Some “Spare” Links and the “Witchcraft Aesthetic”

¶ The University of Heidelberg has scanned and put online a 1916 issue of Form, a small British art magazine containing numerous illustrations by Austin Osman Spare, noted English occultist and artist. Here is a sample.

¶ If I were visiting Milan, I would visit this Tarot painter’s studio and drop a few euros. Maybe I could afford one card.

His shop boasts an endless variety of cards, making it a treasure trove for lovers of the occult in the Italian North. Some decks depict the major and minor arcana (tarot’s “face card” and “number card” equivalents) in Cubist shapes. Others portray them as animals or even flowers, inspired by vintage science books. One deck reimagines traditional iconography with old maps that Menegazzi finds at Milanese flea markets. 

¶ First, I am always suspicious when a news article introduces someone as “controversial,” as in this case: “the controversial Azealia Banks.” It’s like a way of saying, “We don’t like her, but we are pretending to be objective.”

According to the article, the performer outed herself as a  Brujeria practitioner, in other words, folk witchcraft.

The video shows Banks getting ready to clean out her closet in which she has practiced Brujeria for the past three years. After seeing the closet caked in chicken blood, feathers, and some black stuff we can’t figure out, the Internet of course went wild. But why was everyone so shocked to learn that Banks had been sacrificing chickens? The artist, as problematic as she may be, has admitted to practicing — specifically Brujeria —in the past.

But then the writer, one Samantha Mercado, gets off onto the subtlties of the “witchcraft aesthetic” and female empowerment.

There are plenty of pop culture trends that feed feminism, but the mainstreaming of witchcraft has proved both empowering and problematic. The word and idea of a witch were traditionally associated with demonizing women — images of an ugly outcast cackling over a cauldron or a green Margaret Hamilton come to mind. But recently, the image and connotation associated with witches has become more and more empowering — witches are being portrayed as heroines instead of demons.

With this new, all-empowering image of a witch comes a slew of trends pandering to a “witch aesthetic.” From blogs to high-end clothing lines, it seems like everyone is trying to cash in on the witch trend, and while the increased popularity of witchcraft has helped the practice grow, it makes you wonder if everyone appropriating it understands its origins.

Oh shit, the secret is out. Witches don’t go door to door asking if you have heard the word of Cernunnos. No, we let the “aesthetic” reel in the innocent seekers. We’re happy to see young ladies dressed up in “sexy witch” costumes. Next thing, Pandemonaeon albums, festivals, polyamory, and arguments over “traditional.” (With the guys, it’s tricker. But not much.)

Really, art beats dogma every time.

Pentagram Pizza: Toppings Begone!

pentagrampizzaThe Roman Catholic Church in the United States reports a shortage of exorcists, says a British newspaper.

In lengthy interviews with The Telegraph, the two exorcists discuss how the increase in drug and pornography addiction, failure of the mental healthcare system and a rise in popularity of “pagan activities”, such as using a Ouija board to summon the dead, are among the factors contributing to the huge increase in demand for the Rite.

¶ The title says it: “Why It’s So Damn Difficult to Discuss Occult Topics in the Media.” Of course, if “occult” means hidden, then “media” means the opposite of hidden, and there could just be some tension there.

¶ “Grounding” or “earthing” is not just a magical exercise: it can actually heal your body when done with real earth. Science!

Demons! Swastikas!! Witches in Ireland!!!

¶ The Washington Post runs a non-snarky article about a psychiatrist who thinks that demons are real.

So began an unlikely partnership. For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work.

Bonus: a satanic witch priestess.

¶ How did the swastika go from worldwide good luck symbol to a symbol of evil. Richard Smoley explains:

And yet not so long ago it was a symbol of blessings and good fortune. Even its name is derived from Sanskrit roots meaning “it is good.” (Other names given to it include the cross patteé, the gammadion, the hakenkreuz or hooked cross, and the fylfot.) Today, in a somewhat truncated form, it still occupies a place in the official symbol of the Theosophical Society.

The peculiar fate of the swastika has a great deal to teach about the nature and meaning of symbols — and about the uses to which they can be put.

