High Glamour; Magical Clothing and Talismanic Fashion

Photo from Simon Costin Collection

Magic has always been about power. On a base level it is power over illness, impoverishment and enemies and on a higher level it is power over the elements and human nature.
The iconography and visuals associative with magic are intensely evocative and, as with religion, holds a major part of its appeal.
This strong and often iconolclast imagery holds a particularly powerful draw for the artist or craftsman in its ability to fire the imagination, and to inspire reactive work.

Until recent times creative interpretations of magic within mainstream fashion has been tentative, occurring on a subtle and subversive level and generally represented within the counter culture.
Of course fashions of the fringe dwellers often are a precursor to mainstream trends; however when it comes to anything that smells of the esoteric it has always been considered dangerous to adopt these trappings unless you were above or beyond the judgement of the masses, as the public acceptance of such beliefs could all to easily shift from fascination to accusation and condemnation.
One must also bear in mind that the higher echelons of fashion that appear in couture designs are so wildly aspirational that they only trickle down as mass produced imitations on the high street. This higher level has always been representative of an insular and rarified world, all the more so now that the fashion houses have turned corporate. Many are now owned by LMVH, a conglomerate of luxury brands set up by former Real Estate developer Bernard Arnault whose aggressive business strategies are solely focused on money and production. Thus the legendary spiritual quirks of designers such as Christian Dior who had a tarot reading before the presentations of each collection or Alexander McQueen and his fascination with witchcraft, have been degenerated and translated into a money making spin.

Talismanic jewellery on the other hand has always been openly worn, although it tends to represents the most iconic and non specific occult and magical symbolism. However jewellery is yet another aspect of fashion which can be seen to have monetarised and commercialised. Pagan and magical symbols such as the Hand of Fatima, The Tree of Life and the Protection from the Evil Eye symbol amongst others have in recent years been copied and crafted for societies elite in gold and diamonds and those designs then replicated and mass produced for high street buyers as part of a cleverly marketed trend.

So why the appropriation of magical symbolism at this particular point in time?

Occult glamour tends to be prestige orientated. The mainstream and less well heeled can affect traditional or folk magic influenced imagery but only the immensely wealthy could afford the fashionable high luxe translation of the occult and high magic. From the bohemian middle classes and the intelligentsia who were beautifully robed members of the last century’s legendary occult group The Golden Dawn, to the later parading of counter cultural heroes such as filmmaker Kenneth Anger, singer Marianne Faithful and cult author Anais Nin, they all represented people who stood apart from the proverbial ‘common man’ and for various reasons could be seen to be elevated above them.
What has been considered to be the elite has changed over time however, and money and fame rather than creative ability has become the new aspirational heights.

I personally believe that the revival of interest in occult and pagan sensibilities has many similarities to a similar phenomenon in the late Victorian era.
England at that time was geographically isolated and very ‘stand alone’ with an ambiguous relationship to other countries unless they proved themselves to be subservient. It was a time of huge and rapid expansion of power- power which was achieved by physical might via colonisation and exploitation of said colonies and intellectual strength that was demonstrated through a rapid rate of technological and scientific advancement.
Whilst the structure of society at that time could be seen to be vastly different from the present, the distribution of wealth and results of these expansions were unequally divided, as it is now.
Due to the geographical explorations of the time there was a plethora of strange and wonderful influences from various proverbial ‘sunnier climes’ that ran alongside the constant inundation of wonders of the burgeoning modern technology.
Though contradictory, human nature has an instinctive reaction of looking towards the mystical and the magical when science and reason start to dominate a society. Whether this is a way of creating a balance or perhaps an inbuilt survival technique that prevents overload, it is a historical constant that we gravitate towards things of the spirit when all around us moves in too rational and fast a manner.
Magic, Paganism and belief in the spirit world could be seen to provide hope and a semblance of power when power seems to be denied in more mundane realms.
As part of this spiritual counterbalance the intellectual and monied middle classes created groups such as The Golden Dawn and The Theosophy Society. These were not formed to talk about the latest technological advances, but to explore its anthesis; magic, myth and changes in consciousness. Often this exploration utilised techniques gleaned from upper class explorers in the Middle and Far East, who would learn foreign languages and appropriate religious and spiritual artifacts to bring back to a country hungry for sensation and the different.

The Victorians placed a huge importance on outward appearance. Superficial imagery dictated reaction, and uniforms both actual and less obvious were de rigour in that period. The trend in physiognomy could be seen to further illustrate that with its popularised judgement on the nature of an individual or race being dictated by the appearance of their face and shape of their head.
Clothing carried with it the same criterion for judgement, the upper classes had a prescribed look, as did the bohemians, the clerks and the poor.
The concept of glamour has had its interpretation vastly reinvented and redefined over time, and is a word whose true meaning revolves around magic and enchantment, a spell or woven illusion. The magical practitioners of the Victorian era were particularly quick to pick up on this, probably as they were themselves more inclined to enjoy the process of dressing up and merrily integrating play acting and dramatic reconstruction into their practice.
Witness the Golden Dawn’s use of embroidered robes, classical costumes and Egyptian headdress’, and the notorious magician Aleister Crowley, was known for using dramatic clothing and jewellery to communicate his magical presence and prowess.
All of these elaborate items of clothing that were indicative of the magickal adept were also of course, indicative of financial standing, so there was a show of power on many levels.

This reactive and in some respects subversive thinking associative with occult outerwear continued throughout the 20th century in varying degrees. Its strength of both conviction and appeal seemed to vary according to the sociological difficulties of the time; a rejection of the rational as the progress that the material and scientific advancement brings was often only of benefit to a few.

