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Woodcuts of Witches, Wizards and Devils

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Well, here’s something you don’t see every day in real life: Witches with animal heads flying on broomsticks. Fuck. Why did all the good stuff happen before iPhones were around to capture it….? Or, is it just strange, nay fantastically unbelievable, that witches with animal heads ever flew around on broomsticks?

Now, once upon a time, long, long ago in a land not so very far from here, people actually did believe in witches and warlocks and wizards and animal hybrids flying with broomsticks through the devil-dark night. It was a form of mental aberration that infected the whole of Europe between the 15th and 17th centuries.

This dreadful fear of witches began with a couple of Dominican monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, who together wrote a barmy treatise on witchcraft called Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches) in 1486. This book reinvented witchcraft and the devil as something more than just “delusions,” as had once been believed, into something solid, active, real, and very, very dangerous. Unsurprisingly, it was a bestseller for some 200 years.

According to the Malleus Maleficarum the world was literally hoaching with witches and the only way to defeat them was by the worst kind of torture and execution. This treatise received Pope Innocent VIII’s blessing. He had already given Kramer a Papal Bull Summis desiderantes affectibus in 1484 which approved his “inquisition” into all reports and suspicions of witchcraft. This Papal Bull was included in the Malleus Maleficarum as part of the book’s preface, which meant that misogyny was not only acceptable but actively encouraged.

And so it began two centuries of terror and torture and mass stupidity.
 
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The great thing about witchcraft is that anyone could be accused of it. The accuser never had to prove the veracity of their statement. The accused always had to prove their innocence. But this usually meant forfeiting their lives. You see, innocence was often proven by use of a variation of the ducking stool—a device once used for scolds and prostitutes—whereby a woman believed to be a witch would be tied to a rope and thrown into a river or a pond. If the woman sank and drowned—then she was innocent. Hurrah! If she floated and lived, well hell, she’s a witch and must be burnt at the stake.

Usually, it never came to this, as most women ‘fessed up after hours or days of relentless torture and were then executed. Oftentimes, these women would name their accusers (or others they didn’t like) as also being witches and in league with the devil. And so it went, more and more women were questioned, tortured, and executed.

Stupidity does not discriminate—which explains why the hysteria over witchcraft was surprisingly flamed by the rise in literacy. The mass publication of pamphlets, news sheets, and books saw a great demand for stories “true” and fictional about witches and witchcraft. These stories were exceedingly popular and were spread in posters across the land like a virus. In every village and town, these reports on the occult would be read aloud wherever they were posted. The literate read the stories. The illiterate spread the tales word-of-mouth. The most potent part of these documents were the woodcuts which depicted the women (and some men) who were in league with the Devil and using witchcraft to spread his nasty ill-will throughout the land.

One of the earliest of these illustrated pamphlets was A Rehearsall both Straung and True, of Hainous and Horrible Actes Committed by Elizabeth Stile, alias Rockingham, Mother Dutten, Mother Deuell, Mother Margaret, Fower Notorious Witches first published in 1579. This booklet told the story of Elizabeth Stile, a 65-year-old widow and beggar who was accused of witchcraft and cavorting with three other witches Mother Margaret, Mother Dutten and Mother Devell, and a man called Father Rosimunde, who could (allegedly) transform himself “into the shape and likenesse of any beaste whatsoever he will.” Nice trick. Bet he never had to buy a round at the local inn.

It wasn’t just the lowly peasantry or working class who believed in such stories but the very highest members of the establishment. The first king to unify the nations of England and Scotland as King James I wrote a treatise on witchcraft Daemonologie based on his own personal involvement in the infamous North Berwick witch trials of 1590. King James believed that most women were “detestable slaves of the Devil, the Witches or enchanters” and he personally took part in the interrogation of those accused of witchcraft.

Many of these women were just dear old ladies who had lost their husbands or were destitute and had become victims to the unwelcome focus of a someone’s ire. As Jon Crabb notes on the Publlic Domain Review, it was from such poor women came the image of the “old crone” which was then promoted through books like The Wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillip Flower, Daughters of Joan Flower neere Beuer Castle (1619), A Most Certain, Strange and True Discovery of a Witch (1643) and The History of Witches and Wizards: Giving a True Account of All Their Tryals in England, Scotland, Sweedland, France, and New England (1700). It is this image of a witch as depicted in woodcuts that is still the most prevalent depiction of a witch used today.
 
