Gertrude Abercrombie. “Strange Shadows (Shadows and Substance)”, 1950.

I’ve written way too many words already about the process of putting together a visually-rich, image-heavy book like The Art of Darkness (or The Art of the Occult, for that matter), but suffice it to say there are many, many reasons why a piece of art, maybe even a piece of art you had expected to see, might not show up within the pages of these books. So many reasons! And sure, it’s possible that maybe this or that artist/artwork didn’t occur to me to include them, I mean, I haven’t seen all the art there is to see in the world, and I don’t know everything there is to know …but I’m fairly confident in telling you that whatever it is you think might be missing from a book of dark-themed art, those omissions probably don’t boil down to reasons of me forgetting it or not being aware of its existence. 

Many people have asked me questions along the of what’s not in the book and why, or what I would have liked to have included but could not, so I thought you might be interested to see a handful of works that I would have loved to have featured in The Art of Darkness, but for whatever reason, we just weren’t able to work it out.

I want to repeat that I am so, so beyond thankful and grateful to the artists that I was able to work with! This book would have never come together if not for you! And I don’t think these missing works detract from the overall book-I’m very happy with it!

Still… there are a few of them that felt a little tragic not to see them in the finished project. See below for a gallery of art-shaped holes in my heart (and book), as well as some notes/thoughts on each.


Baba Yaga with Moth and Beetle, Tin Can Forest

Tackling “ancient narratives from the perspective of the shadows,” Tin Can Forest is the collaborative duo comprised of Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek. Illustrated with moody, fog-saturated colors,  drawing inspiration from the forests of Canada, Slavic art, and occult folklore, and interwoven with secretive symbolism, esoteric emblems, and magical motifs, these fables meander and twist, a miscellany of deep folklore and nonsensical cautionary tales, and populated by a nightmarish menagerie of creatures, spirits, and familiars.



A Witch, Edgar Bundy 1896 oil on canvas

Edgar Bundy (1862 1922) specialized in detailed historical paintings in oil and watercolor, typically in a narrative style, a genre which was very popular in the Edwardian time Bundy lived in. In March 1895 a newspaper headline in England read: The Tipperary Wife Burning, describing the tragic and violent death of an Irish woman named Bridget Cleary, a dressmaker who was immolated alive as a witch by her husband and family. The death of Bridget Clearly became a focal point of culture while the trial ensued; at the time, Irish home rule was an active political issue in England, and the press coverage of the Cleary case intensified the debate over the Irish people’s ability to govern themselves. The public would have been reminded of Bridget Cleary case when viewing this painting wherein Bundy has possibly portrayed a witch to remind the British public of Ireland’s superstition, and to question their own opinions about whether or not Ireland was capable of ruling itself. Or, although darkly fantastical, it is merely just a depiction of someone’s idea of a witch.


 Circe resplendens  Margaret Deborah Cookesley 1913

Margaret Deborah Cookesley  (1844-1927)  was an English painter who traveled to the Middle East and painted scenes in oils and watercolors. Cookesley is noted to have visited Constantinople, where the sultan commissioned a portrait of his son; he was so pleased with this that he asked her to paint his wives as well, but she did not have time for this commission. She exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Society of Women and was awarded the Order of the Chefakat and the Medaille des Beaux-Arts in the Ottoman Empire. Scholars point out that Cookesley’s work was intended for a mass market rather than as a form of high art. Thus, instead of appearing in museums, her paintings entered private collections where they continue to be traded among collectors. Circe here, despite her powerful splendor, wears a look of loneliness and loss as she stares away from us to something just outside the canvas. Perhaps she also wishes this artist’s splendid works were more widely known. 


La Celestina, Pablo Picasso 1904

Painted during his Blue Period, in La Celestina  (1881–1973) Pablo Picasso depicts an old woman who is dressed in somber colors, partially blind, as indicated by her milky, malformed eye. The painting is said to be inspired by Spanish literature, a character, also named Celestina, in a 15th century Spanish play, Aurora Roja. In the play, Celestina is a sorceress and procuress who casts magical spells and mixes portions. It is reported that Picasso was always fascinated by Spanish literature, ever since his adolescent years. While in Spain, he read various editions of the Spanish play. The theme of blindness had a personal meaning for Picasso, who so predominantly lived by his eyes. Equating this infliction with a sharpening of the senses, blindness signified a deeper vision; a true glimpse of reality without the restriction of physical sight.


Untitled, Zdzislaw Beksinski, 1972.

Polish painter, photographer, and sculptor Zdzisław Beksiński (1929–2005) specialized in dark visions of dystopian surrealism. Beksiński had no formal training as an artist but made his paintings and drawings in what he called either a ‘Baroque’ or a ‘Gothic’ manner. In the late 1960s, he entered what he referred to his ‘fantastic period’, which would last until the mid-1980s. During this time, he created very disturbing images of nightmarish post-apocalyptic environments with intensely detailed scenes of death, decay, and landscapes filled with skeletons, deformed figures, and deserts. At the time, Beksiński claimed, ‘I wish to paint in such a manner as if I were photographing dreams.’ For the most part, the artist insisted that even he did not know the meaning of his artworks and was uninterested in possible interpretations; in keeping with this, he refused to provide titles for any of his drawings or paintings. 


Goddess with Flares, from the portfolio “On Fire”, Judy Chicago 1972, printed 2013, inkjet print on paper

Judy Chicago (b. 1939) is an artist, author, feminist, educator, and intellectual who for over five decades, has remained fiercely steadfast in her commitment to the power of art as a vehicle for intellectual transformation and social change. Her audacious and genre-defying practice spans painting, textile arts, sculpture, and installation. Judy Chicago first turned to pyrotechnics in the late 1960s, during a time when the southern California art scene was almost entirely male dominated. Chicago recognizing the divinity of the Earth and our necessity to protect it from ourselves has noted, “I spent a considerable amount of time working on images of the feminine as sacred, drawing on scholarship that had demonstrated that all early societies were goddess worshipping,” she says. ”We need a God figure beyond gender so that both men and women can see themselves in the Godhead.” 