Surrealists loved radicalised clothing if the design was right, and Else Schiaparelli was on hand to bring some occult themes to the mix as the world grew darker with incoming war. By the 1960’s singers such as Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin wore clothes embroidered in occult symbolism as if to say this is the reality I choose to put my faith in, not the one with governments who grant so little value to human life and eschew the value systems of fair, decent and honest behaviour.

The 80’s saw another surge forward in occult orientated clothing and Vivienne Westwood dedicated her 1983 collection to Witchcraft.This interest however that lasted a relatively short time as there was a sharp kickback against anything occult in leaning, even if it was just clothing, with the Orkney’s satanic abuse case in 1991. The tide then very firmly turned against occult symbolism as every newspaper made sure that imagery associative to magic, witchcraft and paganism was very much NOT going to bring in revenue.

There is an interesting theory used in marketing called The Diffusion of Innovators S Curve. For something to move from being a trend to a norm it requires the power of influencers to carry a concept or idea from an individual, offbeat and fringe expression to something of a more mainstream appeal.
Now many of the names I’ve used above such as Janis Joplin and Aleister Crowley, had major power to influence but they didn’t have the perfect storm of factors that has been fundamental in the creation of today’s fashion occult revival. Of course there was the constant of a background of uncomfortable government related activity, imbalanced distribution of wealth, and charismatic alternative figure-heads, but they had neither social media nor our present corporate culture which would have put the legendary and very ruthless East India Trading Company to shame.

Shifting into the present time and narrowing our focus to the specific of the present resurgence of magickal and pagan symbolism within the fashion industry, I will start with a few definitions.
Paganism is a non Christian, non monotheist, earth orientated belief system and magic is an action to create and effect change, often utilising esoteric symbolism and knowledge. Neither of these are ostensibly under the auspices of an established religion, which is of an advantage in utilisation of their symbolism for commercial purposes. However recently The Satanic Temple made a stand about the appropriation of imagery that is considered necessary and specific to their practice.
I believe action such as The Satanic Temple has taken with the series Sabrina by suing Netflix and Warner Brothers for breach of copyright with their use of the Temple’s figurehead Baphomet/Goat of Mendes statue, will possibly have a knock on effect on the use of varied symbolism within the creative arts. However by and large the sensationalism of complaints by groups of practitioners only serves to highlight a product and this create further sales.

The rumblings of an esoteric revival as demonstrated within the world of fashion, as mentioned, have been present for some time. As it previously occurred however before social networking became ubiquitous and assumed such a place of power, the ideology never achieved as strong a position in the eye of the public as it presently has.
Nowadays paganism and magic are being used as an expression of rebellion against the irrational rational; a material world gone wrong.
There are witch work-outs, political witches, transgender witches, groups to curse Donald Trump and the ubiquitous teenage witch has returned full force except she has evolved since Buffy and is more angry and less racially or gender defined.

The late Alexander McQueen was fascinated by magic and witchcraft and its symbolism and traced his family tree back to the witches of Salem. His interests were translated into his fashion designs and his successor Sarah Burton, in an interview with Vogue 2018 describes McQueen’s influences as being darkly pagan. Exploring his fabulous oeuvre which is obviously animist inspired, it is also very tribal with strong influences from belief systems such as African Yoruba.

Gareth Pugh Spring ‘15 collection referenced paganism to the nth degree although whether he actually did this because of his own beliefs is doubtful. As Pugh himself said ‘I wanted it of the earth rather than landed from a spaceship’ so being privy to inspirational images courtesy of a friend who was owner and founder of the Museum of British Folklore he achieved the effect he required though translation of the cultural artifacts and imagery rather than his own affiliations or spiritual persuasions.

Gareth Pugh '15. Photo from Simon Costin Collection

Padstow Hobby Horst Dance-Photo from Simon Costin Collection

All this demonstrates that there has been something building within the fashion industry for a very long while and 2018-19 collections show this more than ever before.
Gucci’s high end advertising campaign gives an example of this from another angle, using magical reference not just in its clothing, but as a medium to sell said clothing, with a very glossy campaign referencing Tarot and palmistry readings.
We must bear in mind though, that Gucci is yet another multi-national, fashion megalith whose bread and butter is translations of the activities of the counter culture and it would have been highly remiss of them to ignore one so representative of the glamour that magick applied to luxe can create.

Sales for tarot cards in 2016 were the highest in 50 years and increasing all the time according to Araujo, Director of *US Games Systems, the main seller of this esoteric divination system, and statistics such as this are something that the trend forecasters hired by all Fashion companies are well aware of.

In November’s *Vogue 2018’s article on Sarah Burton from Alexander McQueen and *Porter Winter 2018 interview with Creative Director of Chloe, Natasha Ramsey -Levi, both women liberally scatter the word ‘magic’. They intersperse this with phrases such as ‘strong femininity, which if one was cynical, could be seen as using appealing soundbites aimed at their target market of independent, high income women.

Away from these aforementioned major labels which perhaps have the more corporate approach, it’s interesting to look at the iconoclast and relatively more grass roots company Vinandomi whose Spring/Summer Collection ‘19 is titled ‘Thought The New Religion’. This collection makes frequent reference in its patterning and makeup to pentagrams (both upright and reversed) alongside a fashion campaign that is emphatic in its emphasis on sustainability, eco innovations and social impact and describe themselves as multi media artists rather than fashion designers.

I contacted them after I saw stills from their collection at London Fashion Week and questioned them on their use of this symbolism to which they replied,
‘We’re living in depressive times- I think people are struggling to find a direction and a way out of this scary global explosion’ and ‘We are using the pentagram to symbolise and suggest a new religion, an eco religion. We think that thought is the ‘new religion’ A religion where people worship the planet by thinking and caring. Eco and sustainable practices form part of this new religion. In order for the planet to continue to sustain life everyone needs to think think think about their actions every day. Thought is the new religion.’

