Links of the Dead {November 2020}

Vanitas II | Stojan Minev
Oil on canvas – 2015

A gathering of death-related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From heart-rending to gut-splitting (sometimes you gotta laugh, you know?) from informative to insightful to sometimes just downright weird and creepy, here’s a snippet of recent items that have been reported on or journaled about with regard to death, dying, and matters of mortality.

This time last year: {November 2018}| {November 2017} | {November 2016} | {November 2015}

💀 The Losses We Share

💀 Green-Wood Cemetery’s New Artist-in-Residence

💀 COVID-19 has made this the saddest Day of the Dead in Los Angeles

💀 The Death Positive Movement Encourages Us to Face Death Directly

💀 Modernist home situated within Highgate Cemetery in London is up for sale

💀 ‘We can’t grieve’: online forum where Covid bereaved feel they can share

💀 Book reveiw: Funeral Diva,’ a Mix of Memoir and Poetry, Stirs the Body and Mind

💀 A church in Rome has over 3,000 skeletons on display. They give a chilling—but hopeful—reminder about death

The Art of the Occult Check-In

On Instagram today, I’m sharing some of photos of and peeks into The Art of the Occult that people have been so kind to share. This capture by my beloved friend Maika, featuring her darling danger noodle, is one of my favorites! Have you shared a photo of your copy? Please tag me so that I can see it!

I’m beyond humbled by the response my little book of magical art has garnered and can’t thank you all enough for your interest in it, your purchases of it, and for taking a moment to tell someone about it or to write a thoughtful review of it. (That said, if you enjoyed it, and have not already done so, would you consider penning a quick review for Amazon or Goodreads? Thank you!)

Speaking of Goodreads, there are ~three days~ left for the opportunity to win a copy of The Art of the Occult! Separately, if you missed the chance to grab an autographed copy from me, I do have a few more on hand, and I will ship both domestically and internationally, so please message me and we will work it out!

I will end this missive with a snippet from a lovely review that I just read. It’s simple, really, but it wonderfully encapsulates one of the ways in which readers can use this book: “…take each image and sit with it for a while, and see how it speaks to you.”

I hope that there’s at least an image or two in The Art of the Occult that, on some level, speaks to you. I would love to hear all about it!

New YouTube Video: Mlle Ghoul In “What I do in a day”

First order of business…yes, I totally did a chop! Bye-bye for now, hairs. This is the shortest my hair has been since about 1996 or so when I tried bleaching it at home and it all turned crunchy and fell off and I basically looked like Susan Powter for a year or so. Stop the insanity, Sarah! Never try that again!

But I do have a plan here. After my Halloween stunt with the Stevie Nicks wig, I came to the conclusion that while I don’t exactly want to go blonde again, I would like to start working my way back to my natural hair color. Whatever that is. I don’t even know anymore, it’s been so long since I have seen it! And since red is notoriously difficult to get rid of, I know I have got a long road ahead of me in terms of growing the color out. I figured a great shortcut would be to just shear most of it away!

I was pretty wrapped up in my long hair for a long time, but as of this year I began letting go of that attachment. I was recently sharing with a friend that I didn’t like the way it felt when someone complimented my hair. I know it was well-intended, but it always had the effect of making me question my other qualities. I’m kind, I am funny, I can string words together in interesting ways! I’d rather someone commented on something I practice, or a thing I do, instead of my appearance. But please don’t feel badly if you ever said I had lovely hair– I mean, objectively, it was pretty nice! But I’ve got other things to offer.

So now I have got a bit of a shag and it might be just a little shorter than I realized, but that’s fine, because that’s just more color gone! I plan on going back to long, eventually, but for now, this is new and interesting, and I really dig it. Also, when I wear earrings now–you can finally see them! Before the chop, they were sequestered behind massive curtains of hair. In the photo above is a pair that I haven’t worn since I purchased them in 2010! A handful of people have asked about them and I don’t know if the seller still makes this exact style, but their Etsy shop still exists, so you could always ask!

All of this happened AFTER the video I am about to share, though, so except for the intro/outro, my new hair does not make an appearance!

For this upload, I shared a small glimpse into my life in the form of a series of vignettes chronicling my weekend. I personally love peeking in on these kinds of “what I do in a day videos” because I am very nosy about the people I admire!

I challenged myself to try my hand at it after recently being inspired by my friend and fellow weirdo, the extraordinarily talented Courtney Lane. Courtney is a historian and hair work artist and on her Hair and Now YouTube channel on Youtube, Courtney uploaded “A Day in the life of a Victorian Hairworker,” which I found wonderfully fascinating. I interviewed Courtney back in 2018, if you are interested in learning more about her and what she does!

My day might not seem particularly exciting, but for me, it was practically perfect. I don’t really want to spend an entire day reading, for example, or binge-watching movies. Although I do like doing both of those things! Instead, I like to do a little bit of all of the things I love, spread over the course of a day. We can’t do all of the things we want right now, with quarantine and social distancing, so that’s why I like to plan days like this for myself, to give myself a little something to look forward to, and so I don’t feel like I am missing out. A few treats for myself, a bit of self-care, some housework and tidying, some time outdoors, making progress on projects–these are just a few of the things which I include in what I would consider “a good day.” And of course, that might look totally different for you!

Either here or in the video, please share in the comments what your idea of a perfect day looks like, and how you have adapted that for life in 2020!

Eyeball Fodder: The Art of the Occult Edition

“History of Magic, Part II… Initiation” by Alison Blickle

This installment of fantastical fodder for your eyeballs appeared initially over at Haute Macabre on a Monday morning, brimming with mystical, magical imagery to inspire your week. I thought I might share here, on my own blog, as well! These visuals, by contemporary artists who reveal occult elements and philosophies through their creative gaze, all feature in The Art of the Occult, which was conjured forth into this world a month ago.

As an extra bit of magic, there is currently a GoodReads giveaway for three individuals to win a signed copy of the book!

“Under the rose” by Susan Jamison

See my interview with Susan Jamison here.

“Artemis” by Carrie Ann Baade

“Witches Sabbath” by Rik Garrett

See our interview with Rik Garrett here.

