forms and the sense of identity with 'hellish astral entities' becomes logical as a method of controlling sub-chtonian levels, and Austin Spare has evolved valid techniques of sillography for exploring these subliminal levels. Bertiaux also contributes a unique study in depth of such primal atavisms, in his highly sophisticated systems of which La Mystere Lycanthropique is but one." The 'hellish astral entities' are the predatory instincts of old, long buried but always waiting to emerge. Lautreamont presents these instincts repeatedly in his book. In a rather lengthy passage Lautreamont describes dogs that are "[...] driven wild, break their chains and escape from distant farms. They run all over the countryside, a prey to madness...their prolonged howls fill nature with dread. And then, woe to the belated traveler! These graveyard fiends will seize upon him, will tear him to pieces and eat him, their mouths dripping blood; for they have sound teeth... like those dogs, I feel the need for the infinite." This infinite is the godhead that can be reached through the animal.

Grant has stated that the way to contact with the Qliphoth is through the "hidden" Sephorah of the Qabalah known as Daath. Daath lies in the midst of the Abyss, the zone that separates normal human consciousness from the "supernal triad" or the godhead. Daath, in the Abyss, acts as a gateway to other dimensions or "Universe B" as Grant calls it, (as opposed to our "side" known as "Universe A") and the Tunnels of Set where the evil Qliphoth reside. Again, this is believed to be a very dangerous journey for the unprepared magician. A passage in Maldoror describes the infernal heroes' fight with an angel in a church; a fight in which Maldoror is victorious. Afterwards he races out of the church where he sees the soul of the angel; "...flying towards the regions of heaven. They look at one another as the angel climbs towards the serene regions of the good, whereas he, Maldoror, descends into the vertiginous abysses of evil."

Sex Magick, which is rightly associated with Crowley, has been expanded upon by Grant and his cohort Michael Bertiaux. This magick extends to sado-masochistic or imaginistic Lycanthropic Sex Magick and involves the assuming of monstrous forms during the rite. From Michael Bertiaux's incredible Voudon Gnostic Workbook is a description of a Lycanthropic Sex Magick ritual:

I really wanted to strangle you. I really wanted to squeeze the breath of life from you. I wanted to grab your throat and press it inwardly to its limits. I had you on the floor and you seemed to be aware of what was happening. You seemed to realize that there was something more than just sexuality at work. Your instinct could read my mind, and you realized that I was trying to harm you. Your nakedness beneath the hairs of my body began a vain struggle. I wanted to show you that there wasn't any escape from what was to happen. From what must happen. I wanted you to try and fight back, and perhaps you wanted to also, but you did not appear to be able to.
You did not seem interested in that. Rather, you seemed to know that there was something more interesting beyond all efforts at struggling which would be happening to you. You perhaps held in your mind some vague notion of transformation, which would come once I was freely able to have my way with you. And so then I began the ritual work and allowed myself to become opened up totally to those forces which were now becoming more and more active in my being. Those demons began to come more and more to the surface, those very primitive beings, which are normally hidden deep within the animal nature of humanity, they were slowly coming to where "I" was, to where the ego had its reign. Slowly, and with a most astonishing viciousness, they heatedly began to surface. Slowly, they cried out to be fed, those base babes, animal pups and cubs, those primitive parts of my world, and your own which most if not all have forgotten about, under normal circumstances, now these were pressing in on me and slowly, they were coming more and more to where I was and I was feeling them and hearing them. Their cries and growls, the brushing of their bodies against me, and then they are there.

In Maldoror, as to be expected, is a scene that closely resembles these types of rituals, although greatly exaggerated. Maldoror with his bulldog on a leash comes upon a pretty young girl. After raping the girl Maldoror sets his dog upon her and he:

[...]contented himself, this monstrous snouted wolf, with violating in turn the virginity of this delicate child. From her torn belly the blood flows again along her legs, over the meadow...her moans join the whining of the animal...[Maldoror] approaches the sacrificial alter and sees the behavior of his bulldog, gratifying his base instincts, rising above the young girl, as a shipwrecked man raises his head above the waves.

The description of the place of this act as a "sacrificial alter" gives us a clue as to its, for Lautreamont, subconscious meaning. For this imagery is not completely intentional as we understand the word. Lautreamont had become a conductor for primordial, subconscious forces. Whereas magicians consciously control these forces through their rituals, artists become mediums, as it were; passive receptacles. Therein lies the danger. But, a danger that can taste so sweet.

