Sveta Dorosheva 1

(Originally published on the Coilhouse Magazine blog, September 3, 2011)

Sveta Dorosheva‘s fantastical art could be to a brilliant dream collaboration among noted artists, for whom the goal is a visionary book of enchanted tales. Imagine an artistic hybrid comprised of the intricately-lined illustrations of Harry Clarke or Aubrey Beardsley, the luxurious art deco magnificence of Romain de Tirtoff (Erté) fashion plates, and the beautiful-on-the-verge-of-grotesque visages drawn by the enigmatic Alastair .

But! In this imaginary scenario, the artists realize there is something… some je ne sais quois… missing from their efforts. They entice illustrator Sveta Dorosheva to join their endeavors: she flits in, and with a mischievous smile and a gleam of amusement in her eye, announces “yes, yes, this is all very beautiful… but let’s make it FUN!” Although comparisons to the above-mentioned artists may be obvious upon first glance, the sense of enchantment, whimsy, and joyful wit present in Dorosheva’s work ensures that one not only appreciates they are gazing upon something technically pleasing or beautifully rendered; one also genuinely delights –and even emotionally invests– in the engaging imagery as well.

Though born in Ukraine, Sveta Dorosheva currently resides in Israel with her husband and two sons. She has worked as as an interpreter, copywriter, designer (be certain to peek at her Incredible Hats or Fashionista portfolios!), art director and creative director in advertising, and is currently pursuing her lifelong dream of academic training in art. Dorosheva recently spoke with us about her lifelong love of fairy tales, and her inspired, imaginative new project, The Nenuphar Book, which will be published in Russia this autumn. See below for her illuminating ruminations and a gallery selection of her extraordinary illustrations.

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Your work is clearly heavily influenced by fairy tales, fables, folklore, mythology – what are some of your favorites in this vein? Certainly you have some beloved stories from your childhood and I would love to hear about that… but I imagine in researches for illustrations and so forth you have developed a fondness for some more obscure or interesting new tales along the way?

Sveta Dorosheva: You are right. I AM heavily influenced by fairy tales and mythology. Even in adulthood I am most fascinated with things magical, mysterious and fantastic: medieval emblemata and bestiaries, weird and kooky sciences, antique circus, eccentric personalities, odd books and creatures, etc.

When a child I had very weak health and spent a lot of time in bed covered with mustard leaves or cupping-glasses. Dad read me a lot of fairy tales. As an immediate result, I was the best storyteller in the yard and kinder garden. Nannies loved me. They would put me in front of other kids to retell scary fairy tales (I loved them scary, the didactic tales I would just forget – they were ‘nuisance wisdom’) and attend to their own business for a couple of hours.

Those were mostly Russian fairy tales, but later in life I read all there were to read (before the Internet was available where I come from) and even my thesis research was dedicated to world fairy tales and mythology (I studied languages and world literature).

I feel lost when trying to pick specific tales as my favorites (you know, thesis and all that knowledge…), I wish I knew less of and about them, so that the choice wouldn’t be so distressing. But actually fairy tales of all nations have both a magical, wonderful and a scary, uncanny side. Sometimes monstrous – well, before civilized societies started to adapt them for children (which I personally regret). Before television and such, fairy tales were an entertainment for both kids and adults. They are just captivating stories about things eternal, with plots polished to perfection by centuries and centuries or story-telling. Most successful modern Hollywood blockbusters like “fifth element” and such have the structure of a classic fairy tale, only valorous knight is substituted with no less valorous bruce willis, evil dragon – with evil mr. shadow, beautiful princess with beautiful leeloo, etc…

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I guess Russian fairy tales are the strongest influence from childhood, but I don’t mean that in the ‘sarafan&kokoshnik’ sense:) I mean they were full of wonderful and scary things, events and creatures, and that influenced my picture of the world for life. I remember that when a kid I took all of it for granted – evil stepmothers that wanted to eat their stepsons’ hearts and brains because he who eats them, would become king and spit golden coins…talking wolves and fire birds, immortal skeletons, frogs and birds throwing their skins and feathers off and turning into beautiful ladies, dead water that puts the pieces of a hero chopped by treacherous brothers together, and live water that then makes this frankenstein body come to life, witches with poison pins that turn people to stones… none of them were ‘terrible’ or ‘wonderful’ – they were just part of a fascinating plot. I guess childish perception is different from adult – it does not divide things into monstrous and beautiful. It just absorbs it all without labels, taking it all for granted.

I remember my three-year-old son seeing a dead bird in the street once in December. He insisted that we go and see its metamorphoses every day. I felt rather ill at ease, but he was INTERESTED, because he did not KNOW it was ‘disgusting’… To him bird-turning-to-a-skeleton or frog-turning-to-a-prince is the same type of natural metamorphosis that makes the world tick and such an interesting place to observe, there’s no good or bad, there’s just infinite variety and wonder. And that’s the thing about fairy tales. They booster imagination through metaphor when one is still open-minded, with no moral or social blinkers on (very useful, very reasonable blinkers, but still limiting).

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Your book to be published this fall- ‘The Nenuphar Book’ – is described as “… a book about people and human world, as seen through the eyes of fairy-tale creatures. They don’t generally believe in people, but some have traveled to our world and have collected evidence and observations about people in this book.” Can you tell us more about this upcoming work and the observations contained within?

The Nenuphar book is a compilation of drawings, letters, stories, diaries and other stuff about people, written and drawn by fairies, elves, gnomes and other fairy personalities. Generally, fairy creatures do not believe in people – they just scare their small ones by humans (‘If you don’t eat well, a MAN will come and grab you!”) But some of them have traveled to the human world in various mysterious ways and this book is supposed to 1) prove to other gnomes, fairies, elves, giants, witches etc that people do exist; and 2) collect observations and impressions about human nature and world.

In short, the Nenuphar Book is about people and human world as seen through the eyes of fairy tale creatures. Their observations may be perplexing, funny and sometimes absurd, but they all present a surprised look at the things that we, people, take for granted. Draft excerpts can be seen here – https://www.behance.net/gallery/The-Nenuphar-Book/970281

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Imagine looking at our world through the eyes of an alien from outer space – it’s the same thing. How do you explain money? love? language? work? dance? music? cities? people’s everyday behavior? poetry? clothes? anatomy? books? Imagine someone who does not know anything about this world. How do you explain people talking to small boxes at their ears and then seriously stating they have talked to someone they know and informed them of something? They are talking to spirits! How do you explain a box on the wall in every home, that shows little animated copies of people fighting, crying, laughing, singing, throwing cakes and bombs around… and most importantly – how do you explain the people watching those little devils all the time and even making them do what they want by pressing a small rectangular amulet in their hand? Why do people say things like “my heart is singing” when they seriously think their heart is made of flesh and blood and some strange tubes of something? Well, people are strange.

Or, where do people come from? It is quite shocking, but it turns out that big people come from small people. In other words, all people were once 20 time smaller and completely different both in appearance, manner, character and world outlook! People are shape-shifters, that is obvious. That is why they have ‘passports’ – it’s a special little book with pictures of various creatures that a man has turned into, so that he can remember that that smooth elf-like long-haired and wide-eyed creature and this big bold grumpy ogre are the same person… Okay, big people come from small people through a series of metamorphoses. But where do small people come from? Evidently they cannot come from sex, as people themselves state, because this is plain stupid. In the first place, none of the fairy creatures have seen this sex (well, it could be that people are hiding, but then they extol sex as the highest pleasure and crown of love, so why hide something so remarkable? no sense whatsoever, must be a lie.). And in the second, well this is really absurd – let’s say, two people are bumping each other with their stomachs and moaning, shouting and otherwise going crazy because of that, okay… When exactly does a small person appear during this performance? Does he just jump from under the bed or something?

To fairy creatures people are great magicians – they make gnome metals fly in the sky and move on the ground with a magical potion called ‘fuel’. They create personal suns on the ceilings of their homes and make them shine with a tap on the wall in a special place. They call it electricity, but no one can really explain how this ‘electricity’ works without consulting a magic grimoire “Physics, Grade 7”.

But it’s not all funny. Some pieces of the book are poetic and serious, depends on the author (each chapter is written by a different creature). For example, there is a chapter about poets in the ‘Language’ section of the book. Fact is, the world is written in many languages: hidden and obvious messages are everywhere – encoded on flower petals, fish scales and feather patterns, in cloud forms in the sky, on wings of beetles and dragonflies, in the heart of a cut strawberry, everywhere… Fairies communicate in the language of flowers, perfume and dance; gnomes – in the language of stones and gems, etc. People use the language of words and mostly neglect all other languages the world is written in. And this gets them into a lot of trouble, because despite all those myriads words people have invented, they still fail to understand each other very often. But there are exclusions. For example, people have interpreters from other languages, who translate the beauty of the world into words: poets.

Or, say, people in love are another exclusion – they are very bad in the language of words. To them words are bewitched. They talk in awkward silences, incidental touches, turned away glances – they talk with their mouth shut with beckoning secrets.

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What an absolutely fascinating concept! How did you dream this idea up and what sort of ideals and philosophies were you hoping to leave the reader with? This certainly seems an engaging and charming way to tackle the complexities of us human creatures, with all of our amazing qualities as well as our not-always-very lovely behaviors and actions.

I was hoping to entertain them in the first place. A different angle is always amusing. If lucky, I want to leave them with the feeling of ‘what a surprising world we are living in, it’s full of wonder’. Isn’t it?

As for how I came up with the idea… Initially I worked on a completely different book – a book of fairies. It was intended as an activity book for kids – one fairy per day all year round. Today ‘the dandelion fairy’, tomorrow ‘fairy of freckles’, etc. And it was turning out quite lovely, but I was beginning to run out of ideas for fairies and activities and the project slowed down. Some time passed and I decided to pick up with it. I leafed back through my scrapbook with quick ideas and drawings and found a year-old line saying “maybe this fairy should keep a journal of her observations about people’s world”. And it suddenly struck me as a completely independent and very promising idea. I couldn’t believe I wrote it down a year ago and never noticed it’s huge… So, to my regret, I upset my publisher and quit that activity fairy book and wrote a new one in a couple weeks.

