Kellar. Thurston. Carter. These names are forgotten to us, but once they motivated throngs of people to attend their mystical performances of occult hoodoo and magic. Their posters are models of the seductive appeal, with their bold names and strange images of impossible creatures. The prominence of the name in these posters is far from accidental—only after years of painstaking labor rising up through the ranks might a magician become one of the select handful whose name alone could draw crowds.
Harry Kellar was called the “Dean of American Magicians” and one of his main illusions was the “Levitation of Princess Karnack,” which trick he pilfered from a rival magician by bribing a member of the other guy’s theater staff. He also had a trick that involved decapitating his own head, which would then levitate over the stage.
Howard Thurston (it does sound more alluring without the “Howard,” doesn’t it?) was a partner of Kellar’s, a master of tricks involving playing cards. You can see that one of the posters says “THURSTON: KELLAR’S SUCCESSOR.” Thurston eventually did become the best-known magician in America.
Charles Joseph Carter perfected the classic “sawing a woman in half” illusion and also had an especially macabre trick in which his shrouded body would vanish just as it dropped from the end of a hangman’s noose.
Some of you might remember a diverting 2001 novel called Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold, a thriller, somewhat like Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, about a fictionalized version of Carter.
The haunting began on a quiet summer’s evening, in August 1977, at the home of single-parent Peggy Hodgson and her four children in the north London borough of Enfield. The first sign that something strange had happened came around bedtime when shuffling and banging sounds were heard by Peggy’s two daughters Margaret (13) and Janet (11) in their bedroom. Peggy thought her children were acting up, and went upstairs to tell them to get to sleep. She entered the girls’ bedroom to see both of them were in their beds staring at the wardrobe and chest of drawers. When Peggy entered the room, the shuffling noise came from behind her. She turned to see a chest of drawers move away from the wall. Thinking it a joke, Peggy chastised the girls for playing tricks. Both Margaret and Janet said they had not done anything. Peggy pushed the drawers back against the wall. The shuffling sound came again, and the drawers moved away from the wall and quickly towards Peggy. This time she could not move them back. Banging was then heard on the wall and throughout the house. Peggy took the girls downstairs where the thumping and banging continued.
Terrified, Peggy took Margaret, Janet, Johnny (10) and Billy (7) to the home of her next door neighbors, Vic and Peggy Nottingham. Vic, a builder, decided to investigate and entered the house where he heard loud banging from different parts of the building, always moving, never in one place, as he later said:
“I went in there and I couldn’t make out these noises—there was a knocking on the wall, in the bedroom, on the ceiling. I was beginning to get a bit frightened.”
Unsure what to do, Peggy called the police thinking it was all a malicious hoax. However, during an interview with WPC Carolyn Heeps things began to get weird as a chair was witnessed by Heeps and the family levitating and moving across the room. Heeps gave a sworn affidavit confirming that “A large armchair moved, unassisted, 4 ft across the floor.” She checked the chair for possible wires or any devices that could have made it move. She found none. The police left stating the incident was not a police matter and were unable to do anything to help.
Where’s Scooby-Doo when you need him? The Hodgson children.
The banging and strange incidents continued. Peggy had hardly slept and was deeply worried for her children—but no one appeared to be offering any real help. She therefore called the Daily Mirror who sent a reporter and a photographer to the house in Enfield. They set up in the living room but, after waiting several hours, nothing happened. Then, as they decided to leave, chaos broke out: LEGO bricks and marbles flew unaided through the air and were hurled around the room. Photographer Graham Morris took pictures but when developed none showed clearly what he, his colleague and the family had witnessed.
Events escalated and concerned for the family, the Daily Mirror called the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) to investigate the case.
Maurice Grosse was an inventor and successful business who had recently joined the SPR. He had served as an engineer in the Royal Artillery during the war and had gone on to produce a variety of highly successful inventions—perhaps the most famous being his rotating advertising signs. A quiet, quizzical man with a very practical outlook, Grosse was sent by the SPR to investigate the claims. He was skeptical at first, but was soon convinced that the strange events at the house in Enfield were caused by a poltergeist focussed on eleven-year-old Janet Hodgson.
A ‘possessed’ Janet Hodgson with Maurice Grosse.
Over the next 18 months, Grosse together with writer and parapsychologist Guy Lyon Playfair witnessed nearly 2,000 different “paranormal” incidents—from flying objects, levitation, items spontaneously combusting, to the most chilling of all: Janet projecting a “demonic” voice of the ghost of deceased former tenant Bill Wilkins, who could “talk” through Janet for hours at a time.