As a pagan myself I’ve found the present hyper-focus on the occult disconcerting and wondered how much of the marketing of said trend has any substance to it, and how much is superficiality.

I contacted Simon Costin, an internationally known and respected art director and designer who been involved in the fashion industry for many years, working with many of its luminaries including Tim Walker, Hermes, Lanvin, Maison Martin Margiela and Alexander McQueen.
Costin founded the British Museum of Folklore and now owns the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Boscastle. The Museum of Witchcraft was originally founded in 1951 by Cecil Williamson, who at one stage was assisted in his running of the collection by one of the considered founders of modern witchcraft, Gerald Gardener.

Simon was very gracious but also very clear on what he saw as commercialism of fashion as opposed to a ritual pagan or magical artistic expression. In the light of this present resurgence I suggested that surely his two museums which are obvious reference points on the subject, were being utilised more by the fashion community. In Vogue Magazine’s interview with Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton it is said that ‘before now she’s taken her team to Cornwall and Shetland to search out tradition folklore and ancient crafts…and this time they’re off to the West Country to research prehistoric standing stones ley lines and lore’
Costin said that aside from the occasional fashion student from a local college there had been no appointments or upsurge of interest from the mainstream fashion community; in fact no fashion designers or their assistants have ever visited the museum!
This was a bit of a shock to me given that these two museums are a major resource on the subject, and I started to feel that that perhaps the fashion industry was just riding the coattails (or creating the coattails that are being ridden) of a present trend.
Simon said , ‘An interest in the occult seems to resurface when the times we live in are dark and uncertain and people look to the esoteric for answers,’ and the present interest in the subject as ‘anything other than designers reinterpreting pagan symbols and using them in the structure of their garments or using them as applied decoration because they have a small degree of edgy currency at the moment. Fashion has always been a mirror to contemporary cultural interests and its no surprise to see ‘pagan’ motifs being appropriated.’

I know many people such as myself who are pagan and/or witches and are also involved within the fashion industry. Most of us have been around long enough to have seen various cycles of trends of belief, so we can be pragmatic about this huge reemergence of paganism in life, art and fashion (well their motifs and surface approach anyway).This pragmatism can be difficult to adopt though, if one’s spirituality operates within a system that adheres to silence as part of its premise.
Some manage to put any personal spiritual concerns aside and ride the wave to make some money on what could perhaps be a temporary fad, some enjoy being part of the in crowd for a change, and others just keep quiet and wait till the phase has run its course.
I’d tend to agree that using pagan and magical symbolism in commercial areas such as fashion is a surface level affectation but I also view this as being symptomatic of something deeper; an indication of the switching roles of what constitutes the outsider and what constitutes the norm. Perhaps this symbolism is representative of empowerment for the little people and lends itself well to being used as banner, much as the anonymous mask did for protesters, albeit with more dogma attached.
The fact that financial megaliths such as the fashion industry have got in on the act is a sign that they see that this symbolism smacks of cool, anarchy and individuality, and this may well have the knock on effect of rendering perception of these beliefs to be malleable, visual superficialities.
So the pagan and magical revival as interpreted through fashion is not a first time appearance or expression, although it has never before occurred with as strong a hold on the public’s consciousness as at present.
In Victorian England with its celebration of the white, upper-middle male class trumpeting intellectual and scientific progress whilst the bricks their empire were built on were already crumbling, belief in magic and paganism represented hope and rebellion. This time around, whilst there are many many similarities between the eras, there is one huge difference, and that is the ability of social networking and the now corporate fashion world to reduce anything of meaning, to a passing commercial trend.

Thanks to Simon Costin, Vinandomi, Marc Aitken

Image Credits (in order)

Vintage Postcard. Image Courtesy of Simon Costin

Gareth Pugh ‘15. Image courtesy of Simon Costin

Vintage Post card of Padstow ‘Oss. Image courtesy of Simon Costin

Vinandomi Image by Marc Aitken

Vinandomi Image by Marc Aitken

Vinandomi Image by Marc Aitken

Dion Fortune inspired photo shoot by Marc Aitken. Image by Charlotte Rodgers

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The Gas Man, The Spirit House and The Cold and Odiferous Artist

