saints, healers and beasts

I have written on this subject before, as well as about my limited experience of contributing to a certain kind of art.

I have great respect for porn, and for sex work, and sex workers. I view the latter as having a sacred function in a world that has trouble according Nature its due, and the former (potentially) as art that exists below as well as above the belt. And that’s probably why it is taboo, because we are all both vulnerable and blissful below the belt, and our society has a long standing stake in dividing our natures against themselves. That may be religious in origin, though its puritanism has been vigorously taken up by identity politics, or it may be an underpinning element of a wider authoritarian mind-set.

So I am very interested in the overlap between “pornography”, art and artistic creativity, and magick. I consider this to be a sacred form of art, one which certainly may not be achieved (or aimed for) in all porn, but it is implicit in the territory, just as a form of sacred service is implicit in the field of sex work.

We have a long way to go in living free lives as the human beings we are, though many people are bravely attempting to do so in their personal and private lives, while others are hoodwinked by politics into propping up more forms of division and fabrication. I thank anyone for honestly trying to be themselves at this deeper level of sexuality, being and relationship. Pornography and sex work are not ends in themselves (anymore than other forms of art or vocation are), but services towards the wholeness of life. Extrapolated to magickal spirituality this area has many resonances in our lives, beyond pornography, sex work, or indeed literal sex. This is some of what I was alluding to in my post on Babalon* also.

The real work is our being human.

painting2

landscape, person or art?

This post is dedicated to Freya, Babalon and Set.

* indeed Babalon might be one of the “saints” of the title of this post.

29th October 2016: post edited

old school art

It’s another beautiful day here, such that we can keep the back door open, which is always a good feeling. I’ve put out the rubbish, and started shifting house plants into the garden for Summer. Good!

I also realized, with a “duh!”, that I need to get back to drawing and writing, as in on paper and canvas, and scribbling in little note books with ink or pencil. Then maybe more painting. That is old, dirty magic, and nothing is like it.

The internet, and digital technology, is great. It lets us see stuff we wouldn’t otherwise. It helps us make contact, find each other (I think that is honestly the biggest thing about the internet), and that is tremendous. It transcends space, but it also transcends physical substance. It transcends a certain kind of work. It’s a very Geminian medium astrologically. Fleet, quick footed, eclectic, various, ephemeral, everyday. But just as it transcends space, it sucks away time. It makes some of the hard work seem unnecessary, but that’s actually a lie. So Mercurial – communication, commerce and theft, but also insight potentially. It could be deskilling a generation at coping with physical reality (though some of us were never that good at that anyway!), though I think that is only temporary at worst. The internet had its radical social heyday during the Neptune in Aquarius years (1998 – 2011 basically), the glamour of technology, when it seemed to be a mind expanding drug. But that time has run out, and the internet has just become a substandard replacement of libraries and newspapers and books (it’s Geminian, not Sagittarian), and largely a kind of organ of gossip with a skewed sense of globalisation, plus a fantastic shopping opportunity. Social media are so successful because they correctly divined the internet’s inherent nature. Pictures of my breakfast and my pets are just what the internet lends itself to, as does chatting with my friends, and posting extended open letters, finding porn and shopping. It’s also why blogs have become a big thing. Web log. Dear diary. Today I ……. That is basically what every blog is, even when it pretends to be a news site. That’s the medium, even if it sells itself as a different message.

And what it basically is, is all fine, but it’s all it is. Enjoy it, gain from it, but don’t expect too much from it, because it isn’t real life. It transcends physical substance in order to transcend space, and life without physical substance is not the same.

Which brings me back to the subject of this post, which is art. The other day I started writing a poem in my head while I was on the computer, and rather than open up a text program, I looked around and found an old notebook I had bought years ago and never used. Just the act of opening up the notebook and writing in it, the committing of ink to paper in the private little book, the need to cross out if I wanted to change it, to write in my own handwriting, in a book I could take anywhere, transmitted back to me the magic of doing stuff for real. It doesn’t matter if it’s crap, it’s your fucking art. It’s messy, unresolved, alive. Every revision you see, like a scar on skin. It is art without plastic surgery. And this is how you do stuff, intimately, for real, throwing yourself at it, with a real, uneditable trail. Like life.

