Thursday, July 25, 2019

Interview with me about The Pomegranate journal special issue on Pagan art and fashion

This is the full text of an interview with me by Rick de Yampert about the upcoming special issue of the academic journal, The Pomegranate: the International Journal of Pagan Studies, on Pagan art and fashion, an edited version of which appeared in The Wild Hunt.

RdY. First I want to check with you that the following academic bio material is correct. Please feel free to update or add anything you believe is relevant. Also, can you please tell me where you born, where you grew up, and where you currently live.

CT. I was born and grew up in a southern suburb of Melbourne, Australia. I moved out of the family home in 1984 and from 1985 to 1988 I went “Back to the Earth” and lived in a rural location outside the town of Castlemaine in Central Victoria (Victoria is the state that Melbourne is the capital of). I have subsequently lived in various inner-city locations within Melbourne and currently live in a northern inner-city suburb called Carlton.  

I am an Honorary Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art from Monash University, Graduate and Postgraduate Diplomas in Classics and Archaeology and a PhD in Aegean Archaeology from the University of Melbourne. From 1996 to 2010 I worked as a professional tapestry weaver at the Australian Tapestry Workshop, during which (from 1999 to 2005) I also worked as a feature writer, reviewer and news and events editor at Australia’s Witchcraft Magazine. I returned to university study in 2004, started PhD research in 2009 and was awarded my Doctorate in 2017. My PhD, which is on tree worship in the Late Bronze Age Aegean and East Mediterranean (primarily Crete and mainland Greece, with comparative material from Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt), is currently in press with Peeters Publishers and due out this year. I also work on the reception of the ancient world, particularly the ways in which ancient Egyptian and Minoan (Bronze Age Crete) religions have been interpreted by late nineteenth century British magicians such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and their spiritual heirs, the 20th and 21st century ceremonial magicians, witches and Pagans.  

RdY. Because this is for a Pagan news website, please provide a brief spiritual bio: How do you identify your spiritual path – Pagan, Witch, Wiccan or something else? Was there an “a-ha” moment when you discovered your path, or was it a slow evolution? 

CT. I identify as a Witch (magick worker) and a Pagan priestess (religious officiant for the gods of Egypt, Greece and Rome). I guess it would be accurate to call me a Theurgist, as within ritual I seek to evoke the presence of the gods and to unite with them. I first discovered magick while looking in a friend’s occult library. I was from a Catholic background, which I had rejected when I was 16, and had not subsequently been interested in anything religious or supernatural – or so I thought. I’d just finished Year 12 at school and instead of going to university I started studying ceremonial magic, then later on Pagan Witchcraft. I was initiated as a Witch in 1985 by a priest called Argetlam, later that year I moved to the county and that’s when I met Wiccans and Pagans and got introduced to the alternative lifestyle and festival scene. Rural living was a formative experience for me, particularly in regard to observing the lunar and solar cycles and studying herbalism. I moved back to Melbourne in 1989 in order to do a textile course and shared an apartment with another Witch who was a Naturopath. In 1991 I showed a copy of Green Egg magazine to my Pagan friends, Anthorr and Fiona Nomchong, and they were inspired to join the Church of All Worlds. I did not think there was much point in joining because it was an overseas (American) organisation, but my friends thought it was important because of the possibility of getting Pagan legal recognition in Australia by incorporating as a foreign religious organisation. So I joined their Nest (Draconis Nest in Canberra), later formed another Nest (Primeval Soup Nest in Melbourne), and was initiated up to 5th Circle Scion. In 1993 I joined the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). I was already familiar with Aleister Crowley and Thelema, but I was interested to see what the OTO was like. I was an active member from 1993 to 1997, and then again from 2004 to 2006. Once an OTO member always an OTO member, even if your membership fees lapse, so I guess I am still a member. 

RdY. Please provide a glimpse of some of your Pagan (non-academic) publishing credentials: magazine articles or books that you have written for or edited.

CT. I started writing for Pagan magazines in 1986 with Shadowplay magazine (eds. Rhea Shemazi and Liam Cyfrin), mainly because I was enthused about communicating with like-minded people – remember it was all hard copy magazines and letter writing back then. I’ve written for many Pagan publications including The CauldronPagan DawnGreen EggThe Beltane PapersnewWitchWitches & PagansPentacle; I worked for Australia’s only glossy (and paying) Witchcraft Magazine for 6 years; and I’ve got chapters in several Pagan anthologies including Celebrating the Pagan Soul (ed. Laura Wildman), Pop! Goes the Witch (ed. Fiona Horne); Practising the Witch’s Craft (ed. Douglas Ezzy); Priestesses, Pythonesses and Sibyls (ed. Sorita D’Este); and Women’s Voices in Magic (ed. Brandy Williams), among others. 

