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The witch isn’t dead: New book explores witchcraft’s rebellious history — and modern transformation

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cnn– Look up “witches” and you might see any of a number of depictions: ugly old ladies and young, sensual temptresses; antiheroes and aspiring role models; evil creatures mixing deadly potions and righteous sorceresses helping girls find their way (a la Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz”).
A new title from Taschen’s Library of Esoterica aims to explore this wealth of complex identities in a visually vibrant volume that isn’t so much a book as it is a spellbinding tribute to a figure and a practice that are as old as time.
“Witchcraft” offers a deep dive into the many facets of a centuries-old tradition in the Western world, weaving more than 400 classic and contemporary artworks with essays and interviews by what editor Jessica Hundley describes as “a diverse coven of writers, scholars and modern-day practitioners, each embracing the practice in their own individual ways.”
“I wanted to present witchcraft through symbolism and art but also fresh, personal perspectives,” Hundley explained in a phone interview. “So much of the esoteric is often shrouded in secrecy and weighed down by stigma. With ‘Witchcraft,’ we worked collaboratively on introducing the subject in a way that felt inclusive and less intimidating.”
Clocking in at 500-plus pages, the compendium spans the history of witchcraft and the representation of witches in literature and fairy tales; the tools of the craft and the rituals that have long been part of it. There are also sections dedicated to fashion, creative media and the witch in films and pop culture.

A history of feminine energy and rebellion

While the word “witch” has its etymological roots (wicce) in Old English, the lineage of the ‘Western witch’ can be traced back to Greek mythology and the earliest folk traditions of Egypt, northern Europe and the Celts.
Each culture represented the mystical figure differently, yet some of her traits recurred across geographically widespread countries: a witch was a powerful goddess, often associated with home and love, but also death and magic. Above all, she was a signifier of complex femininity.
“The iconography of the witch, while shifting over the centuries, has always revolved around the idea of feminine power, and reflected society’s changing attitudes towards it,” said the book’s co-editor, Pam Grossman, in a phone interview.
In the 11th century, as male-centered Christianity spread across Europe, perceptions of femininity changed.
So-called witches (often any woman who strayed from the prescriptions of monotheistic religion) began to be considered outliers within their communities, feared and isolated for their supposed connection with the devil.
By the 14th century, the collective imagination had recast witches into heretical outcasts. For the next three centuries, witch hunts and executions — including the Salem trials of 1692 — would sweep both the Old and New Worlds.
“The image of the witch that’s been crystallized in our minds — that of a diabolical, frightening woman — was born out of this exact period,” said Grossman, who is also a writer, curator and teacher of magical practice. “The advent of the printing press, in particular, really helped popularize it. What she really was, of course, was even scarier: a threatening woman.”
Indeed, what emerges from “Witchcraft” is that witches and their practice have long been a metaphor for women who want authority over their own lives (the coven, essentially a female-run community, is part of this metaphor, too). Browsing the book, which features works by names as diverse as Auguste Rodin, Paul Klee and Kiki Smith, it’s hard not to notice how so many of them represented witches as fierce, powerful creatures even as they were being shunned by society.
Whether aging hags or hypersexual young beauties, they’re the embodiment of a rebellious spirit that “wants to subvert the status quo,” Grossman said.

A resurgence of witches

In the 18th and early 19th century, as the persecution of witches ended (at least in the Western world) and witchcraft started to be recognized as the last vestige of pagan worship, the magical figure was recast once again. This time, she was made into a fantastical subject as well as a symbol of female rage, independence, freedom and feminism.
Behind the latter “rebranding” was the suffragette movement, which used the archetype of the witch as the persecuted “other,” an example of patriarchal oppression.
Witchcraft gained popularity again in the 1960s as second-wave feminism saw witches and their covens as expressions of feminine power and matriarchy (on the activism side, there was even a group of women who, in 1968, founded an organization called W.I.T.C.H).
The practice made another comeback during the 1990s, following the Anita Hill hearings and the rise of third-wave feminism; and then again in the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 election and the #MeToo movement.
Over the past four years, the practice has gone mainstream, spurring articles, podcasts and Instagram accounts.
“I think that for a lot of women and, increasingly, queer and nonbinary people, the witch has come to represent an alternative to institutional power, as well as a way to tap into their spirituality in a way that isn’t mediated by someone else,” Grossman said.
“Witchcraft is a means by which you can feel like you have some agency in the world. And because so much of it is about creating your own rituals, it allows individuals from different backgrounds to take part in it on their own terms.”
The witchy narrative has evolved on screen, too, and “Witchcraft” dedicates its last pages to that.
From the scary Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz” to the beautiful Samantha of “Bewitched” and the tenacious Sabrina of the “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” (which couldn’t be more far removed from the original show starring Melissa Joan Hart), the witch has shifted from villain to protagonist, and from someone you would be afraid of to someone you might aspire to be.
“Whether they instill fear, seduce, use violence or act for the greater good, the way visual arts portray witches is always reflective of the cultural moment they’re part of,” Hundley said. What has remained unchanged through the centuries, she noted, is that the very nature of the witch is to contain all of these archetypes within her at all times.
“The witch is in a state of constant evolution,” she said. “She’s a shapeshifter.”
“Witchcraft” is available in Europe now and will be released next month in the US.

