Recently, there’s been a surge of discussion in the Thelemic social media sphere about Kenneth Grant and his importance to post-Crowley Thelema, including his views on gender and sex magick. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently as I’ve been working to develop a reading of Grant — and especially his concept of the Mauve Zone and Mauve Zone magick — in the context of negative dialectics.
That will have to come later, but I thought it might be useful to write a little about how I think Grant’s ideas about gender might be bound up with the very nature of the Typhonian Tradition. The figure of Typhon or Ta-Urt, the “Dragon of the Deep” — referring to Grant’s version (following Gerald Massey) of the primordial Great Goddess — follows certain ancient traditions in attributing the chaos or prima materia at the beginning of creation to a divine figure. These figures, often labeled as “monsters,” were frequently categorized as female — for example, the Babylonian Tiamat. In the ancient stories, usually a masculine god is responsible for struggling with the female monster, dominating her, allowing order to emerge from chaos — and along with it, hierarchical and patriarchal society.
The later Jewish and Christian traditions take this a step further. Catherine Keller, in her book The Face of the Deep, explains how “the Deep” in the Biblical creation narrative (Genesis 1:2) likely began as a substantial depth — a divine figure, a matrix of potentialities, like the female monsters in neighboring Mesopotamian mythology. But in the smoothing over of the story that takes place with the writing down of the sacred text, the wrestling of the patriarchal god with the feminine monster becomes a logocentric, spoken act of God which tames the “darkness over the face of the deep” — God’s act of creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. The teeming depths become a void space instead, the Ain of the Kabbalah. The Great Goddess of Chaos becomes nothing, the idea of the empty womb.
According to Keller and other feminist theologians, the inheritance of this in Western philosophy has been the dominance of logic over nature, subject over object, male over female. Though Crowley sometimes tries to transcend these dualities (I think Liber AL and the Holy Books frequently succeed at this, in spite of himself), many of his writings still fall under this critique, even though there are clearly aspects to Crowley’s life and thought that can’t be subsumed easily into a patriarchal, rationalistic system.
For example, Crowley’s basic ontology is almost exactly captured by the critique Keller has of the transformation of the primordial Chaos into a rationalistic “nothing” or, as Crowley calls it, the Qabalistic Zero. Drawing from Kabbalah, Crowley’s “nothing” is an empty void at the beginning of creation, rather than the mythological Deep or Typhon. Though Nuit fulfills some of the primal goddess role in Thelema, in Crowley’s “Berashith” (more specifically, in his subordination of Liber AL to it) Nuit and Hadit are still grounded in “nothing” as their first cause.
I’d argue that this ontology tends to bleed into Crowley’s magickal praxis. In terms of Crowley’s sex magick, for example, it’s clear that many of his partners (frequently prostitutes) didn’t actually know a thing about what he was doing — and he suggested this was a good thing. Though he sometimes talked about the intermingling or union of sexual fluids, his partners’ orifices mostly served as empty voids or vessels for Crowley’s elixir, the main and most important ingredient of which was semen. Like centuries of mistaken patriarchal ideas about the predominance of sperm in human reproduction (in which the womb merely provides the “soil” for the sperm, which itself contributes the necessary information for the development of the fetus), Crowley’s form of sex magick also seems to provide a fairly consistent metaphor for the domestication of the teeming Deep into the empty void.
As several people have pointed out in the recent discussions, Kenneth Grant outlines a different system, quite directly answering several of these critiques. Grant’s interest in Tantra reinserts the female kalas into the formula of sex magick, so that the vagina is no longer a symbol for an empty void, a mere vessel for the creative power of the semen. This isn’t a quirky side interest for Grant; it follows the logic of the entire “Typhonian” aspect of the Typhonian Tradition: the reinstatement of the Deep, Typhon or Ta-Urt, as the primordial Great Goddess in place of an empty void at the beginning of creation — a creative matrix rather than a pure nothingness. I think there are philosophical ramifications to this in Grant’s work beyond sex magick — some of which might deeply transform Crowley’s Thelema — but this is one important aspect of his system.