It went smooth and fast and overflowing with more and more ideas for everyday things, that would look surprising to a ‘newcomer’. Well, writing was smooth. Illustrating it took three years. It’s HEAVILY illustrated. I still can ‘t leave it alone. I hope the book finally gets published this fall and we part as friends:)

Find Sveta Dorosheva: Behance // Facebook // Etsy

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"Brother’s Keeper” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Brother’s Keeper” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

(Originally published on the Coilhouse Magazine blog, May 5, 2011. If Carisa’s name sounds familiar to you ’round these parts, then you have an excellent memory, friend! I have previously written about Carisa and her Wormwood & Rue creations here and here. )

Carisa Swenson of Goblinfruit Studio creates curious critters who seem to have wandered quietly out of a child’s fable of forest creatures, gleaming-eyed and grinning from beneath be-fanged overbites. Yet for all their grimacing, there is no sense of malice, no reason to fear this peculiar lot; look closer and you will find something profoundly endearing, familiar, and gentle about this oddball cast of creatures. Though they are semi-feral fairytale beasties from a dark wood, one gets the feeling from their earnest, even kindly expressions that they, just like anyone, are yearning for a happily ever after.

From the artist’s site:

Carisa Swenson’s passion for creating curious creatures springs from many sources—a love of Greek mythology and Ray Harryhausen’s creations when she was a child, an appreciative eye for Henson Workshop in her teens, to the weird and wonderful films of Jan Svankmajer and The Brothers Quay in her twenties. But when Carisa studied with world-renowned doll artist Wendy Froud, the final die was cast: posable dolls would forever own her soul and trouble her nights, stirring her with a fervor that could only be quelled by stitching and sculpting her dreams into reality.

“Since 2006 Carisa’s work has been featured in several exhibitions and publications, including the Melbourne Fringe Festival, NYU’s acclaimed annual “Small Works Show”, Art Doll Quarterly, and Spectrum 17.

We recently caught up with Carisa for a bit of a Q&A; see below the cut for more concerning the Curious Creatures and Aberrant Animals of Goblinfruit Studio.

“Otto” ©Goblinfruit Studio
“Otto” ©Goblinfruit Studio

In your bio, you mention that you’ve been creating dolls since 2006, after taking a stop motion animation class – had you always been interested in dolls and posable creatures, and this led you to taking that fateful class, or was this a fortunate fluke from which a consuming passion was born? Further, I understand that you’ve studied with artist Wendy Froud, which sounds amazing… can you tell us about that?

My fascination with stop-motion, automatons, and fantastical creatures took root when I first set eyes upon Ray Harryhausen’s work in Clash of the Titans, and even more importantly, the Sinbad series (the statue of Kali awakening and wielding six swords will forever stay with me). Action figures had always been a huge part of my playtime as a child, but I had little interest in dolls (with the exception of a much-loved Holly Hobbie rag doll) and a tendency to gravitate towards stuffed animals. Oddly enough, my desire to learn more about stop-motion ended up sparking a desire to create dolls. Before then, I concentrated on illustrating, mostly for fantasy card games and children’s books, but sculpted tiny creatures on the side as a hobby.

Several years ago, when I finally decided to take a stop-motion class, I had that “aha!” moment while working on a model for class. Sculpting and creating a posable model enchanted me and I found it much more engaging than my past experience with illustration. The idea of being able to hold a piece of art in your hands and essentially breathe life in it through touch and interaction appealed to me. Once of the best reactions I witnessed to one of my dolls was at a gallery show—when a young child and her mother went to leave, the girl insisted on saying goodbye to it.

Studying with Wendy Froud was truly wonderful. One of the movies she worked on, The Dark Crystal, was a substantial influence on my work so I was fortunate enough to not only meet her, but learn from her as well. Passionate about her art, Wendy’s desire to teach others is an inspiration in itself.

“Skinbunny” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Skinbunny” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
©Goblinfruit Studio
©Goblinfruit Studio

Your creations not only have an uncanny whimsy to them, a grotesque charm, but when viewing these creations, one gets a sense that they each have a fantastical story, a unique tale to tell. How do you go about imbuing these moppets with such life and character? Is there any particular story about any one of them that you can share?

Like many children, I was fascinated by animals, and spent many hours scribbling out both creatures natural and fantastical. Our four-legged and feathered brethren inspire me in ways sculpting or drawing humans cannot, and allow me to effortlessly imbue my dolls with depth and feelings. My process of sculpting starts with a vague notion of what a doll will look like, or sometimes what their personality will be. However, the dolls often suggest to me what they want to be as I sculpt— often switching gender, species or disposition halfway through their creation. As somewhat of an introvert, my attraction to the trickster mythos seeps into many of my characters.

Generally, my dolls have snippets of a back-story…the rest is up to the viewer. For instance, there’s George…who is somewhat temperamental and destructive, ripping the heads off his playthings; or Edgar, whose peculiar shape was the result of his rabbit mother having a sordid one-night affair with a bonobo. Tara carries around her semi-absorbed twin brother on the back of her head, and Alphonse and Otto Snerk are part of the troupe of pernicious goblins who sought to entrance the sisters of Christina Rossetti’s poem with their tempting goblin fruit.

“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography
“Tara & Timmy” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

Much of my inspiration comes directly from nature itself. My fascination with the natural world and its beauty provides a constant source of wonder and solace. Birds and creatures of the forest all work their way into my creations, in addition to the influence of fairytales and classical mythology. Empty, decaying buildings, rooms and houses stir my imagination with their dusty pasts or potential futures.

Beyond the natural world, other influences for my art stem from the likes of independent video games, which, besides the initial desired interactivity, are a rich source of art and music. (Some of my favorites include Machinarium by Amanita Design, The Path by Tale of Tales, and more recently, Superbrothers’ Sword and Sorcery.)

Some other sources that provide continual inspiration for me are horror movies of the sixties and seventies, stop-motion masters The Brothers Quay, Kihachiro Kawamoto and contemporary doll artists such as Virginie Ropars and Anita Collins. Movies like Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, The Cell (Eiko Ishioka’s breathtaking costumes are truly awe-inspiring), Fantastic Planet (which I discovered through The Cell), and Jeunet and Caro’s The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen have also served as artistic inspiration in the past.

Of course, music plays an important role while I’m working in my studio, helping me conjure that space in which to begin creating. Movie and video game soundtracks, ambient and pagan/spook folk albums have been getting quite a bit of airtime as of late, but I have my moments when I need to listen to some Prodigy, Ministry or Metallica.

Swinebalg by Carisa Swenson ©Goblinfruit Studio
Swinebalg by Carisa Swenson ©Goblinfruit Studio
The Plague Doctor by EC Steiner
The Plague Doctor by EC Steiner

Tell us about ARS SOMNIUM, your project with King Unicorn (Eric Steiner). I understand this is a collaboration built upon a concept dredged from the “most fertile playground for artists” – dreams and nightmares. Sharing dreams for artistic translation sounds like an intimate endeavor in which comfort zones are bound to be breached! [Edit: EC Steiner now creates under the moniker Casketglass]

When Eric approached me last year about a possible collaboration, I agreed without hesitation— our style couldn’t be more different, and it would be a compelling experiment to see where this would take our unique artistic vision. Concepts were passed back and forth until we hit upon the idea of sharing descriptions of the numerous denizens that wander, shuffle and glide through our dreamscapes. Once we pass off descriptions, we then actualize each other’s dream inhabitants in our own individual style. Given the subject matter, it could potentially be discomforting…but this has not proven to be the case. Seeing one’s dream (or nightmare) being through another person’s eyes is fascinating and unexpected. The energy within this project is fantastic, and I’m looking forward to working with Eric on more dolls in the near future.

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“Jester” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by Steve Harrison Photography

What future projects are you planning?

Ars Somnium is an ongoing collaboration, so you can expect to see another creation for the project this year, with the next piece straying far from what usually emerges from my studio.

Currently I’m creating several dolls for upcoming gallery shows, but the one self-indulgent project in the works, which I’ve just begun, is a 52-card deck featuring my rabbit dolls. Eighteen new dolls will be created with the suits reflecting the various personalities within my creations. This will most likely take up a good part of my time throughout the rest of 2011 and early 2012.

Find Carisa: Website // Instagram // Facebook // Twitter

“Cornelius” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by by Thomas Gotsch
“Cornelius” ©Goblinfruit Studio / Photo by by Thomas Gotsch

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Pam Grossman2

Perhaps you know of Pam Grossman because you are a fellow enthusiast of fantastical art and ardently admire her blog, Phantasmaphile wherein she curates incredible esoteric imagery. You may have stumbled across her prescient proclamation that 2013 was “The Year of The Witch” and felt energized and empowered at the long overdue celebration for this powerful feminine archetype. You may have heard her name in relation to the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU, or attended her numinous Language of the Birds show, an exhibition that traced over 100 years of occult art.  You may have been utterly entranced by her collaboration with Tin Can Forest, an illuminated manifesto titled What Is A Witch, or resonated with her sagacious writings for the Maiden and Mother issues of Sabat Magazine. Or perhaps you are fortunate enough to call this wise, magic woman a friend.

Or quite possibly you do not know Pam at all and it by quirk of fate that you have stumbled upon our interview with her today. It won’t take you long to become completely in awe of this luminous human, I assure you. Read on for our spirited discussion with this independent curator, writer, and lifelong student of magical practices for her thoughts on witchcraft and the occult as it relates to art, activism, and anger, and what it means to be a woman with power. In addition, we are beyond thrilled that Pam has shared with us her extraordinary “Ritual For The Rebirth Of A Republic”.

Top photo credit: Shannon Taggart

The Love Witch


Haute Macabre: You have very recently curated, along with creative cohorts, Janaka Stucky and Peter Bebergal, “Dead of Winter“, a series of magical movies which explore witchcraft and the occult in cinema. For those who were unable to grab their broomsticks and join you at this rare event, I’m wondering if you can share some brief highlights on the films you introduced, and what it was about the stories/characters/cinematic experience that made you think “aha, now this is something I have got to include!”

Pam Grossman: Curating this festival has been a dream come true. Between Janaka, Peter, Ned Hinkle (who heads up the Brattle), and myself, we came up with a towering list of favorite occult films that we felt excited to share. It was important to us that there was a good balance between witchcraft and ceremonial magick films, and that we covered a range of time periods and aesthetic sensibilities. Ned had the none-too-easy task of whittling down our list based first and foremost on logistics (i.e. which prints he could track down in time), and then he organized it into a beautifully cohesive arc, pairing films together that had interesting thematic links or, in some cases, counterpoints.

As to my specific input, most of my contributions explore the icon of the witch, albeit from several different angles. I included recent films like The Witch and The Love Witch, both of which approach the archetype from a decidedly 21st century – and I might argue consciously feminist – point-of-view (despite their stories taking place approximately 400 years apart). Their protagonists each experience a sort self-actualization of a sort, even if their final circumstances end up being somewhat ambiguous. Whereas films like Season of the Witch, Burn Witch Burn, and Bell, Book, and Candle are definite reflections of the social mores of their times. What unifies all of these films is that they each ask questions about what it means to be a female with power. Each of these witch stories has elements of danger and delight, and I think each represents the tension between those two poles in its own unique way.