Eve & Lilith, Harmonia Rosales

From the inception of her career, contemporary artist Harmonia Rosales’s (b.?) primary artistic focus has been that of Black female empowerment in Western culture.  Her paintings, depicting and honoring the African diaspora, seeks to reimagine new forms of aesthetic beauty through art that challenges ideological hegemony in contemporary society. The black female bodies in her paintings are in memory of her ancestors, expressed in a way to heal and promote self-love. In Michelangelo’s ‘Fall and Expulsion of Man’ and Titan’s painting ‘The Fall of Man,’ Lilith is portrayed as the snake of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Rosales reframes Eve’s encounter as not one of sin, rather awakening, and that ultimately, Eve and Lilith are one and the same.

The Fates / Les Parques Gustav Adolf Mossa  1917

A French artist and late Symbolist painter whose eccentricities evoke Surrealism but whose obsession with femme fatales and hearkens to the preoccupations that haunt the decadent imagination. Gustav Adolf Mossa’s works are watercolor delicacies that bely their entrancingly eerie themes and perverse delights. The Fates are a common motif in European polytheism, most frequently represented as a trio of goddesses who shaped the destiny of each human, often expressed in textile metaphors such as spinning fibers into yarn, or weaving threads on a loom. The Fates were three female goddesses who shaped people’s lives, determining how a person would live and their individual allotment of misery. These three arbiters of kismet and consequence wear knowing expressions, as if to assure us that “our suffering will be legendary, even in hell.”

THE WHORE BABYLON, Ernst Fuchs (Draft for the Parish of St. Egyd, Parish Church of Klagenfurt), 1995
Oil-egg tempera, mixed media on wood panel

Ernst Fuchs (1930 – 2015) was an Austrian painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, architect, stage designer, composer, poet, and one of the founders of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.  His paintings, sculpture, and prints address themes of religion and mysticism, executed in luminous colors and textures, which is achieved by mixing egg tempera with paint and resin. The Whore of Babylon is described in the verses 17:3—4 in Book of Revelation: “And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of names of blasphemy with seven heads and ten horns. The woman was garbed in purple and scarlet, and gilded with gold, gems, and pearls, and bearing a golden goblet in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication.” Babylon the Great, commonly known as the Whore of Babylon, refers to both a symbolic female figure and place of evil Fuch’s version of this grand dame of apocalyptic significance is rendered in the artist’s typical textured and sumptuous style, and she looks like she came to party.


Llanthony Abbey, John Craxton, 1942 Ink and watercolour on board

John Craxton 1922–2009 was championed from the age of 19 as one of the great hopes of modern painting in Britain. Born into a large, musical, and bohemian family in London, the artist has been described as a Neo-Romantic, but he called himself a “kind of Arcadian.” This drawing is of the medieval Llanthony Abbey which stands in an isolated position on the bottom of a steep valley in the Black Mountains, South Wales. A portent of writhing, menacing vegetation frames the ruined Gothic abbey; this sense of an imperiled bit of secluded paradise had resonated considerably in wartime Britain.

A Little Medicine and Magic, Julie Buffalohead 2018, oil on canvas

Contemporary Indigenous American Julie Buffalohead (b.1972) creates visual narratives through personal metaphors to describe the American Indian cultural experience.  As a member of the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, Buffalohead uses storytelling and an eclectic palette of imagery expressed through whimsical anthropomorphic animal subjects and trickster tropes to link the mythical with the ordinary, the imaginary, and the real. Through wit, wisdom and metaphor, we become aware of additional layers of meaning when engaged with her world– themes of racial injustice, indigenous rights, and abuse of power.

Swan, James Jean, 2008

James Jean (b. 1979) creates simultaneously lush and decaying fantasy worlds populated by mythical creatures in his complex, mesmerizing large-scale paintings brimming with allegorical and contemporary imagery. Fusing inspiration from the archaic, the rare, and the unconscious,  the artist incorporates elements of traditional Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, Renaissance portraiture, comic books, and anime into these exquisitely detailed compositions. As he experiments with such different styles and art historical genres, Jean blurs the boundary between past and present and between Eastern and Western artmaking in his timeless dreamworlds. 


“Destroyer II,” Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum’s  2020, pencil, oil, and acrylic on wood panel.

Driven by a fascination with ancient mythologies, and ethenography multidisciplinary artist Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum (b.1980)   muses on the origins of time and theories on the nature of the universe. Her works on paper, large-scale installations, and stop-motion films are rooted in autobiography, addressing the development of transnational identities, human connections, and cross-border rituals. Sunstrum’s drawings take the form of narrative landscapes that appear simultaneously futuristic and ancient, showing Black female identity to be fluid and ever-changing, a multiplicity of stories across time and often negotiate what it means to be both the hero and the villain of the same story.


Remix 01, Amanda Arcuri 2020  

Contemporary photographer Amanda Arcuri (b?) explores our connection with the natural world around us. Through various techniques like dramatic lighting and long exposures in her surreally vivid photographic works, she accentuates the beauty and poetry of decaying foliage. Arcuri ritualistically burns the discarded and expired floral arrangements, using the flame and the act of burning as metaphors for change and upheaval, a dynamic opposition wherein the viewer is challenged to contemplate the ways in which they experience change and time.


