Phantasmaphile and New York University will conspire again to host the Occult Humanities Conference next February.
Pam Grossman and Jesse Bransford will welcome you at the university’s Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions, located at 34 Stuyvesant Street in Manhattan, February 5 through 7, for a weekend of lectures, performances, and art exhibits exploring “Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions.”
Click here for the schedule, and click here to buy tickets.
From the publicity:
The 2016 Occult Humanities Conference is a weekend conference to be held in New York City on February 5-7, 2016. The conference will present a wide array of voices active in the cultural landscape who are specifically addressing the occult tradition through research, scholarship and artistic practice.
The arts and humanities at present are acutely interested in subjects related to the occult tradition. The tradition represents a rich and varied visual culture that displays a complex set of relations at once culturally specific and global in their transmission. Roughly defined, the occult tradition represents a series of culturally syncretic belief systems with related and overlapping visual histories. Though there are as many ways into this material as there are cultural—and personal—perspectives, universal occult concerns often include a belief in some sort of magic; a longing to connect with an immaterial or trans-personal realm; and a striving for inner-knowledge, refinement of the self, and transformation of one’s consciousness, if not one’s physical circumstances.
Intensely marginalized throughout most historical periods, these traditions persist and represent an “underground” perspective that periodically exerts a strong influence on structures of dissent, utopianism and social change. Though history is marked with several so-called “Occult Revivals,” the contemporary digital age is a perfect confluence of several factors that make this moment prime for a re-examination of all of the esoteric traditions. While the information age has allowed for easier access to previously obscure writings, imagery, and social contexts, it alternately elicits a deep desire for sensorial experiences and meaning-making when one steps away from the screen.
The presenters at the OHC represent a rich and expanding community of international artists and academics from multiple disciplines across the humanities who share an exuberance and excitement for how the occult traditions interface with their fields of study as well as the culture at large. The small scale of this conference (approximately 100 attendees) will give ticket holders an intimate look at the presenters and their views.
This year’s conference coincides with the exhibition “Language of the Birds: Occult and Art” on display at 80 WSE Gallery, the art gallery of NYU’s Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions, curated by Pam Grossman.
There will be an onsite exhibition of prints from Carl Jung’s The Red Book, courtesy of DigitalFusion.
Books and editions from a variety of vendors will be available for sale throughout the duration of the conference. Vendors include Inner Traditions, Ouroboros Press, Wonderella Printed, and more.
MEMES OR SCHEMES
If we consider a consciously magical approach to art in contemporary culture, should we be fascinated by memes of potential or paranoid about manipulative schemes? History shows us that more than anything else, it is culture that defines how “posterity” will regard a certain area or region. Logically, this would extend to our times too, then. In transcending the causal and rational approaches to human existence (economy, politics, science, etc.), we find that our culture is increasingly infused with magical approaches, not only in thematics but also in attitude and content. How will this shape our immediate future and, beyond, how will later generations regard our phase of experimentation?
Carl Abrahamsson (b. 1966) is a writer, publisher, and filmmaker based in Stockholm, Sweden. He has been writing about occultural people, phenomena, tendencies and movements since the late 1980s. He is a lecturer at art institutions, colleges, and universities, and is the editor and publisher of the annual journal The Fenris Wolf, which contains material from the vital intersection between art and esotericism.
Peter Bebergal, author of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, will discuss the relationship between theater, ritual, and popular music, with a look at the influence of ancient religious practice, turn of the century art, and occult lodge rites on the performance and culture of rock. From Robert Plant’s Dionysian swagger to Bowie’s alchemical transformations, Bebergal will reveal the gods under the masks of rock’s most arresting moments.
Peter Bebergal writes widely on the speculative and slightly fringe. His essays and reviews have appeared in NewYorker.com, The Times Literary Supplement, Boing Boing, The Believer, and The Quietus. He is the author of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll, Too Much to Dream: A Psychedelic American Boyhood, The Faith Between Us: A Jew and a Catholic Search for the Meaning of God (with Scott Korb). Bebergal studied religion and culture at Harvard Divinity School, and lives in Cambridge.
The “Experiment at La Chorrera,” which Terence and Dennis McKenna performed in the Columbian jungle in 1971, and which became the core of Terence’s True Hallucinations, stands as one of the most storied trips in the annals of modern psychedelia. As an exploration of what Wouter Hanegraaff calls “entheogenic esotericism,” this talk will unpack the various threads of alchemy, science fiction, and media theory that formed the matrix for the protocols, phenomenology, and after-the-fact interpretations of the McKenna’s unparalleled encounter with high weirdness.
