Archives For esoteric

In the modern art world, the traditional gallery system that many of us feel we know from popular media depictions has slowly given way to an ever-expanding series of international art fairs and biennials where the high-rollers buy, sell, discover new work, and hob-nob. These large-scale events have become the place to gain attention, so it is notable that the upcoming Florence Biennial in Italy will be featuring the work of Mexican artist Cristina Francov.

"El Trìgono de las Lesiones" by Cristina Francov.

“El Trìgono de las Lesiones” by Cristina Francov.

“Cristina Francov is a Mexican artist whose work offers visions and allegories through a series of self-portraits and transfigurations of her own body.

Her early fascination with both esoteric mysteries and the great European masters developed into a form of hybrid digital photography which is humanistic, mysterious and carnal all at once. Cristina is entirely self taught in the art of photography but an academic foundation in the methods of oil painting and drawing mixed with her natural talent led her to become recognised both nationally and internationally for her contribution to the art of digital manipulation (she has exhibited in London, Germany and Italy alongside several solo shows in Mexico).

Cristina’s ‘El Trìgono de las Lesiones’ has been selected for this year’s Florence Biennale (Italy, November 30th Cristina’s work, international audiences will be given the opportunity to better understand an artistic movement which is only now gaining the attention and historical recognition it deserves.”

In her artist’s statement, Francov describes the work as “a soul, lost between two dimensions,” that “uses the remains of birds, minerals and flesh to materialize itself on the Earth plane. Confused and doubtful of its existence and potential humanity, is unable to naturalize and accept itself into one single creature.” 

Francov is part of a larger resurgence of occult, esoteric, and folkloric themed works within the fine art world. Allison Meier at Hyperallergic notes that the “undercurrent of the occult in culture ripples back to the surface of our collective consciousness” and that we are enjoying high point in “a periodic surge in fascination with the unknowable, the rites, rituals, and art that make up its history.” Certainly, Pam Grossman’s excellent blog Phantasmaphile is clear evidence of this renewed interest, as it reports on and reviews a growing number of artists and exhibitions that focus on esoteric subjects. Grossman is also an associate editor of the journal Abraxas, which spotlights many of these artists, including Francov, and whose parent company Fulgur Esoterica represents the artist.

"El Trìgono de las Lesiones" (detail) by Cristina Francov.

“El Trìgono de las Lesiones” (detail) by Cristina Francov.

Cristina Francov’s inclusion in the Florence Biennial follows the well-received I:MAGE exhibition in London which focused on occult and esoteric art, and the high-profile showing of Lady Frieda Harris’ Thoth Deck paintings at the Venice Biennale. When I spoke with Abraxas co-founder Christina Oakley Harrington during the I:MAGE exhibition, she expressed that the time had come for this kind of art to break through to a broader audience.

“The art world is waking up to the inner realities of its artists, and to the fact that for many centuries, right through modernism, many artists have been profoundly influenced by esoteric ideas and have worked intimately through (and with) occult symbolism. Medieval art history includes the study of iconography and symbolic programmes, but artists of more recent centuries have received no such attention, until the past ten years.  Even the surrealists, some of whose work is profoundly occult, have had their imagery largely overlooked or treated in solely personal terms.

The trends of 20th century art-history and art criticism meant there have been 80 years of writing on art which concentrates not on the inner experience of the artist, or of their symbolic language, but rather on form and materials. This is now changing, and it is very exciting indeed.”

Cristina Francov

Cristina Francov

Change within culture begins when we change the way we look at the world, when we shift the lens of our experience. The rise of artists like Cristina Francov shift perceptions, and enrich our encounters with subtle realms. This trend within the world of art is one that we should embrace, and one that should push more of us towards a new level of excellence in our creative output. You can see more of Francov’s work at her official website. A limited number of prints of “El Trìgono de las Lesiones” are available at the Fulgur Esoterica website. The Florence Biennial will run from November 30th through December 8th, 2013.

[The following is a guest post by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus. P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a metagender person, and one of the founding members of the Ekklesía Antínoou–a queer, Graeco-Roman-Egyptian syncretist reconstructionist polytheist group dedicated to Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and related deities and divine figures–as well as a contributing member of Neos Alexandria and a practicing Celtic Reconstructionist pagan in the traditions of gentlidecht and filidecht, as well as Romano-British, Welsh, and Gaulish deity devotions. Lupus is also dedicated to several land spirits around the area of North Puget Sound and its islands.]

