It’s my favourite time of year, when adults can ask each other, “what are you going to be?” We don’t have many trick-or-treaters where I live, but I stock up on candy anyway. As the veil thins, we honour our ancestors but also indulge in other delights– I always share some with them on my altar.
How are you celebrating this Samhain or Halloween?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So being a witch is in– even Urban Outfitters is getting in on the haute occult game, selling crystals and divination tools, usually the wares of the local, independent pagan or New Age shop.
This look is a simple resurrection, Stevie Nicks, but paired way down: 1970s Victoriana dresses in black, layers of jagged hemmed garments worn in an undefinited sihouette. If you look like you just stepped out of your chicken-footed cottage, you’ve got it right. It’s all the rage. But what if the rage is you, and has always been? How do you ride the tide of fickle fashion when the High Street is cashing in on what you love? I say, keep doing it, and do it like you mean it.
The upside of all this is now that these trends have names–Dark Mori, Nu Goth, etc., I’m able to find my style sisters–like-minded souls on Instagram and Pinterest, mutual style inspirations and co-cacklers. Here are some witchy discoveries– recent and not-so-recent- that I’ve found whist searching the web for fellow darklings.
The Wild Unknown Tarot- She dresses like a witch, walks like a witch and even talks like a witch, but can she divine the signs? Herein we separate the crones from the drones. The Wild Unknown Tarot is new to me, and the imagery resonates profoundly. Though I first learned the craft through Tarot, I often felt scolded by my Rider Wait training deck, and when I switched to the Golden Tarot, the feeling didn’t change. I came to reading Runes years later. They speak to me with more immediacy and appear as allies rather than ominous harbingers, as the Tarot often did. Still, when I saw this deck it rekindled my fondness for Tarot, simplifying the meanings and rooting them in the earth and nature.
Black Lippy in Pristine by Illamasqua. Part of this trend is black lipstick, and though I have been a non-orthodox sort of goth most of my life I have shied away from this make up staple because I couldn’t find a black lippy with enough coverage and mixing my own out of eyeliner, eyeshadow and chapstick was unpleasant. So one of the benefits of this mainstreaming is that almost everyone is coming out with a black lippy formula. I have tried many and so far Illamasqua’s Pristine is my favourite. I do love this make up brand for its original formulas, many of which are supremely wearable and natural looking despite many of the OTT Instagram make up posts using this brand. I do love that they often use older women in their ad campaigns and a variety of face shapes and types of beauty. They are cruelty free as well.
A England Polish in Fotheringhay Castle. This is my newest obsession, this lichen-green polish with a mysterious scattered holo. I do love this brand, founded by designer Adina Bodana. Her collections are inspired by English history, paintings and lore. This particular colour is part of her new Elizabeth and Mary collection and is named for the final place of imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was tried and executed in the castle. I love all the movement and depths in her polishes, but this colour is particularly magical. Once I was at the 18th century folly based on Stonehenge which is called the Druid’s Circle. Moss and bracken have taken over the site giving it an ancient feel. The site itself has a fascinating if somewhat disturbing history which I’ll save for another post. But one day during a late summer visit I found deep in the shadows of stone some biolumensecent lichen– green glowing sequins worthy of an Arthur Machen story. I have researched to find out what kind of life form I had seen, to no avail. It was indeed something from the Twilight realm of the fey. This polish is exactly the same colour.
Swirl Clothing- Ok, I didn’t discover this company recently, but I have to give a shout out to my homegirl Sal and her clothing company. She designs witch dresses in all sizes, including plus sizes. The simple shapes are perfect foundation pieces for a layered dark mori look, or a minimalist Nu Goth shape when paired with one of my rosary necklaces and perhaps a wide-brimmed hat. Sal has a brick and mortar shop in York as well as an online shop. I wear her dresses almost every day.
How we adorn ourselves is our most immediate form of self-expression– it can be the most intimate descriptor we have of ourselves. When fashion takes these shapes and ideas and sells them back to us, we have to keep playing and keeping things true to our own identities while supporting other independent, pagan, heathen and witch-friendly businesses. What, if anything, in this current trend is inspiring you? What gems have you found?
The end of the year is exciting. We gather together against the cold, thinking of the possibilities of the new year. The Yule gift I’ve given my business, (because, let’s face it, Feral Strumpet feels like a person to me now) is a new online shop. It’s easier for my customers to use, it’s still independent and best of all, it’s pretty. I can now accept credit cards, as well as the old, tried and true Paypal as well as bank transfers if you are in the UK. Also you can see prices in your country’s currency by using the drop down menu at the top of the store page. The shop is also integrated with this blog.
What a better way to celebrate a new shop than with a new collection. The Crystal Nimbus Collection is based on a hand-forged design which grew out of my incredibly popular Anglo Saxon pennanular brooch. A simple, endless circle inspired by the moon, ouroboros and archeological finds. This penannular brooch is based on an Anglo Saxon design discovered in North Yorkshire. This brooch was featured in the Easy KnitnSweater Jacket Tutorial from Very Pink Knits. Anglo Saxon Penannular Brooch. MADE TO ORDER
These new crystal necklaces were born out of that design, of which I have now made many. I recently read a fascinating article on crystallography. The otherworldly voids and stark, icy structures inspired me. Rather than form a holiday collection I started to think about light and shape. The forging process itself shaped these. The raw crystals capture the winter solstice spirit so well– they are a light in the darkness. The nimbus shape came from the anglo saxon brooch but also my obsession with medieval iconography and the fine gilded halos of saints– a simple mark denoting grace. Highlights of the collection are below. Each is one of a kind and I hope to add more pieces as the season darkens.
Through the Christmas rush I’ve had a kind of breakthrough. It has to do with new skills, new magic tricks. It all seems to be summed up in this humble ring– the “spiral promise”– because the wires seem to endlessly circle each other and because it reminds me of a simple love token. I made one of these for myself– which is how most of my designs begin. I thought, it’s so humble, what would it mean to anyone who regularly collects my designs? And yet I wore mine every day and came to love it. Little by little I have been introducing these new pieces that feel much more personal.
When I opened the shop I was recreating the vintage pieces I had to sell off, one by one, because I could not find work in Yorkshire. I still love the Victorian and early 20th century Bohemian influences and have kept those percolating through my design imagination, but then something else crept in, something I wasn’t expecting. This early 70s witchy woman muse showed up, with her hand forged boldness and her raw stones.
This is primal stuff– the first memories of adornment are of this crazy ankh necklace made of railroad nails which my mother wore. The thing looked dangerous and puzzling, a powerful piece! So I’m on a journey back to my roots.
I have always loved wire wrapped links, and as my designs have progressed they have formed the basis of almost all my pieces. Now I have explored using different metals, pickling them in various solutions, hammering and bending. The deliberation of a simple metal spiral reminds me of binding spells and of the Celtic and Viking adornment which is very much of the place where I live now, its ancient history.
Things are changing. There is more of me in this new work– more of my hand, my heart and will. I hope you will come with me on this journey.