Erik Davis is an author, podcaster, award-winning journalist, and lecturer based in San Francisco. He is the author, most recently, of Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica (Yeti, 2010). He also wrote The Visionary State: A Journey through California’s Spiritual Landscape (Chronicle, 2006), Led Zeppelin IV (33 1/3, 2005) and TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information (Crown, 1998), which has been translated into five languages and recently reissued with a new afterword by North Atlantic Books. His essays on music, technoculture, psychedelics, and esoterica have appeared in dozens of books, including A Rose Veiled in Black: Art and Arcana of Our Lady Babalon (Three Hands, 2015), Zig Zag Zen (Synergetic, 2015), Rave Culture and Religion (Routledge, 2009), and AfterBurn: Reflections on Burning Μan (University of New Mexico Press, 2005). Davis has contributed to scores of publications, including Aeon, Bookforum, Wired, Salon, Slate, the LA Weekly, and the Village Voice. He has been interviewed by CNN, the BBC, Wisconsin public radio, and the New York Times, and explores the “cultures of consciousness” on his weekly podcast Expanding Mind. He graduated magna cum laude from Yale University, and recently earned his Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Rice University.
Delphic Oracle - Saturday Evening Performance
Christiana Key began classical violin training on her fifth birthday, followed by piano and opera a few years later. During those formative years, she was also active in community theatre, as an actor and costume designer, and started a bespoke evening and holiday gown label for her young friends’ parties. She was accepted into the University of North Florida as a double music major in Performance Violin and Voice at 16 years old, though she left two years later to pursue her interests in punk, rock, electronic, and experimental music, first moving to London, then settling down in New York City. She began recording original compositions in her bedroom in 2006 and joined Cult of Youth in 2009, and Zola Jesus in 2012 as a touring member.
During her time in New York and as part of Cult of Youth, she met several occultists who introduced her to different and innovative ways of fusing music and magick, and through that, Delphic Oracle was born. Christiana saw there was a lack in both the accessibility of experimental magical music and the (powerful) intentions of mainstream pop and hip-hop. Delphic Oracle aims to fuse the power of magickal intent and the power of sound, and additionally, the power of spectacle into every performance. Each performance is based on astrological vibrations, current events, popular culture, and the audience's subtle emotional dynamics felt before and during the show. The intentions behind each show can range from self-love to financial stability to gratitude to wisdom, and are represented by obvious things such as the songs' timbre, lyric matter, and costume choice, down minute details such as color and number of candles, types of metals and wands used, and the planetary and elemental correspondences of the homemade incenses burned during the performance.
Delphic Oracle has self-released one EP, “Watching the Fern,” and a cassette through Popnihil, “Mirrors/Crows/Echoes.” She performs solo using only a sampler, violin, drum pad, and vocal microphone. She now lives in St. Augustine, Florida, and after a year’s forced-hiatus from touring, she is working on a full-length album to be released fall 2016.
Bohemian Occult Subculture in Britain’s 1890s: How Artists, Actors, and Writers Made the Golden Dawn
The Order of the Golden Dawn is an icon for modern occultists: it is the late Victorian ceremonial magic organization which created the template for subsequent occult magic. Western mysteries, Kabbalah, Celtic mysticism, and even Wicca would follow forms it developed in its 25 short years, c.1885-1925. It was an occult renaissance, sudden and powerful.
Historians stress the first founders’ connection with Freemasonry, giving the impression that it was a club of old establishment men with gray suits and gray beards. Their rites and study course were, one imagines, equally boring and patriarchal. But in fact, the Golden Dawn core group were a bunch of young creatives - friends working in creative collaboration, inspired by the mysterious. They were the kind of people who, if they lived today, would perhaps hang out at Observatory.
The women, first. One was a polyamorous working actress who wrote for feminist magazines. Another was a feisty trust-fund girl who staged avant-garde plays with her friends. A third was gorgeous Swedish art student who liked older men and doing portraits. The guys: a very cute poet from Irish parentage; a bright researcher with no money and a bad temper; and a rich kid who did a lot of drugs and a lot of boyfriends. They were all bright, feisty, achievers; by old age each had made real impact in their chosen fields. Together they made art, made ritual, did meditations, hung out, had romances, had breakups, studied old texts, and tried to reach into something beyond normal human experience. As we see them anew via this illustrated presentation, it is hoped we can see the Order of the Golden Dawn anew.
