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 Loreon Vigne

Loreon Vigne, priestess of Isis, who created the Isis Oasis sanctuary and retreat center at Geyserville, California, passed away last night. There are tributes on her Facebook page.

Here is an earlier post of mine about visiting Isis Oasis.

Her memoir, The Goddess Bade Me Do It, tells her story of how a young artist, jewelry designer, and art-supplies dealer in Beat-era San Francisco became a full-time priestess.

You Want “Paganistan”?

From n + 1

Build Paganistan. A floating Paganistan. “Bulletproof Coffee”? I might try that once.

In addition to seeing government as just another problem that technology can overcome, Seasteaders try to “hack” every aspect of their existence down to their self-care regimens. Many participate in health and fitness regimes like the Paleo Diet and Crossfit—lifestyles that dovetail nicely with more mainstream libertarian retro-futurism, which argues humans ought to live more like they did before their “freedom” was impinged upon by large state governments, all while enjoying the enhancements of technological innovation forged in the free market. It wasn’t just Charlie from the boat cruise who proselytized the health benefits of butter: the unofficial beverage of Ephemerisle was “Bulletproof Coffee”—black coffee with half a stick of butter mixed in—which advocates claim increases their mental acuity and helps them stay trim. The inventor of the concoction claims to have increased his IQ by twenty points and lost 100 pounds as a result of his experiments “hacking” his biology. He was at Ephemerisle, too and later, in an email, told me he’d had a great time.

Science Cannot Explain Me . . .

Sam Wo Restaurant, formerly in San Francisco’s Chinatown (Inside Scoop SF)

. . . or any other left-handed person. Are we “damaged”? Genetically different? Who knows?

When I was a student at Reed College, we often fled south to San Francisco at spring break or other times, “itching to get away from Portland, Oregon.”

And one day five Reedies squeezed into a booth at the late, legendary Sam Wo Restaurant in Chinatown, only to find that we were all left-handed. Make of that what you will.

(However, in the interest of manners, I use a knife and fork left-handed and chopsticks right-handed.)

Appeals Court Grants Partial Victory in California Chaplain Case

The Ninth Circuit Court has partly upheld the Wiccan challenge (headed by volunteer prison chaplain Patrick McCollum) to California’s “Five Faiths” policy for who gets paid prison chaplains and who does not.

Read this helpful blog post from FindLaw and ponder the question, was there a Jewish crime wave in the mid-2000s? Or are the numbers on religious affiliation in prison really unreliable?

A Goddess-Movement Video with Something Extra

One of Fred Adams’ visionary paintings on the DVD case for “Dancing with Gaia.”

First, although this is not directly about “the Goddess movement,” I want to point out the blogging that Aidan Kelly has been doing, particularly about the history of contemporary Paganism in America, at his Patheos blog, Including Paganism.

Another resource is Dancing with Gaia, a video subtitled “Earth Energy, Sacred Sexuality, the Return of the Goddess as Gaia . . . a Continuum,” produced and directed by Jo Carson (82 min.)

A number of the well-known names from the Goddess movement are in, such as the Swedish artist and anarchist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005) to name just one. So it is a valuable work.

What I found particularly interesting, however, was the large amount of 1970s- era footage of the Southern California Pagan group Feraferia, founded by the Goddess- visionary artist Fred Adams and his wife, Svetlana.

Somehow the Adamses are left out of most surveys of Goddess religion. Perhaps they were too visionary, too “cosmic”  . . . and too religious? They just did not fit the narrative—except in Carson’s case.

But what you can see is home-movie footage of Pagan ritual in the California mountains that must be some of the earliest available, as well as other footage of sites in Europe, the Mediterranean, and elsewhere.

Dancing with Gaia is available on DVD for $19.95.

Fields Books to Close on Polk Street and Move Online

The last time that I visited Fields Book Store, San Francisco’s long-time esoteric bookshop (older than the Golden Gate Bridge), was the last time that I was in the city. I can’t remember what I bought — something — and I spent a while skimming the last volume of Mircea Eliade’s journals.

Then I heard that it was closing, which was sad. But it will continue online after January 2013, says owner David Wiegleb:

So, we’ll need to pass the baton of “San Francisco’s oldest brick-and-mortar bookstore” to someone else, as it was passed to us. I think it goes next to that beatnik youngster over in North Beach, City Lights, founded in 1953 — certainly one of San Francisco’s treasures. While we hope that Fields can continue to serve you on our website for many years to come, I urge you to also support your local brick and mortar stores as well. Each time we lose one, we lose a bit more of the fabric and texture of our cities and towns. The low prices of the mega-stores — real and virtual — have a very high cost. Make your purchases consciously whenever you can.

Brief Interruption in Blogging

M. and I are traveling in Bobos in Paradise country. Yesterday I was walking up the street and a man pulled over and in a foreign accent that I could not quite place asked me how to get to Pebble Beach.

As it happened, I knew. And I don’t play golf.

Back to reality next week.

Pagan Studies Conference Timed for Pantheacon

Announcement of a new conference:

Pagans in Dialogue with the Wider World: A Pagan Studies Symposium

Friday, February 15, 2013 at San José State University (semi-concurrent with PantheaCon, February 15-18, 2013, DoubleTree Hotel, San Jose, California)

Sponsored by San José State University, Humanities Dept., Comparative Religious Studies Program. Organizers: Lee Gilmore (SJSU) & Amy Hale (St. Petersburg College)

Contemporary Paganism, in all its varieties, stands at a unique cultural and religious intersection that can provide insights for a wide range of global, social, and political subjects, beyond its own inward facing concerns.  For this symposium, we are calling for scholarly submissions that focus on Paganism’s contributions to and engagements with broader cultural and religious dialogues in an increasingly pluralist world.  These could include, but are not limited to, explorations of Paganisms’ endeavors in community, economic, media, health, legal, social justice, and institutional development work, as well as activist, applied, interdisciplinary, and interfaith work.

More generally, all submissions that critically examine Paganism(s) in relationship to categories such as religion, culture, gender, identity, authenticity, power, and ritual — among other possible frameworks — are welcome.  In addition, all papers presented at the symposium will be considered for publication in a special issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

All proposals & queries should be sent to
Deadline: September 15, 2012

More info, including submission requirements & a pdf of this call, may be found at the site.