“Essentia Exaltata” by Madeline von Foerster

“Untitled in the Rage (Nibiru Cataclysm)” by Juliana Huxtable

“The Four Elements” by machumaYu

“Tea Leaf Reading” by Gina Litherland

“Eternal Cosmos” by Daniel Martin Diaz

“Astrology, the Myth of Creation” by Timur D’Vatz

“Abyzou” from The Demons of King Solomon by John Coulthart

See my interview with John Coulthart here.

“The Alchemyst” by Sveta Dorosheva

See my interview with Sveta Dorosheva here.

Extra Extras: Q&A Transcript & Giveaway

Last month I shared a video over on YouTube in which I answered some of your burning questions. They were really great questions! It was a treat to craft responses for them– so thanks, everyone, for taking the time to send me your thoughtful queries and curious musings

For my friends who don’t want to watch a video (I understand, I would often rather read things, too!) I’ve copied below the entirety of the conversation in writing. Enjoy! Or judge! Both are fine.

When the Q&A was first uploaded, I did a giveaway alongside it. Well, as it turns out, since then I have put together two more boxes of “my old crap” to send away to a lucky someone. So if you missed the first giveaway over on YouTube, you have a second chance over here on the blog! Just leave me a comment –maybe tell me about one of your current favorite things!–and a week from today will choose two winners to each receive a box.

What got you interested in darker types of stuff at an early age, if anything, and why do you think it appealed to you like it did?

It’s funny. I definitely was not into much in the way of dark and scary things when I was young, as a matter of fact, a certain Scooby-Doo episode gave me nightmares for months! My teenage cousin’s Kiss posters with their feral, spacey makeup frightened me so badly that she had to keep her door shut when I was visiting their home. But somewhere along the way, I’m guessing I was maybe 8 years old or so and I wish I could pinpoint what it was that turned me, so to speak,  that fright began to gave way to fascination, and whereas I would once hide my face behind a pillow when something scary was happening, I now began to feel the itchy urge to peek.

The vampires and ghosts that I hid from had become curious to me–though no less monstrous–and I wanted to know more about why they did the things they did, and perhaps on a subconscious level, why these things appealed to me. I think these peeks, these nibbles, whetted my appetite, and I developed a true taste for terror, a hunger for horror that at turn haunts and heartens me to this day.

The Nightmare, 1781. Henry Fuseli.

I was asked two somewhat similar questions, so I thought I might try to tackle them both at the same time! Do you have a personal ghost story or paranormal experience you can share? And I’d like to know if you’ve ever seen or experienced some weird shit. Ghosts, aliens, etc.

Not exactly ghostly, but it did massively freak me out at the time, and it still does. As a matter of fact, this could right go up there with the Scooby Doo and the Kiss posters as to what set me down the path of darkness! Picture it: Milford Ohio, 1980ish. It was the night before Easter, and I was maybe four or five years old. My mother had just tucked us into bed and I was lying there, wide awake, thinking of my ruffley pink easter dress and my little straw hat and running around my grandparent’s back yard, seeking out plastic pastel easter eggs with coins and candy tucked inside. My point being–I was definitely not asleep!

I heard a tap on the window and I looked up to see a hideous vision staring in at me. It was the Easter bunny, but grimy and menacing, with a huge mouthful of razor-sharp fangs, and most terrifying of all was how his ears just didn’t…flop right. Like they were broken. Like how a zombie might shamble along on a broken ankle, that kind of broken. I screamed loud enough to wake the dead and when my mother ran into the room, there was of course nothing at the window to give evidence of my terror. She calmed me as best she could, shut off the lights, and I somehow fell asleep. What fueled my terror anew the next day as I was riding in the backseat of the car to my grandparents house is when I realized ….my bedroom was on the second floor. Not only was that thing outside my window, but …how did it get there??

Another terrifying sleep-related incident happened to my middle sister, not me. We were a few years older and still sharing a bedroom (she somehow slept through the Easter Bunny incident) and this was a bedroom in a different house. First I will note that I, until that point, had always been a very light sleeper, the slightest stirring would wake me up. One night over summer break, we passed what I thought was an ordinary evening of slumber. However, the next morning she confided to me the terrifying way that she spent that same night. Sometime after midnight, she awoke suddenly to see a figure lurking in the threshold of our bedroom door, darker than the shadows surrounding it, its sinister red eyes glaring directly at her. She tried to call out to me but I slept right through her cries, deeply sleeping and oblivious both the waking world and my sister’s terror. She said she felt paralyzed, as if there were a great weight on her chest. She lay there, frozen with fright and completely immobile for hours. She must have finally fallen asleep because next she knew, she was waking, the sun was shining, and she could move again.

Later we learned that she experienced what was, most likely, a form of sleep paralysis and to this day she suffers from these midnight horrors. As for me, since that night something changed in my sleep patterns and I continue to sleep like the dead.

I have written previously about sleep paralysis, and you can find it here.

It might be a bit sensitive, so no hard feelings if it’s not something you choose to answer. Are there any topics, depictions, concepts, or anything similar that are triggers or hard lines for you in media? That would make a book or movie a pass for you? For example, I won’t watch a movie where an animal is abused or killed.

I hear you on the animal abuse–that’s vile and gut-wrenching, and if I know ahead of time there are instances of that in a story, I will give it a pass. But what I really struggle with are books/movies, etc., where addiction is a central part of the story.

Growing up, my mother struggled with both alcoholism and mental illness and it’s still really hard for me to talk about. A parent is supposed to look out for you, to guide you, to take care of you; home is meant to be a place of safety and stability. My sisters and I, our home life was fraught with uncertainty on the best of days, and a drunk, screaming lunatic on the rest of them. I often felt like the roles were reversed and I was the adult (a complicated relationship with my mom that continued well on into my own, actual adulthood.)

I’ve read that adult children of alcoholics can be pretty judgemental of themselves as well as others, and so it might sound a little harsh and judgemental to say this, but books featuring individuals in the throes of addiction are a hard pass for me. It also may sound as if I have no compassion in my heart, but I’ve got to have enough compassion for me to acknowledge that reading about these characters is no good for my own mental and emotional well-being.

Note: though I have used some iconic imagery from The Shining to illustrate my answer here, a more recent example of a television series with a plot that I found pretty triggering was Lucas’s struggle with heroin addiction in the 2018 Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House.