I was particularly excited to get to see the newly restored 1970s Japanese X-rated animated film, Belladonna of Sadness, on the big screen. It is such a wild and gorgeous phantasmagoria, and it still manages to shock people, 40 years on. It’s based on Michelet’s book, La Sorcière, from 1862, and viewing it it feels like watching a pornographic version of the European witch hunts on psychedelics.

[above photo: Film still from The Love Witch]

Pam Grossman Coven


You have spoken before on how the witch remains a dynamic archetype with new facets that we are continuing to learn about and explore. In 2017 witches have emerged from the hedges and have taken to the streets; crowds of cloaks and capes were captured in arresting photos from back in January, witches out in full force, post-inauguation, using their power to protect and protest in a very public way. While I am not certain that this is a wholly new aspect of the archetype, can you speak to how it may be different than what we have seen previously, and what we can learn from the witch’s role as activist?

A lot of credit should go to W.I.T.C.H., the 2nd wave feminist activist group from the 1960s and 70s. They were a group of women who would dress up like witches and do public art protests and performance pieces, like hexing the New York Stock Exchange. Their actions were humorous and irreverent, and used the image of the witch to symbolize visible, marginal, powerful women.

I was very heartened to see a lot of witch-themed protest signage at the Women’s Marches, as well as a revival of W.I.T.C.H. springing up in Portland and other cities. Some of these women are using magical tropes in tongue-in-cheek ways, and some are being 100% literal. There are young feminist chicks sending stylized smoke signals, and there are serious pracitioners of Wicca and other Pagan paths who are both using similar language. But whether or not someone with a “Hex the Patriarchy!” sign is going to actually do a Trump binding spell at home is sort of beside the point for me. It’s about reclaiming the “nasty woman” moniker, and embracing alternative versions of femaleness which make space for us to be loud and sovereign and totally free. I think it all matters, and it all makes a difference.

[Photo credit: Laura Desmond]

Pam Grossman ritual

 

Pam Grossman’s Ritual For The Rebirth of a Republic


Ritual for the Rebirth of a Republic

You’ll need a candle, and any other sacred objects you wish.  I’ve been putting a small copy of the Constitution of my altar lately, next to images of deities who help me feel fortified and inspired, and special objects including jewelry which I’d like charged so I can carry the spell’s energy with me when I need it.

As you speak the following words, it’s all the better if you can face the appropriate direction before you utter each section:

Welcome, Air in the East, direction of new beginnings.  Thank you for blessing us as we recommit ourselves to the country, to the planet, and to our highest purpose.  Blessed be.

Welcome, Fire in the South, direction of passionate will.  Thank you for keeping us steadily fueled, so that our flames stay lit, and do not burn out. Blessed be.

Welcome, Water in the West, direction of dissolution.  Thank you for washing away all that is no longer serving us, so that we might flow forward and forge new pathways. Blessed be.

Welcome, Earth in the North, direction of green wisdom.  Thank you for teaching us that you are precious, that our bodies are precious, and both are abundant and enough. Blessed be.

Welcome, Ancestors of Below, direction of the sacred depths.  Thank you for helping us turn behind and within, so we may learn from the brave freedom fighters who came before us, and so we know that they dwell inside our selves. Blessed be.

Welcome, Guides of Above, direction of infinite possibilities.  Thank you for helping us look ahead and outside, so that we may follow your light of hope, and expand our own imaginations to dream up better ways of being. Blessed be.

Welcome, Sacred Center, direction of holy mysteries.  Thank you for showing us that in death there is life, that in life there is endless transformation, and that love is the most powerful magick of all. Blessed be.

The circle is cast.  We are between worlds.

Light the candle.

I light this candle to Libertas, Goddess of Freedom.

Oh Columbia, oh Marianne, oh Eleutheria, oh Artemis, or any other name of your liking, may you please keep your torch ignited, so that we may find illumination during this dark time.

May you help us lift up our most vulnerable, and shine light in the margins, so that we may not overlook our sisters and brothers who dwell in shadow.

Please help us find our fiercest and most unflagging strength, so that we may neither give up or give in during the long struggle ahead.

Thank you for helping us know that our bodies are sovereign and self-belonging, and that our genders, our sexualities, our physicalities, our skins, are each holy and whole exactly as they are.

Please let those who would seek domination, exploitation, or destruction of others and of our planet awaken swiftly to radical compassion or else to harmless obsolescence.

Thank you for reminding us that no one can save us but ourselves, and that we each have the responsibility of using our unique gifts to help usher in a new age of glory.

And thank you for teaching us that liberty is love, love is liberty, and that the path of kindness, laughter, truth, and empathy will forever be chosen by the just and the good.

Thank you, Libertas, for your guidance and your blessings. May we all be worthy of wearing your crown.

Blessed be.

Keep the candle lit for as long as you are able. If you must leave it unattended, simply snuff out (don’t blow), and then relight at another time. Once candle has completely burned down, you may bury the remaining wax underground, or otherwise dispose of in the ritualized manner of your choosing.

When this is complete, reopen the circle of the spell. Simply repeat the call of 7 directions in the opposite order, saying Thank you, instead of Welcome, starting with the Center e.g. “Thank you, Sacred Center…”

Merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.

[Photo credit: Pam Grossman]

Pam Grossman

Photo credit: Shannon Taggart


I believe it was with regard to the learning and absorption of magical/spiritual studies versus the practical application of that knowledge that you remarked, in an interview in 2013, “…but if you’re not going to try and figure out how to be loving and of service in the day-to-day, I’m not interested”. I love that sentiment. 
I love how it cuts right through the etherous woo woo mysticism and gets right to the meaty heart of things, where the real work begins. In light of our current political climate and considering the frightening, violent, unstable atmosphere that we find ourselves in right now, what are some of your suggestions for integrating one’s magical practices into the service of the day to day? For keeping one’s self grounded and getting one’s hands dirty?

I know the word “self-care” is being skipped on the pond a lot these days, and it’s a bit of a smooshy word that some have an aversion to. But the concept is crucial. We need service and self-care in equal measure, because you can’t sustain any sort of resistance movement without taking time to recharge your batteries and be rooted in yourself. Spiritual practice is key for me to be able to stay focused on what is actually important, and to center myself – not only within my own mind and body, but within my place in this whole interdependent ecosystem we call home.

So many of us are currently grappling with how to stay engaged while not being completely overwhelmed or paralyzed. The bad news has been relentless. But checking out entirely is not a viable option for anyone who cares about this country or this planet as far as I’m concerned. We must figure out a way to keep ourselves strong and blazing, and then use that energy to take action. Channeling the force of the witch has been extremely fortifying for me in my life – and is now moreso than ever. I light candles on my altar, take salt baths to help me cleanse and ground, connect with my deities who remind me that I, too, am divine and brave. And I ask for help, guidance, protection. I give thanks for the many blessings I have in my life. And I try and touch into that timeless, sacred space that is within us and around us always.

But then I do the bodied work: calling my reps, donating money to causes I care about, marching, educating myself, sharing information I find to be useful for resistance. These spiritual practices help me remember that I have power to make change, right here and now in the material world.

Tin Can Forest


On the other side of that though, we are not all light and sharing and loving kindness and radical empathy all the time, and you’ve mentioned the importance of honoring all of our complexity and shadow and mess–I’d love to hear your thoughts on feeding and self-care of these shadow sides.

Anger is something that we’re not “supposed” to show – especially if we’re female. But I have been really fucking angry, and I think it’s important for us to let ourselves feel that and own that. The key is to not let it burn you from within. You’ve got to use it to illuminate the way forward.

And in my darkest moments I try to link with goddesses like Kali and Tlazolteotl. These are deities whose great gift is their darkness, their destruction, their filth. They turn pain and decay into creation and purity, but it’s a hell of a rough ride during the process. So I hope that what we’re experiencing now is what the alchemists referred to as the “nigredo” – the death that must occur when transmuting something base into gold.

[Illustration from What Is A Witch by Pam Grossman and Tin Can Forest]

Leonora Carrington


When I first found your blog, it was through a series of art-related Google searches, and in perusing the fantastical, esoteric imagery you share via Phantasmaphile, I realized I had not only uncovered a very special corner of the internet for occult visuals and creativity, but I also discovered a wonderful human with a passion for enchantments and word-witchery and all manner of otherworldly beauty. On a personal level, because all of these things delight and nourish my soul as well, can you tell us how art and poetry play a part in your magical practices?

Thank you for saying that. I started Phantasmaphile 11 years ago, because I loved magic and I loved art and culture, but I couldn’t find a place online that celebrated those places where the two rub up against each other and cause a spark. So I decided to create one myself.

I’ve been a voracious reader since I was very little, and I have also always loved to write and make art. At the same time, I’ve always been very attracted to magical ideas. It used to be that if I found that sweet spot where art and magic met, I thought it was this rare overlap that merited celebration. So the female surrealists like Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington were thrilling to encounter as a teen, because they seemed to be fluent in the same symbolic language that I was learning myself.

But the longer I’ve been involved with this material, the more I realize that art and magic may in fact be one and the same. That individual creativity with intention is perhaps the most potent spellcraft we have. It is personal and emotional, it comes from the realm of mystery, it makes the invisible visible, and it causes real transformation for both the viewer and the maker.

[“The Giantess”, Leonora Carrington]

What is a Witch


A fantastic example of the sublime magics afoot at the intersection of art and poetry and witchcraft is your collaboration with artists Tin Can Forest, What Is A Witch. Described as an “illuminated incantation, a crystalline invocation, a lovingly-crafted celebration of the world’s most magical icon,” your wild, witty, utterly transformative book engages and enchants a reader like nothing I have ever encountered. Can you tell us how this marvelous manifesto came to be?

Definitely a case of stars aligning. Tin Can Forest (who are Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek, a wife and husband collaborative art duo from Canada) reached out to me because they were fans of my blog, and they sent me some of their comics. I fell head over heels with their work, and posted about them on my blog. And at that point, I’d been doing a lot of writing and presenting about witches, and I felt called to write something that celebrated her many aspects and gifts in a lyrical way. I should also say that I am a huge comics fan, and one of my dreams has been to work in that medium somehow. So short story long, I asked them if they’d be interested in working on something together. And I am still over the moon that they said yes!

