MELBOURNE, Australia — Witchcraft, says Caroline Tully, an honorary fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne, “has become glamorous – and I’m not talking about its traditional faerie glamour, but fashionista glamour.”
That glamour, as well as “Witches of Instagram,” painters, fiction writers, film, music, and more will be explored in a special issue of The Pomegranate: the International Journal of Pagan Studies focusing on Pagan art and fashion.
Tully, a Witch and Pagan priestess, will be the guest editor of the issue, and she has put out the official call for papers for that edition of the peer-reviewed journal; submissions are due June 15, 2019.
“Paganism is inherently creative because of its this-worldly, rather than other-worldly, focus,” Tully said in an email interview with The Wild Hunt. “There is a wide spectrum of aesthetic expression that manifests in the materiality[sic] of Paganism, in the ritual objects we use, the way we design rituals, our robes (or lack thereof), direct — bodily — contact with deities, ecstatic expression, sexuality, and the general artistic legacy of all forms of ancient pagan religions that we are able to draw upon in order to create our religion and rituals.”Tully is well-credentialed for her role as guest editor of the Pagan art and fashion issue. Along with being a Witch and scholar, she’s also an artist and writer.
Growing up in Melbourne, Tully “rejected” her Catholic background and “first discovered magick while looking in a friend’s occult library,” she said. In her late teens she began studying ceremonial magic and Pagan Witchcraft, and was initiated as a Witch in 1985. She soon moved to the country “and that’s when I met Wiccans and Pagans and got introduced to the alternative lifestyle and festival scene,” she said. “Rural living was a formative experience for me, particularly in regard to observing the lunar and solar cycles and studying herbalism.”
She moved back to Melbourne in 1989 and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Monash University, then took a job at the Australian Tapestry Workshop where for 14 years she “worked on large-scale tapestries for public places such as galleries, museums, and foyers of public buildings, as well as smaller-scale work for private homes.”
Along the way she joined the Church of All Worlds and even formed the Primeval Soup Nest in Melbourne, and she also joined the Ordo Templi Orientis.
Tully’s mention of ancient pagan religions isn’t some drive-by name-dropping: she also earned graduate and postgraduate degrees in classics and archaeology and a doctorate in Aegean archaeology from the University of Melbourne.
Her doctoral research was on tree worship in the Late Bronze Age Aegean and East Mediterranean, primarily Crete and mainland Greece, and will be published this year as The Cultic Life of Trees in the Prehistoric Aegean, Levant, Egypt and Cyprus.
Her scholarly pursuits also include “work on the reception of the ancient world, particularly the ways in which ancient Egyptian and Minoan (Bronze Age Crete) religions have been interpreted by late 19th-century British magicians such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and their spiritual heirs, the 20th- and 21st-century ceremonial magicians, Witches and Pagans.”
From 1999 to 2005, Tully worked as a feature writer, reviewer and editor at Australia’s Witchcraft Magazine. Her writings also have appeared in the Cauldron, Pagan Dawn, Green Egg, the Beltane Papers, newWitch, Witches & Pagans, and Pentacle, and in such Pagan anthologies as Celebrating the Pagan Soul (ed. Laura Wildman), Pop! Goes the Witch (ed. Fiona Horne), Practising the Witch’s Craft (ed. Douglas Ezzy), Priestesses, Pythonesses and Sibyls (ed. Sorita D’Este), and Women’s Voices in Magic (ed. Brandy Williams).
In the following interview, Tully reflects on the rapidly changing worlds of Pagan art and fashion, and the importance of having a scholarly-based Pagan journal.
The Wild Hunt: What was the inspiration to do creative expression as a theme for the Pomegranate?
Caroline Tully: The editor, Chas Clifton, who I have known for quite a few years, approached me to guest-edit this special issue on Pagan art and fashion because he thought that it fitted with my interests. It was actually Chas’ idea to do a special issue on this topic but as the guest editor, I designed the call for papers and I am generally liaising with potential authors and receiving the proposals and articles.