She Hulk at work from Howard the Duck Issue #1 (2015)

Because I’m curious (and struggling with my career): what do you do for a living?

Not that I am assuming that the asker of this question thinks so, but I am always so flattered when people make the assumption that I write for a living. I do not! My forthcoming book, The Art of the Occult: A Visual Sourcebook for the Modern Mystic, is the first time I have ever been paid to write anything, and I have been writing my entire life! And the funny thing is, a mere month before this opportunity came up, I had just written a blog post about how I was never going to write for pay. Oh, universe. It’s hilarious how you make me eat my words like that. But honestly, I am not going to be making a living off of this book (I used the small advance to pay for my Invisalign, heh) so I am not quitting my day job anytime soon.

I know this is probably not the most positive sounding answer, but it is me being completely frank on the subject: I don’t know that I’d really be happy in any career. Simply put…I don’t like to work! I mean, who does, right? But …some people seem to really love their chosen career and thrive on the joy it gives them. That’s not me. And I think I figured this out about myself early on in life, so I pretty much made the decision that I’d do what I could to make the money I needed in order to do the things I really like to do. For me: this means materials for knitting, nice food to cook with and to feed the people I love, and all the books and art that I have room in my house for. The job is really just a means these ends, I guess.

As for my day job, well, it’s really not that exciting. As writer of weird fictions HP Lovecraft is cited with having said, “What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world’s beauty, is everything!” I think all of the other things I do are ever so much more interesting than my job! But that’s not a real answer to this question.

I have worked for the same firm for almost 15 years now; my official title is VP Operations, but we’re a fairly small business, so while that encompasses a great deal of things, it’s a title that sounds more important than it might actually be. I work very closely with the company’s president on a lot of projects, I handle HR and payroll related things, I do the social media for the firm, and I have support responsibilities related to the other folks in the company. I didn’t begin my role working from home, but I have been working remotely since I moved back to FL in 2011. I will mention that I work for a recruiting firm, so from a recruiter’s perspective, I might suggest you look into some career aptitude testing (you could try something like The Johnson O’Connor Foundation https://www.jocrf.org/ ) and would definitely encourage you to polish up your resume, update your linkedin profile, and check out some unique ideas for re-energizing your job search strategies.  It’s a weird time right now, but companies are definitely still hiring!

Show us your favorite Florida goth summer look!

Well, as it happens, at 44 years of age I have JUST NOW gotten comfortable enough in my own skin to stop suffering needlessly through our brutal summers and just wear a dang pair of shorts. It might not be glamorous, but my favorite summer outfits consist of the same pair of denim shorts all week long (I only have the one pair) along with a tee shirt (of which I have many.) Tee shirts are definitely a weakness of mine. Here are a few of my favorites, and if you are curious about where they came from, just leave a comment and I will figure it out for you.

If I am feeling fancy, I will probably go for a sundress and a cardigan, because though I may have made some progress in terms of body image, I still don’t like to leave my upper arms bare.

For some fantasy goth summertime ensembles, have a peek at this semi-recent blog post: How To Wear Summertime Goth Looks When You’re Not Actually Goth And Summer Is Almost Over, But Whatever.

I wanna know what kind of food you like! Taurus time! And what you do when you are stressed.

Wow ok, so I could talk about food forever. I was just telling my sister that although I have loved to read for my entire life, and am so obsessed with my knitting that I will probably sneak my projects into both weddings and funerals…it is food and cooking that really has my whole heart’s love. The kitchen is such a deeply soothing, wondrously special space for me and the one place where I am never scared or nervous or anxious, where I am always completely at home. My best days are those that I have spent hovering over simmering soups, and yeasty bubbling bread dough, chopping, mixing stirring, sprinkling, concocting something delicious and heart-warming, and filled with love. This is the best magic I know, the cozy, calm, kitchen witchery kind.

My favorite meals as I child are probably the ones I still crave today, and there are two in particular. My late grandmother’s chicken and dumplings, and cheese coneys, which I think is a midwest thing and basically a hotdog in a bun topped with chili and an insane amount of shredded cheese. I can’t eat them every day because I think that would probably kill me, but as for favorite foods in general, I prefer savory over sweet for sure. I will take a pass on pancakes and waffles and french toast, but you can lure me with bagels and lox.

 (Being judgemental again, I think that sweet bagels are an abomination–get out of here with that cinnamon raisin bagel crap!) I love vegetables but I don’t really care much for fruit, although I do think honeycrisp apples are a beautiful snack, along with a spoonful of peanut butter! As far as snacks in general, I prefer salty over sweet and I feel like maybe I am the only person in the world who would pick puffy Cheetos over crunchy, but more for me, I guess.

I like all kinds of cuisines, but I think if I could have a day of favorite foods, I would have a Japanese-inspired breakfast, with broiled salmon and rolled omelet and rice and miso soup and all kinds of pickles. For lunch, an everything bagel with cream cheese and lox and thick slices of ripe, juicy tomatoes, and thinly sliced red onion. And for dinner I might have popcorn and a gin gimlet! Maybe two gimlets, extra limey.

When I am stressed? Well, as you can tell from the above, I cook and I eat 😛 But when I am super-stressed, like too anxious and paralyzed to move? I find that sitting down, taking a deep breath, and making a mindful list can lead to getting unstuck. Not a pie-in-the-sky to-do list for the day, but rather a list of the bare minimum stuff. Breathe. Drink a glass of water, stand up and stretch your arms as far as they can go, try and touch the clouds through the ceiling. And then… maybe answer one email for work.

I find that sloooo-oowly crossing each of these things off of my list is the equivalent of putting one foot in front of the other until I find myself on the other side of whatever had gotten me so worked up.

What has changed for you in Plague Times? What has surprisingly remained the same?

I spend a lot of time alone and I think I am pretty good company. But a lesson I have learned before and it took this past year to remind me is that sometimes I can be alone and in my head too much. Though I have lived most of my life in Florida and that is where I currently reside, there were a number of years that I lived in NJ. I was in a relationship where I was not that person’s major priority, but really, that was the least of the problems in that relationship. I didn’t see a lot of him, and other than my coworkers at the two jobs I worked in order to make ends meet, I didn’t see a lot of anyone at all. I didn’t make any local friends while I was living there, and so I spent a very isolated, melancholy seven years in that place. I remember, growing up, that my fondest wish was for “everyone to just leave me alone!” And I definitely got that while I was in NJ, and it turns out, as it does in most cases, that one should be careful of what one wishes for. I was miserable.