The Slow Rising Smoke From Your Bedroom Window at 6:23am, Fumi Mini Nakamura, 2014, graphite and ink on Bristol papers

Though illustrator and designer Fumi Mini Nakamura (b. 1984) lives and works in the NYC-area, she was born in a small town in Japan, growing up surrounded by lofty mountains and endless ocean– a rural upbringing which has unmistakably impacted her art, which features beautifully rendered flora and fauna. Nakamura pulls from the subconscious, using metaphor and imagery to create striking pieces with each aspect carefully considered to represent elements of life, memory, body, and soul.

Old Faun (The Parterres of Aranjuez series) Santiago Rusiñol Aranjuez, 1911 oil on canvas

Santiago Rusiñol i Prats (1861 -1931) was a Spanish Post-Impressionist and Symbolist painter, poet, and playwright.  Well known for his landscape art and garden canvases, he created more than a thousand paintings and it seems he died doing what he loved in 1931, while painting its famous gardens. On the surface, while not an overtly dark piece, this oil painting depicts a labyrinth awash in autumnal glow. However, the mesmerizing, winding routes of a maze can be an uncanny thing to contemplate, and for the cleithrophobic (the fear of being trapped) amongst us, this escape room avant le letter can certainly seem an endless nightmare! But remember, labyrinths are ancient archetypes, tools for personal, psychological and spiritual transformation. Used as a walking meditation, choreographed dance, or site of rituals and ceremony among other things, labyrinths evoke metaphor, mindfulness, environmental art, and community building. There’s not always a monster waiting for you at its center. Sometimes there’s nothing waiting for us at all. The importance was in the getting there. (And getting back out!)


Harm Less, Sonia Rentsch 

Australian artist Sonia Rentsch (b?) is known for her clever concepts and eccentric still life scenes with a signature a dash of theatrical play and surrealism. With an eye for composition, she strives to “find the beauty in everything,” even instruments of violence. Her Harm Less series depicts a series of weapons made from organic materials –sticks, leaves, seeds, spikes, leaves, twigs, and flowers– which reflect the human proclivity to take elements of our environment and manipulate them through technology to suit our desires. Though the detailing is immense, these weapons are far from functional. They do, however, resemble forms which are instantly recognizable and invoke an emotional response.  


All the Flowers and Insects, Toru Kamei 2013 Oil on Linen mounted on Panel

Tokyo-born artist Toru Kamei (b. 1976) is renowned for painting what he calls “beautiful nightmares,” bewitching oil scenes combining classical painting techniques with surrealist concepts that balance nature and morbidity. Reminiscent of vanitas paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, these works juxtapose motifs such as abundant blooming flowers and grim, hollow-eyed skulls, and a masterful use of lighting and color that suffuses these scenes of death and decay with a glowing opulence and a hushed sense of mystery and yearning through which little souls flit and flutter, seemingly untethered, yet connecting it all. 

Indovina Nicola Samorì  (2017) Oil on panel

Nicola Samorì (b. 1977) creates in an aura of darkness and Baroque-influenced drama, rendered in a characteristic chiaroscuro technique. His paintings are gouged, distorted, and destroyed before reaching their final state, expressions of ruinous beauty and exquisite torment. With a technique that intertwines both destruction and classic traditional art, what once may have resembled a painting akin to the work of the old masters becomes a powerful work of contemporary art creating a dialogue with the viewer of silent mutual understanding, expressing the universal horror of being-in-the-world.

Andrew Wyeth, No Trespassing, 1991. Watercolour on paper.

Andrew Wyeth  (1917-2009)  was a polarizing figure amongst art critics; some deride his art as drab and kitschy, and others might call it morbid or mawkish, but Wyeth’s melancholy paintings were also praised by many as profound reflections of 20th century alienation and existentialism. Love it or hate it, the central themes of the artist’s works—poverty, loneliness, existential desperation, gender and sexuality, human cruelty, of struggling to survive in an inhospitable planet—even today emanate from the canvas with a powerful timelessness that resonates with viewers and transcend the labels of the critics and commentators.


I Want to Live Honestly, Like the Eye in the Picture, Yayoi Kusama, 2009. Acrylic on canvas

A renowned Japanese artist known for her larger than life, all-encompassing canvases, Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929 in rural Japan into a family of merchants who deeply opposed her artistic practice. Traumatized by aspects of  both parental figures as well as the desperate surroundings of post-war Japan, Yayoi experienced mental health issues from the time of her childhood, including obsessive-compulsive behavior and vivid hallucinations which she described as ‘flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots’ which would come to life, multiply and engulf herself and her surroundings in a process she called ‘self-obliteration’. By 1950, Kusama began covering walls, floors canvases and household objects with her trademark polka dots in reference to these early childhood hallucinations; she described these dense paintings as “white nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against a pitch-dark background of nothingness.” In the mid-1970s, Kusama voluntarily checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she still resides and continues to create. For her, creating art is not just an avant-garde exercise but a catharsis, and the fulfillment of a psychological need.

 At The Bottom of The Anxiety Swamp, Jayoon Choi 2017  Indian Ink, Paper

London-based artist and lecturer Jayoon Choi’s artistic practice challenges the boundary between traditional drawing methods and experimental moving images to approach the audience in multifaceted ways, and is dedicated to expressing the vast spectrum of mental states that we possess, buried beneath the physical body we own. She turns various psychological states into a form of experience, and questions what forms a self. Jay states of her work, “In that numberless crowd we are continually surrounded by others, we can see ourselves as we experience the same things, going through the same systematic steps in life, despite all our many differences. Sooner or later, we all head in the same direction.” 