The initial impulse to create this special issue came from the creativity, often aligned with business savvy, of Witches on Instagram; the sex-positive feminist collective website Slutist; and the fact that Witchcraft was appearing in high fashion contexts such as catwalk collections and featuring in magazines like Vogue.
Witchcraft has become glamorous – and I’m not talking about its traditional faerie glamour, but fashionista glamour. Bloggers, Peg Aloi (The Young Ones: Witchcraft’s Glamorous New Practitioners), and Thorn Mooney (The Hipster Witch: Aesthetics, Empowerment and Instagram), have already noted that this is a new kind of Witchcraft, less focused on deities, Pagan history and community, and more focused on self-care and characterized, to quote Mooney, by “a strong entrepreneurial streak.”
These Witches are also politically active, more multicultural than Paganism has traditionally been, and read magazines like Sabat and Ravenous, and books like Kristen J. Sollee’s Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. This issue of the Pomegranate is interested in research on these new slick Witches. Who are they? Are they really so new after all? What does it mean for Witchcraft to be so distinctively stylish?
. . . . there is a lot more to Pagan creativity and aesthetics of course. Pagan fashion does not have to actually be “fashionable.” Paganism is often distinctly anti-fashion – and who are the arbiters of Pagan taste anyway? The goddess movement liberated women from the strictures of fashionable 20th-century bodies by focusing on female forms that were fashionable in other eras – look at the Paleolithic and Neolithic Venuses — and it’s not just about female empowerment; Heathenry and other reconstructionist-type Paganisms have distinctive material aesthetics in regard to clothing and sacred objects. What about the sartorial choices involved in wearing the color black; the Goth, rainbow, or hippie looks; pointy hats, moon crowns, regalia, nudity, or robes?
In regard to visual art, can we identify a distinctive style of Pagan illustration? Think of all those years worth of hard copy Pagan magazines, Neil Geddes-Ward, Naomi Lewis. Tarot design is another locus of Pagan illustration. What about Pagan sacred sculpture? Oberon Zell’s famous Gaia Earth Mother statue; reproductions of ancient sculpture such as the Minoan snake goddess, triple Hekate, or the relief on the Gundestrup Cauldron. 20th-century painters Norman Lindsay and Rosaleen Norton identified as Pagan. What about Ithell Colquhoun, Austin Osman Spare, Marjorie Cameron, or Vali Myers? Performance artists such as Ana Mendieta, Betsy Damon, Carolee Schneeman and Oryelle Defenestrate use Pagan iconography. There really is a lot of Pagan art and fashion.TWH: It seems so much of the transmission of contemporary Pagan culture is still through nonfiction books and writing, with festivals also prominent and perhaps movies and TV shows, however fictionalized, being a distant third. That’s just a quick offhand assessment . . . . most modern Pagans and Witches could name 20 Pagan authors of nonfiction right off the bat (the how-to books and the spell recipe books), and some witchy films and TV series, but would have trouble naming more than two or three truly Pagan painters, fiction writers, musicians, fashion designers (are there any?).
CT: Well, there is an amazing young fashion designer called Lauren Bowker who has a company called the Unseen. She is a Witch and alchemist and has invented, among other things, clothes that change color in response to pollution, a hat that changes color according to activity in different parts of the brain, and color-changing hair dye. Another fashion designer, Pia Interlandi, is not actually Pagan but may be of interest to Pagans because she designs garments for the dead to be buried in. Then there are “fashion witches” such as Gabriela Herstik, who describes herself as “combining spirituality, style and storytelling.”
As for painters, fiction writers, and musicians, well, Sharon Knight is a Pagan musician, Wendy Rule is a Witch and musician, the young visual artists may be a bit less well-known but include Athena Papadopoulos, Georgina Horgan, Issy Wood, Sophie Jung, Linda Stupart, and more well-known would be Sarah Hannant and Genesis P. Orridge. Then there are artists beloved by Pagans such as H. R. Giger, and many of the female surrealists, such as Remedios Varo, utilized iconography that appeals to contemporary Witches.