I moved back to FL where my family still lived and I met someone else who spends time with me and who makes me a crucial priority in his life and things are very different now. This is a roundabout way of answering the question, but I guess what I am saying is that in the past few years I’ve taken being back amongst friends and family for granted, thinking “oh, well, I don’t want to visit so-n-so this weekend, I’d rather stay home.” WELL. I have had six months of weekends at home, and I just want to see people again! Even if it’s a dinner I’d rather cancel at the last minute, I’d still be happy to go!

As for things surprisingly remaining the same, that’s an interesting question. I mean a lot has stayed the same. I already worked from home, I was already a homebody-bordering-on-recluse who never left the house, and obviously that has not changed, but also that is not a surprise.
However…I guess I could say this. I am a person who loves to have a slew of personal projects lined up for myself and I would have thought in this time of uncertainty and upheaval, I might not have the focus or the motivation to embark upon or complete any of these things–but I have found the opposite of that to be true. I think this is a sensitive and potentially triggering topic right now, that of productivity during a pandemic, and many people are having a completely a different experience.

I realize I am experiencing this from a place of privilege: I am healthy, I am employed, I am not experiencing instability or insecurity with regard to my lodgings or where my next meal is coming from. Of course I am going to have the mental bandwidth to devote to plans and projects. My day-to-day worry and dread, which is already pretty bad, is now ratcheted up and operating at what feel like unsustainable levels, and I think that is a large part of why I’ve been throwing myself into my to-do lists with gusto. I don’t want to let myself get eaten alive by my anxieties, so I don’t allow myself the time or the space to think about it. I know this isn’t healthy, and I’m sure it will catch up with me at some point. That was a bummer of an answer, and I am sorry.

I love hearing about favorite heirlooms – I feel like you would have some cool ones.

None of my grandparents are still living, and my mother passed a few years ago as well. So you’d think I’d have a variety of heirloom-type things to cherish…and yet. Somehow I do not.

I have two very special things, one from my mother, and the other from my maternal grandmother. My mother collected tarot decks and when I was young I used to pore over one in particular, The Tarot of the Cat People, a wildly gorgeous deck combining science fiction and fantasy, featuring mysterious figures dressed in rich, flowing costumes and elegant jewelry…which naturally appealed to me, little magpie that I was! The deck is created by Karen Kuykendall, a cat lady whose art is said to be influenced not only by felines, but also by architecture, anthropology, art history, costume in history, her travels in Europe, Mexico and the southwest United States. My mother did not have much to her name when she died in 2013, but she still had this deck, which now is wrapped in silk, and sits amongst my own collection. Fittingly, my mother was very much a cat lady herself, who at any point in time had no less than twenty cats under her roof… and many years later, this deck still smells strongly of cat pee. 

From my grandmother I have a cookbook, an item which smells much nicer! This is among my most treasured possessions…it is book of her favorite recipes and many of them handwritten, along with newspaper and magazine clippings. It’s stained and well-worn from frequent use and just as humble a thing as those tarot cards are glamorous, and I love them both equally.

Maria Germanova by Handsome Devils Puppets

I’d love to hear which modern physical media artists resonate with you and any particular pieces you own that you absolutely adore. 

With regard to physical art, my first thought is that of 3D art–sculptures or carvings or architecture or art installations, things like that. But then again, isn’t a painting or an illustration on a canvas a physical piece of art, as well?

So maybe this is a cheat of an answer, or maybe not, but I’m going to share a handful of beloved artists who fall anywhere along this spectrum. I could wax poetic about all of these brilliant, talented humans, and in fact, in some cases, I already have– in the form of interviews or articles that I have written with or about them. If that’s the case, I will include the link below! Though I am not an artist, I am a massive art enthusiast and supporter of my favorite artists so this is definitely something I will revisit in a future video with a more comprehensive tour of my collection.

Handsome Devil Puppets // Goblin Fruit Studio // Becky Munich // Ivonne Garcia // Moonflesh Tin Can Forest // Sara Deck Bill Crisafi // Amy Earles // Caitlin McCarthy

What is on your perfume wish list? And an add on, because you are a very olfactory oriented person what are some of your favourite non-fragrance aromas?

My perfume wish list isn’t what it used to be, but that’s because for the good of my wallet and sanity, I stopped reading perfume blogs several years ago. I’m no longer up on what’s new and rare and coveted and I’m better for the lack of temptation! With less fixation on the new offerings, that frees me up to enjoy the fragrances that I already own.

I will say that there is one from Bruno Acampora called Young Hearts that caught my eye sometimes over the past few months; described as “dewy, fresh, green and peculiar”, well, I like anything described as peculiar. And now that I am thinking about it, there was a scent from a few years ago that I was keen to try,  inspired by the Library of Babel.

Aside from those two, I have a perfumer friend who has been diligently and thoughtfully working at creating her own formulations for a few years now and I cannot wait until she releases these fragrances into the world; I have sniffed a few prototypes and I feel that I am (and probably a great many of you as well) are the target demographic for these dark, mysterious, and incredibly well-researched scents. But it’s not my project, so that’s all I can say about that for now!

My very, very favorite non-fragrance related aroma is fresh marjoram. Marjoram in an herb in the oregano family, but it doesn’t smell at all like that nose-tickling pencil shaving spaghetti sauce herb to me; it has its own very distinct scent– faintly sweet and green and floral, and  a bit woody and musty, too.

When I was growing up, my mother had some Christmas ornaments from Avon, l recall them as little fabric shapes with snowmen painted on them, and they exuded this sweet, dusty potpourri of a scent that I for years associated with the holidays and bringing decorations down from the attic, and in my mid-30s, when I smelled fresh marjoram for the first time, it was a scented epiphany. It’s such a beautifully gentle aroma, and I’ve got several pots of it growing on my front porch because I just can’t get enough of it.

Is there a holy Grail item that you covet for your collections but which you have yet to acquire?

