«They harm us, they heal us, they turn us on, they burn us up»

Witches are endlessly fascinating because they reflect our ambivalent, complicated feelings about women with power. They can invoke the divine feminine while looking sexy as hell, as in the coven seen in Four Rooms (95), or they can be dark goddesses themselves, ushering in a new age, as Marianne Faithfull’s Lilith does in Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising (72). Anger was an adherent of Aleister Crowley’s religion, Thelema, and here he envisions a cross-cultural pantheon of deities collaborating remotely to call forth the next era of consciousness.

Lucifer Rising was surreptitiously filmed in Egypt, a land Crowley and other magicians considered to be the cradle of magic. The result is a speechless phantasmagoria of occult imagery playing over a soundtrack composed by the film’s star—and convicted Mansonite—Bobby Beausoleil. In Anger’s vision, the female is as sacred as the male. We see the names of goddesses such as Nuit and Babalon included in the ritual circle scene, and the proto-witches Isis and Lilith are as crucial to the enchanted equation as Osiris and Lucifer himself. Anger’s dawning era of miracles and metamorphosis simply couldn’t come without the force of the feminine.

Witches are alternately terrifying and destructive, or life-giving and light-bringing. They harm us, they heal us, they turn us on, they burn us up. They teach us to enforce our own personal boundaries, while remaining marginal—and magical—all the while.

Pam Grossman is an independent curator, writer, and teacher of magical practice and history.  She is the creator of Phantasmaphile, a blog which specializes in art and culture with a mystical bent, the Associate Editor of Abraxas International Journal of Esoteric Studies, and the co-organizer of the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU.  By day, she is Getty Images’ Director of Visual Trends.