RdY. Your bio above mentioned your work as a professional tapestry weaver. Please provide a brief artistic bio: Do you still pursue-do art? And if so, what forms/genres?

CT. I’ve always liked making things. Just before I moved to the country in 1985 I learned spinning and weaving, and when I was there I did lots of that. I also studied Wool Classing at a local technical school because I planned to have some coloured sheep and thought it would be useful to know more about wool. I got very distracted by that course, especially when they started hiring me to work in shearing sheds. I did not really want to work in the wool industry, but seeing as I was getting paid I thought I may as well. Eventually I got back to the craft aspect of wool and after another technical school course in Studio Textiles (spinning, tapestry and handloom weaving, dyeing, fabric printing, design, photography, etc), and then a university course in Fine Art (tapestry weaving, print making and life drawing), I was hired by the Australian Tapestry Workshop. At the workshop we mainly worked on large scale tapestries for public places such as galleries, museums, and foyers of public buildings, as well as smaller scale work for private homes. We also had exhibitions of the weavers own work. Many weavers have their own practice alongside their work for the Workshop, but it is a physically demanding activity and so when not at work I would do a small amount of tapestry but mainly paper collage or linocut printing. These days I am more an art historian than practising artist, as my PhD research was on images of tree worship on gold rings and in fresco paintings from Minoan Crete. I do maintain an interest in textiles, however, as I also study Minoan garments. It’s really just a case of not having as much time to do these slow craft activities as I used to. 

RdY. Pomegranate submissions are peer-reviewed. Please provide a brief discussion of what that entails. Also, the journal website reads: “The Pomegranate considers submissions from both established scholars and research students.” I’m hoping you can clarify what is meant by “research students” – does that mean someone has to be enrolled in an academic institution? Or could I or anyone qualify as a research student if I cite (only) scholarly publications in a submitted article?

CT. “Peer-review” means that an article submitted to an academic journal, such as The Pomegranate, will be sent out to (usually) two reviewers who are experts on the topic that the article is on. An editor of a journal or book featuring a collection of different scholars’ work is not going to be the expert on every topic that the different scholars write about. So in order to assess the articles people submit, the editor sends them out to people who are experts in the topic covered by a particular article. For example, if I write an article for a journal about Minoan tree worship, the editor will send that to some peer reviewers to be evaluated. One reviewer might be an expert in Minoan art and the other might be an expert in Minoan shrines, and they would both have extensive knowledge of Aegean archaeology. These reviewers would assess the quality of my article in order to ensure that my research is rigorous, coherent, and builds upon past research in order to expand the field of knowledge about Minoan tree worship. Peer-review is often “double blind” which means that the reviewers do not know the identity of the writer, and the writer does not know the identity of the reviewers. This is so that there can be no favoritism or prejudice and the work is assessed only on its scholarly merits, not on the identity of the author. Sometimes the editor of a journal will know immediately that a certain article is not suitable, for example, the topic may not fit the scope of the journal or it may be badly written and researched. If an editor thinks an article does fit the journal then they send it to the reviewers who decide whether the article should be accepted as it is; accepted after applying changes recommended by the reviewers; or rejected. An author does not have to do what the reviewers recommend, they can argue against it, or they can take their article elsewhere, but peer review usually provides very helpful advice that when applied significantly improves your article.  

In the guidelines for submitting an article to The Pomegranate where it says that the journal considers submissions from established scholars and research students, that means that as well as scholars who have many years experience working in their field of research, have authored books and articles, and may have a tenured position at a university, students may also submit articles based on their research. The term “research students” usually means Masters or PhD students. A contributor need not be associated with a university as staff or student, they may be an independent scholar, but that usually means that they have been to university and/or understand the requirements of academic scholarship and writing. The Pomegranate sometimes publishes pieces that are not peer-reviewed as well, and there is room in this special issue for a fashion journalism article. 

RdY. Please include here the exact call for submissions for the upcoming issue on creative expression. Also, what is your role with Pomegranate? I don’t see you listed on the website’s editorial board section.

