Archives For Witchcraft

BRIGHTON — For people travelling to this year’s Witchfest in Brighton, there will be additional entertainment option: the premiere of the play Doreen: An English Witch. This new theatrical production is the brainchild of director Roman Withers and writer Gavin Caine of Normal People Productions. The Wild Hunt caught up with Caine and Withers to talk about the play, its impact, and the creative process that led to its birth.

doreen-flyer

Withers explained how a meeting with the late John Belham Payne inspired the very latest celebration of Valiente’s life:

“We met John Belham Payne last November, as he was the Head of the Doreen Valiente Foundation, and knew Doreen, so I decided it would be really good to put a play on. We’re both in the craft ourselves and it seemed only fitting as Doreen lived in Brighton and spent many, many years here.”

The play Doreen: An English Witch is the second outing of Normal People Productions, an up and coming new theatre company. As Withers says, “It was only founded about a year-and-a-half ago and this is our second show. Our first show was last year, that was called Cabalesque – which luckily was sold out. That was a combination of cabaret and burlesque that went down last December and will be performed again at Brighton Fringe next year.”

Withers continued on to say, “This is our second play and we’ve got a couple more lined up for next year. But this one has been quite hard work. It’s been intriguing but it’s taken all year to go from start to finish, so it’s taken a lot of time but it’s been very enjoyable.’

The company is keen to stress that it wished to avoid a documentary-style showing and have described their latest effort as covering “certain stories and things that are said or remembered about Doreen.” Writer Gavin Caine says, “We wanted to include things that are told of her, some of the better-known and lesser-known stories of her life.

“We’re not trying to replicate Doreen herself, or do a documentary piece. It’s a work of fiction inspired by a magnificent woman with stories about her that are known by quite a lot of people, or known by fewer people and that are quite interesting or funny.”

Withers adds, “The play covers some of Doreen’s stories, obviously, but it doesn’t cover all of them as there’s about 30 or 40 stories that we could have used, so we had to break it down a little bit. I like to think we’ve picked the best ones and the ones that express how Doreen went about her daily life.”

The play is set in Doreen’s flat, and Withers explains that it begins with Doreen (Sharon Drain) hosting an interview with someone, a young lady (Charlotte Dearing), and the things that follow from that.

Caine and Withers have gone to great lengths to ensure the play is a fitting tribute to the first lady of the Craft but also wanted to make sure it was accessible for non-pagans. Withers says, “When the play was written, we had to make sure that non-craft people would enjoy it as well. I would like to think that the story has been done well, so that if people didn’t know who Doreen Valiente was they can still follow it and enjoy it. There are quite a lot of funny moments in it as well, so I hope we’ve found the find balance between that.”

Caine adds, “It’s trying to find that balance between the Pagans and particularly the Wiccans, because obviously that’s the legacy that we know best, of Doreen and to understand, but that it’s also accessible to people who are not into that area of witchcraft or paganism or any area of witchcraft or paganism to be able to come and see the play and get something from it, and go away from it having learned something and enjoyed it.”

Withers and Caine have been keen to represent, in some way, all aspects of Doreen’s work in the performance. As an example, Caine says, “We […] wanted to give air to some of Doreen’s poetry, which she always thought her best work and which I love and many others do.”

Doreen’s ritual work is also referred to in the play. As Caine enigmatically states,“There’s some suggestion of magical ritual in the play but I can’t say what.” When pushed, he demures, “There’s a magic coconut.”

The play will be presented at the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton from November 21-27. “We wanted to do it at the same time as Witchfest as we thought that would be more helpful for us, as if people were travelling from different parts of the UK they are also able to come and see it,” says Withers.

On the closing night, the performance will include a question and answer session with a panel including Philip Hesleton, author of the recently published biography Doreen Valiente: Witch; Ashley Mortimer, a Trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation and the Director of the Centre for Pagan Studies; Julie Payne, a Trustee of the Doreen Valiente Foundation.

Since word of the play’s production went public, there has been huge international interest. “We’re having people come from around the world,” says Withers, “We had a ticket bought the other day from Australia, so we feel very, very humbled.”

The company has decided to make the play available on commercial release as a DVD. Withers says, “The play will also be professionally filmed. We’ve had a lot of interest from Wiccans in America asking if we’re going to tour it in America, so we’re having it professionally filmed and we’re turning it into a DVD.” The DVD release will be announced on Facebook, and the upcoming play website.

Rumours also abound that the play will tour in England in 2017, so watch that space for updates.

There is no doubt that the play has been close to Withers and Caines’s hearts. Caine says, “Doreen’s writings are some of the most inspiring things and have contributed a lot towards bringing people into the craft, as is the case for me, so it was a labour of love in that respect.”

Withers agrees, “We wanted to get her stories out to as many people as possible. A lot of people know her stories anyway, but I wanted to spread the word of Doreen Valiente really. She was a remarkable woman and I hope as many people as possible get to see it.”

He adds, “All the profits from the play will be going to the Doreen Valiente Foundation. I’m not doing this for my own gain, I just wanted to get the word of Doreen out there and to help the Doreen Valiente Foundation.”

Looking ahead, there are already new projects in the pipeline for Normal People Productions. Withers says, “We’re working with Preston Manor in Brighton, where the Doreen Valiente exhibition is currently, to produce a play about two of their famous ghost stories.” For now though, the spotlight is firmly on Doreen as this iconic figure takes her rightful place centre stage.

Cast and Crew of “Doreen: An English Witch” do the Mannequin Challenge

TWH — As the sun rose on Oct. 31 and the Halloween frenzy crested, a viral social media campaign appeared, generating hundreds of responses on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr ,and Twitter. Using hashtag #whatwitcheslooklike, people from around the world posted photographs of themselves wearing no religious ritual wear, costumes, or other atypical clothing for their personal lifestyle. The goal was to combat popular fictional witch stereotypes by demonstrating what real, modern Witches actually look like.

witches

As is typical of the Samhain season, the popular use of words, such as witch and witchcraft, find their way into and onto everything. This trend reaches its climactic denouement as Halloween arrives. Images of witches appear everywhere, from product packaging and clothing to news outlets and entertainment media. As last week’s TWH editorial on media concluded, “the onslaught of Witch articles in October is as much a part of the season as the falling of the leaves and the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.”

This particular year has been atypical due to the use of these terms within the contentious U.S. presidential election. From the early “Bern the Witch” slogan to the more recent accusations of ritual magic and “Spirit Cooking,” the terms witch and witchcraft, and all that they imply, have danced uneasily within the rhetoric of contemporary American politics. In many of these cases, the political noise has gone so far as to include a resurrection of an age-old political strategy that blames society’s failings, or one’s own failings, on witchcraft and Satanic worship.

Within all of this October chaos, a typical question arises: “What is a real Witch?” While some mainstream media reports do attempt to accurately answer the question, the predominantly European-based fictional representations of witches — those that have endured for centuries — far outweigh any reality that exists. They are well embedded in modern society and not easily forgotten.

In Act I scene iii of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606), Banquo says of the weird sisters:

“What are these;
So withered and so wild in their attire,
that look not like th’ inhabitants o’ the’ earth
And yet are on’t?”

Banquo goes on to describe their “choppy fingers,” “skinny lips,” and adds, “You should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so.”

Wicked Witch of the West, "Wizard of Oz" (1939); "Linda maestra!" Francisco de Goya (1799)

Wicked Witch of the West, “Wizard of Oz” (1939); “Linda maestra!” Francisco de Goya (1799)

While today’s popular witch imagery endures predominantly as fun and games and has even, in some places, adopted a strong feminist subtext, many modern Witches still find discomfort in its display. Despite all odds, they continuously work to combat the implied derogatory meanings and false assumptions present in these popular witch representations.

It is that very frustration that led to the recent #whatwitcheslooklike hashtag campaign. It is important to note that this was not the first time the hashtag had been used, but it was the first time it hit digital media with such force, and on Halloween.

It all began with a single post by the Village Witch of Asheville, North Carolina: H. Byron Ballard.

Ballard is a North Carolina native, a folklorist, gardener, and writer. She is a witch and priestess, who focuses her magical work on the energies local to her Appalachian home. She has published two books on the subject, Staubs and Ditchwater and Asfidity and Mad-Stones, and lectures at Pagan and other similar events.

Additionally, Ballard is very passionate about how witches and witchcraft are represented, and what is actually means to be a modern Witch. Ballard told The Wild Hunt that she gets frustrated with the “green-faced crone image,” one that she must deal with all year long. “I don’t love it being promoted as how Witches look.”

When she posted the hashtag on Halloween morning, she did not expect it to go viral, in fact it wasn’t meant to be a social media protest or campaign at all. Her post was simply a personal reaction to several conversations, more than anything else. Ballard explained how it all got started.

“The Walpurgisnacht Hexen Tanz video from Germany—that flitted through my Facebook feed on several occasions—inspired a local group of very nice women, several of whom I know, to do their own version around town during Hallowe’en season. I had some very mixed feelings about this and frankly wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. I was nerdy in thinking it should be done at Beltane, like the original,” Ballard began.

As she said, these traditional pop culture images do bother her, but like most American Witches, she typically just “lets that go” and continues on in her own practice.

This time, however, she decided to take action. On Oct. 27, Ballard asked Facebook friends for their opinions of the Walpurgisnacht video and its portrayal of Witches. She received close to 100 responses, mostly in her feed.

“Almost all of them encouraging me to lighten up, put on my Big Girl panties,” she said. “Being a priestess at Samhain with not a lot of free time, I let it go. Again.”