A9A87B60-260D-41E3-AD78-3F00B48F6526Eight days ago I came back from from the most wonderful and inspirational trip to Moscow. Not my usual hot weather break from the U.K. winter and the minus 20 degrees weather was admittedly a challenge, but I rallied to the occasion spurred on by the cultural stimulus and the joy of something so different and new.
I’d been away from home for several weeks before I actually left so I was cognisant that my house might be feeling a little neglected but was optimistic that all would be well. Staggering into the house at two in the morning after hours on a plane and several buses, I found that my gas cylinders had run out and my frenetic ‘two in the morning and I’ve just got in the door and need heat and a shower now’ stabbing of the boiler booster switch caused the appliance to come shuddering to a dramatic and noisy halt.
I managed to time this crisis with one of the worst bouts of British English weather in many years, and in true Brit tradition, anything that goes either direction away from damp grey, causes the infrastructure to come grinding to a halt.
Needless to say this means neither gas deliveries or boiler maintenance men were able to visit as the roads are now impassable ice rinks blocked by various cars that gave it a go, failed and had to be abandoned.
So I have no cooking facilities, hot water or heat and am smelly and rather miserable whilst writing this, bundled in a vast quantity of clothing, and surrounded by various borrowed heating implements.
What I do have however, is art equipment which means my escape route in times of break down of mundane reality is GO!
Some time ago I said that I was going to focus my blogs on my art work for a while, so now I’ve had my ‘I smell and am miserable and god this country is a mess’ moan out of the way, that is what I’m going to do.
My art work tends to be focused on the creation of spirit houses; three dimensional enclosures that are worlds for spirits to play in. I made places for fairies and invisible creatures to play in when I was an unhappy and lonely child, and as a much happier adult I’ve continued to do so.
For a long time I thought that I was primarily colour orientated but I eventually realised I’m more enthused by textures and layers which, when I apply to my own work, I call ‘crusting’.
The more dense an item, the more places there are for invisible entities to play in, keeping them happy and distracting them from mischief.
If I was going to get psychoanalytical I would say that these worlds also a place for me to get lost in, like a meditation device. Looking at work of the proverbial outsider artist, especially those who are considered to be mentally ill, the heavy overlay and use of repetition is pretty standard. Although I’m very much a functioning member of society, I’d be the first to admit I’ve had my moments of instability and occasionally can still catch a glimpse of that dark madness and depression lurking in a small, far corner of my being.
I love to use discarded and forgotten items in my work. I also prefer to work with remnants of the dead and am very competent at basic preservation of the roadkill and dead creatures that I find.
In my reality, everything has memory. Something that was used carries a ‘feel’, a fingerprint of how it was utilised and perceived, just as something that once lived, though their animating force has departed, still carries a character or shadow of its past inhabitant.
If I slow down I become aware of that and feel that weaving these memories into a sculpture or object or spirit house is a way of celebrating, acknowledging and remembering what was, and realising its potential as a foundation for what can be.
I never plan my work. At the most I will have a basic premise or starting object, then will let intuition and a personal innate sense of balance to guide me.
This isn’t necessarily the best way to create, as it can become expression operating around trial, error and often dramatic mistakes, but it seems to be the way that’s right for me.
If I had been trained in art, a large element of this trial and error would be eliminated, mainly around the use of materials such as paint and solvents. When I look at my very early pieces however, where I didn’t have a clue what I was doing on a practical level, they were often very powerful, as just as in ordinary life, practical concerns can sometimes dominate and even destroy spiritual and creative ones.
There have of course been watershed moments of learning when I’ve discovered a new epoxy or paint, where whole new potentialities have appeared. My pieces have definitely become more slick and longer lasting over the years and I’d be the last to deny the joy of discovering a well stocked art/craft/hardware shop, and whilst I admit there is a huge satisfaction in having the right tools to fulfil my vision, I take great care not to let technical obsessions and details overpower channeled inspiration.
So there you are. A few words on my creative process.
Now I’m going to my studio to work on my tiny worlds where the absence of the gas man or the lack of a shower, means nothing at all.

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Magick: Taboo, Destruction, Healing and Transformation

253c96e9-1db6-4c6e-bfb3-74d5af135833Magick: Taboo, Destruction, Healing and Transformation.

