Sept. 27 through 29 in Salem, Massachusetts will see the debut of “OCCULT,” a “weekend long Esoteric Salon honoring, exploring and celebrating the intertwining vines which feed both Magick and Creative Art.” Co-produced by Aepril Schaile and Sarah “Jezebel” Wood the event promises to “recognize that, especially together, both Magick and Art are greater than the sum of their parts, and each in dwells the other; they are rooted together.” In anticipation of OCCULT’s launch next month, I conducted a short interview with co-producer Aepril Schaile to talk about the event, why this is the right time for it, and supporting the arts within a Pagan context.
OCCULT is called an “Esoteric Salon,” merging artistic and metaphysical pathways through performance, workshops, and talks. What inspired you to help make this event happen? Why is now the right time?
Sarah Jezebel Wood and I began talking about this vision last year. We are both Witches, and Thelemites, and practicing Artists. Sarah is an accomplished bellydancer and teacher, and she is devoted to nurturing the work of artists in her communities. Sarah worked with Alex and Alison Grey at CoSM for several years, and so this idea of Art and Magick being one unit is not a new one for her. The timing was an intuitive thing—we felt that the fact that the vision was forming for us both with such excitement in that very moment meant that its time had come–synchronicity! We also recognize a movement into a New Aeon, and with it comes new ways of doing things. At the time of the Parisian Salons of the turn of the last century, there was also a renaissance in occult and Magickal consciousness in connection to Art. We have the romantic notion that the time is now for this mixing of art, magick, thought, creativity, personality, passion, vision, and spirit to take place.
You are an artist who has worked in several mediums, most notably dance and music, do you think the Pagan community engages with the arts in a constructive way? Are we paying enough attention to the importance of art within our traditions, are we supporting our artists? If not, is OCCULT a step towards addressing that issue?
I personally feel that my work has been recognized and supported in wonderful ways by the Pagan and Witchcraft communities. In particular my work in dance, which probably most widely known, but music, too; I receive mail by email and even paper letter (fun!) with heartfelt and thoughtful words, and it is incredible to me what power art has to animate and inspire the spirit and imagination. I also tend to bring the Witches and Thelemites out of the woodwork wherever I travel for performance–they make themselves known in my workshops and after shows, as they come out to see me, and this is amazing to me! The Thelemic community has been great in supporting this work; OCCULT has many Thelemic presenters and artists on board for our debut year, and the full support of our local body, Knights Templar Oasis. That said, I am greedy; I’d like more overall engagement. Our Artists are our Shamans; they are our Seers and Healers and Guides. OCCULT is an effort to make this connection more conscious and enlivened. I’d like to see more Pagans, Witches and Occult practitioners support the arts by coming out to shows, explicitly recognizing each other’s work, and continue developing a more sophisticated sense of what art is and why it matters. OCCULT is, to us, a step in that direction.
You live and work in Salem, and that’s where OCCULT is being held. Is there something special about Salem that makes an event like this possible?
We are here doing this work on the shoulders of those who came before us. As all things move in cycles, we feel that the time is correct for the coming together of new ideas and approaches. We feel that Salem is indeed an epicenter, and that is undergoing a renaissance of ideas and vision. Many of the old Witch wars have run their course, and there is a thirst for more visible and inclusive happenings that go beyond Witch-Disney type money making tourist hype. We have perceived that there is a new generation that seeks to engage with the magickal arts in a more sophisticated and integrated way. The greater Salem area is full of artists, and many of the Pagans, Witches, occult practitioners, Thelemites and Ceremonial Magicians we have in our circles are also creative artists. We are building on some of the occult themed art shows and events that have already happened in Salem, and expanding upon those ideas and happenings.
OCCULT’s vision statement seems to call for a return to meaning in art, a process of re-enchantment that rejects mere commercialism as the end-all, be-all of making art. That art needs magick just as much as magick needs art. How should the Pagan community start living this ethos? How should the world of fine art?
I hold a Master’s of Fine Art, so I am acquainted with the art world from both an academic and a practicing artist’s viewpoint. I felt alienated early on by the emphasis that I perceived on materials and form, as opposed to content and meaning. I was also, quite naively, stunned by some of the divorcing of spirit from the artistic process. I had automatically perceived art as being inherently spiritual, and magickal. I found that what I recognized as ancient mythological and archetypal patterns would often be dismissed as “cliché”. Would the ancient Greeks at Eleusis have said, “Let’s not do this ritual theatre thing anymore…its been done to death already…so…cliché?” Of course not! But there is a place for keeping art innovated and contemporary, and to keep it growing while honoring these ancient patterns. Many of the artists that Sarah and I chose for OCCULT create work which has this quality: it is informed by contemporary fine art, but it honors and expresses beyond that. Some of the work is deeply self-exploratory and shamanic, some is talismanic, some is ritualistic, some is qabalistic, some surrealistic, etc.
Assuming OCCULT’s success, what’s next? Will this be the first of many salons? Will you take it outside of Salem? Can OCCULT become a new model for Pagan and esoteric engagement with the arts?
Thank you for assuming our success! Wonderful! Yes, Sarah and I plan is to make this a yearly event. We hope to stay in Salem; one of the great challenges that we have had has been space, as it is as a premium in Salem! We have had great experience with the First Universalist Society, both with their open minded and all inclusive spiritual vision, and they have just been super easy and supportive to work with. It turns out that their event coordinator, Alex Coco, is also a Pagan, and along with his wife Nicke, runs Eastern MA Pagan Pride Day! So we lucked out! We’d like to keep it here in Salem, and continue to attract the caliber of teachers and artists that we have this year. We have been so very blessed thus far in manifesting this dream!
You can find out more about OCCULT at the event’s website.