All posts in “witchcraft”

Art Zodiac: Victorian Radicals

Were the Pre-Raphaelites into astrology? 

There’s a hint in Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement that some were. That hint is in Edward Burne-Jones stained-glass piece, St. Mark, which depicts the saint evangelizing what would become his gospel with a winged lion above him, a representation of his strong character. What is interesting is that the lion is resting his paw on a stylistic blue wave which contains the astrological glyph of Leo slyly repeated in it. Coincidence? I think not.   

It seems that Edward Burne-Jones gave a shout-out to the astrology world.  During the Victorian era advancements were made in astronomy and Alan Leo, a British astrologer who is often referred to as the father of modern astrology, was born in 1860. Seances, salons, and the occult were all the rage during this time and the first Ouija Board was commercially produced in 1890. Astrology could have been a serious topic of discussion in their group. 

via GIPHY

Needless to say, Victorian Radicals contains a fair amount of beautifully-painted depictions of myths that astrologers use to explain and interpret planets and asteroids in charts: Medea, Iris, Pandora, Venus, Cupid, and Psyche are some of the few. Any astrologer can pick out paintings in this exhibition and tie them easily to the planets’ mythology because they are so symbolic and integral to our work. 

I would be remiss not to mention that I picked St. Mark because we are in the middle Leo season right now, and Leos are synonymous with lions, although not flying lions, but you could make a case that a Leo Sun/Neptune conjunction could produce one (Mic drop! Where my astrologers at?). Each year between July 23 and August 22, the sun transits across the sky through the Leo constellation. Leos are one of the three fire signs in the zodiac, Aries and Sagittarius being the other two, which lends to traits of passion, spontaneity, and playfulness. Lions are also the proud, strong, loyal, and loving ones living among us. 

If you haven’t seen the exhibition, visit on September 5 when the rates are reduced to $9.99 and below for first Thursday. Also, there is a painting of Morgan Le Fay by Frederick Sandys which calls to mind the book Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradly and calls on anyone who loves witchcraft to come see their pagan roots immortalized in it. This exhibition is a woo-woo lovers’ paradise packed with supernatural aspects. 

– Amy Domres, SAM’s Director of Admissions
Amy is also a Psychospiritual Evolutionary Astrologer and Healer at Emerald City Astrology

Image: Saint Mark, 1883 (designed 1874), Edward Burne-Jones, British, 1833–1898, stained, painted, and leaded glass, 58 × 25 1/4 × 1 in., Lent by Birmingham Museums Trust on behalf of Birmingham City Council, Bequeathed by J R Holliday, 1927M1016, © Birmingham Museums Trust, Courtesy American Federation of Arts Installation view of Victorian Radicals: From the Pre-Raphaelites to the Arts & Crafts Movement at Seattle Art Museum, 2019, © Seattle Art Museum, photo: Mark Woods

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Object of the Week: Basinjom mask and gown

In one gallery of the Mood Indigo show at the Asian Art Museum—and you’ll know it when you find it—Basinjom presides. He’s an intimidating presence, often stopping folks right in their tracks. My wife insisted she couldn’t look too long at him, or else she would have nightmares.

Basinjom mask and gown

Here in the U.S. most of us have no problem understanding that a name is significant. Baby name books and websites and blogs are an expansive directory, allowing parents to match a name that means something with a vision for their child. Basinjom, literally meaning “God’s Medicine,” carries a purposeful name. He is not just a mask or costume, but a healing masquerade, appearing in Ejagham civilizations in Nigeria and Cameroon, where he acts as a powerful restorative force in his community. He has a spiritual aura that gives clear reason for the first part of his name, but the second part is more esoteric. It’s hard to conceive of him as a “medicine.”

Basinjom mask and gown

SAM curator Pam McClusky explains that “Medicine, in Ejagham terms, is a knowledge of plants and herbs that God provided to fight witches and criminals. Medicine can be manifested in the form of a mask or be located in a container or even a person.”1 When Basinjom is called upon, he acts as detective, judge, and healing agent. He points out the root of witchcraft, which is the seed of discord and ruin in the community, and then banishes it.

Like any medicine, Basinjom is made of many essential ingredients:

  • A knife (isome), an iron instrument whose blade has been perforated with eyes to enable Basinjom to see the place of the witches.
  • A rattle made of wicker to hear the sound that evil makes.
  • Blue feathers of a very strong “war bird,” or touraco, that cannot easily be shot by a gun.
  • Porcupine quills, which prevent intrusion from strong elements, even thunder and lightning.
  • Eyes that act as mirrors to see into other worlds, especially at night.
  • A snout like the mouth of the crocodile, which can speak for the people about controversial things. Eggs are broken over this snout to feed Basinjom.
  • Inside the mouth, a piece of the King Stick, the most powerful tree in the forest, used to protect bodies.
  • On the back of the head, many herbs that have been collected and pounded together with liquids to serve as a medicinal protection. On top, a mirror enables Basinjom to “see behind,” and a small upright peg with an amulet serves as a bodyguard.
  • Deep black and blue cloth, a color that will “not hold death,” because in darkness no human or witch can perceive you.
  • Raffia used for hair and a hem as an element from the forest, a dangerous realm that weak men should avoid.
  • A genet cat skin, invoking the spirit of an animal familiar who snatches fowls and shields Basinjom from harm. Next to Basinjom, eyes of the owl, alluding to enhanced vision in the deep forest and the bird’s long, strange legs.2

Basinjom is unforgettable. There’s a great chance to engage with him tonight at the Art Globally: Indigo Allure event, where there will be plenty of people around to make sure he’s on his best behavior and no nightmares are had!

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Basinjom mask and gown, Ejagham, Nigeria and Cameroon, collected 1972, cotton cloth, wood, feathers, porcupine quills, mirrors, herbs, raffia, cowrie shells, rattle, eggshell, knife, genet cat skin, indigo dye, height: 85 in., Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.1977, Photo: Stephanie Fink. Basinjom mask and gown (detail), Photo: Natali Wiseman. Basinjom performs in Cameroon, 1973.
1 Pamela McClusky, Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, p. 218.
2 Pamela McClusky, Art from Africa: Long Steps Never Broke a Back, p. 220.
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