Magic is something one is born with and is inherent to all members of our species. However, as with all traits, it proves to be stronger and more resilient in some than in others.
I was born witch and as with all human internal predilections, outward expression differs with the surrounding environment and how that environment is experienced and interpreted.
Creativity and Magick are the dancing serpents of our internal DNA. Some of these snakes have different markings and some simply prove to be more powerful and resilient creatures. Often they are dismissed along with other proverbial ‘childish things’ and gradually fades to a memory that eventually reappears in slower and older years.
As a child I was gifted with a crazy itinerant background which ensured I was often alone with little to distract from encouraging the fertilisation and growth of these magickal genetic markers.
I devoured books, particularly fairy tales and folk lore. A religious background meant I was also exposed to the biblical lore which contained stories of transformation, magic, monsters and wonder.
I always believed in magic and always believed that I was a witch. I remember my mother saying that initially she thought and hoped that it was phase that I would grow out of, but I never did.
I would employ my sister to join me in a games of ‘worship’ where I would construct temples with offering bowls of rice and flowers, and would build homes in the grass and local woodlands of wherever I was living, for fairies.
Aged seven I used a book voucher I had been given as a birthday present to buy a subscription for ‘Man Myth and Magic’. This proved to be very short lived subscription as my father became terribly upset at the magazine’s content (which included images of naked Alexandrian rituals) and he forced the newsagent to refund my money. Despite only getting to see a few issues it still had an enormous impact on me and years later I found myself constructing sigils using Austin Osman Spare’s technique which I’d retained memory of reading about in those wonderful heady pages.
Everything I did in my childhood served to educate and reinforce this inner witch. Even the (over) exposure I had when young to Catholicism, was assimilated and transformed to inform my witch self about the power of glamour and the power of belief.
With puberty came a time for conscious choice, a step beyond child-like games of wonder, enthusiastic and random accumulation of information.
I continued to read voraciously and still have copies of Richard Cavendish’s ‘The Black Arts’ and Gareth Knight’s ‘A History of White Magic’, which, sad to say were taken out and never returned to Wellington Public Library when I was eleven. It was around that time I also decided on a path of divination which I realised was an integral part of any witches life and I started studying and practicing palmistry, something I continue to do to this day. However I realised very early on that working with palms was a direct contact magickal science that operated differently than the gateways, portals, journeys and subconscious triggers that I needed to enhance my magickal practice, so I started working with the tarot to fulfil that criteria.
My first pack was by Ryder Waite, then at 16 I briefly worked with the Thoth tarot until I discovered the Tony Willis deck which was the perfect fit for me in that we danced together, always learning and neither of us becoming dominant.
At some point I’d come across a teaching that said in magick one must choose the path of love, wisdom or power. I believe now that this is rubbish as all paths are about power and the first magickal lesson is learning how to deal with it.This insight came much later though, so I followed my youthful misguided premise and decided walk the path of knowledge. Consequently in my mid teens I started working with Golden Dawn Rituals and the teachings of Crowley in what I felt was a way to validate me intellectually as well as assisting me to evolve spiritually. Already I was mixing within a male dominated community and the work of Aleister Crowley appeared to have a greater foothold and kudos than the more ‘basic’ witchcraft, which I naturally gravitated towards.
As I moved more and more into countercultural wild traveller environment, the magick also became wilder and less structured. The music became industrial, spirituality was subverted and witchcraft seeped into ritual as we imbibed hallucinogens, fucked and cavorted on beaches and in rainforests and fused magic and anarchy.
Chaos magick per se hadn’t become a known thing at that time in New Zealand, but the 80’s social and political unrest, the drugs, the graphic novels and the wildness of my peers seemed to tap us in to the collective consciousness that produced Chaos Magick in other parts of the world.
I was sixteen when I created my witchname and personal sigil and at the same age I started consciously working with bones, road kill and remnants of death.
I was messed up with drugs and had an eating disorder but magick was still a huge and integral part of my life.
Practising divination on young people who were going to die was a sobering experience that caused me to back off from my palmistry and predominantly focus on tarot as there was a protective impersonal aspect about it, and the cards themselves act as a intermediary between diviner and querent.
New Zealand as a country is a strange land and more recently I’ve wondered if working in ritual context in an undisciplined way with the wild energy of place, perhaps had something to do with the high casualty rate of my peers.
Later when I lived in Australia, Asia and England I met up with tricky earth energies but nothing like my time in New Zealand. I think the combination of undisciplined teen energy and the spirit of this youthful and strange land was particularly explosive. In retrospect I see that this was another indication of our age and phase of development; choosing a specific practice that generates the greatest power for that time. This may well be done unconsciously and perhaps is one of the many initiatory thresholds we pass through in our lifetime; dicing with inebriants, death, crazy hormones and madness and seeing how committed you are to continuing your practice when everything falls apart.
At the time these spiritual directions seemed natural to follow, but in retrospect I can see them as necessarily developmental and very intrinsic to the times.
My twenties proved to be a very messy era that was exponentially littered with drugs, miscarriages, homelessness and general unhappiness.
My magic operated at a very basic, survival level. I used sigils (successfully) to get off legal charges, manifest money to eat and to buy drugs. I also did divinations in pubs as a means to buy cigarettes and drinks so I learned to introduce a measure of cold readings into my spreads for strangers as it wasn’t appropriate to give in-depth insights in such circumstances.
As my life became more chaotic I found that my magic became more distant. In part this may be because I started living in bigger cities where I no longer had a garden or access to nature but mainly I believe it was because my spirit was shrivelling as I was living at a base survival level.
I spent several years in rehab and dry houses and as the drugs washed out of my system I slowly began to reconnect my levels of self and began to heal.
My first step was gardening and then choosing a physical discipline which would enable me integrate these fractured selves. I chose yoga, a physical and spiritual love affair that remains constant steadfast and strong in my life.
In the beginning of Maya Daren’s The Divine Horsemen she quotes an old Haitian proverb, ‘Great Gods do not ride little horses’ and if we want to work with gods and spirits we need to be STRONG!
Yoga gave me access to physical strength and flexibility, a sense of the joy of being within and working with my body. Though of course I had come across Crowley’s work with yoga before (and eventually I actually trained as a yoga teacher in the Vivekanada school, Vivekanada being one of Crowley’s teachers) it wasn’t until I actually practiced fully I realised the core power of the practice lay in working at one with your body and its ability.
Though my tarot and palmistry had been constants through my dodgy years, I needed more. I started to explore other practical ritual systems as I realised that I wouldn’t be whole until I properly fed my witch self.
I explored new age philosophies which simply enough, didnt work for me. As with my experiences of Catholicism I realised there were valuable things to be learned such as the power of drumming, dance and control of language and vocalisation, and I also learned to switch off my judgement as to what ‘hardcore’ was, and that every spiritual path is open to destructive power dynamics in groups.
I continued my experimenting and became aware that my inability to be unable to recognise spirits or god forms by name or gender rather than by feel, was something that could be worked with rather than fought as I had previously done. I needed to operate at a basic level and build up slowly, exploring my vulnerabilities and changing my perceptions of what constituted strength.
I started creating fetishes again and realised that is, was, and always will be the strongest manifestation of my inherent witch, so I looked at exploring traditions that used such techniques.
Thus I researched Santeria, Voodoo, Traditional and Sabbatic Craft.