Yes, and I will probably die mad about it. This is a poster from 2011 or so, a collaboration by artists Vania Zouravliov and Aaron Horkey, commissioned by Mondo, for Dracula. I missed it at the time and of course it probably sold out almost immediately. You can find it on eBay for nearly $1500… but that was originally a $60 poster, so that eBay seller can go straight to hell as far as I am concerned.

I hope this question is not cheeky, but I remember you mentioning wanting to curb your magpie tendencies. As someone who is constantly torn between acquisitiveness of all the pretties and anti-capitalist/degrowth ideals, I’d love to hear how you are thinking about it these days!

Not cheeky at all, I think it is actually a great question which deserves an equally amazing answer. Unfortunately, I haven’t got a good answer for you. While I will never be a minimalist, I do very much want to, while not pare down, exactly, I guess…I want to stop …wanting more? I want to use and enjoy the nice things I already have, but there is always the compulsion to find something nicer, something better, something perfect. Something that will make me perfect! I’m sure it’s all tied up in a bunch of deeply-rooted, internal stuff that has nothing to do with “stuff” at all. Rather feelings of childhood neglect, insecurity, and deprivation. Trying to fill a void that goes all the way down to my core, where there’s a little girl shouting up as if from the bottom of a well, “Pick me! Choose me! Love me!” Maybe I’m shopping for that poor kid, who knows? 

At any rate, At the beginning of 2020, just as the beginning of every year, I made a vow that I wouldn’t buy any: books, art, perfumes, or jewelry (those are the four trouble areas, I guess.) Did I stick to that promise? Of course not. I will say that in terms of art, well, we’ve mostly run out of space, so that’s been curtailed by circumstance. With regard to perfume, I really haven’t been tempted because nothing has really excited me. Jewelry, well, there have been fewer jewelry purchases than in recent years, but there have been a few, like a pair of fantastic eyeball earrings from Alexis Berger, and this strange of beads from Eternal Craft Designs, in the photo above. Oh, and of course, I grabbed a necklace from Flannery Grace. And bloodmilk. Oh dear.

Books, ah. They’re a problem. Bigger problem than ever. Not sure what I am going to do about it, but you know, I think 2020 is the wrong time to be worrying about this problem. Like I said, this is an excellent question, and it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about, but I’ve done a crap job with it this year. I’d love to hear all of your thoughts on this issue in the comments!

I’m curious if you some rotate your collection of art and interesting items in your home, or do you just keep adding, or do you pass things along to others?

I love the idea of a rotating gallery of arts and art objects but honestly, I am too lazy to do that. Plus while I know what I like, and I think I have a keen sense of style, particularly as it relates to my taste and aesthetic…I have absolutely no idea when it comes to design. Simply put: WHERE DOES ALL THIS STUFF GO? Honestly, I just keep cramming things on the shelves and pray they don’t buckle under the weight of my nonsense.

Or else I might pass it along! I was trying to recoup some of the money that I spent on various things by selling things in Depop, and while that was not a bad experience, per se, it was an annoying one. There were one too many instances of people asking dumb questions and I was like NOPE! LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR THIS BALONEY! To spite the one person who asked me for several photos of a $25 pair of slides taken from a variety angles, I marked everything as sold, bagged it all up, and promptly gave it to a family friend, who is probably at this point the recipient of most of the stuff I know longer want or need or have room for. I consider myself a very patient person, but at a certain point these requests over sites like Depop or poshmark or whatever seem entitled and downright rude, and you know what? Fuck that. I’d rather flush my $300 perfume down the toilet than sell it to someone like that, and yes I am a drama queen and I am okay with that.

[EDITED TO ADD] Okay, I am a lying liar and I just listed some more stuff on Depop this past weekend. Le whoopsie.

Thanks for reading, friends! Please leave a comment below for a chance to win some of my books, art, perfume samples, etc., that I no longer have room for or never found room for in the first place. I am happy to send it your way!

31 Days of Horror

For myself and many like-minded friends, we carry the spirit of the Halloween season in our hearts on a year-long basis. But the actual holiday month itself? That’s a particularly special time in which I like to utterly immerse myself in spooky books and movies, and I have made an annual tradition of documenting this phenomenon over on the Haute Macabre blog. As of just last night, I have wrapped up another year!

If you are interested in having a gander at what I got myself into last month, I have included a small summary of each week below, with a link to take you to the details. Anything you might like to see me tackle* next year? Let me know in the comment!

*I try to go with new-to-me books and movies, so please don’t experience hurt feelings if I can’t take your particular suggestion!

Week One

Kuronneko, The Witch in the Window, In Fabric, Clown in a Cornfield (book), Braid, The Final Girls, The Faculty of Horror Podcast.

Week Two

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, Blacula, The Color Out of Space, The Strings, Black Lake, The Return (book), Lovecraft Country (poster), Eve’s Bayou.

Week Three

Hubie Halloween, Relic, the Widow’s Web shawl, The Turn of the Screw (novella), What Happened to Japanese Horror, EXTE Hair Extensions, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, r/nosleepstories

Week Four

The Third Day, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Dragula: Resurrection, The Curse of La Llorona, Perfumes and Fripperies by The Wake (album), The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories, Night Tide, Beyond the Mirror’s Image by Dream Division (album), Hellraiser: The Dark Watch (comic), Stage Fright, World of Horror (game), The Craft: Legacy, a shadow ritual, soul cakes, a glamour spell, a finished knitting project

Links of the Dead {October 2020}

Johann Jacob Haid 

A gathering of death-related links that I have encountered in the past month or so. From heart-rending to gut-splitting (sometimes you gotta laugh, you know?) from informative to insightful to sometimes just downright weird and creepy, here’s a snippet of recent items that have been reported on or journaled about with regard to death, dying, and matters of mortality.

This time last year: {October 2018} | {October 2017}| {Ocotober 2016}

💀 Rapid Cycling Through the Stages of Grief on Amazon

💀 Being told to get over it is not one of the stages of grief.

💀 ‘The Third Day’ Makes Grief Feel Like the End of the World

💀 Funeral homes offer Kansas City elderly free limo rides to the polls

💀 ‘I worked in horror films. Now I’m an undertaker’: arts workers who had to find new jobs

💀 Don’t Grieve Alone. Reach Out: Find emotional support with long-established networks already built for distance.