Photo that started the #whatwitcheslooklike viral campaign 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

Photo that started the #whatwitcheslooklike viral campaign 2016 [Courtesy Photo]

However, the entire issue nagged at her. Ballard went on to say, “We did our community public Samhain ritual on Sunday night, and I had two conversations about [this topic], with different people. One looked around the circle of about 50 people, and said, ‘You know this is what Witches look like. I wish people could see that we’re just people.’ The [second] conversation went along the same lines.”

The very next morning was Halloween. Ballard said, “I woke up thinking about battling this popular and, let’s face it, beloved image. And I thought, I’ll invite my Facebook Witch friends to just post a picture of themselves, on the day of Hallowe’en, going about their/our business.”

She began by taking her own selfie. “I had just washed my face and was making a cuppa tea and made a selfie standing beside the stove.” Then, she posted her photo on Facebook with this statement: “I invite all of you who self-identify as Witches to post a picture of yourself today. Not in costume or ritual clothing. Just yourself, in the season of the witch.”

Ballard said that she had no idea what would happen next.

On her own post, Ballard received 200 responses, but the popularity of the hashtag  #whatwitcheslooklike spilled over into other Facebook threads, and onto Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.

Instagram Photos

Instagram #whatwitcheslooklike photos (left to right): Author Sara Amis; Natalie Case (Instagram: natalisejcase); Nana Makemba lyalorisa of Orisanla and Osun (Instagram: of_Earth_and_Sky).

Since then, hundreds of more photos have been shared by people who identify as Witches. Ballard said, in retrospect, “The pictures are all so beautiful and proud.” She said that she hasn’t even been able to keep up or see them all. “But, gosh, wasn’t that fun? And they’re still coming in!” And, Ballard encourages people to continue using the hashtag #whatwitcheslooklike.

Below is a small gallery of images featuring people who identify as Witches. Some photos are from the actual hashtag campaign and others are from the TWH photo archives. This gallery is simply a sampling of the diversity of “witch looks” and is by no means comprehensive.

California, U.S. California, U.S. U.S. Israel U.S. New York City, U.S. California, U.S. New York City. U.S. Australia Washington, U.S. Georgia, U.S. New Jersey, U.S. Canada Maryland, U.S. Missouri, U.S. California. U.S. North Carolina, U.S. South Africa England Florida, U.S. Michigan, U.S. Indiana, U.S. PaganVegan (Tumblr) Thailand U.S. California, U.S. Massachusetts, U.S. U.S.
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North Carolina, U.S.

While the hashtag campaign most likely won’t curtail the use of the classic Halloween witch, it does prove exactly what Ballard intended: there is no Witch look. Most of the popular representations are grossly inaccurate, or limited at best. In reality, the appearances of modern Witches are as diverse as humanity is diverse.

[Note: all gallery images were used with permission either for this specific article or for past ones. They are not to be reproduced.]

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TWH – We have reached the end of October. Halloween is fast approaching. The veil is thin and the ancestors walk among us. The crops, whether from ground or pot, have been harvested. The oaks rain acorns on rooftops and earth begins its illustrious display of magnified color: one last dance before the slumber.

[Photo Credit: Cindy / Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Cindy / Flickr]

Another marker of the season is the mounting media interest in Witchcraft. Decades ago, this interest was purely in fictional representations and Halloween traditions. But today, we have mainstream journalists around the world eager to interview modern Witches, or in other cases, discuss Witchcraft in whatever form is appropriate for the outlet.

As the leading daily news agency covering modern Witchcraft in its entirety, The Wild Hunt should follow suit. Why shouldn’t TWH report heavily on Witchcraft during October? The answer is we do, as we do all year long.

Instead of “interviewing a Witch,” I decided to turn the tables around and look at recent mainstream media reporting. What are the standard questions asked? How does the October media circus reflect the reality of our collective communities? Beyond any articles specifically on pop culture witches, what else is being shared?

Salem and the Trials

Some outlets go right to the heart of American Witch lore by focusing on Salem, stationed proudly on the Massachusetts coastline. The Washington Post shares “Five myths about the Salem witch trials.” In an Oct. 26 article, The Guardian asked, “Is Salem losing its spookiness?” Author J.W. Ocker reports that Witch tourism is on the decline due to the city’s trendy gentrification and the declining interest in witch trial attractions, some of which are reportedly in need of upgrades. Ocker recently published a book titled, Season with the Witch: The Myth and Mayhem of Salem Massachusetts.

But for the many modern Witches practicing in America’s Witch City, the tourism industry is only a tiny fraction of their experience. While there are Witches who rely on tourism dollars for their livelihood, the city’s lucrative industry doesn’t change one’s personal practice. Regardless of history and outside of the witchy kitsch, there is in fact genuine Witchcraft being practiced in Salem. Additionally, for the past two years, the Pagan organization CUUPS has held its annual convention there. In 2013, Covenant of the Goddess did the same. Whether or not tourism is on the decline, Salem has not lost the love of its thriving Pagan community.

Witchcraft “is the new black”

Another trend in mainstream reporting focuses on the visual appearance of the Witch. This is not surprising because the mythology of Witchcraft, from Goya’s paintings to modern horror films, is heavily invested in the physicality of the Witch, most notably the female body (e.g., warts, elongated nose, exposed breasts, long fingernails).

This carries over into modern reports, which rely on visual signifiers to define who is a Witch. On Oct. 26, the A.V. Club reports, “Unlike the crunchy new age types who made Wicca into a (loosely) organized religion in the 1970s, these witches are more likely to be urban than rural, to be heavily tattooed than clad in a Ren Faire-style peasant skirt.” As suggested by the article, being a Witch has a definite look, and the most contemporary Witch look is “heavily tattooed.” This juxtaposition pits the The Craft against Stevie Nicks who, according to the article’s photo caption, is wearing a “Witchy fashion.”

This entire discussion recalls a sketch in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): “How do you know she’s a witch?” asks the scientist. “Because she looks like one,” responds a man in the crowd.

But Vogue, as one might expect, takes the concept of a “witch look” even further by offering facial treatments, makeup, and accessories based on the appearances of a number of pop-culture witches. Vogue concludes: “So whether you go the traditional route—a green face, complete with warts and rotting teeth—or prefer a more au natural look to cast spells on unsuspecting passersby, there’s inspiration for everyone.”

It is not uncommon for fashion designers to herald “witch looks.” In fact, this summer Vogue invited its readers to “be a witch.” The article essentially gives permission to dress in ways that might, under other circumstances, be considered risqué, taboo, or counter-culture. Fortunately, Vogue‘s definition of “witch wear” is a bit less limited in scope than that presented by A.V. Club.

But reality proves that there is no real “Witch look.” As anyone who has ever socialized within a group of modern Pagans would note, there are so-called fashion trends, but there are just as many exceptions. From clothing to makeup or facial hair to tattoos,choices in physical appearance offer fantastic opportunities for the outward expression of individuality – something key to the Witch’s worldview. These choices are rarely superficial attempts to become a fictional character, as one might do on Halloween.

A modern Witch’s visual appearance is often a part of spiritual seeking and magical practice.The choices can also be a function of religious work and devotion, whether in or out of ritual. Real Witch fashion choices, as it were, may be temporary or long-lasting. And, while there are certainly many pop culture expectations on the appearance of a Witch, there is, in reality, no Witch look.

[public domain]

[public domain]

Eat, Pray, Love

Moving beyond appearance and the popular signifiers of Halloween witchcraft (e.g, cats, broomsticks, and Winnifred Sanderson), many news outlets choose to dive into the modern Witchcraft community by interviewing a real Witch, one who is local to the outlet’s area. The New York Post, for example, featured the story of news librarian Liz Pressman.

These “interview a witch” articles typically ask the same questions about modern Witchcraft practice, often relying heavily on pop culture iconography as reference points. Pressman herself, for example, suggests that “millennials who grew up on Harry Potter can’t get enough of the feminist pagan religion that worships Mother Earth.” Later she notes that, as child, she could talk to dead people just like in The Sixth Sense (1999). These pop culture references can either assist in educational attempts, as with Pressman’s article, or serve to trivialize the practice of modern Witchcraft, as is the case in the mentioned Vogue articles.

Regardless, these seasonal interviews primarily serve as myth busters, with the aim of proving what a Witch is not. In a recent NPR piece titled “What The Real Witches of America Eat,” journalist Nina Martyris writes, “If you’re thinking of blood and feathers and cauldrons bubbling with eye of newt and toe of frog, you couldn’t be more off-menu. The correct, and disappointingly dull, answer is pizza, bread, fruit, nuts, granola bars, Cornish hens, Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks coffee, leg of lamb, beer, cheese, Merlot, frozen cheesecake and other supermarket comestibles.” And, Witches don’t eat babies, either.

Addressing another myth, tarot reader and occultist Chris Roberts told the Toronto Star: “(Witches) have nothing to do with demons, darkness or the devil. If we were worshipping the devil that wouldn’t make us pagans, it would make us really bad Christians.”

That quote hits upon the most commonly asked question: “To whom do Witches pray?” or better yet “Do Witches believe in God?”

In an in-depth interview with occult researcher and author Mitch Horowitz, paranormal radio show host George Noory responded to a caller, “at least [Witches] believe in God.” While Noory’s intent was to support modern Witchcraft practice, his comment falls short of describing the scope of prayer, ritual, and deity devotion within modern Witchcraft. However, Noory’s comment does illustrate one of the purposes of the media myth-busting angle: To neutralize or disarm the fearsome aspects of the Witch stereotype. In a society dripping with Abrahamic religious concepts of Witchcraft, it is understandable that the most common question, and concern, would be about God and deity worship, or the lack thereof.

As regular TWH readers know, this question, in reality, is not easily answered. Period.