The Haunted House. Simeon Solomon, 1855

Anglo-Jewish artist Simeon Solomon (1840-1905) until relatively recently remained a little-known Victorian artist of interest only to those immersed in Pre-Raphaelite studies. Over the past thirty years increased interest in the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes, Jewish studies, and gender/gay/queer studies have generated a resurgence of information on one of the dreamiest Victorian artist you’ve most likely never heard of. A child prodigy who showed at the Royal Academy aged 18, he went on to become a vital member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. His contemporary, Edward Burne-Jones, called him ‘the best of us all’. The Haunted House represents a moment in a gothic-toned poem of the same title by Thomas Hood (1799–1845). Solomon has drawn a woman with her arm around a young girl, peering through a doorway into a room in which a man leans over a coffin, while a female mourner holds a handkerchief to her face. The following stanza explains, “O, very, very dreary is the room Where Love, domestic Love, no longer nestles, But smitten by the common stroke of doom, The Corpse lies on the trestles.”


Strange Shadows (Shadows and Substance) Gertrude Abercrombie, 1950.

Gertrude Abercrombie’s (1909-1977) unique and transfixing dreamscapes combined the aesthetic inclinations of artists such as Salvador Dalí and René Magritte with a focus on the “psychic geography” of rural spaces. Although a notable staple of the Chicago jazz scene, often referred to as the “queen of the bohemian artists, Stein was an underrated fixture of mid-century American Surrealism. With her enigmatic portraits, landscapes, and paintings of interiors, Gertrude Abercrombie added a distinctly American, female voice to the heavily European, male Surrealist movement. Filled with eerie symbols and centered on women modeled on herself, these stark, solitary paintings often depict nocturnal journeys, meditations, and rituals, Abercrombie is noted as observing “I paint the way I do because I’m just plain scared. I mean, I think it’s a scream that we’re alive at all—don’t you?


Matsui Fuyuko, Keeping Up the Pureness, (2004), color on silk

Japanese artist and pop icon Fuyuko Matsui (b.1974) explores the haunted, interconnected realms of traditional and modern aesthetics and in doing so conjures the universally feared specters of the unknown inner self, and the inexpressible shadows that roam between the personal and collective past. In Keeping Up the Pureness, the ghostly rot of the canvas’s central figure recalls the Japanese art of Kusōzu (‘painting of the nine stages of a decaying corpse’) developed between the 14th and 18th centuries, which illustrates the decay of a human corpse with breathtaking graphical accuracy; in this modern depiction, the artist breathes new life into this centuries-old practice of capturing intimately unsettling imagery.


Female Corpse, Back View, Hyman Bloom, 1947

Boston painter Hyman Bloom’s (1913–2009) complex works combined the physical and the spiritual on canvas in drawing upon the artist’s Jewish faith, his interest in Eastern religions, and his transcendent belief in regeneration. Bloom employed thick paint in jewel-like tones to make gripping and beautiful works that challenge our concepts of beauty and our understanding of the true meaning of “still life.” In Female Corpse, Back View (1947), pictured above, he renders a decomposing cadaver with a palette of rich colors. An artist who got beneath the surface of things, exploring form and seeking significance, he remarked, in such images “the paradox of the harrowing and the beautiful could be brought into unity.” 


Happy Birthday to You, Angela Deane, 2020 Acrylic on found photograph

Baltimore based artist Angela Deane (b?) while best known for her small paintings on photographs, is currently pursuing an ever-growing body of larger works on canvas. In many of her creations there is a playfulness to be found; one tied to nostalgia, the sweet married to the bittersweet, but also emerging is a strong buoyancy of spirit, a kind of spiritual mapping, both in process and evocation of the completed piece.


The Wandering Ghost, part 1 Matsuyama Miyabi

 Matsuyama Miyabi defines her artistic style as “Neo-Ukiyo-e.” Juxtaposing the feminine beauty of traditional Edo-era floating world imagery with themes of death and fate and a gorgeously gloomy atmosphere, she conjures shadowy, unsettling truths and reveals the darkness of unspeakable fears. The ghosts haunting these works evoke both the old and new, the modern and timeless, the beautiful and disturbing.


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15 Dec

Dandelion by @kristinkwanart // Kristin Kwan

The year’s end has got me feeling all kinds of ways, so there’s nothing to do about it but look at some art. Here’s a few wonderful works that have thrilled my eyeballs over the last few months.

amy_earles // Amy Earles


@alexeckmanlawn // Alex Eckman-Lawn


Sharp Tone by @marcomazzoniart // Marco Mazzoni


@valeriehammondstudio // Valerie Hammond


@nunziopaci // Nunzio Paci


@kreetakreeta // KREETTA JÄRVENPÄÄ


Euphoria by @rachaelbridge // Rachael Bridge


shine with dignity by @tachikiyoshie // Tachiki Yoshie


Flora by @hannahflowers_tattoos // Hannah Flowers


@robin_isely // Robin Isely


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If I am being very, very honest, I think my chief reason for starting a Patreon was to use it as an excuse to collaborate with some of my favorite artists to create treats for my supporters. It’s not sustainable for me, funds-wise, to commission an artist every month, or even every other month, but I make it happen when I can, and the results have been absolutely enchanting.

I am a huge believer in “tiny arts. ” I know that the purchasing of art is not always an accessible enthusiasm for everyone, and I am not at all saying that artists charge too much, not at all! You deserve to be paid for your time, effort, and talent! But I’m always appreciative when artists make smaller pieces—postcards, pins, small prints, bookmarks, etc., so that folks with limited budgets can treat themselves as well. And I really wanted tiny arts on a perfume theme to be part of my Midnight Stinks Patreon.

For my top-tier Aromatic Angels supporters this month, I’m getting ready to send out these beautiful bookmarks brimming with botanical mystery, designed by the strange and wonderful imagination of Melissa Kojima. And I hope to do so much more of these magical, fantastical creative joinings as we head into the new year!