We met shortly after that when they were in town for Brooklyn Comic Arts fest in November of 2015, and hit it off. And thank goodness, really, because we had already agreed to do this. But from there on out it was very much a trust exercise. I wrote the text for it and sent it off to them, and luckily they seemed to really connect to it. And then they squirreled themselves away for a few months in Victoria to make the art for it. We had very little input in each other’s processes. But I think it’s safe to say that all three of us couldn’t be happier with the results. I was very overcome when I saw the utterly splendid pictures they put to my words. It exceeded my hopes.

[Cover Art from What Is A Witch by Pam Grossman and Tin Can Forest]

Brujas and Familiars, Rebecca Artemesia

“Brujas and Familiars”, Rebecca Artemesia

Art–whether visual, or music, or the written word–can heal or inspire or spark a raging fire in us, which is very much a kind of magic itself, as you mentioned previously. In this vein, I’d love to hear about the artful magics, the books, or poetry, albums or movies, etc., that have bespelled you lately.

Absolutely. There is so much I could list here, so for the sake of brevity and sanity, I’ll just list a few things which have been enchanting me lately.

Books:

  • Diane di Prima’s La Loba poems. I’ve loved this book since I was young, but have felt drawn to revisit it to get in touch with my inner she-wolf. Very necessary in these times.
  • Janaka Stucky’s early book of poems, The World Will Deny It For You, which he just gifted me with this past weekend. His writing is ecstatic and erotic and harsh and succulent.
  • I just reread two of my favorite childhood books, Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. Good reminders that magic and smarts can triumph over evil.
  • Pema Chodron’s books offer deep anchoring during trying times, and her book Living Beautifully was a lifeline for me right after the election.
  • I read David Mitchell’s first book, Ghostwritten, and it floored me. The chapter about the Holy Mountain in particular is just exquisite.
  • And I just finished Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, which is a gorgeous and challenging meditation on love, gender, and creativity.
  • Lastly, I am anxiously awaiting all of the Leonora Carrington short story collections coming out later this year, as well a book of Remedios Varo’s writings. It makes me giddy to think of them.

Films:

  • In addition to the ones I mentioned above, I really loved The Duke of Burgundy
  • Embrace of the Serpent
  • Moonlight
  • Moana
  • And I am still crazy for Museum Hours, even though it’s been a while since I first watched it. I think about it all the time though: it’s such a testament to the idea of the museum as a temple or palace for the soul.

Music:

There are too many to even begin to list fine art-wise, so I’ll just quickly say Winona Regan, Rebecca Artemisa, Daria Tessler, Andrea Joyce Heimer, and Paula Duró have been really ringing my bell lately. I’m all about unapologetic exuberance, especially lately.

And lastly–do you have any upcoming events or speaking engagements that you would like folks to be aware of, or any further magical projects or writings that we can look forward to?

I keep saying I’m going to stop taking on short-term projects so I can focus on the book that I’m trying to finally write. But then wonderful opportunities like the occult film fest come up, and they’re too good to turn down!

So other than that, I have an essay about the crone archetype in the next issue of Sabat magazine, an introduction essay that I wrote for Taisia Kitaiskaia and Katy Horan’s beauteous Literary Witches book coming out in October, and quite possibly an exhibition that I’ll be co-curating in the fall which I’m hashing out details for now. And then my friend Jesse Bransford and I have to start planning the 3rd Occult Humanities Conference at NYU as well. So lots cooking in the cauldron to be sure.

Find Pam Grossman: Website // Phantasmaphile // Twitter // Instagram

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This article originally appeared in Haute Macabre on December 6, 2016.

To trace with the eye the sumptuous swells and ornate, swirling shadows of Jas Helena’s art is to be drawn into an evocative world of potent feminine mysticism. Appearing both demonic and divine (or, perhaps neither) against inky Byzantine backdrops, these saints and sirens, shamans and sorceresses beckon and beguile from the canvas; a tilt of an eyebrow or lift of a lip hinting at knowledge and portents beyond your mortal understanding…or maybe just admonishing one, with an intense and commanding glare, to STFU with their mansplaining nonsense. You don’t know what these women are thinking, and perhaps that is precisely the point.

“I love the concept of a strong, powerful, mysterious woman as a constant focal point in my work,” the artist shares, while also noting visually over-the-top baroque art and dark Goya-esque works as inspirations: “..finding a happy medium…that can both be feminine and soft, yet have a subtle, darker aesthetic is pretty much what I seek to do, and without a doubt Goya and artist of the Baroque-era figured out how to do that so flawlessly.”

Fascinated by the arts at a young age, Jas Helena obsessed over drawings and illustrations by the Old Masters without fully understanding what drew her to them, but, inspired by the excitement that these classic works sparked in her, she instinctively attempted to recreate what it was that so captured her fancy. Encouraged by positive feedback from friends and teachers, she practiced her art and nurtured her abilities through school and community college. In continually learning and honing her craft, it eventually coalesced into the haunting, highly ornamental style for which she is recognized today-a style that she feels finally reflects who she is and what she wants to put out into the world.

With a portfolio that also boasts work created for such occult rock and doom-laden metal acts as Funerary, Deaf Heaven, and Ides of Gemini, one gets the sense that Jas Helena has evolved into an artist who has glimpsed beyond the veil and become a conduit for the arcane visions and revelatory dreams she has witnessed. Her penchant for the dark and obscure and all its symbolism, she asserts, makes her art and this unearthly music a perfect match.

Regarding both the powerful priestesses she painstakingly composes on the page, as well as those who may be inspired as her work: in Sabat Magazine’s Spring/Summer 2016 Maiden issue, Jas Helena observes an increased interest in occult aesthetics in young women today, and that through Instagram and other social media, the aesthetic becomes more accessible.  “I see a community of bold women growing from it,” she concludes, mentioning artists Annie Stegg and Nona Limmen in this spirit, “that becomes even more important in the art world where this dark aesthetic is still an uneven playing field, dominated by men.”

Find Jas Helena: Website // Instagam // Tumblr 

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unnamed (3)Remember Ello? The social media site that, back in 2014, was predicted to be the next Facebook type thing? Or maybe people were hoping it would be, as it seemed to be a virtual utopia, built on promises of  “no ads, no data-mining, no algorithms that make decisions about what you should see, no turning users into products” — and perhaps the hype and the hope were helped along due to the fact that it came into being just as people were falling prey to Facebook’s ridiculous “real name” policy business.

Well, I remember it. If not only for the reason that if there’s somewhere on the internet to have an account and post your crap there, I want in on it. Unfortunately, it never really took off (at least as far as I can tell), and everyone still on Facebook. I think it’s a little bit like those those folks who are forever threatening that if this, that, or the other thing happens or doesn’t happen, they’re moving to Canada! No you’re not. You’re still on Facebook, just like the rest of us.

However, I do have a summer home on Ello, and I do peek in quite frequently because there are some amazing creators to be found over there. As a matter of fact, friends on facebook may recall that in March of this past year, I posted over on facebook of one such find: Rachel Dreimiller of YourGothicGranny.

I was immediately taken with Rachel’s work–embroidery is something I’d always wanted to “get around to”–and her spooky and subversive stitches totally captivated me. Her creations, a mixture of memento mori, sweet flowers + salty language, and general creepy weirdness, is an an aesthetic that is near and dear to my heart; it’s almost like she picked through the landscape of my ridiculous brain and stitched up what she found!

Actually, here is a great example of this: a dear friend of mine had, unbeknownst to me, commissioned a piece of Rachel’s work for my birthday this past year! If this isn’t totally me, I just don’t know what is…

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“Get to the point, you long-winded weirdo!” is no doubt what you’re saying at this point. I get it. I know I ramble. It takes me a very long time to tell a story, and sometimes I never even get to the point. Thanks for putting up with me.

Below is an a bit of a Q&A with Rachel, who has not only graciously endured my intrusive questions but who has also agreed to do a giveaway at Unquiet Things for one of her pieces of embroidery! If Rachel were to pick through your brains, what story would her needle and thread tell from what she found? Leave a comment if you wish and let us know, and for giveaway details, check out Rachel’s Instagram!

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https://www.instagram.com/p/BL1GEAEj_WW/?taken-by=yourgothicgranny&hl=en

I initially saw your work via Ello, if I recall. Sometimes I feel like you and I might be the only two people over there, but I’m sticking it out. How do you feel the site has been for exposure and sales? Also, do you find interesting artists and inspiration over there, in the same way, I suppose, that I found you?

I really enjoy Ello. The creators are very active and super supportive of the artist community. They’re always adding more categories for artists to share their work, which makes it easier to discover new artists and pieces. I have been featured a few times which has totally helped with getting views and also some sales. Because they are so supportive I find a lot of artists, especially photographers that I had not come across on instagram.

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I’ve read that after a few years of experimenting with the medium, you fell into the style in which you create and design now. How would you, personally, describe your style?

I would have to say that my style is still developing, to be honest. Or that I am still working on it. I have a more set style for drawing and sketching, which I’ve been doing for years, but it never made the transition into the embroideries I’ve been making. I’m very inspired by line-work and pen and ink illustrations and engravings, like John Mortensen and Fritz Eichenberg. I would like to experiment more with working some of that style into my embroidered pieces. I love some of my more recent spooky ones that have very thin line work, I would like to stick to that style while still exploring more macabre subjects.

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What do you get up to when you’re not creating spoopy stitches?

I really like going for bike rides or walking the trails in the woods by my house, especially with my pup. Recently I have been focused on organizing and tidying up my work space. My husband and I bought a house a few months ago, and now I have my very own room for arts stuffs. It’s so exciting, but time consuming. I’m looking forward to the cooler months and boarding myself up and getting a lot of work done while watching all the classic Spoopy movies.

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What are your current inspirations and how do they work their way into a new piece of embroidery? What imagery would you like to stitch that you have not so far?

I have been going through all the spooky movies and shows on Netflix to get inspired for Halloween season. I’ve watched Stranger Things twice now and keep scrolling through the B Horror flicks while I draw up ideas. Currently I’m working on the Inktober challenge to try and force myself into creating new ideas. Even doodling out simple sketches help, but it’s hard for me to make time to do them, so Inktober is really helping me set aside a little time every day to practice and draw. I would like to do larger pieces and try to get out of the confines of the embroidery hoop. I’m planning on doing some larger wall hangings over the winter months.

What’s your creative space like? What is your ideal environment like for this sort of craft? What sort of music or background noise do you like to have? Candles, incense? Night/day? 

I usually love to have movies on, the kind that you have seen a million times and can play in your head, or Buffy. I have a part time job so when I get home and if I have the energy to work on projects I will usually put on a movie and sit and work for a while. My actual work space is a bit cluttered while I ready myself and my work for a spooky market at Gypsy Warrior a few towns over.

