Happy Birthday, Doctor Dee

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Magical objects said to belong to Dee, now housed together in the British Museum.
Magical objects said to belong to Dee, now housed together in the British Museum.

Today is the birthday of Doctor Dee, court magician and mathemetician to Queen Elizabeth the I.  My ambivalent fascination with Doctor Dee can be traced back to a single object– his scrying mirror in the cabinet of curiousities that is the Enlightenment Hall of the British Museum. During my monthly pilgrimages to the British Museum, I would always pay a visit to this most seductive of objects, desplayed beside a crystal ball and a pair of Enochian tablets– tools to decode the angelic language dee and Edward Kelley thought would be the key to communing with angels.

The Scrying Mirror Ring, made to order in your size at Feralstrumpet.co.uk
The Scrying Mirror Ring, made to order in your size at Feralstrumpet.co.uk

His angelic conversations were always conducted with Christian piety, perhaps sparing him from the witch trials rampant at the time. He had hoped the angels could help heal the very real spiritual rift left from the dissolution of the Catholic church and the new Church of England.

This is an exray of a painting of John Dee performing an experiment in front of Elizabeth I.  The exray reveals a circle of skulls at his feet.
This is an x-ray of a painting of John Dee performing an experiment in front of Elizabeth I. The x-ray reveals a circle of skulls at his feet.
Portrait of John Dee.
Portrait of John Dee.

We are left to wonder just what kind of magician was Dr. Dee? The newly revealed circle of skulls at his feet in the painting above– and that they were once painted over– speaks to this ambivalence. He was perhaps foremost a librarian– his library was the largest in England.  After six years abroad, advising monarchs in Central Europe, Dee returned to London to find his home and library vandalised and ransacked.  He was an imperialist, one of the early architects of the colonisation of America.  Perhaps its no wonder that this power object, his “devil’s mirror” was Aztec obsidian imported to England in the early 1500s. The coloniser and colonised are wedded in the deepest ways, but I digress.

The Scrying Mirror Chandelier Earrings at Feralstrumpet.co.uk
The Scrying Mirror Chandelier Earrings at Feralstrumpet.co.uk

Was the mirror even Dee’s? We only have Horace Walpole’s word on this. Fiction is often closer to the truth, and the stories we have inherited have already given shape to a shifting past.  In the iconic portrait of Dr. Dee, he seems to be contained in a round wonder cabinet, his black cap resembling his “devil’s mirror”, a black nimbus framing his head. His pointed beard, like the finger of a planchette aimed into the dark, asks us to decipher some secret at his heart.

Terry Pratchett, that true bard of the English soul, got it right– here we have a wizard of the Unseen University– and I a Granny Weatherwax wanna be, staring into the dark glass.

The Scrying Mirror Neckalce at Feralstrumpet.co.uk
The Scrying Mirror Neckalce at Feralstrumpet.co.uk

 

 

What Would Vanessa Do?

Catherine wearing the Vine of Elements Pentagram Necklace
Catherine wearing the Vine of Elements Pentagram Necklace, channeling the Witch circa 1972.

I wanted to share with you some of the images from the latest photoshoot I did with Catherine modeling. Many of the designs are from the Gothic Adornments Collection, inspired by gothic heroines from fiction and, most recently teevee.

I've recently added many new designs to the Gothic Adornments collection of the shop.
I’ve recently added many new designs to the Gothic Adornments collection of the shop.
Catherine wearing the wrapped chrysoprase pendant necklace.
Catherine wearing the wrapped chrysoprase pendant necklace.

 

While shooting the collection we were talking about our common love for Penny Dreadful and particularly the character of Vanessa Ives who embodies the spiritual horror and conflict as well as ovaries-out demon possession like no other.  Her performance captures the lurid yet convincing dread of being “chosen” not by God, but by something else.

When I first heard they were making a show that combined all the horror classics in one universe, one show, I was skeptical, but I’ve fallen under the spell of the show and it is informing much of my work lately.