Do Witches Eat Babies? Do Witches Pray to God? Do Witches Love? As for the question of love, I refer specifically to the practice of compassion, rather than interpersonal relationships. It is important to remember that mainstream myth-busting articles focus on what Witches do and do not, rather than who Witches are privately. The myth-busting mentality, therefore, aims to demonstrate a naturally-embedded compassion within modern Witchcraft practice. For example, these articles often define Witches as nature and animals lovers, healers and community helpers.

Focusing on a Witch’s compassion helps dispel the idea that Witches are dangerous. For example, in a recent Toronto Star article, a number of local Witches responded to the question “What is a Witch?” The answers are all focused on magical practice from tarot reading to healing, but they also highlight the compassionate nature of the interviewees. For example, Helga Jackobson is quoted, as saying, “A witch is likely to have an interest or knowledge in natural remedies, in working with the cycles of earthly experience, in helping those around them.” Laura Gonzalez writes, “We are healers, helpers and wise women…”

Monkeys Unleashed

Second only to the question “Do Witches believe in God?” is the question: “Do Witches curse people?” And similarly, it is asked in an attempt to neutralize an age-old fear. After mention of hexing and cursing, for example, radio show host George Noory asks author Mitch Horowitz, “Should we be afraid of Witches?” Horowitz, who has been working to end Witchcraft-related violence around the world, responds, “No,” adding “Witches are part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

It is a good answer and one that modern Witches love to hear.

However, it doesn’t respond to the question, “Do Witches curse and hex?” And, the real answer depends entirely on who you ask. Why? As Catland store owner Melissa Madaras told Teen Vogue, “[I] can’t speak for all witches, because every witch is a witch for their own reason, and every witch practices in their own way.” That applies to hexing and cursing. Some Witches do; others don’t. This is a contentious issue even within the modern Witch community itself.

Interestingly, the question of curses has become more relevant over the last year as hex actions against a number of public figures have been the focus of mainstream articles. Along with the now famous hex action launched in conjunction with the California Turner case, there have been other similar actions reportedly taken against political candidates, most recently Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. And, that is the angle Quartz took for its Halloween-inspired witch article, titled “Feminist Witches are casting hexes on Donald Trump” and filed under the sub-heading “Game of Crones.”

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1969 WITCH protest in front of Chicago Federal Building [Courtesy WITCH]

W.I.T.C.H.

The subject of hexing leads us to the final trend in witch-based mainstream articles – one that is highly relevant to current U.S. politics.

As has been the case historically, powerful women are often labeled “witch,” regardless of their actual religious beliefs, reported actions, or lifestyles. The witch is, in mythological or meta terms, a woman who knows too much. As such, the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has repeatedly earned that title in social media memes, articles, and other sources. The label has been used both as a derogatory slur against her character, and as an empowerment tool to demonstrate her strength and vigor.

Aside from any articles focusing specifically on the election, many recent witch-based reports have examined both the historical and contemporary connections made between feminism and Witchcraft. Broadly published an article about the 1960s feminist group W.I.T.C.H., calling its members the “protestors who hexed the patriarchy.” Similarly, a local Vermont news outlet focused on a recent hex action against Trump reporting that the local group “Feminists Against Trump will answer the call for activist witchcraft in its own way.”

In a New York Times opinion article, writer Anna North begins: “The witching hour is upon us. I’m talking not about Halloween but about Election Day — which, if you believe a vocal subset of conspiracy theorists, is when we’ll all get hexed.” North continues on to explore the intersection of politics and Witchcraft, within a feminist framework. She ends using pop culture signifiers, such as The Witch and the Blair Witch Project, to better illustrate her point, concluding: “For a fuller understanding of what the politics of Witchcraft would look like, though, I recommend The Craft.”

And we come full cycle, back to seeing pop culture used in order to understand what modern Witchcraft is, and what it is not.

While mainstream articles and discussions are limited in their space and scope, they can provide an outreach and educational opportunity to offer nuggets of truth. However, they rarely provide the space to delve into the reality of modern Witchcraft life, beyond the obvious, the visual signifiers, the mythology, and the needs of the myth-busting framework. Most articles fail to move beyond pop culture assumptions and comparisons.They fail to examine lifestyle choices, belief structures, and world views in order to demonstrate how these ideologies are integral not only to a Witch’s magical practice but also to a Witch’s commitment to community and the role played within society as a whole. In fact, it would seem that diving into such beliefs, rather than watching a movie, would be the best route for a “fuller understanding of what the politics of Witchcraft would look like.”

For better or worse, most mainstream seasonal articles are working primarily to disprove myth rather than showcase life. Some are positive and well-done in their intent and results, and some are far from it. Either way, the onslaught of Witch articles in October is as much a part of the season as the falling of the leaves and the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.

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Note: Editor Heather Greene will be hosting a Twitterthon on Witches in American Film and Television tonight at 8pm ET. Join the conversation by following the TWH Twitter feed @thewildhunt. Ask you questions via Twitter messenger.

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[Here is our October version of Unleash the Hounds, a monthly article fearing links to stories outside of our collective communities.  If you enjoy this article and others like this, please consider donating to The Wild Hunt.  We have 13 days left to meet our goal, and you make it possible for us to continue. The Wild Hunt is your community news service. Donate today.]

640px-amy_goodman_national_conference_for_media_reform_denver_2013_8626124929NORTH DAKOTA — It was announced this week that a judge “dismissed the riot charges” against journalist Amy Goodman for covering the protest efforts to stop construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. In September, the Democracy Now! producer was charged with criminal trespassing after reportedly filming “security guards working for the Dakota Access pipeline company using dogs and pepper spray to attack protesters.” At the time Goodman said, “This is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” adding that she was just doing her job.

Goodman has been a very vocal proponent of free and independent news media. This particular story reached national news, as Goodman turned herself over to authorities risking jail time for her right to work as a journalist. However, on Oct. 17, District Judge John Grinsteiner rejected the charges on the basis that the state lacked “probable cause.” The ruling is being hailed as a victory for freedom of the press.

Goodman is quoted as saying, “It is a great honor to be here today. The judge’s decision to reject the State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson’s attempt to prosecute a journalist—in this case, me—is a great vindication of the First Amendment.” She then invited other media outlets to join her in North Dakota as she continues her working covering the pipeline protests.

In Other News

  • Rolling Stone magazine recently reported on a triple murder within the furry community. The story went national and, as reported by the magazine, has this poorly-understood, private community worried about backlash. “The incident is causing concern among furries already sick of defending the scene from negative stereotypes,” writes Rolling Stone journalist Mary Emily O’Hara. “They worry that the tragedy will become a joke to the general public, like a 2014 chlorine gas attack at Midwest Furfest did, when MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski was unable to keep a straight face after she learned, on-camera, about furries.”
  • The Gothamist reported that a woman found a cow tongue nailed to a tree in Bedford-Stuyvesant, an area of Brooklyn, New York.  According to the report, this is not the first time that cow tongues have been found around the area. The article’s interviewee linked the tongue to a “wicked spell.” While the journalist did speak to a professor of religion on the possible meanings or origins of the tongue and its uses in religious work or magic, no more concrete information was provided. Was it really a spell or simply a joke? At this point, there is only speculation and accusations.
  • In an AJC investigative series, it was revealed that an Oklahoma psychiatrist has been accused of “spiritually manipulating” several of his female patients over a ten-year span. He allegedly “convinced [these women] that they had multiple personalities that could seize control of their bodies, that their mothers had given them over to witchcraft as babies, and that they were powerful witches.” After one victim committed suicide in 2003, the doctor reportedly told the police a similar story about witchcraft and the occult. The investigating officer at the time “didn’t know then what he had stumbled over” and never followed up. Since that point, other women have come forward now accusing the doctor of sexual manipulation and abuse. No Witchcraft practice was involved.
  • Witchcraft is also being linked to a kidnapping trial in Dallas, Texas. According to reports, a “jar containing a dark-colored liquid” was found under the alleged kidnapper’s bed. In court, the investigator speculated that this bottle was a hex spell, and is quoted as saying, “If she had to put it in context, she told the judge, it was more than a lucky nickel but not as serious as voodoo.”
  • Astrologers are currently fighting over Hillary Clinton’s exact birth time in an attempt to predict the election. As Christopher LaFond told The Wild Hunt in our own report on election astrology, “the time of day for Hillary Clinton’s birth is suspect,” making certain analyses difficult. The Washington Post dives into that debate.
  • According to a recent Upworthy article, a local Baltimore school has replaced detention with meditation. As reported, “Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.” The program was created and is sponsored by the Holistic Life Foundation. School officials have reportedly said that, since implementing the program, there have been no suspensions and the detention rate has dropped.

Arts and Leisure

  • The New York Times published an article on Star Trek’s beloved character Spock and his “outsider role model.” As the article reports, “For years [Spock] was about the closest viewers could get to a multiracial role model on American TV.” His dual identity as both human and Vulcan is uniformly reported to be his most popular trait. Audiences identified strongly with this duality, and still do.

Witches, Witches, and more Witches…

  • Bohemian.com, a site focused on California’s Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties, featured an article about the practice of modern Witchcraft in that region. “Many North Bay residents are carving pumpkins, scouring thrift stores in search of 1980s threads for Halloween costumes of their favorite Stranger Things characters, or building Dia de los Muertos altars to remember their beloved dead. Meanwhile, Preston and thousands of other witches are preparing for the Oct. 31 Pagan festival of Samhain. And, no, the festivities do not include eating babies.”
  • For your enjoyment, here is a performance from the popular German dance troupe Wolfshäger Hexenbrut:

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WASHINGTON D.C. — In late September, Televangelist Jim Bakker hosted Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Family Research Council senior fellow, on his show. They started off discussing how Maginnis felt about President Obama’s nomination of a Muslim-American attorney to be a federal judge.

While Bakker saw the nomination as an attack on Christianity and an example of persecution against Christians, Maginnis went a bit further in his answer. He alleged there is a secret cabal of Witches advising the senior leadership of the United States.