And then I got out my sketch book and started on a new picture of an old demon. Let’s just see. Let’s just try. Let’s open up the wound.

You can find the grimoire of desire and fulfilment, as Austin Osman Spare used to indicate, between the hand and the eye.

Just not online.

It’s dirty.

Old.

Magick.

notebook

 

 

a preliminary thought on the Symbolists and art

When I did my blog post on Pamela Coleman Smith, I came across a wonderful website dedicated to her. PCS is a bit of a hero of mine, someone who led a unique life, followed her own vision, and contributed a lasting, immensely appreciated and influential legacy in the form of her tarot designs. These brought tarot to the masses and at the same time shaped the form (and meaning) of popular tarot. They are also multiple, card sized works of art that thousands of people have been able to own, handle, meditate on and use. It would take years for her deck to really reach the public, with a shifting culture and a boom in the interest in magic and mysticism, but the work was basically done by 1909. Simply by virtue of the nature of tarot reading, it also forms a constantly shifting and recombining, composite work of art, and one which spills over the borders of art, mysticism, and everyday life. You could not invent this stuff; it is the kind of lateral artistic thinking which artists would kill to pioneer, but here she was doing it in the very early 1900s, and it wasn’t even recognized (still isn’t), because it was tarot cards and occultism. And tarot cards didn’t work like this, not before Pamela Coleman Smith.

Amongst all the other details on the Pamela Coleman Smith website, what stopped me in my tracks was the statement that PCS is often classed as a Symbolist artist. This immediately took me back to the art which I instinctively gravitated towards as a teenager, and which, when I think about it, influenced the art I aimed for in my twenties. I loved the Symbolists, and I always remember the book my sister got on them. They really meant something.

The writer of the PCS blog (I only know her as “Holly”)  went on to enumerate common features of Symbolism which suddenly made so much sense to me. The reaction to determinism, naturalism and materialism, ok I get that, sure. Focus on the internal rather than the external and empirical, yes, that’s beautifully clear. Primacy of “spirit, soul or imagination”; what can you say but bravo! But when she notes the place of

“Personal and enigmatic visions and mystical themes expressed through private symbol rather than public, consensual allegory or metaphor”

well something really clicked.

That is the key. That is what you don’t expect from the name “Symbolism”, with its associations of wooden, set archetypes and pre-set meanings (a kind of visual ritualism), but what you do see in the intimations of the art, with its personalizations, its idiosyncrasy, its suggestiveness, innovations, deviations and ambiguities.

The reason that Smith’s tarot designs work is not because they follow a Golden Dawn lexicon of symbolism, but because they deviate and personalize enough to make the designs live. And the opposite tendency is what kills some modern Pagan inspired art. Even where it is accomplished, it can fall into a pseudo-literalism and replication, as if symbols existed as literal, definable objects, without any stretchiness, without that ungraspable trans-dimensionality, without the sovereign subjectivity of both artist and viewer, without the life blood and breath of ambiguity.

The unseen and the ineffable can be brought through by means of art, music, literature, and speaking of visual art, by means of the individual inner experience of the artist communicating with the viewer. It is intensely personal and relational. This is not a colonizing of the unseen with a series of structures and rules that mimic the known world, the plastering of a map over invisible waters, as an inexperienced occultist, or a devout theologian might try to do.

The water in this cup is actually wet. That is why I love it so much.

Island of the Dead by Arnold Böcklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

[28th March 2014: 4th paragraph – “interpretiveness” changed to “suggestiveness”]

painting

As I said previously, I’ve got the message to get back into painting and drawing, and I just completed a preliminary work on paper, which is the first I had done in years. I’m very happy with it, and will probably do another version on canvas. I really would encourage anyone to follow their own tastes and inspirations, whatever your supposed training or “talents”, and just do the stuff you want to, in whatever medium calls to you. You’ll learn, and if you keep the creative spark and juice, the raw stuff, that is what is important.