Add to queue: Empowering witches

READ: “The Once and Future Witches” (2020)
Witchcraft and activism are woven together in this Gothic fantasy novel by Alix E. Harrow, set in an alternate America where witches once existed but no longer do The year is 1893, and the estranged Eastwood sisters — James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth and Beatrice Belladonna — join the suffragists of New Salem while beginning to awaken their own magic, transforming the women’s movement into the witches’ movement.
BROWSE: “Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America” (2020)
Frances F. Denny’s photographic project “Major Arcana: Witches in America” is an ambitious visual document of the modern face of witchcraft. Denny spent three years meeting and photographing a diverse group of witches around the US, capturing the various ways “witch-ness” expresses itself.
WATCH: “Motherland: Fort Salem” (2020)
Witches become superheroes in this action-packed series, currently in its second season. Three young sorceresses conscripted into the US Army — Raelle Collar, Abigail Bellweather and Tally Craven — use their supernatural tactics and spells to defend the country against a terrorist organization known as the Spree, a witch resistance group.
LISTEN: “Between the Worlds” (2018-present)
Host Amanda Yates Garcia discusses tarot, psychology, mythology, pop culture, witchcraft, magic, art and history alongside a series of special guests, in a podcast that aims to explore the many expressions of the practice.
WATCH: “American Horror Story: Coven” (2013)
Set in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, the third season of the FX horror anthology series “American Horror Story” centers on a coven of witches descended from the survivors of the Salem trials as they fight for survival against the outside world. The show deals with femininity and race, as well as issues around modern feminist theories and practice.
Top image: Titled “Ritual,” this 2019 work by photographer Psyché Ophiuchus shows a ceremonial circle taking place in Fairy Glen on the Isle of Skye at dusk.

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On my radar: Moses Sumney’s cultural highlights

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theguardian– Singer-songwriter Moses Sumney, 29, grew up between Ghana and California and studied creative writing and poetry at UCLA. His piercing falsetto and genre-defying music have brought him critical acclaim, starting with his self-recorded 2014 EP Mid-City Island, followed in 2017 by his debut album, Aromanticism, and the 2020 double album Græ. Sumney has collaborated with musicians including Bon Iver and James Blake and toured with Solange and Sufjan Stevens. His latest project is Blackalachia, a self-directed concert film created in association with WePresent, shot over two days in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, where he lives.

1. TV

Selling Sunset (Netflix)

I pity anyone who hasn’t seen this show. It’s a reality show about a real estate agency in west Hollywood, and it follows the lives and deals of the people who work there, predominantly the female staff who are all ridiculously Barbie-ish – essentially “career Barbie on crack”. It’s incredible. I love reality TV – it tells us a lot about humanity. Reality shows are always inherently dated, so they’re a great capsule of the modern era.

2. Music

Don’t Be So Hard On Your Own Beauty by Yeule

I don’t know what it is about this song, but I’m addicted to it. Yeule is a Singaporean artist based in London who’s kind of new on the scene, and this song is just so hypnotising – it hints and winks at hyperpop while being an absolutely heart-shattering folk tune. It’s a beautiful amalgamation of a lot of different genres, and it’s stunning. I have a lot of playlists – for driving, for chilling at night, a morning playlist, a folk playlist – and this is in all of them.