Most skeptics claim the children were responsible for the paranormal activity in the house—a claim which is troubling in itself as its suggests on one level that the experiences of children are not valid, or at best not to be believed. Moreover, it does seem unlikely that Janet and Margaret were able to sustain the level of “poltergeist activity” and “possession” for over eighteen months—a feat most adults would have found difficult if not impossible. The cause of the events has never been satisfactorily explained.
Since 1977, the Enfield poltergeist has been the subject of much scrutiny—most being skeptical of events—though those who witnessed and experienced the strange paranormal activity claim the events were real, as Janet Hodgson said in the documentary Interview with a Poltergesit in 2007:
“I know from my own experience that it was real. It lived off me, off my energy. Call me mad or a prankster if you like. Those events did happen. The poltergeist was with me—and I feel in a sense that he always will be.”
This is an extremely well-made and balanced documentary about the events in Enfield called Interview with a Poltergeist, in which all of the main players were interviewed—Janet and Margaret Hodgson, Maurice Grosse, Guy Playfair as well as doctors, members of the SPR and the resident skeptic, who generalizes rather than rebuts the examples given.
The story has inspired various motion pictures, TV dramas and most recently SKY TV’s superb three-part series The Enfield Haunting with Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson and Matthew Macfadyen, which I do recommend, details here.
“Sometimes you have to lose your mind to gain your soul”: a magazine ad for America Eats Its Young
One of the most enigmatic aspects of Funkadelic’s career is the group’s short-lived association with the Process Church of the Final Judgment. The occult organization, which provided the liner notes to Funkadelic’s third and fourth albums, achieved notoriety after Ed Sanders devoted a chapter to it in The Family, tying the Process to Charles Manson. The Process sued Sanders’ publisher and succeeded in having the offending chapter removed from subsequent editions of The Family, but the lawsuit seems only to have intensified suspicions that the Process was hiding something about its relationship with Manson.
So not everyone thought the Process was groovy in 1972. Critic Robert Christgau slammed Funkadelic for their association with the Process in his review of America Eats Its Young:
[Funkadelic’s] racial hostility is much preferable to the brotherhood bromides of that other Detroit label, but their taste in white people is suspect: it’s one thing to put down those who “picket this and protest that” from their “semi-first-class seat,” another to let the Process Church of the Final Judgment provide liner notes on two successive albums. I overlooked it on Maggot Brain because the music was so difficult to resist, but here the strings (told you about their taste in white people), long-windedness (another double-LP that should be a single), and programmatic lyrics (“Miss Lucifer’s Love” inspires me to mention that while satanism is a great antinomian metaphor it often leads to murder, rape, etc.) leave me free to exercise my prejudices.
If you’re in need of an inspired and unique new tarot deck, (and who isn’t?) we’d like to recommend a Twin Peaks-derived set of cards from etsy seller MaiafirePrints. She has a full deck of cards inspired by David Lynch’s epic TV series.
Just like New England in 1692-1693, the little town of Vardø, located far north of the Arctic circle, in the extreme northeastern part of Norway—it’s actually much closer to Russia than it is to Sweden, which is unusual for a Norwegian town—experienced a witch crisis all its own in the 17th century. The witch trials ended up affecting an unusually high percentage of the local townspeople—the entire county of Finnmark had a population of 3,000 people, but 135 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, 91 of whom were executed. As in Salem, the method of “pond dunking” was used:
it was often part of the process to include “trial by water”—the result being seen as “God’s will”. Those accused were bound hand and foot and thrown into the water. If the person floated, it was sign of their guilt. If they sank, they were innocent. During the Vardø witch trials, all those that were subjected to “trial by water” floated—thus guilty in the eyes of God.
In 2011 a memorial for the victims of the witch trials was erected and unveiled by the Queen of Norway. The designers of the memorial were two highly esteemed artists, Peter Zumthor of Switzerland and Louise Bourgeois, born in France but active in the United States. The memorial, known as the Steilneset Memorial, is located next to what is believed to be the execution site of many of the 91 victims.
The memorial consists of two parts, a long hallway suspended near the beach, Zumthor’s “Memory Hall,” a long cross-hatched frame containing a corridor with 91 lamps, each one illuminates a window and a plaque that tells the story of the men and women killed with testimony from their trials. That is connected to the Bourgeois contribution, a black box made of glass with a constantly burning chair in the middle, with mirrors suspended above it. This part is called, “The Damned, The Possessed, and The Beloved.”
Of the artists’ process, Zumthor has said, “I had my idea, I sent it to her, she liked it, and she came up with her idea, reacted to my idea, then I offered to abandon my idea and to do only hers, and she said, ‘No, please stay.’ So, the result is really about two things—there is a line, which is mine, and a dot, which is hers…. Louise’s installation is more about the burning and the aggression, and my installation is more about the life and the emotions [of the victims].”