Maginnis says:

I know that there’s demonic forces in that city. I have personally met people that refer to themselves as witches; people that say they advise the senior leadership of the country. You know, we invite within the federal government people to advise us and often some of those advisers, I think, have evil motivations, things that you and I would not approve of.

Political magic is nothing new in the United States, although it is more often performed by Christians. One example is back in 2011 when The New Apostolic Reformation, a neo-Pentecostal Christian movement, hosted an event called DC40. The group planned to “lay siege” for 40 days on Washington D.C. in order to change the District of Columbia into the District of Christ and to eliminate compromise in our government. They also sent out an open letter to the Pagan community, whom they saw as responsible for the ills of the nation.

Gwendolyn Reece is a Witch and priestess of Athena and Apollon living in Washington DC who performs political magic. She doesn’t believe there are any witches advising senior White House administration. However, she said that she is “fascinated by the thought experiment of what it would look like if we DC witches were a secret cabal, advising top government officials.”

Reece said, “All of the DC witches who I know are deeply concerned about the corrupting influence of money in politics and the importance of each of our citizens having a vote that truly counts. We would, therefore, be working to ensure voter rights and overthrow gerrymandering.”

She said nature-reverencing witches would ensure the EPA would be stronger and that there was more policy discussion around the health of honey bees. Also on witches wish list? “If the DC witches were running things, you’d better believe that the State of Columbia would be joining the Union with rights as the fifty-first state.”

So what kind of political magic is Reece performing?  “I work to strengthen the thought-forms on the inner planes of what a good functioning Democratic system looks like and to feed them power so that they can have more strength as inspiration.” She said that magic, on its own, is not sufficient to enact change, adding that people must also embody their practice and vote.

[Photo Credit: Victoria Pickering]

[Photo Credit: Victoria Pickering]

Author Sheryl Grana believes that there are three main reasons why people, historically mostly women, were targeted as witches.

The first reason was to ensure that women stayed with expected gender roles and behavior. In Grana’s book Women and Justice, “Many women accused of witchcraft were identified, by men in their lives very often, as women engaging in some kind of wrong doing.”

Grana said that another group targeted were those who lived on the margins of society; the old, the poor, and those without a male figure in their life. The concern was that oppressed and marginalized persons could use occult forces to get back at their oppressors.

The last group targeted, according to Grana, are women who have wealth and power. These are independent women who the males in a community wish to bring back under their control.

Reece thinks that Maginnis is targeting people from the last two groups identified by Grana. “The demographics of contemporary Paganism skew heavily toward being female but also LGBTQ people of all gender expressions are heavily statistically over-represented. Clearly he’s saying that there are people who are, in his mind, troublingly “other” who have power and the thing that is threatening to him is that they have power and influence.”

She also said that, by Maginnis calling the motivations of the advisers evil, his thinking is resonate with the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The Protocols outline how an oppressed minority is accused of operating secretly in ways that demonstrate extraordinary influence in political and social institutions, which shape society for nefarious ends.

Should it worry Americans if, someday, Witches became advisers to our political leaders? Reece doesn’t think so; “I do not believe Maginnis is telling the truth when he says that there are Witches who are high level policy advisers, secretly influencing our politicians. Maybe we should be.”

Black moon, what?

Heather Greene —  October 2, 2016 — 4 Comments

[Heather Greene is our managing editor and weekly news writer. If you like her work and enjoy our daily news service, consider donating to The Wild Hunt. Each and every day, you will receive original content, both news and commentary, with a focus on Pagans, Heathens and polytheists worldwide. Your support makes it all happen, and every dollar counts. This is your community; TWH is your community news source. Donate today and share our link! Thank you.]

TWH – On Sept. 30 at 8:11 pm ET, the rare “black moon” appeared in the sky, only two days before the Jewish celebration of Rosh Hashanah. In some communities, warnings went out about an apocalypse and a second coming. In other places, event facilities set up special viewings. “Don’t miss this amazing celestial event.” Others were left wondering, “Black moon, what?”

[Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

No. That’s a full moon. [Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

The question remains: who is this mysterious celestial interloper? What is the black moon?

Aside from being a 1975 Louis Malle film, the black moon is a term that has come be used for the second new moon that occurs in a calendar month. It is not unlike the term blue moon that is used for the second full moon in a month. However, the term blue moon has become a regular and accepted part of contemporary vernacular. While the meaning of blue moon has shifted from its original 19th century connotation of “never” to mean “once in awhile,” the language is hardly unknown.

The phrase’s association with the second full moon of a calendar month is attributed to poor interpretations of old almanac definitions. According to Hayden Planetarium lecturer Joe Rao, “This moniker came about because a writer for Sky & Telescope Magazine misinterpreted an arcane definition given by a now-defunct New England Almanac for when a full moon is branded “blue,” and instead incorrectly reasoned that in a month with two full moons, the second is called a blue moon.”

This fact is corroborated by NASA, who notes, “The term blue moon is believed to have originated in 1883 after the eruption of Krakatoa. The volcano put so much dust in the atmosphere that the moon actually looked blue in color.” However, it was in that 1943 Sky & Telescope “Star Quiz,” which was “followed by an article in March 1946” that changed the term’s meaning.

Based on his own research, Rao goes on to say that “the ‘blue moon’ brand quietly went unnoticed for some 40 years, until a syndicated radio show promoted the term in the 1980s and it then went viral.”

But the new moon, which has been equally as giving with its double-month appearances, has not had as an effective publicity manager. Considering that the new moon doesn’t quite offer as flashy a performance as the full moon, this is not at all surprising. However, even among seasoned magical practitioners who honor new moon rites regularly, the term is unfamiliar or unused.

Where and when did the name originate?

The term black moon, used in this way, is relatively new. In fact, it is so new that it is not mentioned at all on NASA’s moon pages, like the blue moon. In an article on Universe Today, writer Fraser Cain writes,”You might not have heard the term before…” And he’s right, many haven’t. Cain’s article, which is currently dated 2015, was originally published in 2008.

According to one older random astronomy website, the second new moon in a month actually has had multiple names, although sources are not provided. Along with black moon, the site also claims that the second new moon in a month has been called the secret moon, the finder’s moon and the spinner moon. The website, which dates its materials with the year 1995, was published online in 1999.

Black Moon. There it is. [Public Domain / Pixabay]

Black moon. There it is. [Public Domain / Pixabay]

In 1997, there was a second full moon on Halloween, which created some local media buzz. “Beware, this Halloween … The black moon will reign,” writes The Santa Cruz Sentinel  “For astrologers, witches, goddesses, and others who place significance in the lunar month’s timing, its a very hallowed time indeed.” (27 Oct. 1997 pp.1)  According to the Salina Journal in Kansas, the black moon is a good thing, because its unique effects leave zombies, witches, and the dead powerless until the following Halloween. (26 Oct 1997, pp 3.)

Prior to 1997, there appears to be little mainstream fanfare around the phenomenon. This explains why the sudden widespread usage has left some magical practitioners bewildered and betwixt.

Diotima Mantineia of Urania’s Well told The Wild Hunt, “Both the so-called ‘black moon’ (second of two new moons in a calendar month) and ‘blue moon’ (second of two full moons in a calendar month) are determined by a human calendar, not the position of moon in its relationship to sun and earth. Therefore, they have no meaning from an astrological perspective, or from a magical perspective. It’s just an accident of the calendar.”

Frustrated at the sweeping media hype, Mantineia went on to note, “In fact, this ‘black moon’ of September actually occurred in October in the UK and points east due to the time differential.The phases of our moon (new moon, full moon, etc.) are based on the relationship between moon and sun as viewed from Earth, and this relationship is what counts astronomically, astrologically, and magically.” (Read Mantineia’s full analysis here)

Like Mantineia, Pagan elder Ed Hubbard has also been frustrated with the hype surrounding this particular moon, but for an entirely different reason. He told The Wild Hunt, “It’s a media creation It’s branding of news … Nothing ancient, no old practices.”

Hubbard was invited to be a special guest on Friday’s Pagans Tonight Radio Network show The Correllian Family Hour. In that show, he said, “This whole thing was created by me.” According to the interview, Hubbard crafted a black moon ritual in 1993, and had been working with the idea of this special dark moon for years. Through Witch School press releases and other writings, the idea went viral, as it were. He told The Wild Hunt, “Dark moon is our own practices. Black moon is my ritual theater.” He explained the story in detail on Friday’s show.

While frustrated for different reasons, Mantineia and Hubbard are not alone in their reactions to the “branding” efforts and media hype. And what did that look like?

There’s a black moon on the horizon” – CNN
A rare ‘black moon‘ will rise tonight” – WTAE Pittsburgh
“Spooky: Rare ‘black moon’ to rise Friday night” – CTV News (Canada)
Check out the rareblack moon‘ on Friday night” – CBS Norfolk, Virginia

Leaving alone the more sensationalized headlines and the articles encouraging people to “check out” the nearly invisible rare celestial occurrence, most media outlets did note that the phenomenon was not at all catastrophic.”Black moon‘ rising: No, it’s not the apocalypse,” informed The Washington Post. Denver’s local CBS affiliate reported, “Keep Calm, Tonight’s ‘Black Moon‘ Is Harmless.” But perhaps the award for the biggest buzz-kill goes to Stockton, California’s ABC affiliate, who informed its viewers, “A black moon will rise Friday night, but you aren’t going to see it.”

At the same time, there were news sources, bloggers, and niche markets that enjoyed the fervor, even speculating on the meaning of the black moon for Pagans. For example, World Wide Religious News reported that the phenomenon was “creating excitement among Christians and followers of pagan religions alike.” Timeanddate.com informs its visitors, “Black moons hold special significance to people who practice certain forms of Pagan religions and who believe certain actions become more potent when performed on the night of a black moon.”  And, the CBS Norfolk affiliate mentioned earlier told its readers that Pagans “believe the rare event provides extra spiritual power for rituals.”