3. Book

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

I’m currently reading this – I put off reading it because it looks like a self-help book – but it’s really fascinating. The author is an artist who works largely in digital art and the book is about how to free yourself from the capitalist trappings of the workforce – not necessarily saying “quit your job”, but suggesting a new path for work. It asks the question: how can we construct our identities apart from defining ourselves by what we do and by our income? It’s a very radical book, and it’s often a hard read. But it has been mind-shifting.

4. Place

Western North Carolina

I’ve been travelling a lot for work, so I’ve been thinking about how much I would prefer to spend my time in western North Carolina, particularly in the mountains, where I live. I think it’s the most beautiful place in the world. I first arrived in Asheville when I was on tour and knew immediately I wanted to live here. You turn around, 360 degrees in any direction, and you’re surrounded by trees, by the sound of animals, and that’s really a rare feeling for anyone who’s spent most of their life, as I have, living in the city.

5. Film

Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997)

This stars a young Jurnee Smollett, who recently had a resurgence with Lovecraft Country. She’s 10 years old in the film, which is set in a fictional small town in Louisiana. Samuel L Jackson stars as the patriarch of the family, who is maybe cheating on his wife, his daughter sets out to kill him and punish him, perhaps through witchcraft. It was incredibly critically acclaimed and subsequently snubbed by every major award ceremony. It’s a gorgeous, heartbreaking film. I first saw it last year and I think about it every day.

6. Fashion

Balenciaga

The couture line that Balenciaga launched this summer is another thing that has permanent residency in my brain. I think that what Demna [Gvasalia, creative director] is doing with sculpture and architecture through fashion is some of the most interesting theatre of our time. It’s like a marriage of Romantic and gothic style – it’s a bit ecclesiastical, almost monastic, and I want it all. There’s this really wonderful circular headpiece that feels like: “I’m going to service, but in the year 3021.”

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Hong Kong’s famous Tiananmen Square ‘Pillar of Shame’ statue removed from university