These lovely little works of art are pictured here with a book utterly luxuriating in shadowy, artful treasures, and which I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about! These chapters of melancholic plants and flowers and gloomy landscapes are my very favorites (aaaaand I have two signed copies left!)

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Beauties Toilet, Horatio Henry Couldery

It’s been another busy month, and I’m afraid as much as I would have it differently, sniffing things was not at the top of my list of priorities. Still, I did manage to weasel my nose into a thing or two …much like these curious kittens in the fantastic imagery above by my new favorite artist of adorable animals, Horatio Henry Couldery!

Hortus from Possets is, I believe, a seasonal scent–a spring or summer limited edition. It’s a strange, slithery floral with a rich honeyed neroli and what I can only describe as an oily green musk. It’s lush and weird, like an overheated midnight hallucination, a pinch of shimmering nightmare shadow pulsing at the bottom of a glass stoppered botanical elixir.

Patchouli of the Underworld from Electimuss, to my nose, is a fragrance less evocative of the brutish god of the underworld and his nonconsensual bride than it is a summoning of the bitter heartbreak that’s tangled throughout the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. When I was younger, I was terribly salty on Eurydice’s behalf; all you had to do was not look back, Orpheus! You were so close to having your beloved wife back from the dead! But …no. You did the one thing they specifically tasked you with not doing. You looked. Margaret Atwood wrote in a poem from Eurydice’s point of view, “you could not believe I was more than your echo–” and I think that’s what Patchouli of the Underworld captures so uncannily, the pale grey echo of that very human doubt and disbelief on his part, and the bitter disappointment that she must have felt, and the sorrow experienced by both of them. Now that I’m older, I better understand and certainly have more experience with the crushing gravity of grief, I know that everyone experiences it differently. And grieving people deserve the gift of grace. Orpheus mourns his wife lost twice over, and Eurydice’s sorrow at being drawn back into the darkness of death because of her husband’s momentary lapse of faith must have been immeasurable. That is what this scent captures so well. Forget the brand’s copy about musky sexiness or whatever. That’s not what this is. It’s the lamentations of one whose fleeting hope was stolen away by the person they loved best, and the devastating sense of regret held by the thief. If one were to distill those echoes of melancholy, that antiquity of sadness, and bottle the resulting essence, the results would be an olfactory dirge of smoky mists of pepper and powder and strange inky-leathery nuances, that, over time, becomes a despairing funeral soapy floral.

By Serpentine by Exaltatum opens in a way that feels like a chimeric chypre, full of tentative promise but also a bit weird; it’s a delightfully sour/loamy/ambery chameleon of a fragrance, and I smell something different with every passing moment. The subtle sparkle and sass of pink pepper, a sophisticated bitter citrusy zhuzh of bergamot, the sharp, prickly verdancy of fir, a feathery tickle of violet’s delicate powderiness, and a velvety dreamy balsamic heart of woods and tobacco. It is a little too earthy to call luminous, but it gleams and glows despite its dustier aspects. By Serpentine is an incredibly light and elusive scent, I can’t quite smell it directly on my wrist where I have sprayed it, and yet I smell its halo hovering around me. It’s a thing of beauty, but it is not much for longevity; after half an hour or so, it’s as if waking from an exquisitely poignant dream that I have instantly forgotten the details of.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve got some problems with the legendary Thracian bard, but I will set them aside for a scent such as Curionoir’s Orpheus Incarnate that is trying to capture a hyper-specific moment in his mythology. An olfactory interpretation of an underwater experience, a feeling of weightlessness and calm, visions of turquoise and mauve, and the irresistible lure of the siren’s song. I can’t fathom how they’ve done this–there is really nothing in this fragrance that reads to me as aquatic or oceanic or even anything watery, and yet, if you’ve ever floated on the tide, in the currents, even in the cool waters of your swimming pool, eyes closed to the glare of the sun or the glow of the moon, the echoing murmurs and gurgles of the world drowned out by the waves enclosing the soft pink shell of your ears–this is a perfume that conjures the slowing breaths and hushed heartbeats of that tranquility. I do pick up on the spiced clove of carnation, the cool, earthy oris, the decadence of the tonka and heliotrope, and the almost cloyingly sweet herbaceousness of licorice, and it’s all beautiful and brilliant chorus together…but I have no idea how that translates into the hypnotic sensory lullaby of a solitary midnight swim.

Over on tiktok I reported the results with regard to a commenter’s rando Amazon order dare. Now first, I want to say I didn’t go into the exercise thoughtlessly, so these picks aren’t totally random because I didn’t want to be wasteful with my money or possibly encourage anyone else to do that. I started with a somewhat random search and then branched out from there with some “customers who liked this, bought X, Y, or Z” type things. I ended up with a few brands I had a passing familiarity with, or else fragrance profiles that I was comfortable with from brands I’d never heard of (and probably never would, outside of a weird amazon search.) The results are actually surprising. Out of five perfumes, there is only one that I dislike, and it’s not even that it’s terrible. It’s just boring. (Which is actually worse than terrible, if you ask me!) Here are my findings!

Le Monde Gourmand Pistachio Brûlée with notes of Milky Mousse, Pistachio crumbs, and vanilla beans smells like Brazilian Bum Bum cream’s sandalwood and salted caramel cut with the peachy iris musk of Glossier’s You.

Oud Swisseri Vanilla Attar I actually did not know this was vanilla when I purchased it, but it doesn’t really matter because there’s no vanilla here. This is mostly Tom Ford Oud Wood, a chilly, peppery, coniferous melange of woods but with an extra side order of smoky bandaids. I don’t hate it.