Many of our modern Pagan festivals are titled for their implied or specific themes: a goddess-focus is suggested by PantheaCon; TheurgiCon deals with theurgy and hermeticism and the traditions which derive from these; Pagan Spirit Gathering is apt to be understood in all the variety of ways which the first two words of its title can imply. But, a gathering that draws a crowd of occultists, magicians, hermeticists, alchemists, gnostics, and quite a few Pagans (whether they are one or more of those things additionally) as well, is Seattle’s Esoteric Book Conference. As Pagans are said not to be “people of the book, but people of the library,” this conference has a great deal to offer many modern Pagans indeed. The diverse Seattle occult, alternative religious, and Pagan scene’s members are the major attendees of the event, though an increasingly national and international crowd is also attending as the conference has progressed.

2013-EBC-Sale2013 saw the fifth Esoteric Book Conference take place again in mid-September at Seattle Center. I have attended them from the beginning, and presented on a panel about modern occult publishing at the first conference in 2009, and likewise presented a session in 2012 on the Ekklesía Antínoou Serpent Path. I hope to make yearly attendance at the conference a reality for the foreseeable future, as it has always proven to be informative, inspiring, a great temptation towards bankruptcy with the beautiful books (and art of various sorts) on offer at the exhibit hall and art show, and a chance to not only increase communal contacts and friendships, but to maintain them with the many individuals and groups I already know in this area that I often don’t get to see at other times of the year.

I cannot possibly do justice to all of the nine presentations that occurred this year in a summary, so I will simply discuss a few highlights for me personally that I feel qualified enough to comment upon. Those who I do not discuss below did excellent presentations, and I suggest you consult the conference website for fuller details of those presentations and the fascinating and accomplished biographies of the presenters as well.

Saturday’s sessions opened with one of the EBC’s hosts and its ever-resourceful technical coordinator, Joshua Madara, who was also described as the “Tony Stark of modern occultism,” with a presentation on “Interactive Media for Occult Book Makers.” This one likely would get the award for “Most Shiny” session, as the various book arts, both throughout history and of more recent vintage, which were shown in his slides were awe-inducing, as well as “aaah!”-inducing. The use of transparencies, pop-up art and models, computer-enhanced books with sound capabilities, and a huge variety of other possibilities was highlighted and presented as a kind of challenge to the audience, and a spur to even greater creativity with future occult-specific creations. Madara asked us to be more child-like and fun in our approach to these matters, and memorably noted (paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke) that “Any sufficiently advanced work is indistinguishable from play.”

At least one of the sessions at each EBC is dedicated to a biography of an important occultist, artist, or scholar, and this year, Dr. Aaron Cheak presented on René Schwaller de Lubicz in a session entitled “The Call of Fire.” Schwaller was a multiply-talented, interested, and connected individual in literary, artistic, esoteric, and academic circles in the early-twentieth century, and was part of the Parisian alchemical revival, as well as a practicing Hermeticist. He spent fifteen years in Egypt studying the temples of Luxor in particular, and while he has not always found a good reception amongst Egyptologists, he (along with his wife Isha, who was with him in Egypt) is still the luminary of Egyptosophists, and many of his books on these subjects are available in English translation from Inner Traditions. He had theories on art that included elemental correlations with colors and number, both of which have alchemical implications that would be of great interest to a large number of modern Pagans.

Masthead_OP

An extremely enticing look at a future publication by Ouroboros Press (the occult publishing company founded by one of the Esoteric Book Conference’s organizers, William Kiesel) was provided by Nick Koss’ presentation, “Use of Cryptography in Magical Books: Deciphering the Triangular Book of St. Germain.” Koss’ background in linguistics, mathematics, and computer sciences aided him in being able to decipher the two Getty collection manuscripts, Hogart 209 and 210, which are triangular books written almost entirely in a cipher. Koss was able to decode the entire manuscript, which was an encrypted 18th century French magical ritual designed to extend one’s life, gain wealth, and learn ancient secrets. As these were all things attributed to the authority for the manuscript, the Count of St. Germain (about whom Voltaire is misquoted as having said that he “lived forever and knew everything,” but in reality he said something more like “he knows everything but never shuts up”!), it seems likely that the text for the ritual either did come from him, or from his general circle of associates.