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cnn– For more than 20 years the “Pillar of Shame” sculpture stood as a memorial to the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the Chinese military crushed protests led by college students in Beijing with deadly force.
Atop a podium in the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) campus, the 26-foot-tall (8 meter) statue of contorted human torsos was one of the last iconic memorials to victims of the bloody crackdown remaining on Hong Kong soil.
But around midnight on Thursday, yellow construction barriers were erected around the statue and the sounds of cracking and demolition were heard as the sculpture was removed under the cover of darkness.
Images taken during the removal process show workers wrapping the statue in protective film and lifting it out of the campus on a crane in two distinct parts. The HKU Council, the university’s governing body, said in a statement the sculpture will be held in storage.
A witness said Thursday morning the site of the sculpture is now empty and students have been seen crying on campus following the removal. CNN agreed to not disclose the name of this witness because the person feared retribution from authorities.
That fear of retribution is common among those who speak out against authorities in Hong Kong since Beijing imposed the National Security Law on the city in 2020, punishing offenses such as subversion and secession with sentencesof up to life in prison.
The HKU Council said in a statement the removal “was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the university.”
The sculpture, which stood in the Haking Wong Building of the university, was part of a series of works by Danish artist Jens Galschiøt created in 1997 — the year Hong Kong was returned to China after more than 150 years of British rule. The sculpture includes the inscription: “The old cannot kill the young forever,” and was built to serve “as a warning and a reminder to people of a shameful event which must never reoccur,” according to the description on Galschiøt’s website.
Galschiøt called the statue’s removal “a very hard attack against the free word in the world.”
He told CNN that he hopes to bring the statue back to Denmark so he can reassemble it. His wish is to then bring it to Washington D.C., where he hopes to place it in front of the Chinese Embassy. There, it will serve as a message to Beijing that the massacre is remembered and spoken about, he said.
For three decades, Hong Kong has been the only place on Chinese-controlled soil where an annual mass vigil has been held to mark the events in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
The clampdown remains one of the most tightly censored topics in mainland China, with discussions of it scrubbed from mass media. Chinese authorities have not released an official death toll, but estimates range
from several hundred to thousands.
After the 1997 handover, the continuation of the vigil and similar memorials were seen as a litmus test for Hong Kong’s ongoing autonomy and democratic freedoms, as promised in its de facto constitution.
However, in the wake of national security law, scores of prominent pro-democracy politicians and activists have been jailed or fled the city, and numerous civil society groups have disbanded.
Attempts to commemorate the events of June 4 have also been adversely impacted.
The last two Tiananmen vigils have been banned by police, citing coronavirus restrictions. Prominent activists, including Joshua Wong and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, were later jailed for participating in an unauthorized public commemoration in 2020.
A Hong Kong museum dedicated to the victims of June 4 was forced to close earlier this year and moved its entire collection online citing “political oppression.”
And on Friday, two more Tiananmen Square crackdown memorials were also removed from Hong Kong campuses.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong took down a “Goddess of Democracy” statue, stating it never authorized the display in the first place. The original figure was built out of papier-mâché by student protesters at Tiananmen Square in May 1989. A bronze replica was created by China-born New Zealand artist Chen Weiming and brought to the CUHK campus in 2010.
Lingnan University similarly removed a relief by the same artist, saying it “may pose legal and safety risks to the University community.”
Following news that the HKU “Pillar of Shame” sculpture was being dismantled, the artist Galschiøt wrote on his Twitter account, “I’m totally shocked that Hong Kong University is currently destroying the pillar of shame. It is completely unreasonable and a self-immolation against private property in Hong Kong.”
“We encourage everyone to go out to Hong Kong University and document everything that happens with the sculpture,” he added in a statement.
In its statement, HKU Council said, “No party has ever obtained any approval from the University to display the statue on campus, and the University has the right to take appropriate actions to handle it at any time.”
It added the university “is also very concerned about the potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue. Latest legal advice given to the University cautioned that the continued display of the statue would pose legal risks to the University based on the Crimes Ordinance enacted under the Hong Kong colonial government.”
Efforts to preserve the memory of the sculpture are already underway, with art-activist group Lady Liberty Hong Kong creating a 3-D model made using more than 900 photos.
“The idea is that everyone can print a copy it and place it wherever they want,” said Alex Lee, the founder of the group. “In the digital age, there’s no limitation of what you can do with virtual or physical objects — (the hope is) for everyone to try to preserve this symbol.”
According to Lee, the statue represented something of the fundamental difference between Hong Kong and mainland China. “It (the statue) symbolized that Hong Kong still has room for the freedom of speech and it really means that Hong Kong is still a different part from China,” said Lee. “But then I think right now, that last really small space is gone.”
On Sunday, Hong Kong’s first “China patriots only” legislative election witnessed a record low turnout, reflecting a steep decline in civic and political engagement following Beijing’s overhaul of the city’s electoral processes earlier this year.
Following the vote, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam traveled to Beijing and met with Chinese Leader Xi Jinping, who endorsed her administration and praised her for moving the city “from chaos to order,” according to a government statement of the meeting.
Calling the election — in which turnout was just 30.2% — a “success” Xi said the city had “made solid progress in promoting democratic development that suits Hong Kong’s reality.”
“The democratic right of Hong Kong compatriots has been shown,” Xi said.
A number of Hong Kong activists who fled abroad labeled the election — in which prospective candidates were first screened by the government — as a “sham,” a criticism echoed by many rights groups and international observers.
Top image: Workers remove part of the “Pillar of Shame” into a container at the University of Hong Kong on December 23, 2021.

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Il Divo singer Carlos Marin dies aged 53

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bbc– Il Divo’s Carlos Marin has died aged 53, the classical group has announced.

Marin would be “missed by his friends, family and fans”, a statement on social media said. “There will never be another voice or spirit like Carlos.”

The group had said they were praying for Marin’s recovery after he was admitted to hospital this month leading them to postpone a UK Christmas tour.

The male quartet was brought together by Simon Cowell in 2003 and achieved three UK number one albums.

Marin was born in Germany, but moved to Spain at the age of 12 and was a baritone in the group, performing alongside tenors Urs Buhler and David Miller, and pop singer Sebastien Izambard.

“Singing is my way of saying what I feel, my way of life,” he is quoted as saying on the group’s website.

“Singing is what makes me feel alive, so thank you for letting me continue making a living from what I love.”

Spanish newspaper El Pais reported Marin had been taken ill during the UK tour and placed into an induced coma at a hospital in Manchester. The nature of his illness has not been disclosed.

Il Divo’s international composition helped them achieve notable success across several worldwide tours.

Their hits included Regresa a Mi (Unbreak My Heart), The Time Of Our Lives, and I Believe In You – a duet with Celine Dion – as well as a version of Adele’s Hello.

They sold more than 30 million records, and had 160 gold and platinum discs across more than 33 countries, the group’s website said.

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