CT. I’m not on the editorial board of The Pomegranate but the editor, Chas Clifton, who I have known for quite a few years, approached me to guest edit this special issue on Pagan Art and Fashion because he thought that it fitted with my interests. It was actually Chas’s idea to do a special issue on this topic but as the guest editor, I designed the call for papers and I am generally liaising with potential authors and receiving the proposals and articles. There are many topics that could be written about for this issue, but I had to make the call for papers a reasonable size, so I condensed it down to the following:
CFP for a special issue of The Pomegranate on Pagan Art and Fashion
A beautiful young woman drapes her long auburn hair over a human skull, pressing it close to her face like a lover. Another, clad in black and holding a wooden staff, poses like a model in a photo shoot on location in an incongruous forest. Long, elaborately decorated fake fingernails like talons grasp shiny crystals, evoking the “just so” beauty of a staged magazine spread. In the world of the Witches of Instagram, the art of photography meets business witchery and feminist activism.

Is it (still) the season of the witch? Luxury fashion house, Dior, has a tarot-themed collection; witchcraft featured in recent issues of Vogue magazine; young witch-identifying women perform “fashion magic”; and an alchemist-fashion designer has invented colour-changing hair dye, inspired by a scene in the 1996 movie, The Craft. An angry yet luxurious sex-positive feminism is in the air; goddesses, witches and sluts are rising up again, a decade and a half after Rockbitch stopped touring and almost thirty years after Annie Sprinkle’s first workshops celebrating the sacred whore.

Exhibitions showcasing the work of living and dead occult artists have been on the increase for several years now, most recently Black Light: Secret Traditions in Art Since the 1950s at the Centre de Cultura Contempor├ánia de Barcelona, and Barry William Hale + NOKO’s Enochian performance at Dark Mofo in Tasmania. Multidisciplinary artist Bill Crisafi and dancer Alkistis Dimech exemplify the Sabbatic witchcraft aesthetic; Russ Marshalek and Vanessa Irena mix fitness and music with witchcraft in the age of the apocalypse; DJ Juliana Huxtable and queer arts collective House of Ladosha are a coven; rappers Azealia Banks and Princess Nokia are out and proud brujas; and singer Lana del Rey admits hexing Donald Trump.

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies invites submissions of articles (5000–8000 words) for a special issue on Pagan Art and Fashion, edited by Caroline Tully ( How are Paganism, modern Goddess worship, witchcraft and magick utilised in the service of creative self-expression today? Potential topics might fall under the general headings of, but are not limited to, Aesthetics, Dance, Fashion, Film and Television, Internet Culture, Literature, Music, and Visual Art.
Submissions due June 15, 2019. 

For information on the submission process see here.
Please note that The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies uses the University of Chicago Press notes-and-bibliography citation style.

RdY. On to the upcoming issue: What was the inspiration to do creative expression as a theme? Again, was there an “a-ha” moment, or was it a confluence of factors? (See below for related or perhaps redundant questions.)

CT. I think Paganism is inherently creative because of its this-worldly, rather than other-worldly, focus. There is a wide spectrum of aesthetic expression that manifests in the materiality of Paganism; in the ritual objects we use, the way we design rituals, our robes (or lack thereof), direct – bodily – contact with deities, ecstatic expression, sexuality, and the general artistic legacy of all forms of ancient pagan religions that we are able to draw upon in order to create our religion and rituals. However, the initial impulse to create this special issue came from the creativity, often aligned with business savvy, of Witches on Instagram; the sex-positive feminist collective website,; and the fact that Witchcraft was appearing in high fashion contexts such as catwalk collections and featuring in magazines like Vogue. Witchcraft has become glamorous – and I’m not talking about its traditional faerie glamour, but fashionista glamour. Bloggers, Peg Aloi (“The Young Ones:Witchcraft’s Glamorous New Practitioners”), and Thorn Mooney (“The HipsterWitch: Aesthetics, Empowerment and Instagram”), have already noted that this is a new kind of Witchcraft, less focussed on deities, Pagan history and community, and more focussed on self-care and characterised, to quote Mooney, by “a strong entrepreneurial streak”. These Witches are also politically active, more multicultural than Paganism has traditionally been, and read magazines like Sabat and Ravenous, and books like Kristen J. Sollee’s Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. This issue of The Pomegranate is interested in research on these new slick Witches – who are they? Are they really so new after all? What does it mean for Witchcraft to be so distinctively stylish?  