Another image that appears in Maldoror frequently is the frog or toad. In the Typhonian Gnosis the toad represents the "leapers" or voltiguers on the backside of the Tree of Life. Instead of having to traverse all the tunnels on the nightside of the Tree, the magician assumes the form of a frog and makes a leap up the Tree of Death. The Vaultiguers' method is used by Bertiaux's Black Snake Cultists and Hecate is their goddess. According to Grant: "She is one of the most important figures in the Draconian Cult, being symbolic of the Transformer from watery or astral existence to earth or tangible being." Hecate is known as the frog-headed goddess. There are many other beasts and critters that Lautreamont's work shares with the Typhonian Gnosis including the crab and the spider. In Crowley's Thoth Tarot Deck the card Atu 7 represents the Charioteer. Grant writes: "Furthermore, Atu 7 is under the sign of Cancer, which was originally the sign of the Beetle. The crab is associated in occult lore with the race of crustaceans expected to appear upon Earth at some future time; the beetle is emblematic of the immediately post-Maatian phase of human evolution." These "crustaceans" that will appear on earth are representative of the dark forces seeping through the gate of Daath into our life wave. To put it another way, these are the forces of the dark sub-conscious seeping into the conscious mind. The web the spider spins at the back of the Tree is very important as well. Grant explains: "The spider's web is the network of tunnels that leads to other dimensions, for what appear as mere interstices on a flat plane when the spider has emerged from it's hole are - in the depths of the earth - intra-spatial voids and dream-spanning gulfs of cosmic immensity." In other words, the spider's web is used imaginatively as a means of access to various realms of the subconscious. But there is a price. The initiate loses just a bit of his Ojas or magical energy when in contact with these beings. But the occult insight gained is worth it. In Maldoror we read:

Every night, at the hour when sleep has reached its highest degree of intensity, an old spider of the large species slowly protrudes its head from a hole in the ground at one of the intersections of the angles of the room...[it] advances with slow, deliberate steps towards my bed. And a remarkable thing happens! I, who can repulse sleep and nightmares, feel paralyzed through my entire body when with its long ebony legs it climbs along my satin bed. It clasps my throat with its legs and with its abdomen it sucks my blood.

So, we see how Lautreamont and his masterpiece can be considered an expression of the depths of the subconscious and how Grant and Bertiaux's exploration of those realms has produced very similar imagery. Now we move on to Arthur Rimbaud.

4) Rimbaud: Lycanthropic Seer.

Jean-Nicolas-Arthur Rimbaud was born on October 20, 1854, in Charleville, France. Rimbaud was a brilliant student though extremely rebellious. At the age of sixteen he began writing the poetry that would revolutionize the literary world. At the age of nineteen he had completely abandoned poetry, left Europe for Abysinnia and died an invalid after developing a tumor in his right knee.

American author Henry Miller has described Rimbaud thusly: "It was his destiny to be the electrifying poet of our age, the symbol of the disruptive forces which are now making themselves manifest." These disruptive forces are the Qliphoth, the primordial unconscious creeping to the surface of the collective mind. Rimbaud, through his method of "derangement of the senses" grasped this zeitgeist, this dark spirit of the age and expressed it not only through his poetry, but through his life.

The following quote by the writer Montaigne, was inspirational for Rimbaud in all of his poetic endeavors:"The poet, seated on the muse's tripod, furiously pours out all that comes into his mouth, like the gargoyle of a fountain, and there escape from him things of diverse colour, contrary substance, and interrupted flow." It is interesting that the image used is of a monster pouring forth his works and that Rimbaud was so attracted to this image. This is how Rimbaud saw himself: as a beast, a monster, a Lycanthropic seer. Henry Miller writes; "With him I have felt an underlying primitive nature which manifests itself in strange ways. Claudel styled Rimbaud 'a mystic in the wild state.' Nothing could describe him better." Others, too, saw Rimbaud in this way and understood his bestial mysticism.

In a letter from poet Paul Verlaine (Rimbaud's lover) Rimbaud is told: "You are prodigiously well equipped for battle. I have as it were the smell of your lycanthropy." In Rimbaud's poetry itself we have numerous references to he being a dog, wolf or hyena: "'You will remain a hyena' etc..., yells the demon who crowned me with such delightful poppies. 'You will reach your death with all of your lusts, with your selfishness and all your capital sins'." In this small section alone is described three important elements of the Typhonian Gnosis. One is the reference to the poppies, which beyond being merely a drug reference also refers to the element of Left Hand Magick known as the kalas. The kalas are ancient Draconian and Tantric "perfumes" that emanate from the oracular priestess in the midst of the sex-ritual. Kalas are described as flowers that secrete perfume or substance for the magician to imbibe for various powers or visions. The other reference is to the hyena; another Lycanthropic metaphor. In his story Snakewand, Kenneth Grant writes: "The hyena, as totem was symbolic of all half-lives, all twilight states, all cross breeds and cross roads: interweaving, seeping, coiling, worming its neither-neither sexuality into flesh, and stamping with the Mark of the Beast all those forms through which it satisfied its savage hungers." Comparing these two quotes we can understand Rimbaud better. In this section of Rimbaud's poem he is discussing his blood ancestry. This corresponds to Grant's mention of cross breeds. The demon tells Rimbaud that he "will remain a hyena" thereby stamping him with the Mark of the Beast, and dealing with a demon or devil brings up the concept of crossroads - that old southern legend of making a pact with the Devil at some infernal intersection. The line about "reaching your death with all of your lusts", refers to the Left Hand Path method of utilizing sexuality and delirium to kill the ego momentarily and allow the forces of the Qliphoth or the id to invade the conscious mind.