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An early though hugely influential depiction of a witch from ‘A Most Certain, Strange and True Discovery of a Witch’ (1643).
 
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Witches cooking up trouble.
 
More weird and wonderful woodcuts of witches and alike, after the jump….

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.09.2017
10:46 am
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Beautiful paintings of witches, myths and devilish temptation
12.22.2016
10:45 am
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‘Witch and Cat’ (1893).
 
Let’s dig the scene.

It’s the late 1800s—the fin de siecle. Art is all Symbolism and Decadence. You’re an artist. You hang with your buddies. They’re artists too. You all think art is something more than just sex and illustration or mere surface and image. You think art is a form of magic. Artists can change reality with colors. You create pictures that express something of your experience—something from your soul.

You and your buddies have your own little club. It’s a secret brotherhood. You call yourselves Les Nabis—a Hebrew word for “prophet” or “seer.” You think of yourselves as magicians. You dabble in magic and theosophy. You talk about ideas and seek a shared philosophy—some common purpose. You create your own Nabi language and practice arcane rituals. You carry a sceptre made from the snake of wisdom and a pentagram for the occult. You kick off your secret get togethers with a neat little mantra:

Sounds, colors, and words have a miraculously expressive power beyond all representation and even beyond the literal meaning of the words.

That’s your scene.

You are Paul Ranson (1864-1909)—a French artist who takes his lead from Paul Gauguin, mysticism, the occult and spirituality. Les Nabis—the artists you hang with include Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis and the group’s founder Paul Sérusier. You’re a bunch of hipsters—pretentious hipsters—but you don’t care. You have this shared belief that a picture only has meaning:

...when it possessed style.That is to say when the artist had succeeded in changing the shape of the objects he was looking at and imposing on them contours or a color that expressed his own personality.

This is what you think of as magic—personal magic.

In some respects Les Nabis anticipated the Fauves, a little Art Deco and more directly Abstract Expressionism—with its emphasis on the artist’s experience expressed through the abstract. Ranson held the society’s meetings at his studio—which he called The Temple. All this ritual and faux language and holding to strange occult and mystical beliefs was an attempt to big up the group’s reputation. They really didn’t need to as the art was good enough to stand and fall on its own merits. However, the cross pollination of ideas from the occult and the quasi-mystical did inspire Paul Ranson to create some very beautiful paintings of witches, mythic beasts, fauns, devils, and religious allegory—Eve, the temptation of Saint Anthony—which are still as magical today.
 
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‘Witches in Saturnalia’ (1891).
 
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‘Witch in her Circle’ (1892).
 
More of Ranson’s fabulous beasts to be found, after the jump….

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.22.2016
10:45 am
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The earliest known depiction of a witch flying on a broomstick
10.25.2016
11:46 am
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The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF) possesses countless treasures, but one of the most intriguing is certainly the first known depiction of a witch flying on a broom. As with the trope of a stork bringing a family a newborn baby, the image has embedded itself so deeply in our culture that we seldom stop to ask what it means or where it originally came from.

The marginal illustrations of the 1451 edition of French poet Martin Le Franc’s Le Champion des Dames (The Defender of Ladies), a manuscript of which currently resides in the BNF, include an image of two women levitating, one on a stick, the other on a broom. In Witchcraft in Europe, 400-1700: A Documentary History, history professors Alan Charles Kors and Edward Peters assert that this edition of Le Champion des Dames contains “the first such illustration in the pictorial history of witchcraft.” Elsewhere they call it “the first known illustration of women flying on broomsticks.”

Le Franc’s lengthy poem on virtuous women (I almost wrote “nasty women”) features a section on witches, alongside of which the broomstick illustration appears. Fascinatingly, the two women have no physical deformity whatsoever and cannot be visually singled out as witches—but for the broomstick. Their covered heads is a sign that they are Waldensians, a kind of precursor to the Protestant Reformation.

But why broomsticks?
 

Definitely NOT the first depiction of a witch on a broomstick—it’s from 1910—but it was just too good not to use here.
 