Marem from Caswell Massey is a fragrance originally created for flamboyant silent film star Alla Nazimova, which I’m sure has been reformulated at some point. It’s a really lovely light rose and currant and citrus scent that darkens to a sort of mossy, ambery rose. The rose remains present as it evolves, but the rose you’re initially given isn’t the rose you end up with.

I was expecting Prince from Luxodor to be pretty awful, but honestly, it kinda blew me away. I think this is marketed as a men’s fragrance, but whatever. I’m fairly certain if you are here listening to me talk about perfumes, you don’t believe scents should be gendered, and neither do I. Anyway, this opens with a warm rush of woods and moss and musk, but somehow there’s a cloud of something that either borders on fruity or gourmand, but it’s enigmatically neither. I love this one. And I also love the bottle, which has got a weird amount of heft for being relatively small, and has a gorgeously intricate design.

The Curious Apothecary The Eccentric $25 says it’s a floral gourmand with vanilla brittle and Norwegian woods, but sadly, this is on par with very bland off-brand plug-in air-freshener, something scented with sugar cookie extract, ozone, and industrial plastic. It’s even texturally unpleasant, as it leaves a weird, greasy film on the skin. Ok, I changed my mind, it’s not just boring, it’s objectively terrible. Weirdly, this one is no longer on Amazon. You can find it here if you really want it, but I can assure you that you do not.

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24 Nov

Banquet Still Life by Abraham van Beyeren, 1667

I shared this on my Patreon earlier today, but really, this goes out to anyone who has ever supported any of my endeavors…

A Mouse At The Feast

Friends, I want to take a moment to thank you. Over the years, every time someone urged me to start a Patreon, I couldn’t possibly fathom a. what on earth I’d even be doing with it and b. who in the hell would even care.

But it turns out YOU in the hell would even care! Thank you for supporting my odiferous rants, rambles, and reviews for the past sixth months. I truly feel like this tiny mouse (you can see it next to the peach) spoiled by a feast of love and blessings. Probably not what this 17th-century Dutch painter was envisioning with this moody, opulent conjuration of the dangers of intemperance, the transience of earthly delights, and cautionary reminders of our mortality, but whatever!

Like many of us, now that we’re grown and know better, I feel very weird wishing anyone a “nice” very problematic holiday, so instead, I will send you much love for you and your beloved friends and family during a much-needed day/s off from work. May you have your fill of all the savory sniffs and sweet smells, may no one complain about your fragrance at the dinner table (whatever it is, frankly, it’s fabulous, and your relative can shut their damn pie-hole), or upset you with their stupid politics, and if you’re a ding dong like me who got their Bivalent booster on Thanksgiving eve–well, I hope you’re not feeling too cruddy.

All my smelly love,



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Just a little face popping out of another face to let you know that If you had planned on buying a signed copy of The Art of Darkness as a holiday gift for someone, now is a great time to grab a copy …because I will be slipping some secret artsy treats in with each order. These are quite limited, so once they run out, they are gone forever!

I also want to remind you that I do still have signed copies of The Art of the Occult available. That one comes with a bookmark and my undying gratitude!

Both The Art of Darkness and The Art of the Occult can be purchased here!

PLEASE NOTE: The shipping price listed on my site are *only* for people purchasing within the US. If you live outside the US and wish to purchase a signed copy of either book, please do not use the PayPal links on my site. Please email or message me directly. International shipping costs are nearly *three times as much* as the costs listed on my site. Again, those are US shipping costs ONLY.

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Artwork by Daniel Kern

I guess the “sonic equivalent of being seen” is…”being heard.” Maybe that was a dumb idea for a title. I don’t care, I still like it!

In any event, gather closer readers. Allow me to tell you the story of my friend, Maika, thoughtful and kind and beautiful all the way down to their bones– an exceptional human in every way!–who saw that something vital was missing in this world and set about fixing it. Enter: Liminal Flares.

In internet time, Maika and I connected over a million years ago, over, among other things, our mutual love of Twin Peaks, eerie art, and haunting literature.  And over the course of these strange aeons, we’ve discussed many of these chilling tales together in the form of rambles, recommendations, reviews, rants, and everything in between.

The concept and creations for Liminal Flares came to be, Maika shares,  “because the only thing better than reading or listening to haunted and haunting stories, is when those stories don’t make anyone feel invisible or inconsequential because of their gender.”

“I created Liminal Flares because I know how much it would’ve meant to me to find this while growing up as a queer, trans, nonbinary person struggling comprehend themselves amid a relentlessly heteronormative world.

I created Liminal Flares to be found by anyone who needs these haunted and haunting, gender-inclusive tales – be that because we help you feel more seen, valid, and included, or simply because you enjoy otherworldly storytelling that doesn’t exclude anyone based on their gender.

I created Liminal Flares because present day me also needs things like this to exist in this fraught yet wondrous world.”

Accompanied by spectral sounds composed by the incomparable Meredith Yayanos, you can now find three episodes of the Liminal Flares podcast, as well as a wondrously insightful intro, available for listening.

Imagine the darkest bronzed honey, harvested during the penumbral glooms of an eclipse; imagine its velvet voice, dusky and low, crooning eerie twilit tales across the ether, eliciting shivers and tingles and thrills. Now imagine never once feeling that jarring sensation when you’ve been abruptly yanked out of the story thanks to outdated, non-inclusive language! Liminal Flares Otherworldly Gender-Inclusive Story Time extends an invitation to slip through a portal like none other, to utterly lose yourself for a sweet, spooky time, in that eldritch, honeyed darkness.

Maika, you have done something outstanding, and the world needs magic like this more than ever. Brava, my weird, wonderful, glorious spood.

