Rosaleen Norton Documentary Film about to Release

The Witch of Kings Cross, a documentary on the life of Australian artist and witch Rosaleen Norton (1917–1979), directed by Sonia Bible, is being premiered in Paris as part of L’Estrange Festival. Often described as Australia’s “most persecuted artist,” Norton blended art and magic in a way often called “demonic,” at least in the 1950s and 1960s.

You can follow the film’s progress at its Facebook page

This was an earlier trailer for the film’s crowdfunding campaign, and you can see the Australian occult writer Nevil Drury talkiing about about her:

In 2010, The Pomegranate published an article by Drury titled “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton.” This one is not free, but you can read the abstract here, and if you know a librarian or two, maybe they can get it for you.

Influenced by a range of visionary traditions, including Kundalini Yoga, Kabbalah, medieval Goetia and the Thelemic magick of Aleister Crowley, Norton embraced a magical perspective that would today be associated with the so-called ‘Left-Hand Path’, although this term was not one she used to describe her work or philosophy. Norton’s artistic career began in the 1940s, with publication of some of her earliest occult drawings, and reached a significant milestone in 1952 when the controversial volume The Art of Rosaleen Norton – co-authored with her lover, the poet Gavin Greenlees – was released in Sydney, immediately attracting a charge of obscenity. Norton rapidly acquired a media-led reputation as the wicked ‘Witch of Kings Cross’, was vilified by journalists during the 1950s and 1960s, and was branded by many as demonic. But Norton’s magical approach was not entirely ‘dark’. Her perception that the Great God Pan provided a source of universal vitality led her to revere Nature as innately sacred, and in many ways she can be regarded as a significant forerunner of those Wiccans and Goddess worshippers from a later generation who would similarly embrace the concept of sacred ecology and seek to ‘re-sacralize’ the Earth.

You can follow the film’s progress at its Facebook page

“Where life comes out of an espresso machine.” Rosaleen Norton pops up in this short film about her neighborhood in Sydney, done in that classic mid-century style with a narrator who sounds like he stepped over from a cop show.

The Most Paleo-Pagan Tale Ever Told?

Thanks to the Witches’ Voice Facebook page and other sources, I have been hearing about an ancient Australian story, of “an ancestral creator-being transformed into the fiery volcano, Budj Bim. Almost 40,000 years later, new scientific evidence suggests this long-shared legend of the Dreaming could be much more than a myth.”

New mineral-dating measurements conducted by Australian scientists highlight the possibility that the traditional telling of Budj Bim’s origins may be an actual account of two historic volcanic eruptions that took place in the region about 37,000 years ago – which, if true, might make this the oldest story ever told on Earth.

Pretty impressive. Read the whole thing here.

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 3

As a rule, media witches are always young and female (Mercator).

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 2

“Witchcrap”: superficial journalistic treatments of Wicca, Witchcraft, and related Pagan paths.

• In The Atlantic,Young black women are leaving Christianity and embracing African witchcraft in digital covens.” Except the article discusses a convention and gets to the digital stuff later. I think the “penchant for digital religion” extends across racial boundaries

• Meanwhile, “Though it is the subtext of savagery that animates narratives around witches, white women who take up the mantle of witch magic rarely understand themselves to be engaging in Indian or savage play,” proclaims the online magazine New Inquiry.

• The Australian Catholic magazine Mercator keeping an eye on Wicca too, but the article is by Massimo Introvigne, who is a well-known scholar of new religious movements and also a Roman Catholic. “The Rise and Rise of Wicca.”

Spike groans, “Spare Me This Pagan Revival.” “Pagans are generally perverts, and not even sexy ones.”

• And from India, Swarajya magazine offers “The Religion They Want to Build,” which notes the Indo-Europeaness of much revived Western Paganism:

As is expected from the linguistic kinship among Indo-European languages, European Pagan cultures show striking similarities with various Indic indigenous traditions. For instance, among Lithuanian Neo Pagans, the notion of Damumas as a foundation of the world order is a central idea. According to Lithuanian ethnologist and Romuva ideologue Jonas Trinkunas, the word Damumas is linked etymologically to the Sanskrit dharma and the Pali Dhamma. J P Mallory, a prominent Indo-European scholar cites another linguistic parallel in a Lithuanian proverb — ‘Dievas dave dantis; Dievas duous duonoss’. The proverb translates as ‘God gave us teeth, God will give bread’. The Sanskrit equivalent of the proverb is Devas adadat datas, Devas dat dhanas.

Not so crappy. And another indication that some Hindus are realizing that they have more in common with us than with the Middle Eastern monotheisms.

Blogging Break Over, Book Stuff Ahead

I have taken a brief and unwanted break from blogging, but I hope that it is over. First the MacBook Pro that I use for writing and blogging developed a weird, possibly demonic (or daemonic) directory corruption that flummoxed even the specialists up at Voelker Research. About the same time, my desk/computer chair broke, which felt like a sign. A sign that I should just go hiking and read more novels, possibly. And ponder some vivid and meaningful dreams.

That was wonderful, but I have to give a couple of talks next week, and I needed to prepare. So there I was out on the veranda with a legal pad and a stack of books and print-outs, preparing. If I have learned anything in teaching it is that I am not as good at “winging it” as I like to think I am—unless it is a course that I have already taught ten times over.

