Rosaleen Norton and The Witch of Kings Cross

Once there was a little girl who wasn’t afraid of the dark…

Born in Dunedin in 1917 before emigrating with her family to Sydney in 1925, and dying in 1979, the artist Rosaleen “Roie” Norton is considered one of the most well-known figures in Australia’s occult history: her art and practice was informed in part by Aleister Crowley, she worshipped the god Pan, she held rituals and workings, and practiced sex magic… all against the backdrop of conservative 1950s Sydney.

The Witch of Kings Cross Promotional Poster – Black Jelly Films

As well as this, Norton was a trailblazer, one of many female artists perhaps somewhat overlooked in 20th century Australia.

Norton experienced childhood visions and self-identified as a witch from a young age. From her early twenties, she practised trance and sex magic, in various flats and squats in inner-city Sydney, where she lived with many of her contemporaries, including the poet Gavin Greenlees.

Norton is the subject of The Witch of Kings Cross, a documentary directed by Australian filmmaker Sonia Bible, who stumbled across her story while researching for another project. Dark and atmospheric, the film leans into current witch aesthetics and trends: it is presented in an art collage format, with artwork, sketches and splashes of red and black interspersed throughout.

Along with some of Norton’s now-elderly friends and acquaintances, the filmmakers have interviewed a great array of artists, writers and other experts. Viewers who are also into Pagan academia will relish the appearance of the late Nevill Drury, who discusses Norton’s Pagan leanings from a young age, and points out the influence on her work by the Qabbalah, and the writings of Aleister Crowley and others.

While the information and narrative are fascinating, some viewers may feel distracted by the regular and sometimes unnecessary addition of contemporary dancers in costume throughout the film, or by the many appearances of actor Kate Elizabeth Laxton dressed as Norton smiling smugly down the lens in slow motion.

Rosaleen Norton Plaque in Sydney – Image credit: Clytemnestra aka Sardaka – CC BY-SA 3.0

Despite this, The Witch of King’s Cross film is a fascinating, well-crafted telling of the story of one of the country’s most well-known occult figures, and a must-watch for witches and art lovers alike.

Perth Pagans React to The Witch of King’s Cross

Witches, Pagans, and Occultists enjoyed a much-needed night out at a screening of The Witch of King’s Cross at a Perth cinema last week, with all profits going back to Combined Covens, a nonprofit organization that facilitate events and meetups for the Pagan community in Perth and surrounding cities.

“It was such an eyeopener! Not just as a pagan but as someone who never really understood the extent to which conservativism impacted the Australian art scene…To think that she didn’t stop, not once, despite everything thrown at her. It’s a documentary everyone should watch, not just pagans. It really does give you huge insight into the challenges faced but minority groups in Australia’s history.” – Ant

“I loved this inspiring film (I’d seen the doco previously but so much better the second time)… And thanks for putting it on in such a great venue with beautiful raffle prizes. It was my introduction to (Combined Covens) and I hope to catch up again.” – Liza

“Great doco! Horrified that some of her art was destroyed. Bloody conservatives!” – Sue

“I had no idea the extent of what she had to deal with. What a brave woman she was to non-apologetically live her truth and present that in her art given it was a very conservative 50’s Australia. What a piece of history… and social commentary on personal prejudices and how society judges through that lens, which we all know is still very relevant today even if society has evolved somewhat. I walked out with a much deeper appreciation and understanding of both her as artist and her work.” – Pete

Rosaleen Norton modelling at Studio of Realist Art (SORA) run by Hal Missingham, also present: Roy Dalgarno and Eric Maguire, George Street, Sydney, 1948 – Image credit: Ted Hood – State Library of New South Wales, PXA 584 57 – Public Domain

“It was a very evocative doco – tension built through the careful mix of the music and voice over and clever use of her art. I really felt for her and Greenlees. The press still hound those they don’t approve of. But where would we be without artists pushing boundaries, challenging us and society? As is so often the case with those who explore their inner realms and then express what they find in their art, they are misunderstood and underappreciated in their own time. Such a shame that we can’t appreciate them in their own lifetimes… but then would their expression be so vivid, so intense, if we did?” – Tamara

The evening included a raffle of prizes donated by the filmmakers, and for some marked a re-entry into “covid normal” public Pagan community.

The Witch of Kings Cross is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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