Busting out his Freudian playbook, Dylan Thuras at Atlas Obscura muses that the “broom was a symbol of female domesticity, yet the broom was also phallic, so riding on one was a symbol of female sexuality, thus femininity and domesticity gone wild.” Furthermore, pagan rituals of the day often incorporated phallic forms, and the image of a broomstick between a woman’s legs would have been quite unsettling to Catholics.

The engine behind the power flight lay not in the stick, however, but in the “ointment” or “potion” that was applied to it, which might have included nightshade, henbane or fly agaric magic mushrooms. The Atlantic’s Megan Garber found this reference in the 15th-century works of Jordanes de Bergamo:
 

The vulgar believe, and the witches confess, that on certain days or nights they anoint a staff and ride on it to the appointed place or anoint themselves under the arms and in other hairy places.

 
“Other hairy places”—sounds like a veiled reference to genitalia, to which the levitating stick of course comes into close proximity.

Matt Soniak found a 1477 reference from Antoine Rose, who, after being accused of witchcraft in France, confessed that the Devil had given her flying potions; she would “smear the ointment on the stick, put it between her legs and say ‘Go, in the name of the Devil, go!’”

Now there’s that crazy witchcraft!
 
Note: The information in this article derives from a better and longer post written by Allison Meier at Hyperallergic, posted yesterday. Highly recommended.
 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Baba Yaga’: The best ultra-stylish, sexy mid 70s lesbian witch cult film you’ve never seen
Fabulous modern illustrations of Witches (and their familiars)

Posted by Martin Schneider
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10.25.2016
11:46 am
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Fabulous modern illustrations of Witches (and their familiars)
05.03.2016
11:26 am
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Broomstick.
 
Throughout history witches have generally been described in word and illustration by men. It’s the male eye that has conjured up portraits of witches as cackling hags with bad orthodontists and hygiene problems in written works by authors as different as Shakespeare and Roald Dahl or by artists such as Henry Fuseli or Walt Disney.

In truth, any woman who was deemed to have subverted patriarchal control was called a witch—and the stereotypical image devised for such women was created by a deep and fearful misogyny.

Artist and illustrator Camille Chew has created a series of beautiful portraits of modern day Witches (and their familiars) that subverts inherited misconceptions. Chew’s witches are independent, strong women who give help and succour with their occult powers.

Chew’s illustrations are created “entirely in Photoshop CS6 with a Wacom Bamboo tablet.”

The brush I use most often is just the standard round brush with the spacing set all the way down to 1% for smooth edges. I also sometimes overlay scanned in watercolor washes, hand drawn patterns, etc. (usually on layer mode>soft light) to add texture.

A graduate of Alfred University, Camille’s art work explores themes of mythology, fantasy, and the occult. Her illustrations are available to buy as prints and even as tattoos—details here
 
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Spell Book.
 
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Palm Reader.
 
More of Camille Chew’s witches after the jump…

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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05.03.2016
11:26 am
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Vintage Occult: This amazing Tumblr will satisfy ALL of your kitschy, witchy needs
03.01.2016
12:02 pm
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If the amazing Tumblr Vintage Occult is any indication, Satanists really need better tailors—so many of the people interested in the dark arts are young women who have inordinate trouble keeping their torsos covered. Then again, where there’s Satanism, there’s gonna be dozens of flickering candles, so I’m not too worried about them catching cold or anything.

Vintage Occult is the best thing I’ve seen on the Internet all day and I’m betting that’s true for you too. A voluminous gallery of images from old, tattered paperback books, schlocky magazines, and straight-to-video movies, midnight classics with titles like Blood Sucking Nazi Zombies or Queen of the Vampires (“La Regina Dei Vampiri”) or my favorite, Satan in High Heels, there’s just no end to the Vampira knockoffs out there.

In case you need the warning, this is probably not something you want to be checking out in your cubicle.
 

 

 
Much more from Vintage Occult, after the jump…

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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03.01.2016
12:02 pm
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‘Songs of the Witch Woman’: Exclusive footage of Marjorie Cameron reading ‘Anatomy of Madness’
01.13.2015
12:56 pm
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MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles has extended their Marjorie Cameron exhibit by a week—it’s closing now on the 18th—so if you’re in town and haven’t seen the show, you still have a chance to catch it. In order to bring attention to these extra dates, MOCAtv‘s director Emma Reeves has kindly offered Dangerous Minds readers this exclusive glimpse at some never before seen footage of the artist/occultist reading poetry at the Barnsdall Art Park in East Hollywood in 1989.

