Tag Archives: Sothis Magazine

Playing cards of the world: Kathleen Wowk

KATH WOWK worked at Stanley Gibbons in the 1970s and wrote a book, Playing Cards of the World,  a book which is widely regarded but in fact got her expelled from Kenneth Grant’s OTO.

Kenneth Grant regarded the tarot cards as sacred but Kath secularised them, he considered.

Kathleen Wowk

I often wonder what became of the lovely Kath. If anyone knows, please drop me a line.

Jan Magee, Kath, David Hall and yours truly went to the Knebworth Rolling Stones concert in 1976, where Kath distinguished herself by dragging us all to the very front so we could have a good old dekko at the goings on.

This is a picture Kath gave me during the 1970s, showing her in Nottingham, where she was born. She was of Ukranian descent, and contributed a translation of Liber OZ to SOTHiS magazine, way back when. 

On being a letterpress printer

William CaxtonFor some reason, I decided I wanted to be a letterpress printer in the mid 1970s.  Being a letterpress printer, autodidactically, is a baptism of fire.

OK, you got the press, you got the forme, you got the reglets, you got the type, you got the text. Surely all you do is assemble the type, use the quoins to put it into the forme with bits of wood and that, apply the ink and press, press and press again.  No such luck. My first attempt was a disaster.

Quel catastrophe. I learned how to put the letters of the alphabet, all made of a lead alloy, upside down into the instrument of mass journalistic destruction, five lines at a time, separated by lead for the lines and lead as spacers, all beautiful fonts designed by Plantin, Gill and the rest.  And came up against a huge dilemma. The fonts are “type high”. That’s a type lie.

Apart from the fact that unless you had a Linotype machine you were condemned to buy more and more fonts, again and again and again, letterpress printing on a small press, at least,  is not a matter of pure pressure. As the rollers turned and the form with a page of lead in hit the press, it took hours, days to get the print to print regularly. Basically, you made an impression, and then got little bits of paper to make sure the so-called standard bits of lead delivered the right impression.

My first impression was really not very good at all. I printed an edition of 200 copies and sold them all, but I was very dissatisfied. These days you can buy Khephra Press books at a considerable premium.  Even a SOTHiS postcard costs £20. The Wild Ass is £23. One of my better attempts at hand letterpress printing.

Over the next two years, my technique improved but as I was  a solo letterpress printer, another problem presented itself to this solo printer. I could not afford the fonts. In those days, in the mid 1970s, you could actually go down to Fleet Street and buy whole trays full of the fonts you needed. But as I had a cash flow probbo at Khephra Press, I swiftly realised there was only one thing I could do. After I had printed two pages, and put them on drying lines, I had to carefully disassemble those carefully made pages in the form with the reglets and that, and start all over again. Then there was the paper that you had to choose carefully – and the pagination. The printed sheets had to dry before you could print and print again. That gave you time to disassemble the forme and start filling the quoin again.

In this way, at the Khephra Press, I think I put together eight or nine books – a labour of love. Or perhaps just a labour.

Being a letterpress printer is being like a top notch bricklayer – every piece has to fit together – if it doesn’t work out right, you have to disassemble the whole lot.

I do not regret one single bit of putting together a book bit by bit. It taught me patience. Although I should have had more sense.

The first book I created was Aleister Crowley’s Leah Sublime. The edition was my first experiment, so much so that I created a second edition which built on the first.  Meantimes, David Hall, Jan Bailey and myself were creating a magazine, SOTHiS which is still remembered. And produced using offset litho and then rather modern techniques of printing… and then there was SOGAT, NALGO and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

I flogged my books to the bookshops interested in the sort of books I was printing. One of these was The Equinox bookshop, owned by Jimmy Page. The big problem I had – as I hinted before – was that you had to buy all the materials up front and then wait for the bookshops to pay up. This sometimes took some time. The Equinox, once, rather than paying, invited me to take the value of my invoice in books.  The Equinox also took multiple copies of SOTHiS magazine and produced editions of occult books.  A negative review of one of these books led to the chap running the bookshop cutting out the pages with the negative review before putting them on the shelves for sale.

In this way I managed to get hold of Sir John Woodroffe’s English digest of the Tantrarajatantra.  This, I guess, was 1976 or so.  I am still struggling to translate the Tantrarajatantra, nearly over 40 years later. It is written in beautiful Sanskrit and I am only any good at ugly Sanskrit.

This text has been, for me, one of the most important in my development.  It is a fusion of Indian jyotisha and severely impressive practical spiritual values – it is so shakta that even your dad is a form of the goddess. I’ve explored some of these ideas on www.shivashakti.com. I was still a member of Kenneth Grant’s OTO at the time – but in 1974 I had had a spiritual experience that jolted me so much that my being was yearning towards India.

