The Dancing Serpents of Magick and Art
I believe we are all born both witch and artist.
Of course the degree in which these things are inherent varies. Environment, social structure and life experience all invariably affect the development and expression of both our witch and our creative selves.
I remember reading the Bardo for someone once and being intrigued about the innate practicality in its guidance about incarnation; choosing a climate and a culture where spiritual development is possible to the greatest degree, somewhere for instance where cold and illness and poverty don’t distract from spiritual progression.
Magick,although a practical form of spirituality is a little different, as our magickal skills are often honed by difficulties, trauma, hunger and need.
The uncomfortable things are often what enhance our commitment and ability.
The isolated and unhappy child is more inclined to nurture their witch self than the happy and outgoing one and the hungry and the abused person will have the power of ‘need’ to act like added rocket fuel to their incantations and spell work.
So I was an unhappy and isolated child who always believed in magic. I liked books and words because they were gateways, and though creative I wasn’t particularly artistic, partially because I was told I wasn’t and out of fear, I tended to listen and adhere to what I was told.
However as I was raised within a rigidly Catholic environment my strange spirituality was able to slip through the gaps. And as I was often alone I could make my fairy houses when I played outside and read the stories and myths that made more sense to me than the bible tales that seemed more about human beings behaviour than the behaviour of ‘other’, of spirits and elementals and creatures of myth.
Church going was a different matter as I never consciously believed which is perhaps rather precocious for a child but I didn’t. Sin and good and evil didn’t fit into my world view and the Catholic God didn’t represent any reality that I could relate to, although the highly gilded and ritualised mass with its structure and splendour and group synchronised behaviour had a sort of logic.
I actually integrated part of this into a childhood game I played with my sister called ‘worship’ which perhaps says a lot about why I didnt tend to have friends as a kid!
Anyway, when I was seven I was given a book voucher which I used to buy a subscription to Man Myth and Magick and it was like coming home; a place I’d previously thought existed only in my reality and then discovered had a literal history and an active present.
From that point, in exponential stages I made commitments to my magickal path, although for a long time it was according to the rules of others be they Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley or other stalwarts of the era.
The animism was always there, the acknowledgement of nature and every aspect of reality being infused with ‘life’ but initially I couldn’t find reference points, so by the time I was 15 when I decided to start making, I was following my inner witch and the dictates of the spirit of the bones I was working with to not simply create or channel a spiritually fulfilled object, but also to start realising my own magickal potentialities.
I won’t deny that working with bones and remnants of the dead and found objects was very much part of the drug using, traveller type society that I moved within but for me it was different and went beyond my countercultural groups artistic expression.
I did work like this whilst I lived in New Zealand but when I left and started living in cities and became thoroughly enmeshed in my addictions this creativity faded and though I continued with my magickal practice of rituals, palmistry ,spell-craft and such like, somehow it wasn’t a ‘living practice. It’s as if the art, the crafting was an element that was an alchemical catalyst of sorts
Aged thirty I returned to my bones, my fetishes and my sculptures. I cleaned up from drugs and started living in a relatively stable environment in England, in Somerset.
I travelled a lot and read a lot and started seeing parallels with my art within other cultures. I would go into the ethnography section of museums and look not at the objects but at the arrangement of components, and I’d relate to construction and purpose, and most importantly to their ‘feel’
I always knew that bones had a natural life force but over time I realised that they also actually contained memory; memory of experiences and underlying that, memory of the species.
A human skull being used in rituals is yes, symbolic, but it is also a gateway that takes us beyond the human individual experience to something deeper – a unified magickal consciousness and a primal essence.
Animal bones and parts are the same although domesticated animals are often muddied with their human association and discarded objects hold shadows of the past as seen through the lense of our own influences and experiences.
At one stage I was fascinated by glass. I’d worked in rituals with old glass floats or witch balls, and I loved the idea that glass was a liquid, so would both capture and release memories and emotions more easily. I started a series of ritualised art works using broken car window glass from car accidents and the 2011 (I think that date is right) riots in London. I worked on releasing the raw emotions captured in the glass, integrating it with objects from nature, and transforming it.
Powerful and at times tricky but very beautiful and rewarding work.
Insecurity about my creative process meant that outside my own exploratory magickal work I focused on different sorts of transformative expression- sure I’d make my own charms and fetishes and do experimental private work but outside of that I focused on organising magickal art events of the work of others.
I used a Hakim Bey type understanding of creating an energetic space, woven together with magick and active magickal expression in art and around that time that I slowly, slowly started to realise how entwined magick and art, when dancing together as they should, was a huge source of power.