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Gooped Familiar (black musk, golden amber, cedarwood, catnip, and hay absolute with a shock of carnation, clove, and cinnamon bark) I love this scent from BPAL’s Witches, Sorceresses, and Sorceries in Art History collection for several reasons. One, because it is inspired by an element within The Love Potion created by Evelyn de Morgan, an artist whose lush mythical and allegorical paintings were associated with the later Pre-Raphaelite movement. This was an artist who defied the expectations of her class and gender to become one of the most impressive artists of a generation, whose canvases conveyed a profound sense of feminism, and spirituality, as well as rejection of war and material wealth, rendering them quite relevant today. She’s pretty fab and I love her. Two, because I love seeing derpy and weird animals in art. Not exactly in the same vein, as this cat, but I think Jamie Wyeth’s A Very Small Dog is my very favorite. And three, because this scent immediately brought to mind a certain cinematic feline. Giallo fans amongst you may conjure the image before I write another word, but Gooped Familiar is a fragrance that smells like opulence through the filter of fur. A perfume of spicy florals and musky amber that adorns the wrists of a beautiful and beguiling stranger with a heavily fluffed cream-colored Persian cat in their lap. When you bury your face in that fancy feline’s neck later in the evening, you catch the phantom of the perfume through the heat of the animal’s skin and its vibrating purrs.

Lightning Struck a Flock of Witches (a crack of ozone slicing through blue benzoin, indigo musk, tobacco, and opoponax) this is unexpectedly fruity! But not a fresh, juicy harvest; this is more the fruity aspect of tobacco, sticky dried cherries, the intensely golden bronzed honeyed sweetness of dates, and even a bit of dried pineapple. As it wears, there’s a lovely incense of vanilla and hay, a mingled smokiness of a scented broom whose bristles singed when lingering too close to the hearth, a domestic ritual of ashes and small, satisfying work. It’s a scent that makes me think of this thing (but much lighter on the cinnamon.)

Torta Settevelli (alternating layers of chocolate sponge cake, hazelnut Bavarian cream, chocolate mousse, and hazelnut praline crunch, enrobed in a dark chocolate mirror glaze) This is an impossibly creamy, rich dessert of a fragrance brimming with buttery goodness, a decadent paste of toasted oatmeal, ground nuts, and brown sugar nestled beneath a coffee crème bavaroise with mocha sauce– and blended into a thick, cold, vanilla McFlurry.

Abelard (coconut husk and pearwood with frankincense and carnation petals) Fresh…cold…produce? I’m not a farmer, but I just imagine pulling up the last of a harvest before the frost hits. Or maybe harvesting your cold-weather vegetables, your cabbages, and leafy greens and carrots and such. And then you immediately juice them and drink them down with a scant teaspoon of honey. There’s something so fresh and vegetal-sweet about this, with the tiniest bit of ozone-y plasticity as well, like veggies stored in a plastic bin.  Like you carved a disconcertingly jaunty little face into a crooked carrot with a plastic spork.

Heloise (polished limewood, myrrh smoke, and blackened spices) I blame a friend for the immediate association I made when I sniffed this perfume.  On Facebook, the other day, I was asking folks for their favorite persimmon recipes, and Angeliska shared a sort of “salad of the underworld”: persimmons and radicchio and pomegranate seeds and a few other goodies, and they suggested serving it with a lime and ginger dressing. A sweet-tart-bitter and lightly spiced foil for all the unctuous richness at a banquet table for the dead. Erewhon salad bar katabasis.

Abelard and Heloise are intended for layering. When they get together, Heloise is like, “Abe, hush your darn beta carotene,” and Abelard is all, “Weezie, shush your dang chicory,” and combined, they mingle in cozy skin musk, vegetal sweetness.

Bobbing for Daddy (apple, diabolical incense with a splash of bay rum, and a hiss of infernal fougere) Before I reminded myself of the notes, I thought to myself…what is this? Apple and …latex? Apple …and chlorinated water? In this blend, nibbles of autumn apples are blended with BPAL’s Daddy scent, and that’s where the “diabolical incense” and the “infernal fougere” come in, and I don’t know what comprises either of those, and I couldn’t even begin to guess. But whatever latex-esque chlorine mingling vibe I am getting initially, it paves the way for a vibrantly grassy, subtly woody, absolute freshest, most hyper-realistic apple perfume I have ever sniffed. So weird and so very cool.

October 32 (leaves fluttering against a thick wool sweater, the cool amber glow of an autumn sunset, dollops of thick cream swirling in black tea) begins as vegetal and brisk, but not a brisk pace, like you’re huffing and puffing to keep up with your spouse’s long legs on an autumn stroll (it’s not a marathon to Mordor, Yvan, for Pete’s sake slow down!) but rather the weather has turned brisk and crisp overnight, there’s an unexpected chill in the air, and you’re taking a PROPER stroll at a REASONABLE pace, YVAN!  And you’re moved by that familiar olfactory symphony, that annual concert of sniffs,  that gorgeous, romantic decay of fallen leaves on a late October afternoon, and you just look at your person and soften and think, damn, what a wonder it is to spend any moment at all with someone you love. And as your mood softens and hazes, so does this fragrance, like the scent of a comforting candle, something with hints of amber and vanilla bean and sandalwood and cashmere musk, but the flame been lit for an hour or so, and you barely smell it anymore, it’s hovering at the edge of your senses, pleasant and cozy and familiar.