Cvr_IsisMagic_1500x0000_RGB_v2The “hangover session” on Sunday morning went to M. Isidora Forrest, and this particular presentation, “Isis: Goddess of Magic, Patroness of Magicians,” is the one most likely to have resonated with the broader Pagan and polytheist audience. Her presentation discussed magic in the general as well as specifically Egyptian contexts, and emphasized that magic and religion were essentially inseparable concepts in Egyptian culture and language. While the presentation was focused on Isis, prominent also was Heka, the Egyptian god of magic, who is not merely a deified abstraction, but instead is an active and personified being with whom one should cultivate a relationship if one wishes to do effective magic at all. Indeed, in one of the Egyptian cosmologies, Re-Atum’s first creation is the god Heka, by whom all else in the universe is created. Isidora’s presentation ranged widely, and ended up spending extended time on the myth of Isis’ gaining of supreme magical power by extorting Re’s secret name, but also dealt with one of my favorite stories (and one important for Antinous-related lore as well!), Lukian of Samosata’s final tale in the Philopseudes, which is the first literary version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” tale, familiar from Goethe, Paul Dukas’ musical piece, and Disney’s Fantasia film. Isidora also launched the expanded tenth-anniversary edition of her magnum opus, Isis Magic: Cultivating a Relationship With the Goddess of 10,000 Names, which I’m looking forward to digging into soon!

The Esoteric Book Conference also usually features someone notable from the local esoteric community each year, whether it is Brandy Williams in 2009, Denny Sargent/Aion 131 in 2010, or Erynn Rowan Laurie last year. This year, the “local act” was a double act, with Kate Merriweather Lynch (who was also the conference’s volunteer coordinator and registration goddess, in addition to having some of her art on display!) and Aron D. Tarbuck, who presented a session on “Comics as Grimoires.” The “usual suspects” like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman were all addressed, though of particular focus was not Moore’s Promethea and the like, but instead Swamp Thing, and how it changed the comics medium forever by ignoring the Comics Code Authority and launching DC’s imprint Vertigo. The conversation and questions after their presentation were the most lively of the entire conference, and were punctuated by rolls of thunder in the distance as well! Also, of potential interest to some modern polytheists who may be reading this and were involved in the recent “superheroes as deities” debates, was their mention of the Shinto Shrine in Japan that is dedicated to Manga characters.

It would be hard to honestly suggest that the Esoteric Book Conference has “something for everyone,” since the nature of the subject and the specific topics of the various sessions themselves are far more limited in appeal than what might be on offer at other events. However, for those who love books–not only for their content, but for their beauty as objects and as instantiations of human craft and skill in conjunction with divine and spiritual inspiration; or, as Robert Ansell put it at the first EBC in 2009, as physical expressions of the meeting between Chronos (Time) and Kairos (Opportunity)–the middle weekend in September in Seattle should be a time set aside to share your love of books with those members of your wider interconnected communities whose devotion to the book makers’ arts equals your own.

Next year in Seattle…!

As I mentioned earlier this month, from May 19th through the 25th London will host an international collection of esoteric artists in a special exhibition“I:MAGE,” sponsored by Fulgur Esoterica (publisher of the Abraxas journal). Boasting an impressive lineup of artists, both classic and contemporary, I:MAGE promises to bring more attention to esoteric art and show how these creative individuals collectively work towards the “externalization of the mythical.” 

"Hairesis" by Francesco Parisi

“Hairesis” by Francesco Parisi

“Ranging from the work of women pioneers such as Ithell Colquhoun and Steffi Grant, to the dark symbolist themes of Agostino Arrivabene and Denis Forkas Kostromitin, to the contemporary audio-visual practices of NOKO, I:MAGE promises to be a landmark exhibition.”

In speaking with Fulgur Esoterica about the show, they offered to send me some thoughts on the exhibition from two of the participating artists, Jesse Bransford and Francesco Parisi, in addition to insights from Christina Oakley Harrington, co-Editor of Abraxas, and Director of Treadwells esoteric book store in London (which will be hosting a range of talks, presentations, and discussions during the exhibition). I have long felt that esoteric fine art deserves more attention, so it is was my pleasure to accept their kind offer and now share the resulting communications with you here.

Christina Oakley Harrington

Christina Oakley Harrington

Christina Oakley Harrington: “The art world is waking up to the inner realities of its artists, and to the fact that for many centuries, right through modernism, many artists have been profoundly influenced by esoteric ideas and have worked intimately through (and with) occult symbolism. Medieval art history includes the study of iconography and symbolic programmes, but artists of more recent centuries have received no such attention, until the past ten years.  Even the surrealists, some of whose work is profoundly occult, have had their imagery largely overlooked or treated in solely personal terms.