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I understand that you live in NJ–I lived up there for 6-7 years! I moved back to FL in 2010. The autumns and springs are gorgeous there; I’m wondering if seasonal motifs end up amongst your stitches?

I love springs and autumns and the noticeable changes in the seasons. I wouldn’t say that my work reflects them though, but my mood and willpower totally does. I am much lazier in the summer months. I find it harder to focus and accomplish things, since all I want to do is swim, ride bikes and lay around. This will be my first winter out of the city (I lived in and around Brooklyn for a few years) and I am very excited for the peace and quiet that’s to come.

I know you also do commissions, as I was the recipient of something beautiful that you created for me at someone’s request. What’s the weirdest, most interesting thing that anyone’s asked you to create?

A family friend just asked me to try cross stitching for a gift for her mother. Something like, “I wish I was a guppy, because guppies eat their young.” That’s pretty strange, I’d have to say, but she had a smile while she was explaining it to me, so it seems like a fun thing to do. Besides that, the Nine Inch Nails lyrics I did, “God is dead and no one cares” was pretty great, but I got a few messages and emails from followers that did not care for that message. It seems it’s best for them to figure out what I am about sooner than later though.

Thanks so much, Rachel, for sharing with us and for the giveaway!
Find Rachel/YourGothic Granny: Etsy // Ello // Instagram

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13181413_1102462983151489_833798661_nFunny thing. Every time I stumble across a new morbid artist or designer of dark goods and want to do a bit of research on them, and especially if I happen to think “A-ha! Here is something really awesome that no one else knows about yet!”, 9 times out of 10  it is a “Curses, foiled again!” scenario because someone else, smarter and and quicker than me, has discovered and blogged about these macabre luminaries first. And I’ll be damned if it isn’t always the same someone!

One’s first instinct is to be a little irritated. Especially if one is sometimes weirdly competitive about these things. How dare they, right? But then one may smarten up and start to think “…hmm…this individual has an extraordinarily keen eye, utterly exquisite taste, and obviously a wonderfully engaging, compelling manner in writing about all of these things that we both seem to love. Don’t be annoyed, be curious! Who is this fascinating person? Get to know them! You guys are no doubt kindred spirits!”

And of course it was so. Katie Metcalfe celebrates the strange and unusual, the damned and unseen over at her blog, Wyrd Words & Effigies. It is “a path through the dark to wild, forbidden places”, and functions as a space for dark fashion, alternative lifestyles, dark literature, black metal, experimental and ritualistic music, offbeat films, in-depth interviews, relevant articles and links and unsettling visual art and photography.

In getting to know Katie, I discovered she also has a wonderfully enchanting personal blog, or Livslogga (Swedish for “life log”), The Girl With Cold Hands, where she beautifully documents her Nordic journey in her beloved new home. In devouring her daily chronicles, I was reminded very much of how I felt when I read Johanna Spyri’s HeidiHeidi was a favorite book and character of mine while growing up, and Katie is a little bit like a black metal Heidi. Well, except Heidi was in Switzerland, and Katie is in Sweden. But when reading about Katie’s beloved forests and daily rituals, I am brought right back to how I felt when I read Johanna Spyri’s description of the Alpine flowers, the friendly goats and the bright stars seen through a hayloft window at night. The similarity being, I suppose … that there are pure and beautiful and wonderful things in the world–many of them just small moments, little details even–but we must pay attention and open our hearts to these things!

Also–did I mention that Katie is a photographer herself, as well as a poet? Today I talk with her about all of these fascinating things and more–as well as offer you all a chance to win copies of two of Katie’s books, Dying is Forbidden in Longyearbyen and In The Hours Of Darkness. Read below for my interview with Katie Metcalfe and be certain to leave a comment to be entered in our giveaway. One week from today–October 21, 2016–one winner will be chosen at random to receive both of these books.

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Mlle Ghoul: I’ve been following Wyrd Words & Effigies for a long while and love how you consistently and thoughtfully share art and music with the world. Can you tell me a little bit about the things you choose to share? The imagery, aesthetics, and sounds that ensnare and obsess you?

Katie Metcalfe: Wyrd Words & Effigies embodies my lifelong obsession for the strange and macabre, and works as an archive for all of my shadowy finds. I want to offer my readers a path through the dark, a journey across boundaries which separate this world from others.

Everything featured on the blog, ever since the very first post back in 2013 (a review of the gloriously horrifying book The Ritual by Adam Nevil), has been very carefully considered. Whatever it is that I’m presenting, it needs to be able to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. If it keeps me awake at night, even better.

I’m devoted to unearthing art which honours the eerie and untamed, and strengthens the blog’s ‘wyrd’ vibe. Creatives such as Bill Crisafi, Darby Lahger (Old Hag) and Valin Mattheis have been ensnaring me with their work for years. More recently I’ve become infatuated with the freehand, worlds-away-from-anything-else tattoo art of Noel’le Longhaul (Laughing Loone), the gorgeously grim embroidery of Carrie Violet and the moody photography of Anna Ådén.

I’m also a curious bugger. I like to creep underneath the skin of those who inspire me and find out what makes them tick. I’ve interviewed dozens of inspirational souls over the years, including Ragnar Bragason the director of the Icelandic cult film Metalhead, Dayal Patterson author of Black Metal : Evolution of the Cult and Sara Larocca-Ramm co-founder of Sisters of the Black Moon.

Black Metal is an essential part of my everyday life, and is very much at the core of Wyrd Words & Effigies. It offers what other music is unable to, and grants me passage to a deeper understanding of myself. Whilst Black Metal is the leader of the pack over at the blog, anything that snags my heart strings, and introduces me to a new kind of darkness is always introduced and celebrated. Recently I’ve been obsessing over the sounds of Anna Von Hausswolf, Graveyard Train and Phosphorescent.

Side Note : A few years back I created a magazine to accompany the blog. It was my intention to release this publication several times a year, but complications with the second issue saw production grind to a halt. For the first issue I decided to tackle death because, despite my fascination for everything surrounding the subject, it was something I greatly feared. By creating the magazine I was able to confront this fear, and learn to embrace the coming end. You’re able to find a promo video and download link for the magazine here. It’s entirely free to download and read.

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With regard to inspirations and obsessions, do you find that they seek a place in the poetry that you write, or are your poems a space for say, emotions, or other bits of internal flotsam that you are working through?

My devotion to the Far North sees me returning to it time and again in my work. It’s through this devotion that I managed to find my voice as a writer. I’ve spent many years researching into the Inuit and their culture, as well as the folklore of North America and Scandinavia.

Living in Sweden gives me the opportunity to embrace the North tight, and become even more curious about its cold secrets.

Death is an extremely valuable resource for my writing. I’ve used my own experiences with death in my work on many occasions, and have gained from the therapeutic benefits. Through writing poetry about loss, I’ve found the capability to grieve for those who have passed, to heal myself and move forward.

The occult has a powerful influence over what I’m creating, and I’m always looking for the next strange thing to investigate and write about. I write poetry with the hope that it will unsettle the reader, and slip them a chill which is practically impossible to shrug off.

I’m also greatly inspired by the everyday. Spiderwebs embellished with dew, sunlight bleeding through the trees late in the afternoon, or the rise and fall of my boyfriend’s shoulders as he sleeps. By being shackled to our phones we miss so much. I’m making an effort to spend less time in front of a screen, and more time being present and noticing the life I can touch.

I burn to perform, and relish bringing my visualization of the North and its dark wonders to the stage. I tend to don furs and bones when I’m performing. They assist in empowering me, and enable me to better embody the characters in my poems.

As someone who has spent more than half of her life living with mental illness, I often look for new ways to explore the effects of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. Nothing repairs my soul better than creating a poem I can feel proud of. Poetry is an extremely effective way to reach out to people who are struggling, so I always share what I write with the hope that it will cross the path of a person who needs it.

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Have you always written poetry, or is this a more recent creative outlet? What other kinds of writing do you engage in?

I was four years old when I decided that I was going to be a writer, and penned my first poem when I was under double figures after being inspired by a National Geographic documentary about wolves in Yellowstone National Park. My Grandmother used to video tape hours of wolf documentaries for me, and I would spend whole weekends drinking tea, eating beans on toast and sitting wide eyed in front of the TV.

All through my childhood I wrote stories and poems inspired by the supernatural and nature. I would write longhand in books I’d stolen from school, and on a typewriter which my Grandfather found at a carboot sale for a couple of quid. I can remember my Mum complaining about the noise of my typing coming through the kitchen ceiling.

When I was fourteen years old I developed anorexia nervosa, and at fifteen was admitted into a psychiatric ward where I stayed for nine months. It was during this time that I started to write furiously. I would write shitty children’s stories, and poems about my experience with ‘The Voice.’ I kept two diaries, one for the nurses – full of lies, and one for myself – full of self-hate. I spent several hours a day writing my diaries using an elaborate gothic font. If I wrote a word wrong, I’d tear out the page and start again. I’d also write lengthy letters to another anorexic who had a room down the hallway, and the nurses would be our posties, bringing out letters back and forth. Both of us were on bedrest, and walking down the hall to each other’s rooms was forbidden.

Five months after I was admitted into hospital, I felt an urge to recover, to abandon my anorexia. It was then that I decided to write a book about my experiences, and started what was to become my first published book Anorexia : A Stranger In The Family. Writing about my experiences with an eating disorder though poetry and non-fiction, combined with years of CBT and continual support from my family enabled me to eventually make a full recovery.

Writing about my life continues to be a valuable creative outlet for me. I established my first blog in 2004 and have been blogging almost continuously since.

I have completed several (fucking terrible) novels over the past twenty years, but thankfully they never made it to any bookshelves.

13285365_1159277707468966_257380726_nI’ve immensely enjoyed reading your Livslogga, or life log, chronicling your experiences in Sweden. What are some of the things you love most about this beautiful country that you’ve found yourself in? What’s been the most difficult adjustment? And tell me all about the concept of Fika, because I am completely obsessed.

My biggest love is for the man I wake up next to every morning, my True North, and his beautiful daughter. I love his family and friends who’ve welcomed me into their lives with every blessing. I love the forests that surround us, and how I can still, after nearly a year, find secret places to explore. My man is originally from a small town in the middle of Sweden called Hagfors, a place which has cast a spell on me. The town is surrounded by dense forests populated by moose, bears and wolves. We currently live on the outskirts of a city, and when we start the four hour journey to visit his family, I become giddy with happiness, anticipating the roads becoming quieter, the forests thicker and the night sky darker.