I am often asked why a technology hack – that’s me –  is interested in India. It’s too hard to explain so I fall back on the excuse that my Uncle Mac, in Ballater, used to run the railways in the Bombay Presidency. His house was jam packed with Indian curios.  My dad’s Hindustani was more than passable and he told me this  story once. When he was in the RAF in India, on sentry duty, a sadhu came walking in his direction. “Halt! Who goes there”. The sadhu explained that this was an ancient track that he and his kind also took, but my dad, with bayonet drawn, refused to let him pass.  The sadhu cursed him and said that because he refused to let him pass, his second son would become a sadhu.  I haven’t written about Dadaji yet.  Life is interesting.

Still, I found the craft of putting books together most interesting and satisfying, if not financially rewarding. I did a great deal of jobbing printing too.  Now that a font does not consist of a collection of “type high” alphanumeric characters, you can tote them all around on your iMad or your PC.  The fonts I still have require really heavy lifting, a relic of the past dot com.

Two editors of SOTHiS magazine pose with Kenneth Grant

HERE BELOW are two young people thoroughly enthralled by the Supreme Head of the One True Order.  This was before Mike had his so-called Indian experience.  Kenneth Grant is wearing that tie again. Picture, I think taken by Janice Ayers. It was all so long ago…. ♥

Kenneth Grant dilated upon Mathers’ and Gardner’s dicks

I cannot break my oath to Kenneth Grant’s OTO, and I won’t. Here he is pictured in 1974. We used to drink in a pub just round the corner from where he lived, and did so much that my girlfriend and I renamed it the KG.

As we lived in Golders Green too, I sometimes took a trip there on my tod. One night, I fell into a conversation with two Hindu guys – a Brahmin from Gujarat and a Brahmin from Bengal.

Should they have been drinking at all? The tapestry unfolded.  The Gujarati Brahmin was appalled at the fact another member of his gotra on the other side of India ate fish. The Bengali guy was appalled that the rigorous diet on the west coast was quite so vegetarian.

A Jain joined us. He said that day was a religious day in Jain tantrik culture. On one day a year, a faithful Jain could drink and do all sorts of things that they couldn’t do  on any other day in the year.

Kenneth Grant was a thelemite but as the Kaula Upanishad said, you must respect other people’s notions of what the heck any of it meant. He was very taken with David Hall’s notion that Beelzebub (Gurdjieff) and the Beast (Crowley) were two of a kind.

As for the Nu Isis Lodge. As I was inducted in the first degree of Kenneth’s order, I never got to meet these people in 1973.  Ithell Colquhoun was very nice to the SOTHiS people in her book about Mathers, but we’re still not sure where in  her book, Sword of Wisdom – the Mathers picture, is. She left it to the Tate but now, apparently, it is nowhere found.

Kenneth was witty about the witch Graham Gardner and about the s0-called Scot McGregor Mathers. To me he described the BT tower as Gardner’s dick, and Centre Point as Mathers’ dick. Which one was the bigger dick?

Or was it the other way round? He was a very witty man.

Kenneth Grant: Aossic Aiwass, memories are made of this

I have very fond memories of Kenneth Grant – very fond memories indeed. Unlike quite a few of my friends, I never got expelled from his Typhonian OTO, I resigned and he was gracious enough to allow me to exit, gracefully. I was a member of his Sovereign Sanctuary.

It all came about because of this. I wasn’t interested in Indian traditions at all, until 1974 or so, when a vivid dream woke me up to stuff.  Kenneth, actually, was very knowledgeable about tha tantrik traditions. Apart from spending a great deal of time in India in the 1950s, he also contributed many articles about Hinduism to Man, Myth and Magic.

He was very sympathetic to me when in 1978  threw up a good job to visit Mahendranath (Dadaji) in Old Mehmadabad. I had corresponded with Dadaji for well over a year – I sought tantrik initiation.

In a very sympathetic conversation I had with Aossic Aiwass,  the then OHO of the Typhonian OTO, I had spelled out my vivid dream to him, and I asked him for tantrik initiation. He said he had never had tantrik initiation. Shortly after this, I got a letter from Dadaji – he had had articles published in John Spiers’ magazine Values, and John Spiers and I had exchanged adverts with each other – me in my first magazine Azoth. Dadaji asked me to send him copies of Azoth and latterly SOTHiS magazine – Jan Bailey,  David Hall and myself had just started this organ.

I felt I had to go to India and seek initiation into a tradition that suddenly appeared to be in my mind and in my heart and in my body.  Kenneth conferred a VII degree honorary initiation on Mahendranath, never to my knowledge rescinded.