The blog Revelist.com went further and interviewed a Wiccan. In an article titled, “A witch explains why you can’t miss tonight’s black moon,” with the subtitle “spooktacular,” Milo, the interviewed witch, said, “In Wicca, the black moon is considered a time when there is extra power for spells and ritual. The idea of blue moons and black moons is only about two centuries old, so there are no ancient pagan traditions to draw on.”

Outside of media hype, any Pagan references to black moons, ancient or modern, are very rare, occurring, if you will, only once in a blue moon. However, we did find one in a 2003 book titled Everyday Moon Magic. Author and Witch Dorothy Morrison writes, “When the repeated phase happens to be the dark or new moon, we call the second occurrence the black moon.” She continued on to say that the repetition increases its power. “The black moon provides an excellent time for soul searching and inner journey work, divination, and the eradication of self-deception.” (Morrison, pg. 43)

When asked where she found the term, Morrison said that she couldn’t remember exactly, but speculated it was an almanac or journal. However, in the Correllian radio interview, Hubbard claimed that he had spoken at length with Morrison prior to her writing the book, and that he was indebted to her for helping to develop his black moon magic. He also praised her book for its accuracy.

Although the term black moon is used prior to 1993 in secular works of art (e.g., Hussain’s painting Black Moon, 1960; Malle’s film Black Moon, 1975; Carpenter’s film Black Moon Rising, 1986), it does appear that Morrison’s book includes the earliest written information about magical usage. And, Hubbard’s ritual theater is the earliest reported Pagan usage of the term. In both cases, that timing corresponds roughly to the dates on secular websites, as noted earlier.

Does it any of it matter now? As Mantineia suggested, the new moon will rise and set on schedule regardless of our human calendar. Some Pagans have fully embraced the term in their regular new or dark moon practices, regardless of whether there are or aren’t any magical differences. The most common associations apply, and for some that includes the new moon’s relationship to Lilith, the dark goddess, and inner cleansing work.

Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox said, “I celebrated this year’s black moon with personal reflection and transformation, and by facilitating community observances face to face and in cyberspace. As with other lunar transition points, the black moon can be an opportunity to strengthen our awareness of and attunement with nature’s rhythms.” Rev. Fox incorporates the name without a problem.

Similarly, author and village Witch Byron Ballard said, “I always prefer the strength of the energies before new moon. That place of complete surrender before the cycling up begins again. As a teacher, I encourage people to test that energy and find what it’s best for.”  She added, “This particular dark moon felt particular fizzy, energetically. But all of them are powerful tools to be used by those who can.”

[Courtesy NASA]

Dark moon.  [Courtesy NASA]

While the moniker black moon, or even blue moon, may not be centuries old, the terms have worked their way, to varying degrees, into contemporary language as markers of our modern celestial experience. Whether or not they have any extra significant spiritual or magical power, outside of their expected nature as full and new moons, is clearly up for grabs. Almanacs the world-over have been naming and renaming moons for centuries. Does the nomenclature alter their power or significance? Or is it all just media hype and moon branding, as suggested by Hubbard and Joe Rao at space.com.

On Monday, Slooh.com will be streaming a show focused on the black moon and will include a talk by the site’s spiritual consultant Helen Avery. She will discuss “the various definitions for the black moon and the way it has been adopted by Pagan practitioners.” The website adds that this moon has “deep spiritual meaning and can affect how and when they practice their craft. For others, the black moon means very little. She will discuss both sides.”

While the magical significance is varied with regard to a moon phase doubling up in a month, there is one thing that is clear. The black moon is simply a dark moon or a new moon; no matter what name you call it, and how you honor it.

And finally there is one last important note that needs to be made. The 2016 media hype may not yet be over. While the Western Hemisphere saw this “somewhat rare” phenomenon that “won’t happen again for years” on Sept. 30, the Eastern Hemisphere will see the same phenomenon on Oct 31.

Spooky!


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NEW ORLEANS, La. – Ender Darling, whose legal name is Devon Marie Machuca, is charged with several counts of trafficking in human parts and burglary of a cemetery. The charges come after a January raid on Darling’s home yielded human bones.

Darling, a practicing Witch, caught the attention of authorities after a Facebook post offering to send human bones to other Witches went viral to the point that the story got its own hashtag #bonegazi. By some accounts, Tumblr alone showed were well-over 40,000 notes and shares on a single mention.

Screen capture of original post

Screen capture of original post

The July arrest warrant issued stated Darling denies digging up any remains from the Holt Cemetery, but admitted to collecting bones which surfaced after rainstorms. Darling also denies selling the remains, saying that reimbursement for shipping costs was all that was requested. According to computer records seized in the raid, at least one other Witch appears to have purchased human bones from Darling.

Timeline of events

16 November:  According to police reports, Darling sent messages through Facebook which indicated that they were obtaining bones from a nearby graveyard.

11 December: Darling posts on Facebook about having human bones for use in Witchcraft and offering to send bones to other Witches if they cover the cost of shipping.

12 December: Fellow New Orleans resident Desier Deja Galjour shares Darling’s post on Facebook and asks people to spread the word. They do.

14 December:  Local media picks up the story

17 December: Tumblr users try to find out identity and location of Darling.

18 December: Louisiana Assistant Attorney General Ryan Seidemann says he has ordered an investigation into the possible removal of human remains from Holt Cemetery in New Orleans.

28 January: After 6 days of surveillance, Police search Darling’s home. Authorities confiscate a laptop, cellphone, and at least 11 bones and four teeth. They also issue a summons for Darling and roommates for possession of marijuana.

Early February: Darling moves away from NOLA to Florida, saying that they feared for their safety.

17 June: In response to public outcry,  the “Louisiana Human Remains Protection and Control Act” is signed into law. It stiffens penalties for removing human remains from cemeteries. A first-offense violation is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or a year in prison. A second offense is punishable by two years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

15 July: After a forensic lab confirms the bones removed from Darling’s home are human, an arrest warrant is issued. Darling is taken into custody Tampa, Florida.

27 July: Darling is transferred to the Orleans Justice Center

 Queer and Trans youth attracted to Witchcraft

Darling’s friend, Kristy Casper-Saxon says the outrage is less over Darling picking up bones off the ground and has more to do with religion, ethnicity, alternative appearance, sexual orientation and gender. Darling identifies as a transgender genderqueer person of color.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Casper-Saxon said, “I think this is targeting a member of a racial minority and sexual minority. Everything about [Darling’s] identity questions the status quo, and that’s what we love about them.”

According to an article in VICE, there are a growing number of queer and trans youth practicing Witchcraft. A younger queer Witch told Vice “the capacity for Witchcraft to accommodate alternative expressions of gender is what makes it appealing to a new generation of Witches.”

David Salisbury, author of Teen Spirit Wicca and LGBTQ activist, believes that queer youth have been coming to Witchcraft for decades, but their expertise with social media is making it more visible. Salisbury told The Wild Hunt, “And as the old gender norms of Wicca are being reexamined by the masses, queer people are becoming more comfortable in talking about why they’re attracted to it. I think that can only grow.”

He also thinks finding a place of welcome as a trans or queer person is a fabulous reason to embrace Witchcraft, “Queer people are particularly suited for the Craft because we know what it’s like to be between or outside of the norm. Witchcraft requires that we slip into those “between” spaces to bring about change.”

Ethics of using human bones in Witchcraft

“This is where I go to find my human bones for curse work and general spells that require bone. I find human bones are easier (to) work with for me rather than animal bone. I can relate and work with the energy they carry if that makes any sense.” Darling wrote in the Facebook post that ignited the controversy.

[Photo Credit: MusikAnimal / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: MusikAnimal / Wikimedia]

Darling’s use of human bones has had Pagans and non-Pagans alike asking why modern Witches use human bones while practicing Witchcraft and wondering what are the ethics in obtaining and using such bones.

David Salisbury said that working with bones is similar to working with stones and crystals, “My experience with bones is that, like crystals, they carry the energetic memory of their experiences. While stones carry the current of the land, bones carry the current and memory of the human experience, ancestry. Bones can help open the way for stronger contact with the spirits for that reason.”

Salisbury added that the skull is a valuable bone to work with because it holds the current of human thought and expression. He noted that it’s very rare for a Witch to use a human skull due to the cost and legal obstacles to obtaining one. Instead, he makes an accomodation, “I’ve performed many successful workings with my resin substitute.”

Darling picked up bones that were visible on the ground. In an interview with The Advocate, Darling said that they don’t think they did anything illegal or unethical, either by removing the bones from the cemetery or sending them to other Witches for their use.

“This is me passing along something I feel nature has given me,” Darling said.

Salisbury explained that the ethics around obtaining human bone use would preclude removing them from a cemetery. “I would not use found or taken bones from cemeteries. They can be purchased online from people who donated their bodies to science and art who knew that their remains would go to some type of human use,” he said.

“Cemeteries to me are resting places and I wouldn’t want to carry the ethical burden of taking something that was intended to be laid to rest.”

We were unable to reach Darling directly for comment.

Darling appeared in court Friday and was charged with burglary as well as the possession of marijuana. They pled guilty to all charges. They were fined and sentenced to five years probation on the theft charge, and “15 days on possession with credit for time served.” A probation hearing is scheduled for Oct. 11.