Fiction, well, of course books like Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was the basis for the Church of All Worlds, occultists like Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley wrote fiction, and the work of writers Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling have influenced contemporary Paganism.
TWH: How important or prominent is creative expression, as opposed to nonfiction writing, in Pagan culture today? Have art, fashion, TV, movies, and music had more influence than perhaps the Pagan community realizes? Is their impact more palpable than I surmised above, yet hidden and subversive?
CT: Pagan music has been influential for a long time, whether that is music that Pagans like, for example, Jethro Tull, or music that is utilized within ritual and festival settings such as chants and other overtly Pagan music. I think that TV and movies are very influential. The Wicker Man is obviously a classic, and in the 1990s Buffy, Charmed and The Craft really did have an influence on young people. Later it was American Horror Story: Coven.
Visual art and fashion may have had a more subtle influence, perhaps because we have not thought much about them, because they are just “there” – although certainly individual artists who are or seem to be witchy, such as Vali Myres, do get lauded. When making the initial foray into Paganism the seeker is not usually advised to go and look at paintings or clothing — their first recourse is to books and workshops. I think visual art and clothing have a different kind of influence to nonfiction books, particularly in the construction and performance of the Pagan self. For example, adopting black and wearing conspicuous occult jewelry makes a visual statement of witchiness using well-known iconographic tropes that even the non-Pagan public recognize.
Now with the ubiquity of the internet, which is like a huge global television, curating a fabulous Pagan or witchy persona through visual means on a social media platform is like getting media attention but actually has a more far-reaching effect. Contemporary Paganism has been getting media attention since the 1950s – but with the internet you aren’t dependent on attracting the interest of a journalist. You can style your own shoot at your own convenience, photograph it yourself, make yourself look absolutely fabulous, upload the best photos and distribute your image — or brand — to a global audience. And here we are back again at the topic of Instagram Witches.
TWH: As the transmission of culture continues to shift from print to digital, how significantly has that affected the importance of creative expression in Pagan culture today as opposed to that of the past, when books by Starhawk, Sybil Leek, the Farrars and Raymond Buckland ruled the roost?
CT: Well, I think, again, I’m going to have to mention the Witches of Instagram. As noted by Aloi and Mooney, Instagram Witches are writing books — but they are not publishing with the traditional publishers such as Weiser or Llewellyn — and they direct their books to their Instagram followers. It’s no wonder many of us older Pagans who are not on Instagram have never heard of them. Or they are writing for online magazines such as Vice and Broadly or more specifically witchy ones such as Sabat, or being interviewed on podcasts such as the Witch Wave. It is a different world, because so many people have phones that they are sourcing all this stuff through. They don’t even need to buy hard copy books.TWH: Conversely, as you note in the call for submissions, Pagan memes are infecting the culture at large as never before. What are some of your take-aways from this phenomenon?
CT: I think this has a lot to do with a combination of three things that are (or have been) very much in the media and therefore in popular consciousness:
1. The excitement of magic as conveyed by the Harry Potter books and films (with the Lord of the Rings films coming a close second).
2. The morphing of feminism back into a very visible political activist movement by a new generation of women and men who identify with the figure of the Witch as a powerful other.
3. The increasing awareness of environmental degradation.
These have been characteristics of Paganism for decades, and now people in general society are starting to see that they are valuable. I am reminded of back when solar power and recycling were considered crazy hippy activities, but now they are understood to be important and even governments approve of them.
TWH: Concerning the Pomegranate itself, what is the importance of having a peer-reviewed academic journal focusing on Paganism?
CT: The Pomegranate began as a scholarly but non-peer-reviewed journal in 1996 with the subtitle A New Journal of Neopagan Thought. Its founders, Fritz Muntean and Diana Tracy, intended it to be a scholarly venue for the critical examination of Pagan beliefs and practices (the term “critical” meaning analytical rather than negative assessment). They published 18 issues between 1996 and 2001, then the editorship was transferred to Chas Clifton and from 2003 it has been published by Equinox as an international, peer-reviewed journal.