I continue to have the utmost regard for Kenneth Grant – his knowledge was deep, practical and full of wisdom. He knew Dylan Thomas in the early 1950s – his books of poetry show that Sarasvati sat on his tongue. He told me, when he was writing his first Typhonian Trilogy, that these books were also informed by poetry. He said that it was important, after you had digested wisdom, that you published it and made it available. He said that when you died, and began to get back to the Light, you would read stuff in books and it would remind you who you were before.

Digestion, he said, involved excretion too, and these were books. If you failed to write what you had learned, or felt, it was the equivalent of mental constipation.

He was devoted to the goddess in all of her guises.


This picture is of Kenneth and me in 1978 in our flat in Golders Green, just round the corner from where he lived. I am missing him. He was a master of wisdom.  I venerate his memory.

Fascist Spain – it’s all such a long time ago, init?

MY FIRST VISIT TO Spain was in 1969 – I hitchhiked from Leeds to Dover, caught the ferry then hitch hiked all the way through France although the motorists thought my hair was too long, and crossed the border between France and Spain at the usual spot.

We caught the train across the border at Bayonne – in the carriage there Basque people introduced me to goatskins full of wine. They were good company and sort of understood my schoolboy French. We all got quite getrunken.

In Spain we found the going even harder than in France although a kind English couple gave us a ride over the Pyrenees and took us as far as Burgos.  This is an ancient city with soldier ants bigger than we’d ever imagined them to be and quite prepared to take on a curious 20 year old youth. Bless them.

From Burgos we were forced to take again a train in Spain to Madrid – long haired youths were obviously not considered to be worth picking up – Spain was such a poor country then anyway. My pesetas went a long long way, San Jose.

A nice young guy on the train said that Spanish wasn’t a hard language, and proceeded to give me a bit of instruction in the lingo/bhash. It’s a shame I never learnt Spanish, it seems a lot more intelligent than Esperanto, or I hope so anyway.

Wikimedia Commons image of FrancoThe Madrid underground system had just opened – so recently that it hadn’t got round to putting signs on the individual stations – we had to count the stations to get from one side of Madrid to the other. Already having given up on any chance of hitch hiking, we took the milk train down to the Costa del Sol.

Andalusia, ah Andalusia. Here our thumbs started to work again and a kind American gave us a lift all down the Costa del Sol main road. He said that he’d been down here a while ago when the coast road didn’t exist and every single town like Torremolinos and Marbella were fishing villages, pure and simple. In Marbella, I learned to my alarm about The Troubles. And so the IRA.

In his car was a Danish guy and his German girlfriend. Although Danish, the German Army had called him up and he was a draft dodger, having a lot of fun in the south of Spain.

I’d already noticed that there were a heck of a lot of different police forces in Fascist Spain – every time we needed to sleep we had schlafsacks and that and just camped towards the beach. One morning we woke up to find three members of the tricorn wearing the uniforms of the Guardia Civil pointing their machine guns at us. As their motto is “Everything for the Fatherland”, we took their advice about sleeping on the beach and decamped rapido.

To Malaga and to the Morocco ferry. Queuing up I made some observations to my fellow travellers in English about my impressions of Fascist Spain and the number of police forces there seemed to be. In those days, speaking against the  regime could get you thrown in gaol. A very nice Spanish gentleman, must have been in his mid 1930s, turned round to us and said: “Please keep your voices down. Spain is getting better all the time, but it is still unwise to speak out about the regime.”

And so to Morocco – or rather to Ceuta, a Spanish enclave on the Moroccan coast and no doubt as irritating to the Moroccans as Gibraltar is to the Spanish. Here we fell in with some conscripts in the Spanish Army, and just the way you can do when you are 20, we discovered they were paid the equivalent of one shilling a day. A month.

My Moroccan adventures don’t matter too much here – but I found myself once again on the ferry going back to Spain  with some very foolish companions – a couple of very young American up and coming tennis players, who had stuffed the barrels of their rackets with cannabis. The journey was rough and the bows of the ferry caused many a passenger to vomit like there was no tomorrow and go green. I was OK – I don’t mind turbulent seas. What was really fantastic was passing through a vast shoal of tuna fish.

The customs house in Malaga was staffed with hundreds of  officials and I did fear for them. But they somehow got through customs and we had to say goodbye to each other. I was going to fly for the first time from Malaga Airport. I had a ticket, but no money at all, only enough to buy a lemon in the old town. My flight wasn’t going to happen for a day, and I hadn’t realised there was something called airport tax you had to pay.  There was a member of the Guardia Civil in the airport, and for one brief moment I contemplated nicking his pistol and shooting myself in the head. But a kindly English girl took pity on my and paid my airport tax so I could fly back to Blighty.