What I wanted to do with the post is just share the stages of this painting happening. It’s like how the shell cracked, and the chick started to hatch. Or maybe a lizard in this case lol.

first sketch

first sketch

First sketch was pretty much the image as it ended up, but without background or surroundings, and the child in the picture at this point was a little goat headed child, reflecting his “daddy”.

second sketch

second sketch

Second sketch basically got all the main features of the finished picture, baby had become a human baby, but retained the affectionate, reaching hand. The right wing assumed a protective curve. Horizon, Moon, clouds.

first outline of painting

first outline of painting

Transferred to painting outline, protective wing accentuated.

figure colouring

figure coloring

Initial coloring in of figure, left wing modified, left foot made visible, Moon now waning.

initial ground coloring

initial ground coloring

Next I added a tail, eye color, and worked on the color of the ground, shading into the distance, but none of the ground color really stayed in the finished version.

background and baby

ground,background and baby

This was the biggest jump in the process: ground completely recolored, night sky, Moon, clouds with shadow and light, horizon, baby colored in blue-black, highlights on figure from moon light.

almost finished

almost finished

Shadowing added to figure and a bit more texturing, intensified darkness of wings and sky, more work on highlights, sky horizon, baby outlined, facial features and star added in white (quite crude in this version, but it works for me).

completed

completed

Shadow added on ground.

I hope you enjoyed that! I love him :0)

If you have any drive to be creative, just do it. It does not matter what anybody else thinks, it does not matter what your training or qualifications are. Be punk about it – it’s for everyone that wants it. Just make sure you share it :0)

PS: the images in this post are obviously by me, of my own work, and can be shared under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License which covers the blog as a whole, credited to Mo Batchelor.

naked and nude

The other day, while discussing the unlikely New Age representation of angels as Farrah Fawcett style models in pastel garments, complete with immaculate big hair, I ended up looking up an old post on the Men in Full blog, which is now inactive, but did a valiant job of representing a love of the larger male form for quite a few years, thanks to the lady who ran it.

The post I looked for was called Cherubic Fire: The Fat Angels of David Addison Small, and I do like the artist’s work, and his bearish, older angels with  their full forms and deep red wings. Then the blogger notes:

“These massive figures seem to me to be more ‘naked’ than ‘nude.’ One reason is because there is little stylized imagery for the fat male body in Western art (outside of cartoon or caricature.) To paraphrase art historian Kenneth Clark, the ‘nude’ is by definition stylized and abstract; the ‘naked’ shows us flesh as it is. In some ways the ‘nude’ has lost its power to move us. But because we literally don’t have a common visual vernacular for fat bodies, to us they look ‘naked,’ and thus intrinsically ‘shocking’ (not in a moralistic sense, but in the sense of riveting our attention.) Only within the gay bear aesthetic have stylizations of the beautiful and/or erotic fat male body begun to emerge”

And whether it is fat, hairiness, age, maleness, or some other quality which might endow a human form with the quality of nakedness, it is a treasure, because it brings us into contact with a living, breathing reality. The nude is what we are expected to value. It clothes itself in an aesthetic language. It becomes in a sense synthetic, refined. It could be a statue, a sculpture, a form in service to something else. The same abstracting, emptying process also occurs in some professional porn. Nakedness by contrast is candid, open, seemingly honest in appearance. It is unconsciously the subject itself.

I think it is this that makes it beautiful and real. There is nothing wrong with it also being erotic, but that is just one frequency in an entire sweep of self-evidence.

To an extent, despite things like nudism and naturism, there is a tendency within our culture to judge a nude as maybe good or justifiable, but naked as suspect, embarrassing, or somehow “bad”.  But everyone knows that people crave (or fear) nakedness, not a “nude”.

Maybe that’s part of what those naked, bearded, red winged angels carry with them. A spark of truth that wakes the senses with genuine, real presence.

Chögyam Trungpa used to say “all things are symbols of themselves” – a saying which I always found lovely and profound. In the realm of the physical, nakedness is the quality of that self-evident thing, and self.

Such generosity and candour deserves our gratitude and appreciation.

photo of the cover of "Angeli Terrae" by David Addison Small, which you can buy at http://www.blurb.com/books/1309534-angeli-terrae

photo of the cover of “Angeli Terrae” by David Addison Small, which you can buy at http://www.blurb.com/books/1309534-angeli-terrae

straining at the bit

Summer is certainly licking at the frost at the moment, with some clear skies, and warm enough to walk round the garden in T shirt and sweat pants. And things are thawing in other ways too, and in a much more long term sense.