Dr. Christina Oakley Harrington is the founder and managing director of the legendary Treadwell’s of London, a bookshop and events center for the British pagan and esoteric community. She is co-editor of the Abraxas International Journal of Esoteric Studies. A former assistant professor of History, she feels passionately that esotericism is an important strand in Western culture, to be addressed, studied, celebrated—and, of course, practiced.
John Augustus Knapp and His Circle
Perhaps most famous for his watercolor illustrations that populate Manly P. Hall’s esoteric encyclopedia The Secret Teachings of All Ages (1928) and his illustrations for John Uri Lloyd’s curious novel Etidorhpa (1895), J. Augustus Knapp was an illustrator at the center of a circle of the most influential members of the American Occult Revival. I will discuss Knapp’s personal occult interests and beliefs and his circle of friends and collaborators.
A Curtis G. Lloyd Fellow at the Lloyd Library and Museum, Ken Henson is the author and illustrator of the treatise Alchemy and Astral Projection: Ecstatic Trance in the Hermetic Tradition (LLM, 2014), the illustrated novella/grimoire HIGH GRAVITY: Werewolves, Ghosts, and Magick Most Black (Oneiric Imprint, 2015), and the illustrator of Blue Jay Slayer (Aurora Press, 2015), which is a collaboration with poet Matt Hart. He also recently collaborated with the Philosophical Research Society to restore and reissue Manly P. Hall and John Augustus Knapp’s Revised New Art Tarot. Ken’s writings and art have been published in periodicals such as Abraxas, Clavis Journal, and The Gnostic Journal, and he has presented at the Esoteric Book Conference, SCIENTIAE, Babalon Rising, and the Left Hand Path Conference. He is an Associate Professor and the Head of Illustration at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in Ohio where he teaches studio courses and Art and the Occult.
References to witchcraft, and magic spells appear frequently in the lyrics of popular songs, but, in general, these references are metaphoric. For example, when Frank Sinatra sings about “that sly come-hither stare” in his classic “Witchcraft,” few listeners think that the subject of that song is actually practicing dark arts.
A prominent exception exists in blues and its descendant, rhythm and blues (R&B), whose lyrics are permeated with references to actual magical practices. Magic is alive in the blues; very specifically the magical practices that first arose in the African-American communities of the southern United States, the traditions of Hoodoo and Conjure. Blues is the crossroads where music and magic meet:
• Blues songs praise and excoriate Conjure women and Hoodoo doctors.
• Songs document historical magical practitioners, like the Seven Sisters of New Orleans or Caroline Dye, the seer of Newport, Arkansas.
• Blues lyrics are studded with mention of magical practices such as mojo hands, John the Conqueror roots, hotfoot powder, and the fidelity-enforcing Nation Sack.
• An occult aura surrounds some musicians, too: reminiscent of the legend of Faust, blues stars Robert Johnson and Tommie Johnson were both reputed to have met the devil at the crossroads, so that they could barter their souls in exchange for spectacular musical prowess and success.
During this talk, we'll explore the musical genre, as well as the specific magical practices celebrated within its songs.
Judika Illes is a native New Yorker and an independent scholar and researcher. She is the author of eight books devoted to spiritual traditions, witchcraft, and the magical arts including the Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, the Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, as well as the forthcoming The Weiser Book of Forgotten and Fantastic Tales. In her younger days, Judika hosted The Low Budget Blues Show on WRSU-FM.
An Invisible Art: Maya Deren and Experiments with Absence
Experimental filmmaker Maya Deren traveled to Haiti four different times with the ultimate aim of making a film that would compare children’s games, Balinese dances, and the rituals practiced for Voudoun that she had gone there to film. In the process, her work began to focus on generating connections through which what is seen and what is unseen might traffic. She gives precedence to that which is accomplished through suggestion or association rather than through causal links, and takes pains to represent that which seems not to be present but is actually simply not visible. Such strategies underline Deren’s obsessions, including how to access inaccessible states of being and present them cinematically. The work that comes out of her Haitian experience draws on energies related to the incomplete, missing, or desired but absent object that she labored to represent.
Sarah Keller is Assistant Professor of Art and Cinema Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She co-edited the collection Jean Epstein: Critical Essays and New Translations (Amsterdam University Press, 2012), and her book Maya Deren: Incomplete Control (Columbia University Press, 2014) examines the role of unfinished cinematic works by focusing on the Maya Deren oeuvre. Keller’s current project, Cinephilia/Cinephobia, focuses on the history and theory of love and anxiety in the cinema.