The reason the Pomegranate should be of interest to all Pagans, not just scholars of Paganism, is because of the fascinating content of the journal. A quick look on the website under the archives tab shows all the issues and looking at the articles and book reviews gives an idea of just how broad the umbrella term “Pagan” is and how interesting. (Some content is free while most requires a subscription.) Pagan studies scholars come from various academic backgrounds including religious studies, theology, history, sociology, anthropology, folkloristics, archaeology, and gender studies.
While some scholars who write for the Pomegranate are also Pagans themselves, many are not. What I think is really exciting is that scholarly research about Paganism gives us a really fresh and thought-provoking view of our beliefs and practices as seen from the outside. Scholars of Paganism often notice and examine things that we do not see ourselves. They are also more likely to question and analyze aspects of Paganism that practitioners may not. Even scholars who do participant-observation of Pagan groups (studying them from the inside) show us Paganism from other, sometimes unexpected, angles.
The academic study of contemporary Paganism has been going on for decades, beginning with scholars such as Marcello Truzzi, Aidan Kelly, Margot Adler, and Tanya Luhrman, although it coalesced as a discipline in the 1990s through the work of Graham Harvey and Chas Clifton. Even if Pagans don’t actually want to read scholarly work, I think it behooves us to at least know what is going on within Pagan studies. Academic study of Paganism strives to be impartial and thorough, and this is why I think that the Pomegranate, and Pagan studies in general, deserves the interest and support of the Pagan community.
* * *
Following is the official call for papers for the Pomegranate special issue on Pagan art and fashion:
A beautiful young woman drapes her long auburn hair over a human skull, pressing it close to her face like a lover. Another, clad in black and holding a wooden staff, poses like a model in a photo shoot on location in an incongruous forest. Long, elaborately decorated fake fingernails like talons grasp shiny crystals, evoking the “just so” beauty of a staged magazine spread. In the world of the Witches of Instagram, the art of photography meets business witchery and feminist activism.
Is it (still) the season of the witch? Luxury fashion house, Dior, has a tarot-themed collection; witchcraft featured in recent issues of Vogue magazine; young witch-identifying women perform “fashion magic”; and an alchemist-fashion designer has invented colour-changing hair dye, inspired by a scene in the 1996 movie, The Craft. An angry yet luxurious sex-positive feminism is in the air; goddesses, witches and sluts are rising up again, a decade and a half after Rockbitch stopped touring and almost thirty years after Annie Sprinkle’s first workshops celebrating the sacred whore.
Exhibitions showcasing the work of living and dead occult artists have been on the increase for several years now, most recently Black Light: Secret Traditions in Art Since the 1950s at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, and Barry William Hale + NOKO’s Enochian performance at Dark Mofo in Tasmania. Multidisciplinary artist Bill Crisafi and dancer Alkistis Dimech exemplify the Sabbatic witchcraft aesthetic; Russ Marshalek and Vanessa Irena mix fitness and music with witchcraft in the age of the apocalypse; DJ Juliana Huxtable and queer arts collective House of Ladosha are a coven; rappers Azealia Banks and Princess Nokia are out and proud brujas; and singer Lana del Rey admits hexing Donald Trump.
The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies invites submissions of articles (5000–8000 words) for a special issue on Pagan Art and Fashion, edited by Caroline Tully (email@example.com). How are Paganism, modern Goddess worship, witchcraft and magick utilized in the service of creative self-expression today? Potential topics might fall under the general headings of, but are not limited to, aesthetics, dance, fashion, film and television, internet culture, literature, music, and visual art.
Submissions due June 15, 2019.
For information on the submission process follow this link.
The Pomegranate: the International Journal of Pagan Studies uses the University of Chicago style.