“TV can be art. TV can be revolutionary. TV can be popular entertainment AND incite critical dialogue. Audiences are hungry and intelligent enough for challenging work. This describes the philosophy behind BRUJOS…” – from BRUJOS

CHICAGO — There is no doubt that the power held by visual narrative media, from film to television to fine art, is unmatched and only increasing in our contemporary digitally-infected world. Going back in time, American filmmakers alone have been entertaining, guiding, and challenging the opinions of viewers for nearly 120 years. From mainstream blockbusters to art house projects, visual narrative media has a natural way of digging into our psyche and holding on. It can give us what we want and soothe us to complacency, or it can give us what we perceptibly need and provoke us into action.

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While most of us are familiar with the mainstream servings of visual narrative media, there are many artists who consciously reject the conventional modes of film or television operations, including technical methodologies, themes, visual language, and canned plots. These artists seek new ways of using their medium to capture and express ideas without the seemingly inherent presence of showmanship or the expectations of normative society. They want to use the medium’s incredible power to break traditional story telling barriers, challenge audiences, and perhaps make people a bit uncomfortable through a confrontation with a new reality.

Ricardo Gamboa, a Chicago-based artist, performer and filmmaker, is attempting to do just that. He is currently the driving force behind an upcoming web series called BRUJOS. As stated on the website, “BRUJOS is a queer-of-color web series that follows four gay Latino grad students that are also witches as they try and survive the school semester and a witch hunt led by the wealthy, white, male and heteronormative descendants of the first New World colonizers.”

Gamboa has a masters degree in Arts Politics from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and is currently finishing up his doctorate in American Studies at NYU, where he is also a Critical Collaborations Fellow. Gamboa was also a fellow of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, and has a long list of art credits and awards to his name. He was a finalist for Sundance Film Festival Latino Film Fellowship, and his short film The Southside Has Many Beauty Queens was winner of the Best Short at Chicago Latino Film Festival, to name only two.

The Wild Hunt had the opportunity to speak with Gamboa about his background, his motivation, the practice of Witchcraft, and the upcoming series itself.

The Wild Hunt: When did you become interest in art, and more specifically filmmaking?

Ricardo Gamboa: I’ve always made art as a kid: made construction paper sculptures, wrote puppet shows with my sister, memorized and acted out cartoons and comic books, etc. I also have always been invested in the world around me and sociopolitical issues. These two interests have always been braided together. I’ve been doing “art activism” since before the term existed.

TWH: Will you share your personal experience and background that led to you to becoming an activist artist and how or when the two merged?

RG: It was a way to talk back to power without getting killed. The reality is we live in a world of discipline and punish and control. My personal biography is dotted with an assassinated activist, gang members, and people who have resigned to quiet existences. I don’t want to go quietly. I don’t want to die. Art and art-making can provide a wormhole in time-space and from oppressive systems to experience or imagine new things and ways of being.

I started acting and was unable to find work that was in line with my politics or what I thought performance could and should be doing. So, I started writing my own work.

brujos_010

Ricardo Gamboa as Panfilo in BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: On the website, you wrote, “Grassroots filmmaking that focuses on community building further underline that Brujos is not just about artistic conceit, but also social mission.” Can you define “grassroots” filmmaking and how it functions within a social mission?

RG: There’s this fantasy of filmmaking as some democratic medium, but it’s not. It’s actually a very inaccessible medium because of how much it costs to make films and how the culture/film industry marginalizes people of color, women, etc. So, with my work, I try to create work that bypasses all that and articulates an alternative to big budget filmmaking. It relies on thinking about filmmaking more like community organizing and rather than making a product for the arts or culture economy, thinking about how process can condition a cultural ecology.

So, my filmmaking process sows community into the process at various points: the writing and development, as actors, etc. So, amending the filmmaking process can model alternative forms of being, relating, etc. as well.

TWH: Are any of the BRUJOS characters or depicted events directly reflective of things that happened to you personally or to people you knew?

RG: A lot of BRUJOS draws from my personal experience and people I know. But, what I think is more important is how many viewers will say, “Me too.” That’s what matters to me. And the overarching premise of the show, of racialized gendered subjects living in a world of Western domination or white supremacist, heteropatriarchy is a fact of existence for all of us. So, maybe BRUJOS isn’t fantasy or autobiographically-inspired, just a documentary.

TWHYou also discuss how many groups of marginalized people are “absent in media representation.” Would you say this representation has been getting worse, better or the same? 

RG: I don’t know if it’s getting “worse.” There is more “diverse representation” in media than ever before. But I don’t know what it is doing. There’s a difference between representational achievements and revolutionary achievements. “Looking” is a representational achievement, not a revolutionary one.

I’m not interested in creating work that just “portrays” marginalized subjects (queer people, people of color, etc.). I’m interested in making work that gives marginalized subjects the tools to diagnose our media representation and social realities and that invites them to begin thinking of another world. BRUJOS isn’t about people of color or queer people succeeding or finding love in the normative world. It’s about them taking that world down and living their lives effectively in the anti-matter of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, etc.

TWH: As a child or teen watching movies and television were you acutely aware of the lack of brown and black bodies in film, and then eventually the limited representation of LGBTQ? If so, will you talk about how any of that felt?

RG: I was very aware of it, and it is violence. That’s all we need to know. It is an attempt to deprive people of affirmative images so that they cannot visualize themselves as actors in their own biography and society. Media representation is about giving people a referent. A dream to pursue, a way to be, things to want. But depriving people of affirmative images or an array of desires, lifestyles, etc. is a way to make them negate themselves and limit their horizons of conceptualization.

brujos_043

From BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: Now let’s talk about the series itself. Let’s talk witches. These “non-normative characters” practice magic. As far as we can tell from the trailer, the movie’s coven of witches is all men and all queer. Is that correct? And, do you conceive of these four witches as being humans with supernatural powers (e.g. The Craft, 1996) or non-human (e.g. Bewitched, 1964-)?

RG: Yes, they are queer men. I guess. But, I don’t know. “Human” itself is a contract, and the notion of the “human” as we understand it has a very specific genealogy that is tied to colonization, western ideation, etc. Human and non-human isn’t so much of how I think about it. What I’ll say is that the characters in BRUJOS are alive; they’re struggling to be alive.

TWH: Can you clarify this point?

RG: I would say the BRUJOS are people, they are also racialized and gendered subjects. Their humanity is always in question. That is a reality for people like the characters in BRUJOS–on and off the screen. When Darren Wilson shot Mike Brown, he referred to him as “demon.” This country calls undocumented Mexican (and other Latin American) immigrants “aliens.” Gay sex is constantly referred to as “unnatural.”

To be honest, I don’t know what human is; I don’t know what constitutes humanity; I just know we haven’t really seen it. What is fantasy and fiction and what is real, especially when it comes to defining or outlining what or who is “human” is really fuzzy territory. I’m not saying this to be philosophically pretentious. I really mean this. So, it’s hard for me to answer this question. So, I could say, “yes, they’re human” but I’m not really sure.

TWH: Getting back to the film’s witchcraft, are you or any of your crew familiar with or practitioners of modern Witchcraft, conjure, hoodoo, magic, or something similar? If not, do you have a consultant that is working with you on that aspect of the show?

RG: Yes, I’m familiar with it. Certain aspects of brujeria have always been a part of my life. There are ways in which brujeria is part of quotidian culture for Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and other Latin American peoples. It was something that I grew up around. But, I would say that I was going through some hard times that caused me to seek answers, help from alternative forms of knowledge and that opened me up more to magic, witchcraft, etc. My own connection to brujeria and psychic abilities deepened.

For the show, I have and still do talk to people about magic, ritual … We are careful how it’s all represented in the show. In various moments, BRUJOS draws from brujeria, Santeria, hoodoo, witchcraft, etc. But, I’m not interested in providing an ethnographic or voyeuristic window into those practices. Instead, I obscure the actual practices or spells. It’s not my place to represent “factually” any of that. I’m not trying to expose or give people a how-to manual. Many of those practices have survived and thrived (and had to do so) in secret and I’ve always been good at keeping secrets. Power can’t touch what it can’t see.

And, again, I don’t want BRUJOS to boil down to a representative project; it’s a political project, and one that is invested in political imagination and thinking of different ways to imagine politics and power. Magic, superpowers, etc. are a conduit for that.

TWH: You write that supernatural has two meanings: the actual practice of magic and the going beyond what is considered socially normative. Can you explain this concept?

RG: Supernatural also refers to our characters –queers of color, women of color, etc– where supernatural also refers to their ability to survive oppressive systems and find ways to love and understand their selves and other.

TWH:The visuals in the short trailer are striking and rich. At the same time, the trailer has moments that are unsettling and startling. Is this what we can expect to see more of in the show?

RG: Yes.

TWH: Can the show be classified as fantasy, drama, horror, crime? What would you say?

RG: I am deeply invested in defying genre boundaries and conventions. Genre is about leading the viewer, contextualizing their experience, providing them expectations. It is part of a larger project of normalizing sensation. BRUJOS mixes genres: telenovela, sitcom, fantasy, drama, noir, horror, etc. We live lives that are mixed genres; BRUJOS mirrors that.

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From BRUJOS [Video Still]

TWH: Can you site your inspirations that led you to this point of artistic discovery and process? 

RG: I really want to live. I really want people around me, people from the communities to which I belong, to be able to live. I am so exhausted from seeing people die and being devalued. I would say the people I love, the people I see struggling to stay alive, to be alive are my inspiration.

I can cite comics, supernatural film, queer directors or pulp magazines, talk about Fanon or Mignolo–but that’s just grammar, syllables, etc. What makes me speak and what motivated BRUJOS and what is the impetus of BRUJOS isn’t other art or ideas, but social realities and personal biographies. The politics is the art.

TWH: You say “get involved.” If people want to help or support this effort, what can they do?

RG: Visit our website and contact us. Share the site and trailer. We’re definitely looking for more financial support and will be launching a crowd-funding campaign. But, beyond that, I’ve been thinking about ways to make the series more “interactive” and including our audience more thoroughly.