💀 The Dead Parents Club – 5 tips for dealing with awkward social situations when you’ve lost a parent

A Little Talk About Anthropodermic Bibliopegy With Librarian Adventurer, Megan Rosenbloom

Today at Haute Macabre, I am thrilled to chat with Megan Rosenbloom about her debut book Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin.

I believe that Dark Archives is the most intensely fascinating book of 2020 and if you haven’t grabbed a copy yet, you ought to make it a priority! And yes, I realize I literally just published a wildly interesting book of my own, but if you’ve already got that one, you should acquire Dark Archives next!

Answering Your Questions!

Hello, weirdos! Last month I polled you to see if there was anything you might like to ask me if I did a Q&A for YouTube. At least I think it was last month. Who knows anymore! Anyway, I appreciate your indulgence in what felt like an awfully fun way to connect with you all (and not at all an exercise in narcissism, nope, nope!)

I wanted to make sure I got to everyone’s questions, so this is a lengthy one–over 30 minutes long! Also, the audio is all over the place. I don’t know what I’m doing! But if you make it to the end though, there are some details for another giveaway I’m doing. If you’ve ever thought “wow, what does Sarah do with all of those perfume samples, or what happens if she ever buys an accidental second copy of a book, or does she have too many little pieces of art lying around and what becomes of it?” Well! I have not one BUT THREE boxes of such things, so I will be choosing three giveaway winners! Be sure to leave a comment on the video to be eligible to win.

P.S. I am doing a YouTube giveaway because I reached 10K Instagram followers. Yes! I know! That makes all the sense in the world is I bet what you’re thinking 😛

Connections, Connections, Connections: An Interview With Artist Susan Jamison

Offerings, 2017

I’ll admit I was already intrigued by the fanciful enchantments of Susan Jamison’s work after seeing it shared by several friends on social medial over the last few years. My fascination with the artist bloomed wildly after peeking at her website’s bio, describing her lush, luminous imagery:

Susan Jamison’s feminine iconography spans several media, including painting, drawing, textile based sculpture, and installation, all steeped in ritualistic and mythological associations. She is best known for her intricate egg tempera paintings, which present a mystery cult of florid women who foray into the wild and commune with animal spirit guides or familiars.

But in the end, what endeared this artist and human to me was her warm, generous personality, her gentle humor. Her heartfelt and sometimes funny mentions of her mother on Facebook! Seriously, I’d love to spend an afternoon with both of these women. It was our connection that deepened my appreciation of her work, I think, and deepened my awareness of the beauty and power in her paintings, each time I gaze upon them, anew.

Susan was the very first artist to grant permission for me to include her artwork in The Art of the Occult! And as you can imagine, that binds both the artist and the selected work even more closely to my heart, resulting in an even more rare and special connection.

Naturally then, I am quite pleased that Susan agreed to an interview with me for Unquiet Things! This will kick off a series of interviews with a handful of the contemporary artists featured in The Art of the Occult, so you can look forward to more insight and commentary from these visionary creatives over the next few months. For now then, let’s chat about connections, creativity, and crystals with Susan Jamison.

Under the Rose, 2017
Love, Life, Light, 2019
Power Bear, 2014

What do you see as the creative mission of your work?

Connection, connection, connection! Ultimately, I hope viewers see themselves in my paintings and identify with a shared story. I want people to feel our sacred connection with animals and the natural world through my images. The animals create tangible entry points to my work, even for children. I’ve seen little ones walk up to my paintings, point and say “bear.” To me that’s enough, for them to indicate they relate to and delight in that animal. Adults might associate more complex stories or myths, both personal and cultural with that same bear adding another layer of meaning and association. A man was looking at my painting, “Power Bear” which is an image of a woman curled up in fetal position inside a goofy bear. He told me he saw the bear as himself and the woman was his feminine side hidden within. I love that interpretation. Perhaps folks will somehow be activated or at least made curious when viewing images of sacred geometry like in my painting “Under the Rose” that you included in your book The Art of the Occult. This painting depicts the flower of life along with roses and stones being artfully and intentionally arranged by a woman’s hand in a crystal grid. Sacred geometry reveals the reoccurring patterns in nature, in life, it is the geometry of connective energy.

Upon seeing my paintings of Divine Feminine figures I hope viewers can imagine, for example, being showered with love and rose petals. Maybe imagining this feeling can help us open up to these feminine energies within ourselves. People always want to hear my stories about my work but I also love hearing theirs. It’s all about honoring our connections.

She Came First, 2018

Can you recall some of your earliest memories of when you began to identify as an artist?

I was born knowing I am a visual artist. I draw, I paint, I make things. I learned the words for it later but I always knew. My mother still has a little book I made when I was in the first grade, “A Book About Me.” In it I drew myself painting on the page pre-labeled “How I grow” and I wrote about being an artist. I’ve often thought I came into the world knowing I’m an artist because this is such a challenging path to follow. I might not have pursued it if I wasn’t so sure I was supposed to. I know this is part of my sacred contract.

See Me, 2016
Note to Self, 2015

My first introduction to your work was with your Spiderweb series, with messages/directives revealed in the lacy webwork, such as “see me,” “touch me,” and “note to self”. Can you share what inspired these beautiful pieces with their stylistic missives? And as part of that, if you’ll indulge me, I’d love to hear more about your relationship to nature’s mythic little weaver.

The spiderweb paintings were inspired by my favorite childhood book Charlotte’s Web. I loved the manner in which the animals are anthropomorphized in order for us to relate to and spy into their world. Wilber the pig bonds with Charlotte the spider after being rejected by the other animals. She weaves messages into her webs that save Wilber from being sent to slaughter. Although Wilber is spared, Charlotte, having a short natural lifespan, does not escape death, but she leaves behind her egg sack showing us that the cycle of life continues. The spiderwebs are a veil between the world of the living and the afterlife although I’m sure I didn’t see this as a child.

My spiderweb paintings are imaginings of what the spider Charlotte might want to message to an adult Fern, or to you and me really. My favorite of this series repeats the pleading words “Believe in me, please believe in me,” in a bit of a twist, the title of that painting is “Note to Self.” I have long used lace as a motif in my work as an homage to needlecraft or “women’s work” so I continued that in this series.