Surrealist filmmaker Maya Deren’s 1943 short, The Witch’s Cradle, is the stuff of sexy nightmares. A terrified young ingenue appears in a romantic Grecian dress—or is it a nightgown? The dreamy setting is unclear, and time is not linear. Strings creep and weave throughout—the literal thread that binds the otherwise erratic series of shots. An old man—played by Marcel Duchamp—manipulates the string into webbing. Elusive shots and occult imagery leave everything in a mysterious haze. The girl reappears—possibly performing a ritual—with a pentagram on her head.
The film is the product of an interesting partnership—Deren from the Greenwich Village avant-garde scene and Duchamp, the conceptual artist and Dadaist. I had originally assumed this was a directorial collaboration, but Duchamp (the more established artist at this point), actually only has an acting credit, with Deren as writer and director. It speaks well of Duchamp that he’d work with a younger, lesser known and female peer. It’s all hard to make heads or tales of—but it’s creepy and cool.
Dungeons & Dragons was invented in 1974 by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, but it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the legendary table game became a national phenomenon worthy (just like Elvis and the Beatles) of an organized backlash from religious authorities. As would also happen to Harry Potter a generation later, some concerned parents heard the word “spells” and concluded “witchcraft” or “Satan.” Groups like Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons generated fantastic pamphlets like this one. Jack Chick got involved too (see below). Of course there was also the early Tom Hanks TV movie Mazes and Monsters that purported to tell the true tale of the 1979 disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III but got the story totally wrong (Egbert’s D&D experience was limited, and it had nothing to do with his death).
Why it took him so long we’ll never know, but Win Worley, pastor at the Hegewisch Baptist Church in Highland, Indiana, took up the cause in 1992, as seen in this video. It probably wasn’t his main gig, but this article here calls him a “pioneer in exorcism,” a fact confirmed in this eye-popping volume.
You may be expecting the full-on fire/brimstone treatment but Worley here is unexpectedly engaging and likeable. This is the kind of demonizer I can get behind! (Almost.) In the first few seconds Worley is reading from some text and the result is a remarkable word salad that I’ve highlighted in bold below:
… Satanic salute, and the unicorn, flying horse rainbows. Of course, that’s new age symbols. Enchantments, strategies, potions, spells, Dungeons & Dragons they’ll call games like that. Psychic readings, reincarnations, pyramid, clairvoyance, mental science, false visions, superstitions, talismans, Satanism, karma. These are some of the occult spirits. Now if you’ve dabbled in any of these, then you’re cursed, your children are cursed, your grandchildren are cursed, your great grandchildren are cursed. Now, there’s a way to take care of that, and we’re gonna do that. It’s quite simple, really. There’s—Satan is a legal expert, and as long as he has legal rights to be somewhere, you cannot budge him, I don’t care who you are. You can throw your coat on him or blow on him or whatever, he’s not gonna go anywhere. You’ve got to take away the legal grounds, that’s what we’re doing. Now we’re gonna take away the legal grounds on the occult, if you’ve ever been involved. You say, “Well, I don’t think I’ve never been involved.” Well, your ancestors may have been, so take no chances, let’s renounce it, it’s not gonna hurt you to renounce it. It might hurt you not to.
Watch it for yourself, it’s short and ends in a prayer.
Welcome to the Ghetto Tarot, a project from award-winning documentary photographer Alice Smeets and a group of Haitian artists known as Atis Rezistans. The idea was to take the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck of 78 cards and create a photographic version of each card using settings and objects in the vibrant ghetto of Haiti.
As Smeets says, “The spirit of the Ghetto Tarot project is the inspiration to turn negative into positive while playing. The group of artists ‘Atiz Rezistans’ use trash to create art with their own visions that are a reflection of the beauty they see hidden within the waste. They are claiming the word ‘Ghetto,’ thus freeing themselves of its depreciating undertone and turning it into something beautiful.”
Smeets also related some of the memorable incidents while executing the photo shoots:
There have been plenty of little, funny moments. One example: when we were shooting the scene of the Death card, I asked the artists if they had real skulls to place them in the picture. Five minutes later, Claudel, one of the artists and my dearest assistant, came along holding a plastic bag filled with skulls in his hands as if it was the most normal thing in the world to carry dead peoples heads around.
It constantly surprised me how the artists almost always found immediately what I asked for. For the picture of the High Priestess, we needed horns to place them next to her feet. I hadn’t let them known beforehand that we would be in need of them. As soon as Claudel found out, he ran and came back a moment later with two horns in his hands. They never told me where they found all of the materials, they just happened to lay around somewhere in the Ghetto.
The Ghetto Tarot has been fully funded on indiegogo, and you can place an order for a full deck at the price of 32 euros (about $36).