I refused to kill as it went against what my inherent gentleness, a trait which had been challenged at points in my life and consequently I had decided this aspect of me was something I wanted to acknowledge and keep. Some traditions that resonated with me, I would not take final initiatory steps,having a core knowledge that the god forms I work with would honour my acting through my intensity of belief rather than of a prescribed and implanted system .
As I had been left terribly damaged by the life I had lived, I used my magickal explorations as part of my healing.
I worked with godforms that were outsiders and constructs of the fallen such as Lilith, as a way of exploring my own alienation, then peeled away those societal judgements to find the core of both them and myself.
I worked with my menstrual and veinous blood to learn about my cycles and the way they ruled my relationships with my magickal guides, and to ascertain how these spirits and guides reacted differently to different types of blood.Having had hep c for many years at that point made my blood work even more relevant as traditionally good spirits only gravitate towards fresh and beautiful offerings, whereupon the ‘bad’ spirits gravitate towards the tainted, the rotten- so if I looked at things with this definition in mind what were the reactions to spirit and godforms to receiving my tainted blood?
I also experimented with sex (something I had never done before, as abuse, years of prostitution and rape had made me a passive participant in sex acts) as sexuality is simply enough an expression of self and to know my self I needed to know my sexuality and its power.
I set up magickal groups and worked with group energies, and constantly explored creatively.
One incredibly powerful magickal tool that I started using in my teens and returned to in my thirties was a mirror. I always used older mirrors as these are mercury or silver backed and I prefer to use one that has an oak surround. Paschal Beverley Randolph utilised mirrors in his sexual magickal work, Robert Cochran also mentions them and there is countless mention globally in folk magic texts of spirit work with mirrors as well as a form of mirror work used in yoga called Maya yoga (Maya translated into magic in this respect). My primary use of this tool wasn’t for divination but for separating subjective and objective selves and stripping back layers to find aspects of me that were inherited from family, aspects that went beyond gender, ancestral lineage and eventually came to the heart of the matter in its accessing the shared universal self. However I also used it in correlation with sex magick, divination and ritual work.
In my early forties my world turned upside down as I entered menopause and my mother died. Both of these things challenged my spirituality and entered me into a more insular sphere of experience and interaction with the spirit world.
I became involved with left hand path Tantric practice which eventually led to me to folk tantra as the underlying philiposohy that resonated most with me.
Art became my main magical form of communication and communion and working on a earth centred level helped me translate the new phase in my life.
Death of a mother challenges everything about spirituality and being physically present in the process of losing the being that brought me into this world, caused a major analysis of my part in this reality, something that was exacerbated by losing my bleeding and fertile self.
Another thing which caused a major revaluation of my spirituality has been my being cured of my hep c, something which I had had for nearly 30 years and precipitated many of my magickal blood workings and also influenced the way I related to the deities and the spirits that I worked with.
On one level there was a huge relief and the moving away from shame and ‘the divine punishment for indecent living’ as Keith Harding said, but on another there is the awareness that the illness that created the bond you had with certain god forms was gone and the nature of this relationship has changed completely. In some belief systems your disease makes you at one with the god, so what happens when the illness goes? In my experience there is a sense of loss and loneliness, akin from being expelled from the symbiotic hive that one was once a part of.
So all of these things created a sense of dislocation that required major reoriention. Quietly working with remnants of death in my art and listening to the voices of the memories that lay within these things has helped me to anchor and reassemble.
My art work with bones, natural objects and remnants of death is akin to learning a new language and each assemblage or fetish gives me a key, that once deciphered creates a greater understanding of this new tongue.
Over this time I became aware that I have never been a group person and much of my working within a group or tradition had been about a search for my people and a need for validation within a like minded community, rather than the need for the strength that comes from a group magickal working.
Of course there is no. power surge quite like plugging into communion with one’s gods and spirits and group rituals can intensify this feeling to the nth degree.
I mentioned earlier that I believe the first magickal lesson really is power and how to use it, and when I have taught or mentored one of the first things I do is recommend a reading list on cults. This isnt just to recognise an unhealthy power dynamic within a group structure but also to recognise personal predilections to follow or to gain control.
I am not a follower but I also do not like the concept of being a leader as it removes sense of responsibility from members of the group and can cause groups to stagnate if there is a static and fixed leadership. Progression needs change and challenge.
Groups drain me, in the material plane with their dramas and politics, and on other planes with my tendency to give out energy and use myself as a battery. Whilst I was going through my period of reassembling I needed to step back from group work as I found it eroding me, and often, by nature, I would absorb kick back from badly structured or messy workings.
I do like to play though, so over the years experimental magick has been a large part of my approach, I learnt a lot from this and love the excitement of the explorations. There should be a great joy in magick and when I connect I can feel like a small child, naughty and revelling in the plugged in sensation. O I’m well aware of the serious aspect of magick but the punishment and kickbacks are way to reminiscent of established religion and in my heart I feel that when you appreciate the birthright we have been gifted in and plug in to the power of everything, it should be FUN!
Creation of egregores through events and groups and online magickal workings with over 1000 participants were just a few of the things I undertook and loved doing but found very draining afterwards.
As I became older these post ritual fall outs took longer to recover from and post menopause/post my mothers death I needed to focus and transform and use all my energy to do that.
When I have gone through these ‘back to basics’ moment I often give away my magical equipment, work on my physical strength and health, have a daily yoga practice, garden, and focus on my art. I also have times when I do a daily LBR of the pentagram which is invariably shifts things into right focus for me.
Over the years people have asked me to define my practice and give myself a label. For some time I emphasised the fact that I am a magickal practitioner as I did (and still do) think that this is an important aspect of my spirituality; I practice and live my magick. I also defined myself as a non denominational and gradually there emerged the all encompassing grassroots title ‘animist’, however I believe all this is covered by the simple word ‘witch’.
My recognition of self as a witch is and always has been non negotiable, it is how it is manifested that has changed, and much of this hasn’t been to do with how I work with my spirits and god forms but how I interact with people.
Magic has always been about transformation be it on the deepest spiritual, physiological and emotional level or on the necessary mundane levels such as acquisition of material objects, money or power or for healing revenge or protection.
This of course reflects normal life on the material plane, and the two threads necessarily entwine, act and react- like the DNA strand itself.
As my life has shifted and changed, my practice has changed but there was a constantly present core that grew in strength and solidity.
I despise the idea of a post menopausal and older magickal woman being considered to be a crone; bitter, shrivelled, physically frail and repellant with their only strength lying in power acquired through wisdom. I think this is an antiquated and cliched perception. In Papua New Guinea post menopausal women are considered to be honorary men and perform initiation rites where they reenact young men’s birth albeit without the original tainting by female blood. In the Western world there is perhaps a similar view but less honour associated (except in some Goddess orientated groups), which is akin to saying if we are not able to bear children, and contribute to the baking of cakes of light, we have no value as a woman…I mean come on!
Whilst the crone concept does have some validity in its concept of knowledge and power acquired through time, I think this is not a gender specific phenomenon. Personally I don’t believe that the end of menstruation brings the end of femininity and magickal sexuality, it simply brings about its change.
Over the last ten years I have lost my blood, my mother and many of my magickal mentors, but I have finally learned the strength and power of my inner witch who stands proud and fully integrated within me.