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Selling at Whitby Gothic Weekend

This past weekend I had a stall at the Whitby Gothic Weekend.  Whitby is one of my favourite places on earth, and for the past seven years I have attended the Gothic Festival there.  So it was with a great deal of excitement I prepared to sell at the event. I am grateful to all the friends and shop supporters who came by and said hello– you kept me sane!

Sadly, selling at Whitby was a disappointment. I found myself displaying all my lovingly hand made, beautiful things in a fluorescent-lit gymnasium which stank of stale sweat and childhood trauma, trading next to people who were flogging 5 pound lingerie and Vivienne Westwood knock-offs.  Whatever I was doing was drowned out by cheap tat displayed as if we were at a car boot or swap meet.

One thing I learned this weekend– the context of a market defines you.  I had a difficult time explaining that I was a local Yorkshire artist, and that everything was handmade and carefully sourced.  My prices didn’t make sense to people, who were seeing bins of things for a pound, all imported sweat-shop type goods.

There was no security and though traders were encouraged to leave their stalls up overnight, the doors were not locked at 5 and people came and went, rummaging through the stalls of traders who were no longer there.  I ended up taking all my stock home every night because of this.

As the weekend wore on and sales in general seemed low, other traders became territorial.  The woman selling cheap imported jewelry behind me blocked the aisle leading to my stall from the entrance insuring everyone would have to walk the entire perimeter of stalls just to reach mine.  Yet, there was no one to deal with this besides a single volunteer who was a stall holder herself.  One evening she broke down in tears because she had so much work to do and so many demands put on her.

Yet, traders pay a premium to sell at this event–where is the money going?  I split the cost with my stall neighbor, the wonderful Paula from Deadly Desires. We are both new businesswomen and booking Whitby was a big experiment and risk for both of us.

What surprised me was the complete lack of any feeling of community amongst the traders or shoppers, many of whom were not goths at all but people who had come to photograph “freaks” or people in fancy dress– WGW has a lot of people who have no relation to the gothic sub-culture but like to dress up in Victorian costumes and promenade.

I learned that as a trader I need to find markets where the other sellers are also artists and makers, and where we are supported as such. Unless there are major changes to the way things are run at Whitby Gothic Weekend, I will not be selling there again.

Kiss the Goat

Two Satyrs by Reubens

It’s that time again– don your flayed hide and dust off your cat-o-nine-tails. Lupercalia is here!

Decadent blessings to you dear reader!

Many Valentines Dark and Strange in the Etsy Shop

Azrael’s Trumpets

“When the soul sees Azrael, it ‘falls in love’, and its gaze is thus withdrawn from the body as if by a seduction.”– Peter Lamborn Wilson

This is one of my favourite Coil Songs– I’ve received much comfort from it.  It, as well as the painting by Evelyn de Morgan, inspired the Azreal’s Trumpet earrings.

The Angel of Death by Evelyn de Morgan
Azrael's Trumpets by Feral Strumpet on Etsy

The Sound of Home

If there is a sound I associate with the city of York, it’s the bells of the minster.  They have little religious significance to me, and probably because of that they often seem a kind of aural ambush of the sublime, arriving suddenly and permeating the little streets with echoing peals that are quite haunting.  Just the other day the bells played a rendition of Greensleeves and then another melancholy carol– something that sounded much like Eliza’s Aria (which will now forever be known as the Lloyds TSB song).

I like to imagine the bells are summoned from the Minster itself, deep beneath the doomstone, and that they are the song of the many greenmen secreted in the mansory.  But really, it’s an athletic endeavor, the ringing of the bells. In the two towers there are 56 bells, the most bells of any English cathedral.  You can read about the bells and their ringers on the ringer’s site.  Listening to the bells reminds me of my favourite Tarkovsky film, Andrei Rublev, set in Medieval Russia, where the casting of a bell is an almost magical act.

After standing in the rain (ill advised– I caught cold) spellbound by the sound, I was inspired to make these earrings in tribute.

York Minster Rose Windows, Handmade Earrings by Feral Strumpet on Etsy