Garden spiders, specifically the yellow and black orb weaver, Argiope aurantia also appear in many of my works. I see these spiders as symbolic of feminine creation as they weave their delicate lacy webs. My love of garden spiders goes back to my childhood when I would take nature walks with my mother. We would search for wildflowers, plants, animals, birds, insects, and crawling things, and identify them in nature guides. We would discuss the mythical significance or symbolism of their appearance in our path. I remember coming across huge orb webs soaked and heavy with morning dew. They looked so magical. Surely this must be a sign of something special. I learned from a young age to respect nature and associate the viewing of it with deeper sacred and allegorical meaning. The influence of those nature walks, the guidebooks, and nature illustration is quite evident in my paintings.

Sugar Me Bouquet
You’re My Everything, 2018

Your art appears deeply rooted in the sacred feminine, the divine mother/s. Can you trace back to a source for your fascination with imagery of the feminine divine?

As a child I spent an enormous time in nature. I was born in Connecticut on the night of a blackout on the northeast coast. My family moved to Indiana where I lived until age 11. My father purchased 40 acres of heavily wooded land in the southern part of Indiana where we would go and live without electricity or running water like crazy wilderness people over weekends and summers. The woods, banks of moss, streams, and a small lake were my playground. I grew up feeling very connected to nature. I understood myself as a part of it really.

Being Catholic, my mother would always make sure we went to church on Sunday and I felt uncomfortable and confined in an orderly church space. The newer church buildings where we attended mass in didn’t have any of the cool, often grotesque statues, paintings, or stained glass windows that older Catholic churches have. There was nothing I could relate to or look at so I would just go inside myself. My connection to source was in the in the forest among the trees, animals, and wildflowers. Here I found my entry into a spirituality rooted in female power. Even children know the Earth is a mother. My artwork has long had this subject at its foundation, over the years I’ve painted so many naked ladies alongside animals, pointing to our sacred union with Mother Nature, the Earth.

Scent of Serenity, 2017
I Will Always Love You, 2019
Fearless She Is, 2019

How do you experience the connection between spirituality and creativity?

My spiritual life and my creative life are intricately woven together. I’ll tell you a secret, my images come to me in visions. I see a very clear picture in my head and then I paint what I see in egg tempera, a kind of paint I make from egg yolk and dry pigment. I’ve had these clear visions for about 15 years. It seems like the visions are both from me and from outside of me at the same time even though that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Do they come from my higher self, a spirit guide, source, is all that the same thing? I have committed to just accept them as a gift and do the work. Someone with an academic background like mine feels uncomfortable discussing these things. People with fancy degrees like to feel like we are all scholarly and in control. I had to give that up. Very often I do not know what a painting is really telling me until it’s finished and I look at it or maybe even until time passes.

In 2017 I saw images of the crystal grids and the sacred geometry. This seemed odd at the time because I didn’t really know much about crystals but I did some research and I made the paintings anyway. While I was working on that series at The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a residency center, I went into town with another artist and we stopped a a liquor store. The lady on duty looked at the necklace I was wearing, a silver hand on a chain and she said in a distinctly Southern but someone cryptic way “Honey, you need to go to Stones N’ Bones…STONES N’ BONES!” I told her I certainly would. When we got back I looked it up on the webs. It’s a rock and crystal shop. I had been painting the crystals from photos but the next day I went over and I bought some, maybe even a lot of…Stones N’ Bones, well the shiny stones anyway. A few days later the curator of a big corporate collection came to visit the residency center. I told her I was working on some weird crystal grid paintings and I started trying to explain them. She knew exactly what the grids were and later purchased two of them for a meditation room she was putting together for her workplace. None of this is earth shaking, it’s just a little string of odd synchronicities.

In 2018 I started actually hearing a message, “Depict the Divine Feminine. It’s time for her return.” Um, what? I had to do some searches online to see what this might mean. Who exactly was returning? As I mentioned, I was raised in the Catholic church and although this religious practice is not for me I looked for her there anyway. Of course, the Goddess is hidden for safe keeping as The mother Mary, as Mary Magdalene the partner and most beloved follower, and within the symbolism and structure of the rosary. The patriarchy can try to eradicate her but her people never let go of her even if she is diminished, hidden or has purposefully laid dormant. Ultimately we must have balance between masculine and feminine energies. Coming soon to a heart near you, it’s the Divine Feminine.

I had visions of two horses in 2019. The first was of a black horse running at night with red roses around its neck. I titled this painting “Fearless She Is.” This was closely followed by a white horse on a white background with a garland of pink roses running under a rainbow. This horse’s feet are tied with red strings that she is breaking loose from. The second painting is titled “I Will Always Love You” and it’s hanging above my couch helping me get through the pandemic. I think these paintings are about moving through this time of radical change and restructuring. Oddly enough, the white horse painting is the only piece of art my cat Sophie has ever really spent time looking at. She looks at it quite a lot. I wonder if she knows what a horse is?

Honestly, life is much weirder than I thought it would be.

We Are Beautiful
In Wolf’s Clothing

Do you have a particular process you use when entering into your work? What gets you in the mood to create? Any rituals or practices?

I have to clean first.

I have to be in a positive, peaceful mindset to work because I believe that my energy transfers to the physical object I am making. This can mean meditation, walks in the woods, diffusing essential oils, burning frankincense, or a combination of those things.

I always listen to music when I work. 

The physical process of making my paintings is for the most part, a very controlled ritual. I start by making what is called a cartoon, a full size drawing of the image on tracing paper, then I transfer the drawing to a pristine white panel. I make my own egg tempera paint. Cracking the egg and separating the yolk from the white always feels solemn as I’m handling the stuff that life can be made from. I use free range chicken eggs, not for the darker yolks as these are less desirable for my purpose, but for the greater chance of decent life for the chicken. I mix the yolk with water and a small amount of dry pigment to make the egg tempera. It seems like an almost alchemical process. The first layers of paint that I put down are fairly loose. I look at this stage of the painting and I’m pretty convinced that it’s complete crap and I have no idea what I’m doing. After that first layer cures for a day or so, I use mostly small brushes and tiny hatching strokes to refine the painting, layering and layering. The painting starts to match my vision and I become reassured that somehow I’ve remembered how to create an image. It’s like a mini miracle every time I make a new painting and realize I can do it again. The action of laying down all these tiny brushstrokes is very meditative so that in itself is part of the energy infusing ritual.