One of the messages I got at the spiritualist show at the weekend was relating to my creativity, which the spirit was very complimentary about, saying it was unique and unusual, and that I needed to stop hiding my light under a bushel. My attitude to creativity and artistry is democratic and individual, and pretty much still informed by punk. Everyone is royalty as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a lineage of one and one only. A democratic aristocracy of deviance (yes, I do have Sun conjunct Uranus in Leo). I could think of the spirit message as relating to a number of things, such as my writing which I do take pleasure in and care about. But where the arrow actually hits is with painting and drawing, visual arts, which I have done since I was a child. In my early twenties that was my primary creative focus, which I combined with magick and self-exploration. My patron saint in those days was Austin Osman Spare, the magical artist that was considered by many to be a strong part of the 93 current of Thelema, and an inspiration to Chaos Magic.

I had a lot of things to do in those days that led me away from painting and creativity; the job of finding a life basically. That led through quite a few scary experiences and situations, though there was a beautiful clear spell in the Summer of 1987 in which magick resurfaced and I was looking again to chaos magic, going to Psychic TV gigs, and I found a band called Coil that spoke to me more perfectly than any I had found before really. Horse Rotorvator was the soundtrack to my beautiful summer of darkly psychedelic love. Another that I really remember from about this period was “Swastikas for Noddy” by Current 93. By sometime in 1988 I was nose diving towards breakdown though, but that is another story. I had to find my life, and that would only really start to happen after January 1990. Eventually it would all lead to coming out properly, finding the bear community, and finding my husband.

Creativity was shelved; it was too psycho-active, too transformative, too shape-shifting. I needed earth between my toes. It makes complete sense to me that I would need to find a husband, more than anything else. That’s the person that I am. But now that I am married, and retired and looking after my husband, it also makes complete sense that creativity has returned as an opportunity. I imagine some would have a similar need to raise a child and focus on that, before they can get back to their creative nature. I could quite understand that. Creativity can be essential to a person, but some things have to come first. But that doesn’t make creativity any less essential.

I feel a bit like I was back in that clear spot of an island in 1987, cradled by the daemonic, in the sunny, dappled eye of a maelstrom. But here, now, there is no storm. Now I am in charge, in a way which I could not be before I found my mate. And I’ve returned to Crowley and Thelema in my own way (what other way is there?), and the enchanted freedom of an individual. It’s pretty wild, and at a certain level that is the only way to be.

On a cold Summer night in east London, you can still catch the smell of Pan, amongst the trees.

Man posed on rocks, nude, playing pipe (Pan) – by Frances Benjamin Johnston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

an artist and a phenomenon

This is a tribute to an artist, a daughter of Pimlico, who though she died in relative poverty and obscurity in Cornwall in 1951, she yet came to touch untold lives with her work. If you have any connection to divination or the occult you will have seen her art. Her paintings and illustrations went out with the tide of the early twentieth century, only to return with the occult revival of the 1970s, washed into homes and shops by the thousand; not to be valued by critics and cultural elites, but to be handled, used, loved and made a part of people’s lives. Her name was Pamela Colman Smith.

Colman Smith was born in 1878 (an Aquarian incidentally) to American and Jamaican parents. Her family lived in Manchester till she was about 10 years old,  but moved to Jamaica in 1889. By 1893 Pamela had moved to Brooklyn, where she started her artistic education at the age of 15.

A wonderful Pamela Colman Smith website relates the following:

“In 1893 PCS enrolled in the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, a co-educational, progressive school. The school emphasized ‘manual training’ which educated the whole person – creatively, intellectually, and morally. Artists were not an elite but vibrant, creative, contributing members of society. Also here, PCS came under the influence of Arthur Wesley Dow. Dow was influenced by Japanese art and taught that pictures could be composed the same way music was composed by using color, tone, shape, and line – much more abstract than imitative drawing. Art also had a spiritual content that reflected the Master Artist and the harmony woven into the substance of the world. Art was social and spiritual. Art could change the world. Emotion and ideas could be expressed indirectly but meaningfully in visual art by drawing or painting synaesthetically using a harmony of colored spaces.”