A lightweight article from Ireland on Witchcraft. Something to read before you apply more sunscreen. “Janet” is, of course, Janet Farrar.

A Top Nazi’s Library, “Violent” Heathens, and a Middle Eastern “Old Religion”

himmler and hitler

Heinrich Himmler (front, leather coat) chats with der Führer.

According to the Daily Mail (dial skepticism appropriately) a collection of occult books1)Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle. owned by Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler has been found in the Czech Republic.

The bulk of the collection was called the ‘Witches Library’ and concentrated on witches and their persecution in medieval Germany.

One of Himmler’s quack theories was that the Roman Catholic Church tried to destroy the German race through witch hunts.

UPDATE, March 31, 2016: The Wild Hunt reports that the news story quoted above resulted from a misunderstanding, and that there were no “occult books,” just some Masonic books.

• At Religion Dispatches, thoughts on how the History Channel series The Vikings both “subverts and supports the violent heathen trope” (my italics).

In one scene, the Christian Prince Aethelwulf, who earlier in the series said that “it is just not possible to imagine a world in which there is both one god and several,” unleashed genocidal fury on a settlement of unarmed, pagan [sic], Viking2)“Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice. farmers who had been promised protection by the king. Yet,3)No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it! the show includes vestiges of the violent heathen trope that’s been a staple of how dominant religious groups have portrayed minority religious groups throughout history.

• According to this article, some Kurds, who are various in conflict with Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Iranians, are going back to the Old Religion, that of Zoroaster. (It has hung in some places all these centuries since the Arab Muslims rolled over Persia in the 8th century.)

The small, ancient religion of Zoroastrianism is being revived in northern Iraq. Followers say locals should join because it’s a truly Kurdish belief. Others say the revival is a reaction to extremist Islam.

One of the smallest and oldest religions in the world is experiencing a revival in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The religion has deep Kurdish roots – it was founded by Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, who was born in the Kurdish part of Iran and the religion’s sacred book, the Avesta, was written in an ancient language from which the Kurdish language derives. However this century it is estimated that there are only around 190,000 believers in the world – as Islam became the dominant religion in the region during the 7th century, Zoroastrianism more or less disappeared.

So does this count as a “Native Faith” movement, like Rodnoverie, etc., but not polytheistic?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle.
2. “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice.
3. No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it!

Call for Papers: The Occult Imagination in Britain

Christine Ferguson and Andrew Radford, both of the University of Glasgow, seek contributors for an edited collection, The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947.

We seek proposals for an essay collection entitled The Occult Imagination in Britain, 1875-1947, to be proposed to Ashgate’s new Among the Victorians and the Modernists series. Focusing on the development, popular diffusion, and international networks of British occulture between 1875-1947, the interdisciplinary volume will capitalize on the recent surge of scholarly interest in the late Victorian occult revival by tracing the development of its central and residual manifestations through the fin de siècle and two world wars. We aim to challenge the polarization of Victorian and modernist occult art and practice into discrete expressions of either a nostalgic reaction to the crisis of faith or a radical desire for the new. The collection will also map the affinities between popular and elite varieties of occultism in this period, recognizing the degree to which esoteric activities and texts relied on and borrowed from the exoteric sphere.

Further details at this link.

Links: Exorcists, Vampires, Shamans, and the New Gothic

Rutina Wesley and Kristin Bauer van Straten in “True Blood.”

So many links, so little time to comment. Pick one, two, or three of these to read. Mix and match. Fill your plate. Come back for more.

Sexy vampires threaten Catholic youth, thus encouraging — you guessed it — “dabbling.”

• Witchy craft: I am building these.

• Another interesting article on the revival of Siberian shamanism.

• “An Ordinary Girl Born into a Family of Witches” — in the famtrad sense. So of course she wants to be “normal,” because this is not Young Adult fantasy fiction. Or maybe it is.

• An interview with Victoria Nelson, author of The Secret Life of Puppets,  on Gothicka, vampire heroes, human gods, and the “new supernatural.” That happens to be the title of her new book.

The Greatest “Occult” Movies

220px-Holy_Mountain

Still need to see this.

From Ultraculture, a list of nine great movies about the occult and magick — and nine more.