But there is a lot more to Pagan creativity and aesthetics of course. Pagan fashion does not have to actually be “fashionable”. Paganism is often distinctly anti-fashion – and who are the arbiters of Pagan taste anyway? The Goddess Movement liberated women from the strictures of fashionable 20th century bodies by focusing on female forms that were fashionable in other eras – look at the Paleolithic and Neolithic “Venuses”. And it’s not just about female empowerment; Heathenry and other Reconstructionist-type Paganisms have distinctive material aesthetics in regard to clothing and sacred objects. What about the sartorial choices involved in wearing the colour black; the Goth, rainbow, or hippie looks; pointy hats, moon crowns, regalia, nudity, or robes? In regard to visual art, can we identify a distinctive style of Pagan illustration? – think of all those years worth of hard copy Pagan magazines, Neil Geddes-Ward, Naomi Lewis. Tarot design is another locus of Pagan illustration. What about Pagan sacred sculpture? – Oberon Zell’s famous Gaia Earth Mother statue; reproductions of ancient sculpture such as the Minoan Snake Goddess, Triple Hekate, or the relief on the Gundestrup Cauldron. Twentieth century painters Norman Lindsay and Rosaleen Norton identified as Pagan. What about Ithell Colquhoun, Austin Osman Spare, Marjorie Cameron, or Vali Myers? Performance artists such as Ana Mendieta, Betsy Damon, Carolee Schneeman and Oryelle Defenestrate use Pagan iconography. There really is a lot of Pagan art and fashion.  

RdY. It seems so much of the transmission of contemporary Pagan culture is still through nonfiction books and writing, with festivals also prominent and perhaps movies and TV shows, however fictionalized, being a distant third. That’s just a quick off-hand assessment by me. I think most modern Pagans and Witches could name 20 Pagan authors of nonfiction right off the bat (the how-to books and the spell “recipe” books), and some Witchy films and TV series, but would have trouble naming more than two or three truly Pagan painters, fiction writers, musicians, fashion designers (are there any?), etc.

CT. Well, there is an amazing young fashion designer called Lauren Bowker who has a company called The Unseen. She is a Witch and Alchemist and has invented, among other things, clothes that change colour in response to pollution, a hat that changes colour according to activity in different parts of the brain, and colour-changing hair dye. Another fashion designer, Pia Interlandi, is not actually Pagan but may be of interest to Pagans because she designs garments for the dead to be buried in. Then there are “fashion witches” such as Gabriela Herstik, who describes herself as “combining spirituality, style and storytelling.” As for painters, fiction writers, and musicians, well, Sharon Knight is a Pagan musician, Wendy Rule is a Witch and musician, the young visual artists may be a bit less well-known but include Athena Papadopoulos, Georgina Horgan, Issy Wood, Sophie Jung, Linda Stupart, more well-known would be Sarah Hannant and Genesis P. Orridge. Then there are artists beloved by Pagans such as H. R. Giger, and many of the female Surrealists, such as Remedios Varo, utilised iconography that appeals to contemporary Witches. Fiction, well, of course books like Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was the basis for the Church of All Worlds, occultists like Gerald Gardner and Aleister Crowley wrote fiction, and the work of writers Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling have influenced contemporary Paganism.   

RdY. How important or prominent is creative expression, as opposed to nonfiction writing, in Pagan culture today? Have art, fashion, TV, movies and music had more influence than perhaps the Pagan community realizes? Is their impact more palpable than I surmised above, yet hidden and subversive?

CT. Pagan music has been influential for a long time; whether that is music that Pagans like, for example, Jethro Tull, or music that is utilised within ritual and festival settings such as chants and other overtly Pagan music. I think that TV and movies are very influential – The Wickerman is obviously a classic, and in the 1990s Buffy, Charmed and The Craft really did have an influence on young people, later it was American Horror Story: Coven. Visual art and fashion may have had a more subtle influence, perhaps because we have not thought much about them, because they are just “there” – although certainly individual artists who are or seem to be Witchy, such as Vali Myres, do get lauded. When making the initial foray into Paganism the seeker is not usually advised to go and look at paintings or clothing, their first recourse is to books and workshops. I think visual art and clothing have a different kind of influence to nonfiction books, particularly in the construction and performance of the Pagan self. For example, adopting black and wearing conspicuous occult jewelry makes a visual statement of Witchiness using well-known iconographic tropes that even the non-Pagan public recognise. Now with the ubiquity of the internet, which is like a huge global television, curating a fabulous Pagan or Witchy persona through visual means on a social media platform is like getting media attention but actually has a more far-reaching effect. Contemporary Paganism has been getting media attention since the 1950s – but with the internet you aren’t dependant on attracting the interest of a journalist; you can style your own shoot at your own convenience, photograph it yourself, make yourself look absolutely fabulous, upload the best photos and distribute your image – or brand – to a global audience. And here we are back again at the topic of Instagram Witches.