The trends of 20th century art-history and art criticism meant there have been 80 years of writing on art which concentrates not on the inner experience of the artist, or of their symbolic language, but rather on form and materials. This is now changing, and it is very exciting indeed.

Austin Osman Spare

Austin Osman Spare

Recent art exhibitions have highlighted this change: in Paris at the Centre Pompidou in 2009, and at the Tate in Cornwall the following year, to name but two. We can also see it in the revived interest by the art world in Austin Osman Spare, whose work defies comprehension without an appreciation of his inner, esoteric philosophy and his ideas about magic.

When my dear friend Robert Ansell and I launched Abraxas Journal, it was not only to showcase contemporary occult artists to a wider artistic market, and also to bring esoteric fine art to the attention of the pagan community. This exhibition, which Robert is putting on with his company Fulgur Fine Art, is part of this shared vision. He’s putting on the show at a gallery next door to Treadwells, and we hope people will wander between the two spaces. Fugur have the paintings, and Treadwells are holding talks, lectures and a couple filmings. Of course we’re a bookshop, so we’re open all day for book-buying too.

Robert and I both feel that making art is a magical act, a talismanic act, as much as preparing a spell. In fact, it IS the creation of a spell. A spell enchants, it brings closer non-tangible realities to the textured body of our senses. So too does a painting. It makes real here something that is real elsewhere, invisibly.  

One of the aims of I:MAGE exhibition, and of our journal Abraxas, is to make pagans realise how gifted magical people are, even in terms of high culture. Pagans are often associated with pop culture and with charming illustration of the sort one finds on fantasy paperbacks. This is great of course, but what we are keen to show is that we, creative pagans, are everywhere – Pagans for a long time have been making paintings hang in the world’s leading art galleries, that are found framed walls of stately homes, that are in the collections of fine art collectors, are autioned at Sothebys. We just haven’t realised it.

Today there are younger working artists who are pagan in sensibility, and inflused with a magical world view. Some are well-known: Mark Titchner, for example, was on the prestigious British Turner Prize shortlist for his paintings which were in fact actually charged magical sigils. Some are less well-known but are fantastic. I:MAGE will be showcasing some of the brightest of these, and displaying their art next to some very well-known magical artists’ pieces, including Spare.

Jesse Bransford, detail of The Fourth Pyramid, 2013, Dimensions variable, Tempera paint on wall and floor, panels and paper, Installation at Galveston Artist Residency.

Jesse Bransford, detail of The Fourth Pyramid, 2013, Dimensions variable, Tempera paint on wall and floor, panels and paper, Installation at Galveston Artist Residency.

Jesse Bransford: “I came to the magical traditions as a young artist. I had been working with images from the traditions and had exposure to some of the visual aspects (you can’t get an art degree without at least hearing about the golden section). I was also studying the history of science and technology. This field led me to magic as the birthplace of science. As I became more interested in the history of magic (through scholars like Frances Yates, Michael Taussig etc.) I also began reading ‘primary sources.’ This led quickly to places like Fulgur, which I knew of from afar for many years. As time went on I became more involved, and my work became more explicit in it’s reference to and use of the magical traditions I was studying. Magic as a practice and metaphor binds all of my interests in art and life together and has enabled my work to expand into previously unimagined territories.”

Detail from "Pantocrator," a woodcut by Francesco Parisi.

Detail from “Pantocrator,” a woodcut by Francesco Parisi.

Francesco Parisi: “My art tries to focus on the corporeal, the material and the more grounding aspects of experience. I have grown up in a city where transcendental religions looked down on all of that – the pleasure of engraving, the smell of wood, the focus on the image represented. We all know how it goes, the flesh is sinful and the aim is to rise high up above it. That’s why I have explored a Dionysian theme for over ten years of my life. I guess I used it as a way to break free from that moral constriction. Day after day, for ten years, this was my ritual: sweat, hands on artisan work, focusing on the moment of creation rather than hoping for the moment of salvation. My art really isn’t about going up but about staying down and enjoying every moment of it.

I:MAGE marks a very important moment for me as an artist: it represents the possibility to display my work in front of a  public who will be able to competently engage with the message I want to put across, who know what it means to pick up a bowl and offer its content to the gods.”