Lykanthea - Opening Performance
Lykanthea is Lakshmi Ramgopal, a solo electronic musician from Chicago, IL. With lyrics rooted in ancient mythologies, a haunting voice smoked in cave-like reverb and the gauzy drone of synths, Lykanthea writes the soundtrack of thresholds. Drawing on a decade of Carnatic vocal training, Ramgopal "sings hymns of the ancients in a tale that breaks against oppressive hands to expressions and emotions that emerge from behind the veil" (IMPOSE). Her sound is ritual chanting for the electronic age.
Ramgopal began writing and performing as Lykanthea while pursuing a doctorate in Classics at the University of Chicago. She found herself drawn to the narrative of legacy and rebirth in ancient Sumerian texts about the goddess Inanna. While isolated on an uninhabited Greek island in 2013, she began writing lyrics, collecting field recordings, and laying down the soundscapes that became her debut Migration. The EP was released in July 2014 digitally and on cassette to local acclaim, with the initial physical run selling out in months.
A fixture in Chicago’s dark fashion and witch house scene, Ramgopal’s passion for atmosphere and texture has made her music an inspiration for collaborators. Her music has been featured in promotional videos for Velvit and Vespere Vintage, and her style was praised by dark fashion blog FAIIINT and Culture Magazine. She also collaborated with Hvnter Gvtherer to release a capsule collection of jewelry inspired by Migration’s lyrics. While living in Italy earlier this year as a winner of the prestigious Rome Prize, Ramgopal has performed across Europe, including Leipzig’s Wave Gotik Treffen. She also partnered up with sound artist Paula Matthusen for the sound installation “Prex Gemina” for exhibition in Rome and worked with Austrian artist Krist Mort on the video for “Parturition.”
Lykanthea has been featured in Noisey, IMPOSE, MTV Iggy, Culture Magazine, No Fear of Pop, Warren Ellis’ SPEKTRMODULE podcast, Chicago Reader, Largehearted Boy and Artribune.
Art, Technology, and the Mysterious Imagery of C.G Jung’s Red Book
In 2007, Jung’s Red Book was released from the family vault for the first time in decades and given to Hugh Milstein from DigitalFusion to evaluate and archive for future generations. This behind the scenes journey into how The Red Book was digitally captured begins in 2002 and will provide insights into the technology, process, and care undertaken in Zürich during the photographic process. Hugh will reveal the technological transformations that have occurred in the last 12 years, allowing this masterwork to be printed with amazing clarity as fine art prints. He will share conversations with Massimiliano Gioni from the Venice Biennale, where The Red Book and fine art print reproductions were exhibited in the world famous art show, making a transformative historical statement about Jung’s art into a modern reality. Hugh will also share in-depth closeups of the masterwork, revealing mystic imagery and hidden themes that were hand crafted by Jung.
Hugh Milstein, co-founder and President of DigitalFusion. DigitalFusion is a leading Creative Services company headquartered in Los Angeles. With a base in photography, and an expansion into motion, DigitalFusion is a cutting edge provider to major publications and entertainment outlets worldwide. Hugh’s expertise in image making led him to be name to the “100 Most Important People in Photography” by American Photographer. Hugh continues to design and develop new image styles and services that appear on digital newsstands, moving billboards, iPads, and mobile devices.
The Tarot and its Gifts
When I asked the Shining Tribe Tarot what it wanted to talk about at the conference, I received three cards about receiving gifts and being willing to join with the cards to utilize them. In the Gift of Trees (Queen of Wands) two snakes wind around a tree, so that the three figures, snakes and tree, form the caduceus of Hermes. Between them, the snakes hold up the alchemical Philosopher’s Stone of transformation. In the Gift of Birds (Queen of Swords), a shaman wears a bird-headed helmet and carries a feathered shield and a banner with a bird on it. However, a flute falls from the sky, and in order to play this Gift (many people believe that flutes originally were inspired by bird songs) he will have to drop the shield and banner and take off the helmet. Finally, in the Two of Rivers (Two of Cups), a dark and light fish swim head to tail, forming the famous yin-yang symbol (the card is a tribute to the I Ching). The message is clear: in order to truly work (and create) with the Tarot, whether for readings, story telling, or spiritual discovery, we need to meet it as a partner, open up to its gifts, and merge with it.