The most difficult adjustment I would say has been the language. I love the Swedish tongue and can happily listen to it for hours. However learning it has been more difficult that I imagined. But, my confidence is growing small bit by small bit. The Swedes are also quiet. Very, very quiet, and as a Brit who is used to almost constant chatter, this has taken some getting used to.

Fika is one of my favourite aspects of Swedish culture. To non-Swedes Fika may appear to as simply ‘having coffee,’ but it’s so much more than that. Fika is all about taking a moment to slow down and truly appreciate the moment. If you’re with friends, you enjoy their company. If you’re alone, you can sit quietly and contemplate with your coffee and cinnamon bun. I take a Fika by myself every afternoon or on the rare occasion with a friend, but when we visit my man’s family, it’s a big family affair. We sit around the table with freshly brewed coffee and something delicious made by his mother.

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John Bauer, Elsa Beskow– I see these artists referred to lovingly on your blog quite often. Talk to me a bit about what they mean to you.

I went to a Rudolf Steiner School from the age of 7 – 14 and it was here that I first encountered the worlds of Beskow and Bauer. I grew up surrounded by Germans, Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians and the odd Dane. Scandinavian culture played a pivotal role in our education, from the food we ate, to the decor we crafted at Yuletide, and, of course, the books we read. Nature was an invaluable part of my schooling, and the attitude that everyone around me had towards nature was greatly influenced by the Scandinavian mind-set.

I can remember sitting on the couch at my best friend’s house, working my way through her collection of Beskow books. I would stare for hours at the richly detailed illustrations, imagining that one day I would live amongst similar trees and lakes. My obsession with Bauer’s art was rekindled in 2001 when I listened to the music of Mortiis for the first time. (The video for Parasite God was featured on a video tape I received free with an issue of Kerrang!) I noticed that his logo was in fact a Bauer art work from a popular Swedish Christmas annual Bland Tomtar Och Troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls). Since then I’ve written widely about Bauer and have made numerous pilgrimages to his hometown of Jönköping and Jönköpings Läns Museum which holds the world’s largest collection of Bauer’s work.

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I know that you are an avid thrifter, I’d love it if you could impart of bit of thrift wisdom to us…what’s your secret for finding such amazing things? Do you go shopping with something in mind, or do you go with an open mind and let the shelves and racks of goodies speak to you? Do you have a holy grail item that you’re always on the lookout for?

I’ve been thrifting since I was under double figures, as my family could rarely afford new clothes. My wardrobe has always been 90% second hand. I always go thrifting with an open mind and think that the best pieces of advice that I can provide are to go with plenty of time to spare and go through everything. Don’t leave one rail untouched. If you find something really special and it’s too large, consider getting it altered. I’ve recently started to explore colour, and this has opened up a whole new world for me. Don’t be afraid to step outside your box.

img_6023You spend a great deal of time, it would seem, in your beloved forests, both ambling leisurely and taking it all in, as well as running. I’m not a runner by any means, but I do like a brisk walk, and I am always looking for the perfect sound to accompany my exercise. Do you listen to music when you run? I can imagine you listening to the blackest medal as you traverse through the icy winter trees, but I am totally ok with being wrong! Tell me about some of your favorite music to listen to while running and stretching your limbs in the cold.

Sadly, I don’t have access to music when I’m running! The wind through the trees is my soundtrack. But if I were to choose, I would have my boyfriend’s band Rimfrost blasting in my ears. It has the energy that a lot of black metal lacks.

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I understand that you are also fan of horror films! Is there anything excellent that you’re watching right now and would recommend? And does your choice of reading material fall into the same category? What’s on your bookstand right now?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t infatuated with horror. As a child I would regularly stay with my auntie who was a horror fanatic. I always pillaged her bookshelves before bed,and would lose myself in The World’s Scariest Ghost Stories and Misty annuals from the late 70’s.

While I could read her books, her extensive horror VHS collection was off bounds. I’d hang around it, studying the tape covers obsessively, willing the years away. Having already encountered Anne Rice on her bookshelf, I was particularly taken with Interview With The Vampire, and made the decision that when the day came to choose a video to watch, that would be the one. The day arrived when I was twelve. Needless to say, life was never the same afterwards.

My boyfriend and I have been looking to the past and its offerings in recent months, and have been binging on Stephen King – Thinner, Needful Things and Cujo. The TV series Rose Red and The Langoliers have also made for immensely satisfying binge watching.

I’ve been disappointed with much of the horror released in recent years. Less tits and more atmosphere please. One of the best new(ish) horror films that I’ve seen recently is The Babadook. After twenty years of a diet consisting almost strictly of horror, it takes a lot to unnerve me. But that film…it had all the right ingredients. I was left feeling deeply disturbed and content. Shit, several months after I still get chills when I think of it.

My choice of reading material is generally pretty dark, but at the moment I’m struggling to state my appetite for horror as the library in town has limited English stock! I’m close to finishing Tracks, a haunting tale by Louise Erdrich. I’m looking forward to going to England soon and bringing back some of my favourites, including Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. One of the most unsettling stories that I’ve read in a long while.

12627948_970241439733000_1070742583_n You’ve touched briefly on your blog and elsewhere on issues you’ve struggled with– depression and appearance related insecurities/anxieties, for example–and how you are taking steps to overcome these things. Can you talk about these things, how they’ve affected you, and how you are slowly conquering them? 

I was first diagnosed with depression when I was fourteen, the same time as I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. Mental health issues run in my family on both sides, and I can remember displaying OCD tendencies when I was a small child. My ill mental health meant my teenage years were spent being lonely, thin and terrified. I was teetering on the brink between this world and nowhere for such a long time that I still get surprised that I’m here at all. A good part of my twenties were spent building myself back up from the husk I had become.

Being open about what’s going on in my head is extremely important to me. I spent many years trapped, unable to talk about how I was really feeling. I used to feel ashamed and broken. But I’m no longer afraid to reveal the workings of my head. The stigma that is attached to mental health sickens me, and I want to do my part in pulling down the barrier that separates and alienates people with mental health problems.

I was advised to start taking medication when I was fifteen, but refused. It was only several years later in my mid-twenties when I agreed to start taking meds. They changed my life and helped me to have a quieter head. I came off my medication which helped with anxiety and depression several months ago. But it was a mistake and I went to a bloody dark place for an awfully long time. I’m back on my medication now, and am slowly recovering my true self. My concentration and creativity is still on the weak side but I’m trying to be kind to myself, and accept that it takes a while to get back to full strength. I believe that if we can access help to be the best versions of ourselves, be it medication or talking therapy, we need to fully embrace it.

Thanks very much Katie, for your candor and your openness and for sharing of your life and loves and inspirations with us!

Follow Katie Metalfe for more dark discoveries at Wyrd Words & Effigies and livslogga magic at The Girl With Cold Hands, and don’t forget to leave a comment to win both books of her poetry–Dying is Forbidden in Longyearbyen and In The Hours Of Darkness!

All photography courtesy Katie Metcalfe

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Isn’t a wonderful thing when you discover that someone you admire for one particular reason actually has another, previously unknown-to-you facet that is equally, fascinating?

Captivating songstress Aubrey Rachel Violet Bramble is one half of the duo Golden Gardens, whose shimmering, shadowy sound I became aware of through my dear friend and ghost poet, Sonya Vatomsky. I can think of few greater pleasures than new music to obsess over! Few, that is…except for fragrance. And so you can imagine my surprise when I realized that Aubrey is also a crystal worker, an aromatherapist, and the proprietress of Swan Children Alchemy for which she creates and sells “Oil blends, crystal magic, and herbal wisdom for personal empowerment and maximum luminosity.”

Well, am I the grandchild of the world’s nosiest woman, or what? You know my interest was piqued to a fever pitch and of course I had tons of questions for Aubrey. She has graciously indulged my curiosity below, as well as generously offered a few of her scents for a giveaway here at Unquiet Things!  One winner will be chosen at random on September 23rd and will receive two fragrances listed below. To enter, just leave a comment about your current obsessions, or recommend to us something that you adore! Nothing to repost anywhere, and no, you don’t have to be following either of us on instagram, but I mean, why wouldn’t you want to? Well, just in case, here we are:

Aubrey Rachel Violet Bramble @primaesq
Unquiet Things/S. Elizabeth @ghoulnextdoor

Red Room from the Twin Peaks Collection {Terror. Shadows. Doppelgängers. And a strange little dancing man. The scent of danger, unfiltered. Top notes: hallucinogenic incense smoke; Middle notes: motor oil, scorched wood; Base notes: tobacco ash, ambrette, murky forests}

The Morrigan from the Goddess Collection {A dark and mysterious forest calls to your inner crow through a deathly blend of dragon’s blood, juniper berry, black pepper, fir needle, patchouli, and sweet almond oil with an inky black onyx obelisk holding queenly court in the center of the vial.}

And now…tiptoe past the swan for my Q&A with Aubrey!

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You’re a self-professed perfume addict–I am curious about the fragrances you loved when you were younger, how your tastes have changed and evolved, and what scents you are obsessing over now.

The very first “fancy” fragrance I can remember falling in love with (and one that I just wore yesterday) was Cacharel’s “LouLou.” I remember my parents purchasing it for me on a cruise ship vacation we took when I was 11. A couple of years ago, it popped back into my mind after reading Luca Turin’s and Tania Sanchez’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, and I went on a mad search for it. I now wear it regularly and always get stopped by people wanting to know what I’m wearing. It’s so oddly sweet and dark and juicy and musky and intoxicating. It’s a gem.

As for the progression of my scent addiction over the years, it wasn’t always tasteful. I had an embarrassing spell of time when I wore “Exclamation!” in middle school and a peer-pressure-inspired “CK One” phase in high school (hard to type that without rolling my eyes). Luckily, post high school I seemed to be a little more mindful and discerning in my scent selections, though clearly there’s been a maturation over time. In college and directly after, I was obsessed with the original self-titled Anna Sui fragrance. The bottle and design just captured my little romantic goth heart! My early 20s were dominated by Givenchy’s “Hot Couture” and Hanae Mori’s “Butterfly.” My mid-twenties were all about “Lolita Lempicka” and Narciso Rodriguez’s “Her.” Later I became consumed by Tom Ford’s “Black Orchid: Voile de Fleur” and Fresh’s “Cannabis Santal” and “Cannabis Rose.” I’m probably still in my peak obsession phase; I currently have (and wear and love) Diptyque’s “Volutes” and “34,” Atelier Cologne’s “Orange Sanguine,” Fiele Fragrances’ “Viola,” Raw Spirit’s “Smoke,” Chanel’s “Sycomore” and “Coromandel,” Serge Lutens’ “Fille en Aiguilles,” and Santa Maria Novella’s “Gardenia.”