So while I am doing that, here is an interview with Doug Ezzy about his new book, Sex, Death, and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival.

The book is both a rich ethnographic account of controversial Pagan festival and a provocative reflection on the role of emotions, symbols, and ritual in theories of religion.  The festival involves “a recreation of the Witches’ sabbat . . .  It’s R-rated, it contains adult themes, nudity and sex references”, according to Harrison — one of the festival participants I interviewed.  The theory develops what Graham Harvey and I are calling “relational theory” in the study of religion.

It is on my reading list.

And speaking of reading, expect more book reviews here over the next few weeks.

Nevil Drury 1947–2013

drury

Nevill Drury

Nevil Drury, well-known Australian writer and teacher on magical and esoteric topics, died yesterday at home of cancer and liver failure.

I had the experience of working with not long ago when he did an article for The Pomegranate: the International Journal of Pagan Studies on “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton.”

His Facebook page. His author page at Amazon.com.

A page of interviews with him from his website.

Two Important New Books in Pagan Studies

Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, edited by Kaarina Aitamurto and Scott Simpson, has now been released in hardcover. (No paperback edition appears to be coming in the near future.)

You can read the complete table of contents and see ordering information at Acumen Publishing’s website.

Also being released in June — Pop Pagans: Pagans and Popular Music, with contributions from some of the people on my blogroll, I am happy to say.

The same publishing arrangement applies, one of the reasons that my series co-editor and I said farewell to Acumen.

The Bushranger and the Witches

A quirky story has been filtering out of Australia in bits and pieces.

First came the discovery of the headless skeleton of Ned Kelly (1854–1880), the country’s most infamous bushranger (outlaw) of the 19th century, which involved DNA matching and other modern techniques.

Then his descendents appealed for whoever had the skull to bring it back.

Then comes a “self-proclaimed” (a term used to avoid libel suits) witch from New Zealand who says that she has it — “given” to her by a security guard (under what circumstances?).

This woman, Anna Hoffman, was supposedly a friend of Australia’s most famous pre-Wiccan witch and trance-artist, Rosaleen Norton of Melbourne. An Australian writer on occultism, Nevill Drury, has devoted quite a lot of time to writing about Norton. including a recent article in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, titled “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton.

Which is why I am blogging about Ned Kelly.

“The Occult Experience” of 1985

A friend pointed me to the Vimeo page where you can see The Occult Experience (95 min.), an Australian television documentary from 1985, researched and co-produced by Nevill Drury, on witchcraftandprimitivepeopleandsatanismandexorcismandallkindsofspookystuff.

Watching it was hard, because I kept turning away after encountering such portentous statements as “The search for supernatural powers continues in spite of science and technology” or that people practice “ancient Celtic traditions of nature worship.”

No one unpacks these assertions at all. Rather, they are just delivered as though they were the Final Word.

At one point, the narrator intones, “How does it feel to be a witch in the computer age?” (At the time the documentary was made, I thought my KayPro II portable personal computer was cutting-edge.)

It has its historical interest. Hey, there’s Herman Slater doing ritual in a Manhattan street. Why? You won’t learn from the film!

And at about the 20-minute mark, Alex Sanders delivers version number 1,045 of the original “I was initiated by my grandmother” story, which has been imitated so many times.

Back then, boys and girls, to be a Craft leader you had to have some special story to tell about your magical heritage or you were nobody.

And look, there is Janet Farrar taking her clothes off while chatting with her late husband, Stewart. And the paintings of Rosaleen Norton—can’t have an Australian production without those. Drury would build his later academic career on them.

Margot Adler, Olivia Robertson  . . .  so many names. But no context.

The whole film is thunderingly pretentious and yet basically content-free. You would not learn anything systematic here about the development of contemporary Paganism—which might be Satanic and which might be “primitive” and might involve “altered states of consciousness” (quick clip of Esalen), and is certainly spooky spooky or silly silly, depending on your perspective.

It make me wish that I could take those clips and arrange them into a meaningful narrative. Maybe some day someone will.

Apotropaic Magic, Size 9

I don’t know if the custom of hiding used shoes and clothing in a house under construction to ward off evil influences ever crossed the pond to North America from Britain. If you know of instances—or of people still doing it—let me know in the comments.

I first learned of this custom at an archaeology conference at the University of Southampton some years back. Archaeologists are delighted with such finds. Often they provide the only samples of ordinary people’s clothing, which otherwise would have been worn until it fell apart.

The custom apparently went to Australia with the convicts and other early settlers, however.

Convict's shirt (BBC).

A few blocks away from the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the imposing, vivid orange structure of the Hyde Park Barracks.

Built to house some 50,000 unfortunate convicts transported from the UK between 1819 and the mid-1840s, the jail was among the first substantial structures constructed in the city.

On the second floor, under the boards of a wooden staircase, workers found a striped prisoner’s shirt.

[Historian Ian] Evans rejects the idea that the shirt could have been put under the stairs by accident. Just like the Harbour Bridge shoe, he believes it was hidden for a purpose.

But if you are renovating an 18th or 19th-century building and find an old shoe under the floor, now you know why it was there—maybe. (And did this custom die out completely, and if so, why?)