Another interesting Lycanthropic section in Rimbaud's poetry comes again in "A Season in Hell":

The wolf cried under the leaves
As he spat out the fine feathers
Of his meal of fowl:
Like him I consume myself.

Comparing himself to the wolf Rimbaud sees himself consuming his soul (the fowl) like the Uroboros snake that eats its own tail; a symbol of the cycle of nature and the oneness of all things. Rimbaud writes; "[...] I looked at the disorder of my mind as sacred. I was idle, a prey to heavy fever. I envied the happiness of animals-" again, a reference to animals and a desire for atavistic resurgence. Miller writes of Rimbaud: "He is that differentiated being, the prodigy, born of human flesh and blood but suckled by the wolves." It is by this atavistic resurgence that the poet loses his man-made rationality and achieves primal vision. Rimbaud: "I am not a prisoner of my reason." It is by destroying reason, by uniting all dualities, by invoking the divine madness that one finally "sees". Rimbaud did this through his formula of the derangement of the senses; using every poison- drugs, alcohol, sleep deprivation, to bring himself to the brink of mania in order to achieve this supreme gnosis.

In a letter written to an old teacher of his Rimbaud states:

I want to be a poet, and I'm working at turning myself into a seer. You won't understand any of this, and I'm almost incapable of explaining it to you. The idea is to reach the unknown by the derangement of all the senses. It involves enormous suffering, but one must be strong and be a born poet. And I've realized that I am a poet. It's really not my fault.

To do this takes an enormous toll on the poet. Madness always lurks nearby. As Grant explains: "The strength required to experience the dream and to remain outwardly coherent is an achievement that few can claim. Lautreamont admitted that he could not, and, as is well known, Rimbaud withdrew from the struggle." To put it in Freudian terms, what Rimbaud was attempting to do was to destroy the internal censor of the super ego - the psychological organ that imposes the moral standards of society. He wanted to release the endlessly imaginative forces of the dark unconscious, the Qliphoth, or the id. Graham Robb writes in his brilliant Biography of the poet; "Obscenity would scrape away these egotistical pretensions and restore a kind of purity." Robb is referring to the purity of the depths or of the beast.

A part of scraping away these pretensions includes performing acts, usually sexual, which are considered to be the antithesis of societal standards or by having sexual relations with horribly deformed or ugly people. Both Crowley and Spare utilized these techniques to widen the perimeters of the mind and to remove certain barriers. Crowley achieved this mental expansion with ugly and/or deformed people, Spare with his elderly spiritual mentor Ms. Paterson. Rimbaud's method consisted of violent homosexual sex with poet Paul Verlaine. Robb states: "It might even be said that it was precisely because he could rely on himself to find the thought of homosexual relations disquieting that he decided to investigate [them]. These mental experiments were another attempt to push the personality off the rails, to annihilate illusions..." also by "the purification by dissolution, the loosening of the rivets and tackle that bind the personality, visions teetering on the brink of the incomprehensible." It is just this mental teetering, this delirium on the brink of madness that helps to usher in the forces of the Qliphoth. According to Grant: "The Left Hand Path is precisely that derangement of the senses which Rimbaud formulated independently and which the Surrealists after him endeavored to put into practice."

Rimbaud saw himself as a kind of Satanic, Pagan mystic. According to author Graham Robb, Rimbaud had "[...] glorious Gothic visions of the poet as a Promethean Satan, the Romantic Lucifer whose role is to rescue men from God: 'the great invalid, the great criminal, the great damned and the supreme Sage!'" Rimbaud knew that in order to achieve this he would have to divest himself of every kernel of his known personality, to strip his psyche bare, to consume himself like the wolf in his poem, in order to achieve this "divine" insight.

Rimbaud was greatly influenced by the 19th century Illuminists', who understood that behind the sensory impressions lay a pure and absolute reality. "This ultimate truth can be glimpsed only in fleeting moments when the senses are no longer separate from the objects of perception, when the personality evaporates..." (Robb). This is the same goal that mystics for untold centuries have been trying to reach. There are many different paths, and some are more dangerous then others. A great poet like Rimbaud had to pull back from the brink of that abyss. Yet, as he tilted over that infinite gulf he glimpsed something that he was able to bring back to earth and give to us; a vision of that great, terrifying expanse. As Grant says, "Alchemy, obsession, delirium, reversion, and the sorceries of sex form the foundation of creative occultism, and these elements were woven by Rimbaud into his celebrated formula."

Lautreamont and Rimbaud both sank deep into their primordial depths and brought back pearls of great price. It is a journey few agree to take and from which few ever return. As written by the famed occultist A.E. Waite: "As there is a door in the soul which opens on god, so there is another door which opens on the recremental deeps, and there is no doubt that the deeps come in when it is opened effectually." Here's to the artists of the deeps...

© Vadge Moore / DISCRIMINATE MEDIA, 2007