TWH: Beyond BRUJOS, where else can we find your own work?

RG: I don’t have a website. I’m not commodifying myself. I hope that my web presence is created for me because people engage my work. I have films and performance art pieces littered over the internet. But, a lot of my work is theater, mostly in Chicago in the communities to which I belong.

The thing that I’m most proud of is my work with The Young Fugitives at Free Street Theater. The Fugitives are a radically politicized youth of color ensemble that creates really provocative plays. I’ve been working with the members of that group since they were graduating middle school and now they’re well into college. Another project of mine that’s really important to me is The Southside Ignoramus Quartet (SIQ). SIQ is a brown comedic ensemble that performs in a tent in a backyard to deliver affordable and politicized comedy for the hood in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that our members grew up in. We also have a web series coming out this winter.

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BRUJOS will debut on Jan. 20, 2017 on OpenTV (Beta), “a platform for television by queer, trans, cis-women or artists of color” founded by Northwestern professor Aymar Jean Christian. Gamboa, who wrote the script, will be joined by co-director Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke, producer Stephanie Jeter, graphic designer May Cat, and director of photography Ben. The preview can be found on Vimeo, OpenTV(beta) and Brujos TV.

Rob Collins as Waruu West in ABCs Cleverman

Rob Collins as Waruu West in ABCs Cleverman [Publicity Still]

“Firstly, it’s The Dreaming. Present tense. Our stories are not static, they’re not locked in the past, bound, just as Hairypeople are not bound by what is,” says Waruu West (Rob Collins) in ABC’s latest original Australian drama Cleverman.  Found in the second instalment ‘Containment,’ this moment stood out. Collins, playing an Indigenous spokesperson on a TV news panel discussion, delivers the line with acid on his tongue, shifting in his seat and barely able to maintain his countenance to suit the panel’s format, which is supposed to represent the epitome of polite society in serious discussion.

In the world of Cleverman, the Dreaming is mentioned here with the same condescension it might be on an actual TV weekly news and current affairs panel. I’ve seen enough Aboriginal Elders and commentators on such shows to know that Collins did not have to look very far to inspire his character’s reaction in this moment. As an Indigenous man himself, Collins probably didn’t even need that.

In the make-believe dystopian near future of Cleverman, not six months before the action takes up with the first episode, the Dreaming just materialised in the form of the Hairypeople. What was once thought of as just an Aboriginal story and a monster to scare children, is now flesh and blood. They are an entirely different species of human that is stronger, faster, harder, covered in hair, and absolutely not a figment of some distant story derived from an uncivilised past. This narrative fact makes the host’s condescension in this scene all the more misplaced, purposefully nasty.

[Above: Q&A Monday 09 June, 2014. Aunty Rosalie Kunoth-Monks’ “I am not the problem” speech, in conversation regarding John Pilger’s Utopia.]

This point in the show also created a moment during which, it was white Australian viewers’ turn to shift uncomfortably in their seats, if they had not already. In that scene, with its similarity to real day-to-day viewing, it felt like director Wayne Blair, and writers Michael Miller and Jon Bell were speaking directly to us. And I confess: it was my turn for a little bit of solidarity with my Indigenous Brothers and Sisters fist pumping. Waruu’s statement contained within it something that could easily translate to my own experience as a Pagan and a Witch: Our Mythos. Present tense. Our stories are not static, they’re not locked in the past, bound, just as the Otherworlds are not bound by what is.

Cleverman is a futuristic sci-fi narrative told using the contemporary language of television and chocked full of very real and very current issues. Included in its themes are Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, forced imprisonment, our nation’s crimes against humanity, as well as the physical, mental, and emotional trauma suffered at our hands by those most vulnerable: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, immigrants, and refugees. Additionally, the show includes the Scientific Frankenstein, the Shady Media Mogul, themes of fear, terror, racism, bigotry, atrocity, isolation, desperation, violence, and police brutality.

These details are all woven together in a sprawling story that we should in fact not be confused about at all. However, it is the twist with which it’s told that is the real highlight. The fictional Hairypeople are lifted directly from several Aboriginal Dreaming stories. They speak Gumbaynggirr, a language from northern New South Wales, as is the Namorrodor, the monster stalking urban Sydney. Indigenous actors dominate in both the Indigenous and Hairypeople roles. The Cleverman is a cultural facticity.

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West on Cleverman show poster

Hunter Page-Lochard as Koen West on Cleverman [Publicity Poster for SundanceTV]

Our reluctant hero Koen West, is Aboriginal, a refreshing change from what we so often see highlighted by Australian and international news. Koen, an opportunistic young Indigenous man who refuses to choose a tribe, has suddenly had the Cleverman superhero powers thrust upon him. The power is real and present in this show’s world. It is manifest in Koen, Waruu, in the Hairypeople, and in the short (but always sparkling) performance of Jack Charles as Uncle Jimmy the Cleverman who passes the nulla nulla (or waddi a warrior’s club) of the Cleverman onto Koen.

If Koen stands as a proxy for young Indigenous viewers, then the narrative comes with a dare: Pick up your power, claim your strength. Our Dreaming is not static. None are left to wonder about the nature of that strength and power. It’s Indigenous and it comes from a very real place.

In this way, Cleverman is the Dreaming. The show is Indigenous story soaked with a real Indigenous past and a contemporary Indigenous experience. With the help of CGI and special effects, the show demonstrates how the Dreaming contains within it the ability to confront new issues and problems with no less potency. The Dreaming refuses to stay static.

The Dreaming is not at odds with western science, political systems, media, or indeed, the future. Rather, here, the Dreaming uses all these modern ideas and formats to its own end. Standing alongside these contemporary mainstream Australian institutions as equally valid and powerful, the show tells a story of change, of how it is made manifest in those who engage with it, and how it can reclaim itself – its Indigenousness – from those very institutions who have sought to diminish it. The Dreaming claims itself, as strong, powerful, old, political, and social, and entirely relevant, in the now.

It is here, precisely at this moment, that Australian Pagans and Witches should feel the pangs of empathy. This is art as story magic.

In the first place, we should be familiar with the historical arc that underpins the show. In summary, cultural practices, myths and stories are outlawed, then, after a time, they are repackaged as oddities from a distant past for children’s entertainment. Then, finally, adults start taking these “oddities” back.

Pagans around the world know this story. In recent times, we have seen a major resurgence in many myths and folktales. Appearing on the small and silver screens alike, these stories are being torn apart and remade with entirely relevant themes and contemporary issues, and very often strictly for adults. Examples range from American Horror Story: Coven‘s unabashed, subversive femaleness in all its complicated and messy glory; to the miraculous image at the end of The Witch showing power embraced as the young protagonist is liberated; to Michael Hirst’s Vikings in which a historical Pagan worldview is given prominence over early Christian ideas. Even at Disney, the early and mid-20th Century children’s stories are being approached anew, with the likes of Angelina Jolie’s turn as the Mistress of All Evil in MaleficentWe get this.

However, these things – our myths, reimagined in the mainstream, artistic, and pop culture spheres – can serve to be a hindrance to the legitimisation of contemporary Pagan and Witchcraft discourse. They can be wildly disrespectful and further propagate tired tropes and negative stereotypes that influence the very real lives of the Neopagan and Witchcraft communities. These things do not exist in a vacuum. But at their best, they can serve as a powerful quickening to such communities, who, in turn, find the inspiration to readdress the magical and mythical narratives within the ritual space itself.

These modern retellings can normalise themes and ideas in the mainstream, which can then further legitimise those same ideas as they are contained within our contemporary discourse. The young and aspiring seeker of the Craft, for example, can find heroes and heroines in these places, urging them to look further.

Pick up your power, claim your strength. Our Myths are not static.

As a story and as a Dreaming narrative, Cleverman excels at demonstrating that power is best realised through the creative vision, voice and bodies of those who are living a direct experience of it already. Inside contemporary culture, it further demonstrates the power of community support and participation required to push forward with these new narratives. Cleverman‘s mainstream success and positive reviews are a testament to two hundreds years of fighting to legitimise Indigenous voices.

This is a lesson Pagans in Australia can take away. It is a salient reminder that our own myths are strong, powerful, old, political, and social, and entirely relevant, now.

Especially as Australian Pagan communities begin to increasingly realise their social and political voices, it is this thought that should stay in the back of our minds when we engage with Pagan discourse, writing, art, and craft, and reimagine our stories inside our ritual space to confront and work with contemporary and very real social and political issues. It is important to promote that same creative talent inside our communities in order to achieve change, justice, fairness, highlight social issues right now.

These ideas and concepts are all on top of the stand-alone joy of engaging with Australian Indigenous voices and creative talent as found through Cleverman. The final episode of season one was aired Thursday, July 7.  This particular episode felt like one giant teaser for season two. It left me wanting much more.

We left our anti-hero, Koen, much less “anti” and coming finally into his own, as all sides are baying for war. I agree with AV Club‘s Brandon Nowalk, whose review pointed out the first season was more promise than delivery in terms of story.  It was a season of exposition that has left a carefully crafted set of characters ready for the real meat of season two.

But that exposition can be easily forgiven. After all, there would only be a handful of people on this continent with enough knowledge of Aboriginal Law and Dreaming not to require background information. I can only imagine the culture shock and complete lack of context for those watching in the US and, shortly, the UK.

Thankfully, for those interested, there are a few helpful guides that wade into the dystopian near future of Cleverman‘s Sydney. This includes Zebbie Watson’s guide at Inverse, and The Guardian‘s episode by episode recaps. For some extra fun, check out the behind the scenes video with Adam Briggs and, one of my favourite Australian voices, Gurrumul Yunupingu and the inspiration for the Cleverman theme song.