With this in mind I intensified my focus research and experimentation on this twinning.
One thing that has long been a mainstay of my practice was the use of crazing or camouflage techniques. Many years ago I used to paint a friend’s army vehicles in camouflage colours and the process intrigued me. It seemed so magickal, making the invisible visible and the seen become unseen, so I integrated it into my practice and used its premise as a base for many of my pieces.
About 20 years later I discovered an newspaper article about Austin Osman Spare’s writing on the power of camouflage which he submitted to the war office in WW2 as it something he thought was vital to the war effort because of its ability to deceive and confuse, which I found both fascinating and validating.
I also found automatic writing conceptually intriguing but limited,as the written language is a learned construct, even when the conscious mind is switched off and seemed to me to deviate from the true potentiality of the process.
Working with words can so easily feel restrained, restrained by so many things such as by education,linguistic ability and cultural expression so I embarked upon a series of experiments working with clay, automatically channelling into it and allying it with various magickal workings.
I was focused on working with Lilith at that time and I would flow with those workings, into the clay, then embellish those pieces with various bones and dead animal remnants. One particular piece I started feeding with blood and I ended up in a helluva mess with that, and spent a long time both sorting it out and trying to reference what I had done when my head was switched off so to speak. I eventually found reference in African tradition to something called a Baku…spirits and god forms fixed into a fetish that fed with blood, with life force, grew in power…like a magickal child that grew up to be an unruly magickal teenager…not something that can be banished but rather needs to integrated into ones life and of course, worked with differently.
Probably the greatest sources of reference for what I do has been from South East Asian, Naga and Bengali Folk animist fetishes, all of which I started reading about many years ago partially because I loved the aesthetics of it, but mainly because they made sense to me.
Francis Huxley in his book ‘Affable Savages’ (such an awful title) said that a small tribe in South America that he worked with believed that ‘the Gods only tolerate man with his violent and destructive ways because we create beautiful things for him’, and we do, and the gods in return give us everything we need to get things done.
We just need to listen and use our vision to perceive what is around us, not our sight, our vision.
I very rarely plan what I make and if I do it is simply an intention that I place in my head then I rummage amongst my various ingredients that I’m always picking up in my walks and ramblings, things that I am given by the gods so to speak which I clean up, and then put aside until they’re needed.
I clear my head then do what I’m told, simply enough.
As time has passed I’ve got more slick, no doubt about that, I’ve evolved in my use of base materials and techniques but my way of working is still the same.I wont deny though that developed skills have perhaps threatened to take away some of my edge, and I’m wary that the application of learned technique takes over from the rawness of the automatic trance produced work.
I look back at older art pieces and though clumsy in some respect, they’re incredibly strong.
At one stage, as all witches and magicians do, I decided to create a divination deck. I was struggling with creating the specific atu, square pegs and round holes comes to mind, then I clicked that I was following the rules of divination that though founded in long tradition, were not what my magic and my art needed to express, even though I’d been working with the tarot myself for 40 odd years.
I eventually decided to let myself be guided as to how the deck needed to be presented and from that point on, everything flowed.
That occasion was a revelation for me in that I realised that my artistic process was a magickal language and as I channel each piece, experience each making, I am given a little part of that language. I create, wonder what I’ve made, and eventually I’ll find out, piece by piece.
Fast track it is not!
About ten years ago my mother died and as someone who has no known family history (I’m from the ultimate nuclear family, an adopted mother of mixed race unknown heritage, an absentee father and a sister who lived in another country) and the loss of my mother naturally led to a lot of analysis about who I was. Part of this seeking came through being open to doing things differently and taking up on various opportunities in completely different social and creative spheres.
I participated in a workshop with an incredible artist called Ron Athey that utilised many of the techniques which I had integrated into my magickal work; glossolalia, automatic writing, a ouji board, and such like but all under the auspices of art rather than a specific spiritually directed practice.
It was fascinating seeing a group of artists create a space, charge it, do the performance, then leave the space.
Just like magick although admittedly there weren’t some of the more sensible shutting down/closing the space techniques so the after effects were messy for many of the participants and incredibly intense .
I think participating in Athey’s Gifts of the Spirit really hammered home to me that the line between art and magick is so fine as to be non existent; well that’s how I termed it at the time but that was ten years ago and my perspective has evolved since then.
There is no line…it’s all fluid…art and magic dance together swapping parts, exchanging information, feeding each other.
Art has informed my mackical practice and magic has transformed me to the person I was meant to be: a witch that creates as an act of love, an act of transformation, an act of expression of self and as part of the ultimate dance.