But since there are “honorable mentions” as well, you get more!

Obvious choices (Rosemary’s BabyThe Exorcist), as well as films that present the subject in an exploitative manner (such as those of Dario Argento) have been left out… as have the Harry Potter movies, because that’s just too easy.

The list starts with Häxen: Witchcraft through the Ages (1922), and I have to say that that was one I quit half way through because I was falling asleep. Maybe Twenties audiences were different. But there is a YouTube video linked, and you can see for yourself.

They have Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet, but give his Orpheus just an honorable mention. I would have reversed them!

Lots of Kenneth Anger, of course.

The Occluded Life of an “Occult” Photographer

William Mortensen touching up a photo portrait of the actress Jean Harlow. Other photos NSFW.

If a phrase like “famous early twentieth century California photographer” makes you think of Edward Weston or Ansel Adams, then you probably have not heard of William Mortensen, known “as ‘the Antichrist’ by Ansel Adams, a tag that stuck after Anton LaVey dedicated The Satanic Bible to him. Primarily known as a Hollywood portrait artist, he developed a myriad of pre-Photoshop special effects to craft grotesque, erotic, and mystical images.”

Publicizing a new book of his photos, Vice offers “The Grotesque Eroticism of William Mortensen’s Lost Photography.”

His life remained a mystery. I had absorbed A. D. Coleman’s essay about Mortensen’s relegation to the backwater of photo history by the Newhalls, Adams and the rest, and, thus understood why there was little mention of him in photo history books. I’d even tracked down the booklet printed by Deborah Irmas and The Los Angeles Center for Creative Photography, who had put together the show that I’d seen. However, when I found any biographical information, the sources repeated the same story line, which came from the brief autobiographical section in Mortensen’s book The Command To Look. Beyond those slim facts there seemed to be nothing more. William Mortensen appeared to be more myth than man.

Would we say that Chicago photographer and occult historian Rik Garrett is somewhat in his lineage?

Passing of Margot Adler—Will NPR Admit She was Wiccan?

For those of you not on Facebook, this was the announcement of Margot Adler’s passing, posted by her son, Alex.

Old friends, long time fans, today at 4am Margot breathed easily for the first time in two weeks. Later today, at 10:30am she was pronounced deceased.

Her condition had been getting much worse over the weeks and months and the brain radiation (which she had a treatment of scheduled today, tomorrow, and wednesday) was thought to help her double vision, since it was the cause.

Well, Margot and John both won’t be seeing double anymore, but they will be seeing each other for the rest of time.

With much love and difficulty do I write this,

Her son, Alex

I told M. about it as she was listening to National Public Radio’s  “All Things Considered,” and her first question was why NPR had not mentioned it, given Margot’s many years as a reporter there.  Maybe they cannot move that fast. When they do, do you think that they will mention that she was composing hymns to the Olympian deities as a teenager, let alone that she was a Gardnerian Witch?

I suspect that they will be more comfortable with her politics and status as a “Red-diaper Baby” than with her religious views. Link to the Facebook tribute page.

UPDATE: At least the NPR blog mentioned it, but putting it after the facts that she was Alfred Adler’s grand-daughter (though she never met him) and that she wrote about vampires: “Margot had a long-standing interest in the occult.”

Ah, “the occult.”

UPDATE 2: You will find more updates on news media treatments of Margot’s passing in the comments.

New York Occult Revival (2)

In February I linked to a description of a “magickal revival” in New York City. People say these things are cyclical.

Now Joe “Vampires” Laycock weighs in: “Why Hipsters May Be Perfect Source for Brooklyn Occult Revival,” a sort of Durkheimian look at the same idea.

More than their magical services, magicians offer their clients the chance to interact with a fascinating personality. Exotic objects and spiritual narratives help clients to feel that they are receiving personalized attention from metaphysical forces, directed at them through the magician.

In this sense, it is not surprising that Brooklyn—commonly associated with Hipsters—is producing compelling magicians. The Hipster’s project of cloaking oneself in an air of aloof mystery and repurposing strange objects into emblems of one’s personal brand is excellent preparation for the magician’s craft.

Or does magick bloom in difficult economic time or times of psychic shifts?