(Clicking on any image in this post will spawn a larger image.)
The Nine of Cups
The Nine of Swords
The King of Swords
After the jump, more vivid pics as well as a brief video featuring interviews with some of the photo subjects…...
Black Widow, formed in Leicester, England, in 1969, were both more prog and more authentically occult than Black Sabbath (who formed a year earlier) but lacked that ineffably heavy quality (as well as the righteous hooks of Tony Iommi) that would make their Birmingham rivals a rock band for the ages.
Black Widow was probably best known for their collaborations with Alex Sanders, who was known as “King of the Witches,” and his wife Maxine Sanders, who was sort of the poster girl for black magic back in the early 1970s. It is said that Alex warned them that they were in danger of evoking a “she devil” with their rock.
I thought that perhaps it was a skyclad Maxine Sanders who joins them around the start of “Seduction,” about halfway through the set, but it was, in fact, a local Leicester lass named “Katie,” according to an article from the time.
In this 55-minute video that appeared on the terrific rock show Beat-Club in 1970 on the German TV channel ARD, Black Widow plays their latest album Sacrifice in full. As befits any proper black magic prog performance, it ends with a 15-minute sacrifice.
Singer Kip Trevor engaging in the show-stopping “Sacrifice” at the end of the program
In an interview a while back, Clive Jones, the band’s resident woodwind guy (he plays sax, clarinet, and flute on the Beat-Club show) who unfortunately passed away in 2014, spoke with some bitterness about Black Sabbath (“I just wish they would stop blocking us in books”) and also dropped an interesting tidbit:
Q: How black was Black Widow?
A: Black Widow was the real thing we learnt about the occult and all the words and rituals are correct. Alex Sanders always warned us we could invoke the Devil, and I have met the devil twice, once when i was alone in the daytime and once when I was with another band at night and most of us saw him (a long story).
Wouldn’t mind hearing more about that!
One of the Satanic high points of the show surely comes around the 21st minute, during “Come to the Sabbat,” when the chorus intones, “Come, come, come to the Sabbat / Come to the Sabbat, Satan’s there” over and over again—it’s actually quite catchy.
Got to hand it to ARD, they gave zero fucks, presenting without the slightest tinge of irony or judgment the most Satanic musical performance I have ever seen on television.
Everyone knows that the 1970s was a very “interesting” decade. An era of druggy, sexual excess that saw the “Me Generation” do their collective thing, no matter how far out that sort of behavior would have seemed just ten years earlier. But it wasn’t just that sex, drugs and rock and roll went mainstream in a big way in the 70s, the occult was so… well commonplace then that the likes of LOOK magazine would publish entire issues on the subject, with Anton LaVey as the cover boy. Even the normally staid women’s magazine McCall’s published a quite remarkable (and lengthy) round-up article on not merely “new agey” or culty belief systems, but the more “evil” side of things as well. TIME magazine had a 1972 cover story declaring “Satan Returns.” (First TIME was wondering aloud if God was dead, now this!)
But if you REALLY want to get across the point of just how far the occult craze penetrated American popular culture at the time, look no further than the Man, Myth & Magic publication. Originally sold as a newsstand magazine in the UK, Man, Myth & Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural was reformatted by the publisher for the US market as 23 hardback volumes with a 24th being the very detailed and cross-referenced index. Exorcism. Indian snake charmers. Astrology. Voodoo. Weird ghostly voices appearing on tape recordings. Witchcraft. Cargo cults. Nostradamus. Alchemy. Hypnosis. Tarot. Demonology. Aleister Crowley. Norse gods. Buddhism. ESP. UFOs. Zombies. Paganism. Telekinesis. Drugs. Rituals. Stonehenge, etc. You get the idea. But as sensationalist (and DARK!) as the trappings of the publication generally were, the editorial was scholarly, even academic, and lavishly illustrated in full color.
But what most people don’t recall (but many will) is that Man, Myth & Magic was actually sold in drugstores and supermarkets. It was also heavily advertised on television with a commercial featuring the demonic face you see above, painted by Austin Osman Spare. Imagine that! (Actually you don’t have to imagine anything, the commercial’s embedded at the end of this post).
This… happened! Although I was far too young for it at the time, I can vividly recall a huge display in the cereal aisle (natch) for Man, Myth & Magic at the local Kroger in my hometown of Wheeling, WV. If it got as far as a podunk town Wheeling, with a very large in-store display to boot, that’s a pretty good indication of what sort of distribution they had for it. Note at the end of the TV commercial they mention that you can buy it at the Walgreens chain, indicating that Walgreens was probably underwriting part of the cost to air the spot.
This would, of course, NEVER happen today, but back then? Man, Myth & Magic was sold next to the Count Chocula!