The show’s catalog is titled Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman and it’s quite worth owning if you like this sort of thing.

Via MOCAtv:

Prior to “Cameron: Songs For The Witch Woman,” October 11, 2014–January 18, 2015 at MOCA Pacific Design Center, the largest survey of Marjorie Cameron’s artwork was “The Pearl of Reprisal,” a retrospective at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in 1989. The exhibition spanned thirty years, from the notorious Untitled “Peyote Vision” (1955) to Pluto Transiting the Twelfth House (1978-1986), pen and ink drawings that lent insight to the artist’s psychic state at the time.

Before the opening reception, Hedy Sontag introduced a program titled “An Evening With Cameron: The Pearl of Reprisal.” Sontag screened two films that feature Cameron: Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) and Curtis Harrington’s lyrical documentary The Wormwood Star (1955). After the screening, Cameron emerged barefoot to give a dramatic reading of her poetry by candlelight. Pleasure Dome cast members Samson De Brier and Paul Mathison were among those in attendance.

The reading, which was art directed by Sontag, evokes Cameron in her Topanga Canyon studio, deep in thought as she detaches from the lived world and navigates the subconscious. A prolific writer who shared her work with friends, Cameron was private when inspiration struck. She was known to write in her notebook in social settings, fervently and silently; she forbade visitors to her studio, a sanctum where art-making and writing mingled with astrology and occult ritual.

Though the dates of these journal entries and poems are not known, in their language of mourning and invocation, and use of sacred and Romantic imagery, they are of a piece with the notebooks Cameron kept after the death of Jack Parsons in 1952, as well as the verses she recites in The Wormwood Star, which describe the birth of a spiritual child born of psychic union with Parsons. Notably, Cameron reads prose from “Anatomy of Madness” [5:39], a mixed-media folio included in the exhibition and on view at MOCA. First published in Wallace Berman’s Semina 1 (1956), the text recounts a life cycle of death, rebirth, metamorphosis, and finally, a transcendent spiritual breakthrough.

This never before seen footage, courtesy of the Cameron Parsons Foundation, is a rare document of an artist whose practice had delved further inward, away from the public eye. Due to the quality of the recording, this video has been subtitled. Every effort has been made by MOCA and the Cameron Parsons Foundation to ensure accuracy of the transcription. Please note that the original footage was edited in camera and portions of the reading and poems were omitted by the cameraperson.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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01.13.2015
12:56 pm
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‘Seduction Through Witchcraft’: Witch House from 1969 (featuring Louis and Bebe Barron)

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In 1969, Louise Huebner, the “official” witch of Los Angeles, recorded a spoken word album of her successful book Seduction Through Witchcraft for Warner Brothers Records, who were no doubt happy to cash in on the notoriety of a celebrity occultist in the era of Anton LaVey and Sybil Leek.

Tailor-made for the acid-head occultniks of the time, Huebner lays some sexy pop magic on her listeners, including cuts like “The Self-Fascination Ritual for Increased Power,” “The Demon Spell for Energy,” “Orgies - A Tool of Witchcraft” and “The Earthquake Spell for Unwanted Lovers.”

Seduction Through Witchcraft features a musical score by circuit-bending electronic music pioneers Louis and Bebe Barron of Forbidden Planet fame (Huebner’s late husband, Mentor Huebner, was a leading Hollywood production illustrator and storyboards artist who did uncredited designs for the film). It’s one of the Barron’s most obscure works, and not even listed on their Wikipedia page. I noticed that much of the online information about the record completely neglects to mention them.

Seduction Through Witchcraft is quite good fun. It was briefly released on CD, but that’s been out of print for years. In 2009, Scorpio Music put out a 180 gram vinyl LP version that’s still around.
 
Below, “The Demon Spell for Energy”:
 

 
“Orgies - A Tool of Witchcraft”:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.26.2013
01:08 pm
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Christine O’Donnell really wants you to know she’s not a witch
10.04.2010
09:28 pm
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Actually, she’s YOU! I guess this does make her a witch. I knew it!

(via Adam Wade)

Posted by Tara McGinley
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10.04.2010
09:28 pm
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