The opening of I:MAGE is this Sunday, the 19th, from 12-8.30pm at Store Street Gallery in London. If you are anywhere in the vicinity, you owe it to yourself to see this show. You can find out more details at the I:MAGE exhibition site. In addition, Abraxas will be publishing a special edition of its celebrated journal for the show, which is a nice added incentive considering the quality of that publication.

The act of artistic creation is a sacred thing, one that has endured and journeyed into the secular temples we now call galleries and museums. Throughout history art and ritual praxis have melded to create lasting impressions and seismic shifts in our collective culture. We understand our experience through the results of creative process, and we deny this truth at our peril. Many artists already walk a liminal path, veering between the seen and unseen, making them essential guides to the otherworld, to what we call the “esoteric.” They remind us that the mythic is happening right here, right now, not in some distant past. The striving for excellence in the fine arts is a sign of health within any culture, religious or secular, and the nurturing of art should be a key ideal for modern Pagans. This show, I:MAGE, seems to be an important step in that journey.

Well-respected esoteric publishers Scarlet Imprint, producers of high quality limited-edition volumes on such topics as the cult of Pomba Gira, Palo Mayombe, and magical grimoires, has announced that they are going to start releasing their titles as ebooks.

A selection of Scarlet Imprint titles.

A selection of Scarlet Imprint titles.

“The e-book hopefully means more people will read books. That can only be a good thing. It also means that we can create affordable versions of our work so that readers can take the risk on new authors and unfamiliar subjects. You can dare to read and enrich yourself outside of your field, perhaps you haven’t encountered Pomba Gira or Palo Mayombe before, or you want to see if the poetry cuts it. It allows you to travel with a library rather than dislocating your shoulder with a satchel full of books- as we often do. It makes unwieldy reference texts quickly searchable for research. To this end, we are issuing all of our future paperback Bibliotheque Rouge titles in epub and mobi format.”

The move is part of their Bibliotheque Rouge line, which made cheaper paperback editions of their high-quality collectors editions available to the general public, and this latest expansion is being made in hopes that by “embracing the digital revolution” they can “get these relevant voices of modern magick to the new generation.” How are small metaphysical booksellers reacting to this move by Scarlet Imprint? I spoke with David Wiegleb, owner of Fields Books in San Francisco, about the new digital turn, and he expressed support and optimism for Scarlet Imprint’s new initiative.

“I applaud Scarlet Imprint for making their materials available in a variety of formats. They have fine editions available for the collector, nicely designed standard editions for those who want a copy for their permanent library, Bibliotheque Rouge unlimited paperback edition for the curious, the budget conscious, and future readers, and now ebook editions for those that want them. And the ebooks probably substantially help their bottom line. As a bookseller (and as a reader), whenever I see a publisher pursue a strategy that helps them not only survive into the future, but do so in a way that honors their commitment to good material and well-produced physical books, I will celebrate it. It looks to be a strategy other publishers should emulate.”

Also enthused by Scarlet Imprint’s new digital editions is poet, performer, and writer Ruby Sara, who edited the publisher’s recent collection of esoteric poetry, “Datura,” and is currently working on their new poetry collection, “Mandragora.”

“From a publisher that has amply demonstrated its continued commitment to the fine-bound book, I think the decision to offer digital editions represents an excellent, relevant, and holistic approach to the entire project of book-making. It simultaneously affirms the important place of the bookbinder’s art while ensuring that the words themselves – the blood, sweat and tears of the writer/occultist – are accessible to all. I’m personally very excited that the poetry in Datura, and the forthcoming anthology Mandragora, will be even more accessible through a variety of mediums, from the tactile beauty of the physical books to the economy of the digital editions.”

All digital books can be purchased directly from Scarlet Imprint, and are being released in EPUB (Nook compatible) and MOBI (Kindle compatible) formats. In addition, the company says they’ll “replace lost files for you free of charge as long as the lights stay on.”

While other Pagan and esoteric publishers have made digital editions of their releases available in recent years, I think Scarlet Imprint’s move deserves special notice for making limited edition works accessible to a larger audience. Like it or not, e-readers are here to stay. Millions of people use iPads, Nooks, and Kindles to read books in a variety of contexts. While there will always be a place for traditionally published books, digital editions offer a cheap(er) and convenient way to  experience works that may not be easily acquired otherwise. It can also act as a deterrent to those who would pirate their books, removing the excuses of price or availability from normal rationales. Here’s hoping more specialty publishers make their works available in electronic formats, creating real options for those who prefer using e-readers. Our thanks to Scarlet Imprint for “offering a free and unfettered choice.”