RdY. As the transmission of culture continues to shift from print to digital, how significantly has that affected the importance of creative expression in Pagan culture today as opposed to that of the past, when books by Starhawk, Sybil Leek, the Farrars and Raymond Buckland ruled the roost?

CT. Well, I think, again, I’m going to have to mention the Witches of Instagram. As noted by Aloi and Mooney, Instagram Witches are writing books – but they are not publishing with the traditional publishers such as Weiser or Llewellyn – and they direct their books to their Instagram followers. It’s no wonder many of us older Pagans who are not on Instagram have never heard of them. Or they are writing for online magazines such as Vice and Broadly or more specifically Witchy ones such as Sabat, or being interviewed on podcasts such as The Witch Wave. It is a different world, because so many people have phones that they are sourcing all this stuff through. They don’t even need to buy hard copy books.

RdY. Conversely, as you noted in the portion of your call for submissions that I saw on The Wild Hunt, Pagan “memes” are infecting the culture at large as never before. What are some of your take-aways from this phenomenon?

CT. I think this has a lot to do with a combination of three things that are (or have been) very much in the media and therefore in popular consciousness: 1. the excitement of magic as conveyed by the Harry Potter books and films (with the Lord of the Rings films coming a close second); 2. the morphing of feminism back into a very visible political activist movement by a new generation of women and men who identify with the figure of the Witch as a powerful Other; and 3. the increasing awareness of environmental degradation. These have been characteristics of Paganism for decades, and now people in general society are starting to see that they are valuable. I am reminded of back when solar power and recycling were considered crazy hippy activities, but now they are understood to be important and even governments approve of them.

RdY. A final matter: Please talk about the impact and importance of Pomegranate itself. What is the importance of having a peer-reviewed academic journal focusing on Paganism? During my newspaper career, editors would tell us reporters/writers to ask ourselves the question: “Why should our readers care about this story?” As a tangent of that, why should the everyday Pagan care that Pomegranate exists?

CT. The Pomegranate began as a scholarly but non-peer reviewed journal in 1996 with the sub-title, “A New Journal of Neopagan Thought”. Its founders, Fritz Muntean and Diana Tracy, intended it to be a scholarly venue for the critical examination of Pagan beliefs and practices (the term “critical” meaning analytical rather than negative assessment). They published 18 issues between 1996 and 2001, then the editorship was transferred to Chas Clifton and from 2003 it has been published by Equinox as an international, peer-reviewed journal. The reason The Pomegranate should be of interest to all Pagans, not just scholars of Paganism, is because of the fascinating content of the journal. A quick look on the website under the Archives tab (on the far right) shows all the issues and looking at the articles and book reviews gives an idea of just how broad the umbrella term “Pagan” is and how interesting. (Some content is free while most requires a subscription). Pagan Studies scholars come from various academic backgrounds including religious studies, theology, history, sociology, anthropology, folkloristics, archaeology, and gender studies. While some scholars who write for The Pomegranate are also Pagans themselves, many are not and what I think is really exciting is that scholarly research about Paganism gives us a really fresh and thought-provoking view of our beliefs and practices as seen from the outside. Scholars of Paganism often notice and examine things that we do not see ourselves, they are also more likely to question and analyse aspects of Paganism that practitioners may not. Even scholars who do participant-observation of Pagan groups (studying them from the inside) show us Paganism from other, sometimes unexpected, angles. The academic study of contemporary Paganism has been going on for decades, beginning with scholars such as Marcello Truzzi, Aidan Kelly, Margot Adler and Tanya Luhrman, although it coalesced as a discipline in the 1990s through the work of Graham Harvey and Chas Clifton. Even if Pagans don’t actually want to read scholarly work, I think it behooves us to at least know what is going on within Pagan Studies. Academic study of Paganism strives to be impartial and thorough, and this is why I think that The Pomegranate, and Pagan Studies in general, deserves the interest and support of the Pagan community.