Seasons of the Witch

Francisco Goya-El_Aquelarre Witches Sabbath)1798
Francisco Goya-El_Aquelarre (Witches Sabbath) 1798

The figure of the witch has haunted many an artists work, from the strange and disturbing phantasmagorias of Albrecht Durer and Hans Baldung Grien at the time when the Early Modern witch trials were sweeping across large swathes of Europe to the feminist re-envisionings of Leonora Carrington, Leonor Fini and Alison Blickle.

The archetypal image of the witch created in the Early Modern period is of a women, alternatively a hideous crone or a beautiful temptress, engaging in nocturnal flights upon enchanted broomsticks or diabolical animals to attend Sabbaths presided over by the Devil in animal form, where they participate in sexual orgies and blood rites. This delirious but potent fantasy contributed to the hysteria that resulted in around 50,000 executions between 1424 to 1785. Even after the witch craze abated she lingered in art as a femme fatale in the 19th Century, only to be reborn and recast in spectacular fashion in the 20th and 21st Centuries as an unlikely heroine and High Priestess of a new religion.

Below is a brief tour of pictorial representations across the centuries from the 16th to the 21st that highlights the spell that the witch and her craft has cast across cultures and periods.

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Thoth

Thoth Tarot-Lady Frieda Harris with instruction by Aleister Crowley 1938-1943 published 1969

One of the most notorious of Tarot decks due to its association with the infamous Aleister Crowley, the Thoth Tarot was designed and painted by Lady Frieda Harris under instruction from the Great Beast. In addition to referencing Crowley’s new religion of Thelema,  (Do what you wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will), Lady Harris includes elements of Goethe’s theory of colour and Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy in the execution of the project.

In 1937 Crowley had asked his friend the playwright Clifford Bax to find an artist to realise his longstanding ambition of re-designing the Tarot deck along Thelemic lines After two artists failed to show Bax invited Lady Frieda, then aged 60, to met Crowley. Third time around indeed proved to be a charm and they worked together on the deck for 5 years. Crowley initiated Lady Frieda into his mystical order the A∴A∴ and Lady Frieda Harris persuaded Crowley to break somewhat with Tarot tradition in the Thoth deck. Surprisingly Crowley seemed to develop a genuine affection for Harris and she in turn was devoted to him up to and during his last difficult days in a Hastings boarding house.

Crowley re-named several of the Major Arcana from the Rider-Waite-Smith, for instance Trump XI Strength becomes Lust and Trump XX Judgement becomes The Æon. Naturally the Hebrew letter and astrological correspondences are changed because no two occultists have ever agreed on such matters. The astrological significance of the Minor Arcana is very comprehensively outlined in the accompanying Book of Thoth written by Crowley.

 

Austin Osman Spare’s Tarot

Austin Osman Spare-Inquirer Card-Tarot Deck c 1906
Austin Osman Spare-Inquirer Card-Tarot Deck c 1906

Most of the occult artist Austin Osman Spare‘s experiments in cartomancy were believed to be forever lost (including the ‘Surrealist Racing Forecast Card’ pack, a real shame as this covers a number of my favourite things: art, cards, the occult and gambling), however in 2013 a hitherto unknown pack of 79 hand painted Tarot cards was verified as being the work of the art nouveau enfant terrible.

Influences from the Tarot of Marseilles and the Rider-Waite-Smith decks are evident in the design, however the idiosyncratic verve and  boldly brilliant use of line could only have been executed by the skillful hand and wild imagination of Austin Osman Spare.

 

 

Glossolalia

Alexandra Levasseur
Alexandra Levasseur

I will have you
You will be speaking in tongues
Crying out harsh barbaric invocations
Shouting entreaties to forgotten deities
Babbling away in rapturous ecstasy
Before this night is over but you better
Believe that this is only the beginning

For I will have you
Over and over and yet once again
Every element of these arcane rituals
Have to be satisfied in every aspect
The right word said in the right place
At the right time this is the right action
That will cause the doors to open wide

I will have you
I will take you there to a place you
Can only vaguely remember in dreams
A world of mesmerising fascinations
Inevitably leading to intoxicating danger
Nothing is true nothing is real everything
Shapeshifts you only have your self to lose.

A Ritual Assignation

Alison-Blickle
Alison-Blickle

You’re looking out of the window
seeing all the opportunities spread
before you like a heavenly banquet
and you’re wondering whether
to dare and make that leap.
Well do you believe in what I say?
Have you faith in my vision?
Will you be ready intime
for our long delayed assignation
to give yourself completely
Over to the dream I dreamt for you?
Falling is such bliss, those seconds
Of recall, clarity, then impact.

You’re trembling like a fine-veined
leaf in a lashing storm, come,
no need to be nervous though
it does initially add to the frisson.
Still I understand your concern,
you’re unsure whether I will be
cruel, tender, or even distracted.
You gather from some of my actions
that I can be wanton and crude
or maybe wayward and perverse.
However if you want the exaltation,
(and I know that’s your desire,
I’ve been around, I know
a thing or two and you wouldn’t
be the first that I have turned
inside out and tied up in knots)
then you must relax and let
what is going to happen, happen;
whether I serve you like royalty
or you find freedom in sacrifice,
the ecstasy of divine debasement,
a savage joy in effacing and erasing
the burdensome wearying self.
I will let you play your games
until it is time for the ritual
to commence in earnest,
revealing the solemn mystery,
contained in your unveiled body;
both the map and the territory:
the exit and the gateway.