I tend to gravitate towards more woodsy, incense-y fragrances and super rich, dark florals. And I love strange combinations/unusual pairings of notes. I like to think of my perfume style as one part Josie Packard, one part Bjork, and one part Elizabeth Taylor – mysterious, avant-garde, decadent. My absolute favorite current perfume house is Byredo. I love and regularly wear their “Oud Immortel.” My number one signature scent of the moment is their “Black Saffron.”

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Your Twin Peaks inspired line of perfumes is such an intriguing idea! Tell us what was it about Twin Peaks that captured your imagination? Twenty five years later have you found anything else that measures up?

I remember being allowed to watch Twin Peaks when it first aired, when I was about 11 years old. (11 seems to be the magic age for this interview, huh?) It was just so completely imaginative and non-traditional. It mesmerized me, and began a lifelong David Lynch crush. I have yet to find anything that holds the intensity of magic in my heart that Twin Peaks does. I suppose being introduced to it at such a young and impressionable age has a little bit to do with the intensity of romanticism I give it, but I also think part of the magic of it all is the window of time it originally unfolded in – before that sort of adventurous programming was a regular occurrence, and before some of the more restrictive and bland/formulaic standards of modern media really dug into society. My line of Twin Peaks perfumes came about because I always found myself wondering what each of the characters smelled like, what certain environments reeked of, etc. It’s been a really fun project to explore, asking myself questions like, “Would Shelly with all that amazing spiral-curled 90s hair smell like mousse and curl spray?” Probably.

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If you could choose to bottle a scent right now capturing the essence of current artistic zeitgeist or inspired by a piece of 2016 pop culture, what do you think that might be?

I’d have to say what inspires me most about current events/current arts/the current evolution of humanity is the dissolution of and breaking free from the more restrictive and traditional ways society “expects” people to exist in the world. Despite the increased persecution and destruction and authoritarian control and trauma, people seem to be having these beautiful personal transformations in the way they express themselves both internally and externally. There seems to be a heightened commitment to authenticity and reclamation of individual power. I look at what is going on with the resurgence and rebirth of witchcraft, gender roles, self-expression, ways of earning a living. It’s really exhilarating and motivating and exciting. If I were to “bottle” that feeling or movement, I like to imagine it would be something incredibly animalistic and wild, something strangely juxtaposed and with an unmistakable presence. I immediately think of notes like aldehyde, vinyl, galbanum. Those notes that either turn you off or turn you on. It’d be a very cilantro fragrance haha.

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You mention the healing power and wisdom of stones and crystals with regard to your mystical education. I am wondering when you first noticed this deep connection and how did it develop? And personally, I am always interested in practical applications of metaphysical and psychic knowledge–I am wondering how you might utilize these philosophies and principles on a day-to-day basis?

I have always loved a pretty, sparkly crystal. My cousin used to bribe me with loose rhinestones that he told me were diamonds when i was really little, and of course I always took the bait. In my early teens I began to immerse myself in witchcraft and metaphysics, so that’s when my current connection to the magic of stones and crystals really began. What I love most about working with crystals and stones is that they are three-dimensional, physical tools – objects you can hold in your hand or place on your body and actually feel energy around. I regularly add whole crystals to my perfume/oil blends, or infuse them with a handcrafted gem essence, to add an element of vibrational magic to the potions. I wear crystals and stones as jewelry everyday, for specific intentions around energies I am trying to manifest, balance, be shielded from, increase, etc. I dream, journey, and meditate with crystals; I have conversations with them. If you intentionally tune in to the crystals and stones, they have a lot of information for you. Just sitting and holding one in your hand and asking it to share its magic with you can be pretty transformative and powerful. We all come from the Earth; sitting with a crystal is a beautiful way to reconnect with that energy.

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In addition to a perfumer, aromatherapist and crystal worker, you’re also a musician! Can you tell us as to how that came about?

I’ve always wanted to sing in a band. Always. All of my idols are dreamy vocalists (Kate Bush, Elizabeth Frasier, Harriet Wheeler, Julee Cruise). Lucky for me, my friend Gregg was looking to start a dreampop project a few years ago but was having trouble finding a singer. I asked if I could give it a try, and voila! Golden Gardens was born. We wrote one song, three more immediately followed, and within a month or so we had our first EP (Somnambulist). Now we’re working on album number three! I really love collaborating with Gregg – I feel like we are psychic music twins. We each have a very independent and unique way of working that – when combined in a final composition – creates a beautiful complexity of sound and harmony with a depth and intricacy all our own.

Photo credit: Jonath Ochs
Photo credit: Jonath Ochs

Dark, lustrous, shimmering–these are just a few words to describe Golden Gardens’ shoegaze/dream pop sound, billed as mystical music for “ghosts and shadowy spectres.” What’s your inspiration for the forthcoming album, and would you say that your sound or tone has shifted with the new stuff? And if so, why the shift?

The new record “Reign” is all about dismantling the Patriarchy and reclaiming personal power. All of the songs were inspired by fierce female archetypes throughout mythology and history. It’s an invocation to the warrior queens and the enchantresses, the priestesses and the mystics – those parts of ourselves that the status quo works so hard to shame and contain and erase.

Our sound has definitely shifted over the years, but I feel like it’s been a slow, continuous shift. We were definitely more “shoegazey” when we first started, and these days our sound is decidedly more pop-oriented. But if you’ve listened to us from the beginning, or if you go through and listen to the releases in order, I think you can hear that progression unfold in a natural, intelligent way. No matter what genre we are playing with I think one thing is always consistent, and that’s our dark mood. Everything we create has a bit of a somber overglow, even the so-called happier songs. And I absolutely love that about us. Doom and gloom 4eva.

Jumping back in time a bit, I saw that you worked with Marissa Nadler and Leslie Hall (!!!!) on a few projects; these are two wildly different musicians that I think I can say that I adore equally. Can you tell me what it was like working with them?Do you have any dreamy, pie-in-the-sky wishlist musicians or artists that you would like to work with? Who are they, and why?

Before I moved to Seattle in 2009, I was living in Tampa, FL and writing for a regional arts and music publication which provided me the opportunity to talk to/work with some of my favorite artists and musicians. Marissa Nadler and Leslie Hall were two of them. I got to interview Marissa a couple of times around the release of her album “Songs III,” and later create a music video for one of her earlier compositions, “Virginia.” (My background is in film and television.) She was always really lovely to interact with, and I’m so glad she’s become a more well-known musical name in recent years because her work is always fantastic. Meeting and working with Leslie was also pretty spectacular. She is a smart lady, that one.

As for dreamy, pie-in-the-sky wishlist artists, from a musical perspective I would love to collaborate with Max Richter or Dirty Beaches. If I could convince Gregg Araki to direct a Golden Gardens music video that would be magic.

Tell me about the art/music scene in Seattle. Do you find it to be a relatively welcoming, supportive community? And is there anything good coming out of Seattle right now that we should know about? Also, if a kindred spirit, someone with similarly gothy inclinations wanted to visit your fair city (HINT: IT ME), what are some things that you’d recommend or suggest for them?

The Seattle art/music scene is very supportive. Or, rather, it’s very encouraging. I feel like the opportunities are endless here if you’re willing to do the work to make them happen. I feel very lucky to be in a place where I can make my art and have an audience for it, feel support from the community-at-large. That is definitely a gift. The journalists, the DJs, the promoters in this town are all art and music lovers (and many times artists and musicians themselves) which makes the “scene” even stronger in my opinion. It’s a very creative town.

There are so many great things coming out of Seattle it’s hard to select a few. I am definitely loving all of the local female, trans and non-binary magic being created in this town at the moment. And I do have to say we have our witchy wares on lock with so many rad local independent witch-owned businesses (do a quick #seattle search on IG or Etsy). As for a mini-list of local-gem specifics, everyone should read Sonya Vatomsky, listen to Belgian Fog, buy art from Kirk Damer and Heidi Estey, and gaze at anything made by Allyce Andrew.

If a kindred spirit was in Seattle for 24 hours, I’d recommend they hit the following spots: Gargoyles Statuary in the University District for gothy delights, The Cunning Crow Apothecary in Greenwood for witchy wares, The Belfry in Pioneer Square for all things undead, Essenza in Fremont for luxe perfume magic, Ballard Consignment for amaze vintage treasures, Sun Liquor Lounge on Capitol Hill for a decadent cocktail, Pony on Capitol Hill for Bloodlust and/or Hero Worship, Easy Street Records in West Seattle and Everyday Music on Capitol Hill for music finds, grocery shopping at Uwajimaya and book shopping at Kinokuniya in the International District, and you must visit the grave of Brandon Lee in Lake View Cemetery because, duh.

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Between ‘fuming and crystal slinging and singing and songwriting, what do you get up to in your spare time?

Witching, Netflix binging, black cat cuddles, skinnydipping in alpine lakes, being out in nature, cooking, reading everything by Dion Fortune, drinking mass quantities of La Croix, overfilling my social schedule, worrying about everything, buying $30 lipgloss, thrift shopping to find all the All That Jazz 90s dresses a girl can uncover.

I’m always curious as to what folks are currently into/digging on: are there any books/music/movies/television/whatevers that you’ve indulged in recently and that you would recommend to Unquiet Things readers?

Books: I read a lot of witchy reference books, too many to list; Essence and Alchemy – Mandy Aftel; The Magdalen Manuscript – Tom Kenyon; I am also finally getting around to reading The Mists of Avalon and I love it
Music: Been digging Samaris recently, also “Lost Boys” by Still Corners has been my jam this summer and even though it came out awhile ago I can never get enough of iamamiwhoi’s Blue album
Movies: The Neon Demon on repeat; Teen Witch always; The Sisterhood of Night; White Bird in a Blizzard
TV: Marcella, The Ascent of Woman, Stranger Things, Penny Dreadful, The Night Of, and The Great British Baking Show
Etc: I am currently obsessed with the weekly Pele Report by Kaypacha. Everyone should watch it. He’s on YouTube, you can look it up.

Thanks again, Aubrey, for your time and generosity. And darling readers–don’t forget to leave a comment to be entered in the giveaway!