Avian Couture
Suture Me Bat
On Pins and Needles
Miss Carolina Lily, 2016

There is much in the way of visions of an enchanted world in your art, inspired in part, I believe by the fauna and flora native to your region in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’d love to hear more about some of your favorite local places and spaces in that vein, and how aspects of those spots find their way on to your canvas.

This is the place where most of the chapters of my hero’s journey have taken place so far. I first moved to southwest Virginia after finishing my MFA at Rhode Island School of Design. I had no plan other than staying with my parents at their lake house for a while to regroup. I felt really lonely and depressed. Late one night I heard a scratching noise at the screen door. In homage to all horror movies, I went to the door to see what it was. A gorgeous Luna Moth had come to visit me. This was the first one I had ever seen in person. It’s a symbol of renewal. The next morning I looked outside and saw a huge prehistoric bird on the dock. It was a Great Blue Heron, symbolic of self-reliance. It was time to get out of the basement and start my life up again. In fact my father did say something like get a job and move the hell out of here. So I did that.

In another chapter of my life here I was married and we owned a home on the side of the little mountain here in my city. The house was on three city lots. I had a huge garden, beehives, and all kinds of wild animals visited me there. At one point I said I felt like Snow White surrounded by all those animals. On other fronts I felt alienated and I was literally beaten down. Even after that chapter ended the joyful feeling of being in the company of my faithful animal friends remained and that started to fuel my artwork. It took me a very long time to feel at home in this region, a place where not many people come or go and locals stick with each other and are suspicious of outsiders. Aside from all that it was difficult to make a strategy to be a serious artist in a non-art center. Again, nature was my entry point to creating a feeling of belonging for myself. The Blue Ridge Mountains are among the oldest mountains in the world, estimated to be around one billion years old. The energy of these mountains is very grounding for me. It’s almost like they whisper to me “You are safe here. No matter what happens, we will guard you.” I believe them.

The Appalachian Trail, affectionally known at the AT runs very close to the city I live in. I often hike on sections of it. My very favorite spot to hike however is about an hour away. It’s a trail that leads to a waterfall simply called The Cascades. It runs just to the side of a river and I’ve been there in all seasons and all kinds of weather including rain and snow. This energy of this place feels intensely magical to me. If fairies and hobbits live anywhere, it is here. I think what transfers to my work about this place is less the specific images of it, and more the spirit of it. When I’m there, I feel giddy like a little child, or maybe even like the double rainbow guy (may he rest in rainbow power.)

The place I walk most frequently lately is a woodsy trail in my neighborhood close to my apartment. It’s not particularly long or strenuous, it’s just a close by place to touch a lot of trees or maybe sit on a big rock. I’ve been working on a commission for someone who wanted a large painting with a woman, a tree, and a white deer. It took me quite a while to receive a vision for this request. I was walking on this trail and I ventured off to check out a stream bed. I looked up and I saw an old tree that had a huge opening in the trunk that looked very much like a vulva. The vision for my painting was right there, the woman was stepping out of the vulva tree and laying her hands on the head of a white deer.

Of course no accounting of local places would be complete without mentioning the switchback trail that transverses our own Mill Mountain which I can see right out my back windows. This trail leads up to an 88.5 foot tall neon star near the top of the mountain. I have walked up this trail to the star countless times. There is an observation deck of sorts in front of the star with a photo identifying all the mountain peaks surrounding our valley which you can see from that spot. The other thing up on the mountain is our local zoo, home to three red wolves that are in a conservation program for critically endangered animals. I will probably never paint the star but I have painted the wolves.

Third Eye Crying Collar, 2014
Tea With Mother, 2013
Extra Sensory, 2013

I’m delighted to see that you create in other mediums as well!  Aside from painting and illustration, you have a series of 3D installations/mixed media pieces incorporating various textiles, bone china cups, leather gloves, etc. Among my favorites are “crying collar” and “tea with mother.” What can you share about these works?

… and I’m curious as to where, among the mediums that you work within, do you find your true heart?

I’ve always enjoyed making weird little things and I seem to have the dexterity to do it well enough. When I was a kid I would draw and paint, but I would also sew doll clothing, build dollhouse furniture, and make odd miniature dioramas. For me the playful making of weird things never stopped but I didn’t really think about these objects as artworks.

In 2012 while I was preparing for a solo exhibition of paintings, I received a rare studio visit from a Parisienne artist, Anne Ferrer, who noticed the three dimensional objects around my space. With her petite frame and playful French accent, Anne excitedly moved through my studio picking things up and declaring “This is a piece, this is a piece!” She affirmed for me that the object making I had been engaging in was valid and it had potential to develop into a rich and complex body of work than could complement my paintings. Her encouraging words made me realize that in my desire to build a cohesive body of work, I had put myself in a box labeled “painter” and had become too specific in my focus not allowing myself to fully reach my potential. Because of her encouragement I began making sculptural work and creating installation projects using crafting techniques such as sewing and embroidery. As in my paintings, women’s bodies, references to the body, and our connection to nature are prominent themes. This sculptural work feeds my painting practice in positive and unexpected ways and I have been able to exhibit this work alongside my paintings. I now consider myself to be a multidisciplinary artist, with my feminine iconography spanning work in painting, drawing, textile based sculpture, and installation, all steeped in ritualistic and mythological associations.

I have a couple paintings to finish but after that, I am going to get back to a sculptural project that I’ve been working on titled “The Mother.” There are some images of her in progress on my Instagram. She is a life scale figure made of wool felt. Her belly is hollow and lined in red velvet. There will be cords coming out of the opening with various plants and animals attached. This project strongly weaves the thematic threads of my two and three-dimensional work together. She is a Mother Earth figure birthing all kinds of life. I’m hoping “The Mother” will be finished in early 2021. I kind of need her here. Although I’m more known for my paintings, if you ask my true heart, it is called to make whatever my visions present, however I am able. I hope these things I make form connections between us and move us to love and connect with our Mother Earth.

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