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Winter Is The Time When Words Rule

 

97f036df-82f9-410a-8bc8-a0aa0e1bd020I always wanted to write. Working with words was something that I felt born to do. This core belief was never goal orientated, nor did it revolve around publication of books or plays or stories. It was simply, a perpetual, inborn knowledge of who and what I was.
Amidst the childhood dreams of becoming an archaeologist or astronaut or pathologist was the constant of loving to write.
As a child I read constantly and would lose myself in the words of others. I found it horribly difficult to communicate with people and felt that as someone who stood on the outside, perhaps I had a more peripheral awareness of life; like a spectator in a top tier of a stadium with no interference or distraction.
I had a high castle view, and it was my duty to record what I saw.
As I grew older I experimented with the shapes and patterns and structures of words, exploring their malleability and how much I could twist and manipulate them.
I wrote poetry and graphic novels, sci-fi stories and songs. I would nonsense free form associate strings of words, and play with automatic writing techniques. Sometimes I would listen to assorted compilation albums and write in time to the music, translating the different rhythms and tempos.
I kept diaries, not so much to record events, but as a discipline, a way of capturing words that conveyed the feel of the time.
As I grew older I found my imagination lost its shine and became overwhelmed by issues and darkness. My writing became caught in a repetitive loop of self pity and self destructiveness; an articulated battle against suicide. Ideas were overwhelmed by feeling, turning the sparks to sludge.
I stopped using my writing to explore tunnels and possibilities and the words instead became tumbleweed on a dark, flat, monotonous landscape.
I never really finished battling with my demons but I reached a point of compromise. I emerged from this war, battered and like a child that found everything new and exciting, albeit very frightening.
I started writing in the most structured way possible. The process became all about sturdy building blocks; bricks to convert fantastical thoughts into sensible non fiction.
I taught myself to write book, music and event reviews, revelling in the learning process and the safety of the structure.
Something was missing however and a part of me wanted to fly; to walk away from the rules and channel all the strangeness into a ‘something’, so I once again started to create art works from bones and the waste products of society.
I would write, all form and order and structure, then throw all those rules out the window when I created an accompanying sculpture.
When I had my first book published I thought that my life would change, but it seemed to make little difference.
I kept writing but somehow the words didn’t hold as much power and joy for me.
O I still loved words, but I rebelled against then. I wanted colour and adventure, I was fed up with rules and regulations, I wanted to switch off my head.
So I surrounded myself with beads and bones and the rubbish of others, and made sculptures.
On occasion I would meet a creative companion, someone who wanted to play. We would throw words like hunks of coloured play-doh at walls to see what patterns could be made; we could add music and light shows to sentences and phrases and perhaps a naked dancer wearing an atavistic mask would run across our alphabet splattered coloured paper.
However these collaborative word rain slicks were random things, and I wanted a constant colour pop, so I now keep the words rumbling as a background white noise, and focus on creating art. Except in winter. Winter is the time when words rule.

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Creativity is a Comely, but Harsh Mistress

33AD33A0-F9E2-4DD9-AF73-FAF8ABB9D063I was recently alerted to a news clip about an artist who was poisoned by the mussel shells that she had been using for years in her sculptures.
She was suffering from heavy mental poisoning as shells and bones,and particularly mussel shells, absorb toxins from their environment.
This woman’s work was stunning, and sad to say I wasn’t surprised by the fact that nature is now so contaminated with mankind’s poisons. What also intrigued me about the article was the fact that even with the knowledge that her materials were making her horrible ill, the artist struggled to finish the piece that she was working on using these toxic shells.
As an untrained artist who works with natural products I’m very much affiliated to the trial and error mode of working.
I’ve had more than a few occasions when I’ve become terribly sick; often only becoming aware that something was amiss when my short term memory was affected as aching muscles and immune system related problems were something I would confuse with the hep C which I then had.
However even when my health deteriorated to the point where I’ve been hospitalised, I would come home and continue to work with the same materials.
I’m a fast study as to the cause of what makes me ill, and all the examples I’ve given were from years ago, although whether I’ve been fast enough remains to be seen in the long term. In the case mentioned above I wasn’t using a good enough mask to deal with solvents that I was using. In other instances I was inadvertently working with animals that had been poisoned, and on another occasion I became ill after close contact with the gases from the decomposition of a badger.
However I kept on making.
Now I never had been able to understand patriotism and being willing to die for one’s country. I’ve also never been able to understand those who refuse to let go of their faith even when under threat of abuse, torture or death.
Maybe the creation of art impassions the same sort of non negotiable necessary fanaticism as love of country or unswerving faith?
Lead from paint is considered to be a major contributor to the deaths of Caravaggio, Goya and perhaps Van Gogh but if they had realised its toxicity, would they have stopped using those paints?
On one hand when you’re young and caught up in a creative frenzy its easy to think yourself invincible and get careless but as one ages even though more care may be taken, the thought of stopping using a favourite material is an anathema.
There is a quote I paraphrase way too much, but I’m going to use it yet again. It’s from Francis Huxley’s rather unfortunately named book “Affable Savages’ where he talks of a South American tribe who believed that the gods only tolerate men, with their violent and destructive ways, because we create beautiful things for them.
I completely believe this, and will continue to try and create beautiful things for the gods because that is what I love to do and it completes me.
Creativity is a rewarding, but sometimes harsh mistress and she can have very, very sharp teeth.