Rachel Pollack is the author of 36 books of fiction and non-fiction, including two award-winning novels, a poetry collection, a translation (with David Vine) of Sophocles’s Oidipous Tyrannos (Oedipus Rex) and a series of books about Tarot that have become known around the world. Rachel has taught and lectured in the U.S. Canada, Europe, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and China. Rachel has designed and drawn The Shining Tribe Tarot, and recently worked with artist Robert Place to create The Burning Serpent Oracle. Her work has been translated into 14 languages. Her most recent book is a novel, The Child Eater. Until her recent retirement, Rachel was a senior faculty member of Goddard College’s MFA in Writing program. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.
The Forms of Hidden Things: Surrealism Through the Mirror of Magic
Artists, like alchemists, employ matter to reveal its transformative properties as magic and metaphor. Celia Rabinovitch, artist, author, and pioneer in the field of art and religion, uncovers surrealist art as a special form of knowledge related to insight and imagination. In The Forms of Hidden Things: Surrealism Through the Mirror of Magic, she investigates the Swiss American artist, Kurt Seligmann (1900-62) who immigrated to the USA in 1938, becoming the acknowledged expert on magic in surrealism. A decade later his book, Through the Mirror of Magic, (New York: Pantheon, 1948) was welcomed into the effervescent cultural mix that included Joseph Campbell, Wallace Stevens, Carl Jung, and others. Neglected until recently, Seligmann’s art has come to the fore, while the recognition of his book in the history of religions was constant. Celia shows how Seligmann’s magical imagination arises from his personal history and experiences as well as his occult research. She illuminates how his understanding of Jewish mysticism informs his art and defines his identity, while remaining hidden from others and even from himself.
Celia Rabinovitch (Ph.D. History of Religions, McGill, Montreal; MFA, Painting, University of Wisconsin-Madison) is an artist and writer and professor whose work has been exhibited in Canada, the United States, and Europe. Her book, Surrealism and the Sacred: Power, Eros, and the Occult in Modern Art, is cited in new approaches to art, literature, and spirituality, and considered an authority in the field. Using cultural anthropology, the history of religions, and art history she uncovers a history of hidden knowledge that includes magic and the imagination. She has written for Artweek, The Dictionary of Art, American Ceramics, C Magazine, the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, and contributed chapters to The Spiritual Image in Modern Art, ed. Katherine Regier, and was interviewed by Louis E Bourgeois, ed., in Complete with Missing Parts: Interviews with the Avant-garde. Her atmospheric paintings have been exhibited at The Florence Biennale; Galerie Mourati, Vienna; University of California; California Institute of Integral Studies; the Winnipeg Art Gallery; the Beck Center Museum, Cleveland, and published in Cerise Press: A Journal of Literature, Arts and Culture (2012), with awards for her art from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Millay Colony for the Arts, New York. She has held teaching and director appointments at the University of Colorado-Denver, California College of Art, the San Francisco Art Institute, and at Stanford University. As a Visiting Artist at Syracuse University she co-chaired the graduate program in painting, and was Program Director for Fine Arts and Graphic Design at the University of California, Berkeley (1992-2002). Currently she is professor at the University of Manitoba (on leave) and Director of Research at the Seligmann Center for the Arts, NY.
Janaka Stucky - Saturday Evening Poetry Reading
Janaka Stucky is the author of The Truth Is We Are Perfect (2015), the first title from Jack White’s new publishing imprint, Third Man Books. He is also the Publisher of award-winning indie press, Black Ocean. Janaka’s poems are at once incantatory, mystic, epigrammatic, and spiritual. His meditative sensibilities and minimalist style create ritualized poems acting as spells-transcribed to be read aloud and performed in the service of realizing that which we seek to become. His influences draw on his Vedantic upbringing, as well as interests in Gnosticism and 20th century magickal traditions. His poems have appeared in such journals as Denver Quarterly, Fence and North American Review, and his articles have been published by The Huffington Post and The Poetry Foundation. He is a two-time National Haiku Champion and in 2010 he was voted “Boston’s Best Poet” in the Boston Phoenix.
Picture Yourself in a Burning Building
Artist Scott Treleaven talks about the furtive role of mysticism, occultism and theories of consciousness in historical abstractionism and his own work.
Scott Treleaven (born Canada, 1972) is a painter and filmmaker. He has written extensively about the intersection of art, mysticism, sexuality and marginal culture, and his influential ’90s underground publications are included in the book In Numbers: Serial Publications by Artists Since 1955. Recent solo shows include Invisible-Exports, New York, and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco. Group exhibitions include Contemporary Art Museum Houston, ICA Philadelphia, Palais de Tokyo (Paris), and the British Film Institute.