Behind the Theme Song – “Cleverman” from Goalpost Pictures on Vimeo.

A new independent fiction film exploring Witchcraft has hit the festival circuit. Anna Biller‘s latest film The Love Witch is a colorful feast of pathological obsession, violence, narcissism, love and Witchcraft. Filmed in 35mm, the film contains a remarkable retro flair combined with a contemporary sensibility. Through the film, Biller explores both modern themes, such as the expression of female fantasy and non-traditional religious practice, along with age-old struggles involving gender politics and romantic love.

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In an interview, Biller told The Wild Hunt, “I can’t remember the exact moment I decided to make this film, but it initially came from getting interested in pulp novel covers and being struck by the images of witches on some of them.” Her research began while shooting publicity stills for the film VIVA. Biller said, “The first real eureka moment I remember was being in a pulp novel bookstore in San Francisco several years ago, and picking up a 1970s pulp novel called ‘For the Witch, a Stone.’ That novel sparked the beginnings of my script.”

The Love Witch tells the story of Elaine, a single woman and Witch, who lives in northern California. We meet her as she first moves into a new apartment within a classic Victorian home. The space is owned by a friend and Wiccan High Priestess named Barbara and was decorated to reflect a Witchcraft aesthetic.The film then follows Elaine through her negotiations of love, dating, friendship and ritual practice.

It sounds as if the film might be better described as a drama or maybe even a romantic comedy. However, it’s neither. This is horror film. Elaine is a sociopath, who moves through the extremes of desire devouring men, in hopes of finding true love. The film, in many ways, can be described as George Romero’s Hungry Wives (1972) meets Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. While neither work is a perfect comparison, The Love Witch fits somewhere between the two. Hungry Wives tells the story of a lost middle-age woman searching to regain her power, and ultimately finding it in Witchcraft. American Psycho tells the story of a violent sociopath who empowers himself through the extremes of a narcissistic and violent male fantasy.

Elaine, like Joan in Hungry Wives, is a victim of a male-dominated society. As demonstrated in a flashback voice over, Elaine’s father calls her stupid, crazy and “a fatty,” and her ex-husband complains about her cooking and the housekeeping. Like Joan, Elaine turns to Witchcraft to find her own power. She tells a police offer, “Witchcraft saved my life.”

Yet, at the same time, Elaine takes this self-empowerment tool to an obsessive extreme. Like American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman, Elaine is a sociopath who functions through the realization of personal fantasy regardless of the outcome. The expression of that extreme becomes the basis of film’s theme and where it finds its horror.

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When discussing her use of horror, Biller said that she wanted to “use the genre to subvert the genre.” She explained, “When you market your film as horror it sets up certain expectations, and then through the course of the film you can subvert these expectations.”

Traditional horror films present women as the victims of male violence and aggression, the over-sexualized subject of the male gaze and the monstrous unknownable, which is often a witch. Biller says, “Elaine is not a monster, except insofar as she is selfish and narcissistic. She does not destroy out of some evil power, but because she is unstable and is the type of person who creates chaos around her. But she is fully human, and she is sympathetic because you can see why she’s turned out the way she has. So you don’t get the stereotype of an evil witch or an evil temptress.”

In addition, traditional American horror films, specifically those from the 1970s, conflate violence, Witchcraft, Satanism, occultism and voyeuristic displays of the female body. After 1968, there was a huge upswing in the number of these American exploitation films centering on Satanic witchcraft (e.g., Rosemary’s Baby, 1968; Necromancy, 1972). They were all created by men, many of whom gained notoriety making “nudies” or “sexploitation” films during the previous decade. To build their witchcraft scenes, these filmmakers relied heavily on newly published or newly available occult material by Anton le Vey, Paul Huson, Gerald Gardner, Raymond Buckland, Sybil Leek and others. They took what they needed in order to form a highly sensationalized product that fed a growing “counterculture” audience. While this particular sub-genre lost momentum by 1980, the expression of ritual Witchcraft practice has never fully emerged beyond that trope in mainstream American film.

While The Love Witch recalls those period films, in its retro styling and striking visuals. it actually subverts the genre, as Biller suggested, in a number of ways that are reflected in her presentation of Witchcraft. First, the male gaze, as defined by feminist film critic and theorist Laura Mulvy, doesn’t exist.The film’s display of nudity is not focused only on women’s bodies, but on both men and women equally. While the scenes are visually graphic, they are not exploitative. In the older horror witch films, it was typical for ritual or coven scenes to contain only naked, or partially naked, women (e.g., Blood Sabbath, 1972). There are rarely any men. In Biller’s film, both genders participate sky clad around the sabbat circle and both genders, fully clothed, serve as on-lookers in robes. There is a gender equality in the visual display of Witchcraft ritual.

All displays of female bodies in a true voyeuristic setting, such as in the dance club, are purposeful and part of Biller’s commentary as suggested by her framing choices. The camera doesn’t caress.

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In addition, the typical horror tropes used to define Witchcraft were completely absent. The ceremonial practice is not defined as demonic-based, evil, fantastical, or derived from an historical Salem mythos. In fact, part of Biller’s project was to present Paganism in a contemporary light. To make this possible, she began her research with books and films from prominent authors, including Janet Farrar, Amber K, Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Alex and Maxine Sanders, and others. She said, “Several people in the cast who played witches were practicing witches, and I talked with them about their practices. I also lurked on internet forums and read a lot of blogs and articles, and interviewed some of my friends who are witches.”

But her work took her even further into exploring Paganism, and she reached out to the community. Biller said that, while writing the script, she attended “a few rituals, classes and study groups […] and did some solitary practice.” She added, “I have always been an uncanny sort of person and slightly psychic.” She received her first Tarot deck, the Marseilles Tarot, as a child. And, she owns a copy of a rare edition of Crowley’s Magick Without Tears, which was originally given to her father as a gift. Biller said that, while she doesn’t identify as a Witch, she does “practice magic and the Tarot at home” and “believes in spiritual entities.”

Although the presentation of Witchcraft is contemporary and remarkably accurate in many of its details, there is also a stylized exaggeration to the entire presentation that makes the Pagan reality feel completely contrived. The ritual scenes look almost like cartoon versions of Wiccan ceremonies with bold washes of color and stylized set decor. Elaine’s potion making recalls a mad scientist rather than a witch, and the coven’s unexpected appearance as Renaissance Medieval players is almost laughable.

With that said, this is just how the film represents its entire universe – not just the practice of Witchcraft. Elaine herself is caricature – a life sculpted to conform to the unreality of a heterosexual male fantasy. “Give men what they want,” Elaine advises her friend Trish. The contrived nature of the film plays out consistently from the visual elements and dialog to the narrative and themes. The large blocks of vivid color, such as the red of her purse, the purple on the walls, the blue on her eyelids, give the film a dramatic and surreal look that reflects the bizarre extremes found in the main character’s inner world.

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Biller said, “The design comes mostly from character symbolism. I tried to create Elaine’s character according to her self-fantasies, in which she is a sexy, 1960s-styled done-up burlesque pulp-novel cover witch who drives a cool car; the tea room is pink and Victorian as a way of pointing up Elaine’s personal fairy princess fantasies; the renaissance faire is styled liked Elaine’s wedding fantasies”  And that technique goes beyond Elaine’s development. Biller said, “The police station looks like the police stations in television shows in which absolute authority was suggested, enhancing the character of the lead cop, Griff.”

This technique is partly what gives The Love Witch its theatrical, or seemingly contrived, look and feel. Although it takes some getting use to as viewer, it does work for Biller’s thesis – most of the time.

As noted earlier, Biller’s recent interest in “pulp novel covers from the ‘60s” and the way they “depicted witches as fierce powerful, sexual women,” is what led to the making of The Love Witch. She said, “I wanted to use that imagery and combine that with the feelings of persecution I’ve felt as a woman, and all of the issues women have to face with self-presentation and sexual identity in a man’s world.”

Ths film does this with no apologies.

While The Love Witch is not a completely polished film, it is packed with meaning, embedded in its stunning visuals, the use of music, and the narrative presentation. The incredible attention to symbolic detail make The Love Witch a juicy film to watch. Film buffs will enjoy the visual texture that comes across in 35 mm, if seen it in that form, as well as the careful nods to old film constructions, including the resident “expert” on Witchcraft and the close-up framing on Elaine’s eyes. Biller even employs classic high pitch repetitive noise and music, similar to what is found in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), to signal danger and cue tension, such as in the scene in which she first meets Wayne.

Modern Witches and Pagans will also find this film fascinating, if only because it is unusual to see Pagan practice presented in a quasi-realistic, non-judgmental, contemporary fiction setting. Many details will be recognizable, including the five-fold kiss, spoken spells and prayers, sabbats, aesthetics, and the infamous Witch’s Bottle. Interestingly, Biller even captured a modern Pagan debate. High Priest Gahan recalls the “olden days” when his community wasn’t so “uptight.”  He says, “we hung Baphomet posters” and “made love freely.” According to Gahan, nobody cared whether you were a Witch, a Thelemite, a Druid a Satanist or a Wiccan.

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Biller’s film is a creative, aggressive and open commentary on life as a woman in modern society, both in body and heart, as well as a treatise on love as it exists between the genders. It is a horror film, not because of its use of Witchcraft, but rather because the narrative presents a uncomfortable expression of the extremes reached to fulfill a fantasy.  And the ending is unsettling.

Biller wrote in a press release, “My hope is that other women will identify with Elaine as I do: as a woman seeking love, who is driven mad by never really being loved for who she is, but only for the male fantasies she has been brainwashed to fulfill.”

Currently The Love Witch is being shown only in select festivals around the world. As it gets picked up, Biller updates the screening list on her site. Eventually, the film will go to video and will be available for streaming. That date is not yet available.