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Creative Expression-Necessary Action

F88D0D62-345D-465D-86DC-7C7AAFA78DB3My blog has always been a bit of an overly personalised ramble and I’ve recently decided to make it more specific to my art and spirituality (though I’m sure the occasional piece of introspection will creep in, as this the nature of ‘me’).
This has been in the back of my mind for some time, and as winter for me is more about words and writing as an expression of my art, it seemed the perfect time to start on this. The decisive catalyst came on one of my rare visits to my hairdresser where I was asked whether my somewhat chequered past was what triggered my need to be an artist.
I believe I’ve always been an artist. This isn’t an academic essay otherwise there would probably now be a need to have an actual definition of what constitutes an artist. I think John Cale said it was simply an unnecessary creative action, so for instance a nail technician could be considered an artist.
I can see where Cale is coming from, but I tend to see art as a very necessary creative expression. Whether the end result is seen to be a frivolity or an essential, the act of expressing must occur otherwise the creator feels unfulfilled, incomplete and bereft.
In this light it could be seen as an aspect of spirituality; if the urge is unacknowledged the person or artist in question suffers. The act of creation is an act of self completion.
Of course I’m talking from my own personal experience here.
There have been times when I’ve written out my depression and exorcised something from deep inside myself that was making me terribly unhappy. I think there is nestled somewhere in these blogs at least one piece of writing where I was deeply unhappy to the point of being suicidal, and the act of writing it down, writing it out, brought me out of my depressive spiral.
Other times when I’ve been dragging around my dark clouds, my black dogs and my mean reds, and I switched off my head and started working on a sculpture or creature, everything has cleared as I’ve channelled into the process of ‘making’.
I’m not a premeditated and structured writer or artist. Sure I write or create with occasional direction or with a key focus in mind, but for me it is about flow. I open myself up and out it comes. Like a possession of sorts.
Of course this can lead to hit and miss results and can sometimes alienate readers and viewers whilst I get caught in a loop or maze until a reconciliation or relief is achieved, but that is how I work and what works for me.
As a child I was introverted,intelligent, odd and solitary- creative yes, artistic no.
My father was very good at drawing, as was my sister who followed her muse from early childhood, and my mother was a trained musician who walked away from it and fell into her mind rather than translated herself through art.
I could write and I was clever, and from puberty I was primarily, fucked up.
I continuously wrote through those messed up years, and on occasion I made strange creatures with bones and feathers, but it wasn’t until early forties when I was curating my first exhibition that I realised that this was who I was supposed to be, and where I was supposed to be.
Some years later, after my mother died, I went through a long period of emotional pain with much analysis of what life was actually about.
I decided it was creativity; creative acts to balance out the destructivity which our race perpetuates.
For some this comes through having children, for others it is gardening or singing or building shrines, and for me it is making things from words and making sculptures from the dead, the discarded and the forgotten.
Necessary action.

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Age is Natural Progression

DA0067CA-7937-4C89-AD16-BECAEE35189EI long ago became used to my loss of conventional beauty as I became older, although I am still constantly entertained, surprised and occasionally horrified by ongoing age related physical manifestations. A few days of not enough sleep, unhealthy food, and too much stress will generally result  in my being greeted in the morning by an unfortunate and ravaged reflection.
However I’m not writing about the physical aspects of ageing, nor the psychological and emotional adjustments that need to be made to cope with them.
Those who read this blog have probably noticed there is a lot about my past written here. Things I did in my days of active drug use and written portraits of those who had an impact on me or died in their youth, perhaps convey the impression that the past is the place I am more comfortable living in because things were always ‘happening’, albeit in a painful and crazy way.
I work with patterns, in my art and to a degree in my life. Sometimes I look at things in retrospect to try and gain an insight into the present, and sometimes I get lost in those patterns for a while until I find a place of clarity.
When I was younger I wrote lists of goals and dreams and desires and now I feel the need to again write things down and re-evaluate where I’m at. It seems so many people and parts of my life have dropped away recently due to the natural process of entropy (rather than through mad and disturbed action), and my needs, wants and values have dramatically changed.
I no longer put onus on sexual relationships to provide meaning in my life and to tell the truth what little sexual confidence I ever had, has disappeared with my looks, although of course I now have more confidence in other parts of my life and being.
So friendships and my own independence, creativity and strength have been my relationship focus for many years now.
However there has been this falling way that I previously mentioned and while that is the nature of existence, it is disconcerting and creates an intense awareness of how short life is.
I’m aware of a greater need to exercise my mind and body to keep them strong, and have also noticed that as time passes so much more quickly, patterns of sameness become engrained and a proverbial rut isn’t noticed for so much longer.
Always a giver I have done some sort of ‘service’ within the community since my early teens. Working with the elderly, assisting in refugee camps and homeless hostels…the list goes on and on until ten years ago or so when I drifted out of this role. I have no children, my rescue resident animal companions grew old and died and it seemed irresponsible to get more as I travel so much, and work became my priority,  so a selfishness of sorts gradually took over my life.
I realised that as I have became older giving became more orientated around the material because it takes less time. I give via direct debit, donate to funding campaigns and sign online petitions but there is not the commitment that comes from direct contact.
Some of this perhaps may also be the time lost through social networking and dicking around on my smart phone (two hours a day plus, and that is not purely for work) but a lot of it is about time being so important it is easier to give money than make a sacrifice of minutes or hours.
Even my travelling has become truncated- more geared towards the fast sensational experience rather than the intense cultural and social submersion which I experienced when I was younger.
Not being on anti depressants has made me more aware but I also realise in that Catch 22 way, you’d have to be crazy not to be depressed in this world where humanity seem to have reached the peak of destructiveness and stupidity. I’m cognisant of course that this realisation may well be to do with age, insight and learned knowledge as I’m pretty sure there was an archaic Greek gentleman or two who made the same observations about mankind.
So today I will make a list. A list of necessary change and progression- time is precious and I want to use and appreciate it for as long as possible, rather than allow it to drift or be taken away from me.

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