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(This was originally written for and posted at After Dark In the Playing Fields in 2010, by my partner in the enterprise at that time, who shall henceforth be known as A Kindred Spirit)

‘Valancourt? and who was he?’ cry the young people. Valancourt, my dears, was the hero of one of the most famous romances which ever was published in this country. The beauty and elegance of Valancourt made your young grandmammas’ gentle hearts to beat with respectful sympathy. He and his glory have passed away. Ah, woe is me that the glory of novels should ever decay… Inquire at Mudie’s, or the London Library, who asks for ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ now? Have not even ‘The Mysteries of Paris’ ceased to frighten? Alas! our best novels are but for a season…“

–William Makepeace Thackeray

Several years ago, I returned to upstate NY after spending several months living in semi-tropical Taiwan. That winter was particularly cold and I spent much of it huddled under woolen blankets on the couch reading anything that was within arm’s reach. Eventually, I had to venture out to an actual bookstore, where on a whim I picked up a reprint of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Victorian gothic thriller Uncle Silas (1865). To my surprise, I became completely engrossed in the plot twists set in its creepy conspiracy-laden corridors. All too soon, the book was finished and I was unable to find anything remotely like it.

Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I had two newly reprinted gothic novels from Valancourt Books in the mail before I could despair too much. (As you can see from above, more have followed.)

Valancourt Books is an independent small (micro) press founded in late 2004 and presently based in Kansas City, specializing in quality new editions of rare literature from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. They now have over 102 books in print, with many more on the way, in a variety of genres, but mainly focusing on Gothic, Romantic and Victorian literature.

Recently, I had the opportunity to ask James D. Jenkins, the publisher and editor of Valancourt Books, some questions about this type of literature and the appeal of this genre to readers in the twenty-first century.

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OTB: What makes these types of works considered “gothic”–and how did you become interested in this type of literature? What is your favorite work of this type?

JDJ: Really, looking back, I think I’ve always been drawn to the Gothic. I remember one summer as a child when my dad sent me to the public library and told me to bring home a classic book to read. I came home with Dracula, which apparently wasn’t what he had in mind. But, as far as the types of Gothic works that Valancourt Books specializes in, I first became interested in those as an undergraduate. I recall being in the university library one afternoon and stumbling across this old book in a black binding called The Castle of Otranto. Something about it intrigued me, and I took it home and stayed up late that night reading it. I was totally riveted by it (and still am!) I started reading other Gothic novels and was completely fascinated by books like Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer. The press, of course, is named after the hero of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, which I first stumbled upon in the bookstore at the Roma Termini train station when I was 20. I read it for the first time in a medieval castle I stayed at in a place called Montagnana, Italy. I’ve really been hooked ever since.

As far as what makes them Gothic, I guess that’s a little hard to define. It’s one of those things where you know it when you see it. Most of them do share common elements, such as being set in ruined castles or monasteries and featuring heroines in distress and dastardly villains, as well as common set pieces like skeletons, phantoms, rusty daggers, old manuscripts, and the like. Typically in the old Gothic novels, those published between 1764 and 1830, there are two main types-–the “terror Gothic,” which attempted to terrify the reader through mystery and suspense, and the “horror Gothic,” which tended to shock readers with explicit sex and violence. As for a favorite, I don’t know if I could pick one. I really love The Castle of Otranto, which I’ve read repeatedly, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, which always amazes me. Among the minor Gothics, I’m a huge fan of The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest (1794) and Francis Lathom’s The Midnight Bell (1798), two of Jane Austen’s “Horrid Novels.”*

What made you decide to found a press? I know I was fortunate enough to stumble across your website several years ago–there really were no other publishers of these kinds of novels at that time. Have you encountered any particular difficulties unique to this kind of business?

I think you were actually our first customer! I’m glad you found us! The short story of how the press was founded is that I graduated law school in 2004 and couldn’t find a job. I had a lot of time on my hands in between applying for work, and by that time I had read all of the dozen or so classic Gothic novels published by Oxford and Penguin. I wanted to read more, but they just weren’t available. I started thinking, “Someone should be publishing more of these,” and then somehow it just hit me that rather than wait for someone else to do it, I could start doing it. So, I started spending my free time typing The Animated Skeleton and The Castle of Ollada from microfiche, and now, over 100 books later, I’ve never looked back!

 Some of these works could rightly be considered, for lack of a better word, the “bestsellers” of their day. Why did the majority of these works go out of print, in spite of their original popularity? Why did certain works like those of Radcliffe or Walpole, remain in print over the years? Were they really that much better in terms of story quality than the ones that faded into relative obscurity?

That’s a great question, and I don’t think there’s an easy answer to it. Just like today, I’m sure a lot of these books were published back then to critical disdain and poor sales and didn’t go into a second edition. Many of them quite deservedly fell out of print. But then there are some that make you scratch your head. Eaton Stannard Barrett’s The Heroine (1813), which we are preparing for the press at the moment, comes to mind. It was hugely popular and went through several editions, and found numerous admirers, among them Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe. It’s also incredibly funny, even two hundred years later. Why did satires of Gothic literature by writers like Austen and Thomas Love Peacock survive in print into the 21st century, while Barrett’s did not? I don’t know. The great thing is that with the greater availability of rare old texts through sources like Google Books and other electronic and print sources, more and more of these books can be rediscovered and those that were undeservedly lost can be republished in new editions.

 Despite their sometimes initial popularity, these works were often marginalized and dismissed by the critics of the time, considered pulp or cheap entertainments. Over the years, they only became of interest to academics or other specialists–do you see a value in bringing these works back into print for something other than scholarly pursuits? Are they worthwhile to the modern reader simply as historical artifacts or for an intrinsic entertainment value?

I guess that depends on taste! A lot of our readers enjoy these works simply for their entertainment value. In fact, I’ve never liked to think of them as historical artifacts and I’ve tried to encourage our editors to avoid that sort of thing in their introductions. I mean, with all the books available-–both classics and contemporary literature – why would you want to waste your time reading something that’s only worthwhile as an historical artifact? That said, I think I’d have to concede that we’ve published one or two that were of more interest for their rarity than their literary value!

Why do you think gothic literature could still resonate with readers today?

I think the Gothic has always resonated with readers. Even in ancient texts, you find mention of such things as ghosts and apparitions, and of course in early British literature, such as Shakespeare’s plays, you pretty regularly find things like phantoms and witches. These sorts of works of course gave rise to the Gothic works of authors like Walpole and Radcliffe. But I think it would be a mistake to assume that the Gothic ever really went away. In the Victorian era, you had mystery and supernatural works by writers like Wilkie Collins and Sheridan Le Fanu, and a little later popular novelists like Richard Marsh and Bram Stoker. Even in recent years, we’ve had Stephen King, Anne Rice, and now Stephenie Meyer. I think something about the Gothic, about scary stories and tales of horror and mystery, is a universal impulse-–it’s something that has always existed both in our literature and other countries’ literatures, and that I think always will.

What are your most popular titles? Do any have a surprising popularity or affect readers in unexpected ways? I would imagine that the lesser known works of Bram Stoker or perhaps the previously mentioned “Horrid Novels” would have especial appeal to someone interested in this type of literature.

You’re absolutely right. The Horrid Novels and works by authors that are better known, like Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker, tend to be among our best sellers. One book that, year in, year out, is always among our bestsellers, though, and which I always find surprising, is George Brewer’s The Witch of Ravensworth (1808). It’s really a wonderful little book and I’m happy that people have discovered it, but I’m nonetheless always a little perplexed at the levels of its sales.

 I have noticed over the last few years that Valancourt Books has been expanding in scope to include titles from the later Victorian period as well as the twentieth century. What was your motivation to include these sorts of books in the catalogue? Are there still more areas you might decide to cover in the future?

Well, one thing that tends to happen when you have your own press (and especially when it’s a one-person press) is that what the press publishes tends pretty much to be whatever you’re interested in. As I’ve gotten older and read more widely in other areas, I’ve discovered new areas of interest and other obscure works that I wanted to bring back into print and share with readers. One of these is the popular literature of the 1890s, which is just an amazing decade. It’s in the 1890s that Sherlock Holmes rises to prominence, that we get characters like Dorian Gray, Dracula, and The Beetle, and perhaps even more importantly, it’s the decade where the three-volume novel that had dominated publishing for a century or more and had made books largely unaffordable to everyday readers was finally abandoned in favor of inexpensive, one-volume editions that were accessible to all. So we start to see just an explosion of popular, thrilling, cheap novels, many of which are truly fascinating and worthy of new attention. We’ve also started doing some gay-themed literature from the early 20th century, which is another interest of mine, and something that’s getting a lot of scholarly attention these days. Presently we don’t have plans for any new series, although we plan to continue expanding our 18th century and Victorian collections, which have been gradually growing.

What titles will be forthcoming over the next year or so? Is there anything particularly intriguing or obscure that you’re still trying to track down for future publication? Are there some known works so hard to locate that original copies to work from do not exist or are too rare to even get access to?

JDJ: Probably the two that are the most highly anticipated are the final two “Horrid Novels”: Horrid Mysteries by Carl Grosse and Eleanor Sleath’s The Orphan of the Rhine, probably the two rarest of the lot. Although probably twenty, thirty years ago, there would have been works so rare that you couldn’t get copies of them, that’s not really the case anymore. With online library catalogs like Worldcat and COPAC, it’s pretty quick and easy to find out what libraries hold a given book. And although the books we publish are usually so rare that the copies do not circulate, with modern reproduction and scanning technology, the books can usually be copied or scanned for us (for an often lofty price!) For example, The Forest of Valancourt (1813), which we published in hardcover, survives in only one known copy–-at the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and we were able to get a photocopy of it so we could republish it. There are a couple old Gothic novels mentioned in reference works that we have not been able to track down (the most notable is probably W. H. Ireland’s Bruno; or, The Sepulchral Summons), but for some of these lost works, we have been unable to verify after extensive research that they ever really existed in the first place.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. As always, I wish you and everyone at Valancourt Books every possible success for making these titles available to everyone.

JDJ: Thanks, Jessica, always a pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity to share some info about Valancourt Books with you and your readers!

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Valancourt Books’ list of currently published works can be found here; they are widely available at Amazon or other booksellers.

*The “Horrid Novels” refers to a selection of 18th century Gothic fiction mentioned by Jane Austen in her gothic satire, Northanger Abbey. Most of the ‘horrid novels’ were believed to be inventions of Austen until the early twentieth century. For a complete list of titles, see here. Valancourt Books has published five of the seven and has plans to release the other two in the future.

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I recently interviewed musician Gemma Fleet of The Wharves on her project “Lost Voices” Volume 1. “Keening and the Death Wail”. Gemma provides us with a fascinating look at a dramatic mourning tradition as it relates to the Irish funeral and other cultures worldwide, as well as tackling it from a feminist perspective, and how it ties into the grieving process.

Keening & the Death Wail | Death & the Maiden

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