This is fantastic, and somehow so fitting for this artist, who is so difficult to pigeon hole, so unfairly overlooked, and yet so popularly loved. The author goes on:

“PCS is often classified as a Symbolist. Symbolist art was a significant trend in the fin de siècle (end of the 1800s)”

She continues that Symbolism is difficult to categorize, but has a number of common features eg:

– a reaction to the determinism, naturalism and materialism of its age

– focus on the internal and symbolic, rather than the external and empirical

– “Personal and enigmatic visions and mystical themes expressed through private symbol rather than public,  consensual allegory or metaphor”

– “ideographic content” reflecting the “primacy of spirit, soul, or imagination”

The author also notes that Symbolism’s reaction against the materialism of the fin de  siècle is often confused with Romanticism, but the former was in fact an earlier reaction against the rationalism of the Age of Enlightenment.

Pamela Colman Smith unfortunately had a lot of time off from the Pratt Institute due to illness, and did not graduate, but she did go on to exhibit, and work as an illustrator, as well authoring a number of books. At the Lyceum Theatre in London she worked with a company on costume and stage design. Here she met Bram Stoker (author of “Dracula”), for whom she did the illustrations for “Lair of the White Worm”.

In 1901 Coleman Smith joined The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and it was here that she met WB Yeats and AE Waite. In 1903 she started a magazine called “The Green Sheaf”, which published pieces by Yeats, Christopher St John, AE (George William Russell) and others. She had a number of exhibitions in the early years of the century, including in New York, while her association with AE Waite continued. By 1909 she announced the completion of 80 drawings for a tarot deck. In America however, she was starting to be seen as belonging to a time that had gone, while paintings by artists such as Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso and Rodin were gaining greater attention.

Meanwhile Rider and Son published the tarot deck which Coleman Smith had worked on with AE Waite. At this time Coleman Smith also joined the movement for women’s suffrage in London, to which she contributed posters and art work. Between 1911 and 1914 her work appears in a number of books. In 1918 she got an inheritance from an uncle and moved to Cornwall, where she set up a retreat for priests (having converted to Catholicism a number of years earlier).

From this point till her death in 1951 we hear little of Pamela Colman Smith or her art. We just don’t know what she was doing aside from running a retreat with little financial success. When she died all her possessions were sold to pay off her debts. *

***

I think there is something heroic about her. She was a real individual who followed her own course in her own way, and it’s really not a great surprise that doing that doesn’t necessarily lead to great acknowledgement from the game the world is playing. She was a talented artist that takes her place within a milieu of progressive and mystical ideals and activities, but she was not going to satisfy the art establishment’s growing appetite for “the shock of the new”. She was not to become fashionable. But then she had links to the arts and crafts movement, as well as to turn of the century esotericism. It’s hardly surprising that she would not be the ancestor of moneyed, hipster art.

We might not even be talking about her, if it were not for those tarot cards. But what an appropriate victory they are in a sense.  “Artists were not an elite but vibrant, creative, contributing members of societywas the quote from the Pratt Institute. How many artists can say that prints of 78 of their works are owned by thousands, used intimately, introducing ordinary people to divination and esoteric symbolism, handled, meditated on, studied, and given new meaning over and over again? In the field of tarot her designs revolutionized tarot decks and tarot reading by having a fully illustrated minor arcana for the first time, while the publishing of the deck made tarot and tarot reading accessible for many; something that became really obvious after about 1971. Virtually all modern tarot decks with illustrated minor arcana are based upon her deck. She democratized a little piece of magic, and her art will always be associated with that quiet revolution. She’s the one Symbolist artists that really did get right into ordinary people’s lives, and bring a sense of mysteries and the esoteric with her.

What an individual. Bless you, Pamela Colman Smith. May you be remembered with gratitude and fondness, and appreciation for what you achieved.

Pamela Colman Smith circa 1912 - by Unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Pamela Colman Smith circa 1912 – by Unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons – digitally tinted

* most of the biographical details in this post are courtesy of the above mentioned website at http://home.comcast.net/~pamela-c-smith/bio.html.