Autumn 1990 (decaying leaves, exhaust fumes, maximum-hold hairspray, and clove cigarettes) It’s a challenge not to experience a perfume like this one through one’s own lens, this “scent of a disaffected deathrock kid skulking around Hollywood with her ne’er-do-well friends…but minus the Boones Farm.” In 1990 I was 14, a freshman in high school, and desperate to shed the bookish, nerdy, teacher’s pet image that had been following me around for as long as I could remember. the first week of school, I snagged myself a heavy-metal boyfriend. I am not sure how this happened, but I suspect it was because I was wearing an Iron Maiden tee shirt and an impossibly short, incredibly tight skirt. This was a case of someone probably being way too cool for me, but not in the actual-cool way that I would have been comfortable with, rather the smoking and drinking and badly-behaved-way that teenagers think is cool. Anyway, I ended up skipping a lot of school, receiving a lot of detention, and getting threatened through a third party that I was going to get beat up by some girl I’d never met because she liked my boyfriend and wanted him for herself, I guess? I never got beat up, so I still don’t know what that was about. Autumn 1990 smells like realizing dozens of times over that I was too bright, too clever, and too interesting for this guy, but then worrying that no one would ever ask me out again, and deciding to be okay with having a boyfriend who people thought was cool but with whom I barely had a single thing in common. Spicy incense smoke and caustic hairspray, and pilfered, musky spritzes of my mother’s nice perfume, embedded in a denim jacket that he wouldn’t let me keep, but that he would sometimes let me wear on rainy November days.

Three People Plucking A Mandrake (a tangle of mandrake root and patchouli root bound by champaca resin)  According to the 1812 Family Herbal written by John Hill, the fresh root of mandrake is a violent medicine, the object of so many strange superstitions, Satan’s apple, and all that sort of thing. I imagine this book was found in the loamy earth surrounding the vestiges of forest temple ruins, fringed with fern and moss, sticky with whispers. Phantom incense, balsamic, honeyed and heady, clings to the pages, is embedded in the nearly illegible inked letters.

The Unreturning (wisps of spectral white musk and ambergris, blackened leather, yew needles, cypress boughs, gnarled patchouli root, and the memory of frankincense smoke)  A cosmic floral inkiness, like the atmospheric glitterings of black salamanders in love, like the glowing lunar movements of shadow people in the mica-flecked dreams of an ancient cave, like a dark song in a holy house at the end of time.

Dead Leaves, Vanilla Bean, Pink Fig, and Brandied Dates This is scent of the Amazoness Quartet, CereCere, PallaPalla, JunJun, and VesVes of the Dead Moon Circus in Sailor Moon Super S, boiled down to their essences and formed in molds into sweet, fruit-jellied, squidgey, flower-shaped candied versions of themselves. I will not be taking any questions at this time.

Lightening Strikes Literature (a lightning storm stirred with beeswax candle smoke, yellowing notebooks, and pools of India ink) oh, I do like this! But I don’t know that I am getting most of the notes. To my nose, it’s the electric peach and ozone-y vanilla that I envision this dream of a dress smells like, with maybe the tiniest, almost indetectable dribble of camphorous ink smeared on the skirts. A note that begins with “Dearest Mother,” and a foggy sense that one has slept too long in the moonlight.

Despondency (pumpkin puree, lavender bud, night-blooming violets, purple sandalwood, and tears) This really does smell like a sad, 20 ft. tall skellington on the day after Halloween.  A sort of morose green note bringing down that lofty sandalwood, the chill breath of lavender extinguishing the warmth of a candle illuminating a week-old jack-o-lantern’s rotting grin.Evocative of that bummer feeling of gloomy liminality, that space between where we started and where we’re going, the bitter business of the banished excitement of the thing that just passed and not knowing what to next look forward to. The feeling of emptiness after sustained contact with the ineffable.

The Necromancer (dusty tomes, russet cashmere, green velvet, and leather, frankincense and cinnamon bark, galangal root and fig, rosewater and lilac cologne) This necromancer is an incredibly learned worker of the dark arts who is very secure in their knowledge and would never be up in someone’s DMs being a “well actually” know-it-all and they’ve got better things to do than troll the comments section with their obnoxious devils advocate scenarios. They’ve got quite a subtle presence, you hardly even know they’re in the room, they’re just minding their own beeswax and working their magic in the background. How do they fragrance their person? It’s a faint perfume of mild, milky fig, and heady lilac–but just the barest dab, on skin softened with sweet almond oil and warmed in cashmere cloaks.

Pomegranate Turkish Delight I was a little afraid of this one at first–pomegranate can be so syrupy! And C.S. Lewis tricked us dreadfully re: our formative notions of Turkish delight!– I needn’t have worried. This is a fresh, exuberant pomegranate seed, unencumbered by the burden of expectation and dread associations. This is a juicy, crisp, bright pomegranate seed with complex floral nuances and the tiniest bit of tart sass, a pomegranate that has actually never experienced anything than pure utter, joy. This is a pomegranate seed living its best life. It’s going to become a wholesome, universally beloved TikTok influencer and get signed for a dozen bankable sponsorships and give an inspiring interview on Oprah. (Is an interview on Oprah the gauge of having made it, nowadays? Maybe it will get invited onto Hot Ones, instead.)

Dead Leaves, Pralines and Sheer Vanilla Initially, this is a fragrance focusing intently on the dead leaf aspect of this combination of notes, that element of sweet autumnal decay and sour, earthy fungi farts that the Lab does so astonishingly well. Then, without warning, that aspect of the fragrance disappears completely and is replaced by a rich, rich, buttery vanilla custard.

X-Rayed Candy Bag (the sugary contents of last night’s Trick-or-Treat bucket blasted with atomic particles at your local hospital, producing a stark image of ghostly treats cast in a greeny-white radioactive glow) This is wild, even though I have applied the same amount of this same scent on each wrist, it smells like in one hand I’m clutching a fruity fistful of tropical Jolly Ranchers and Smarties, and on the other side I’ve got a pocketful of creamy butterscotch Werthers, but I’m smelling them collectively through a luminous white musk, green tea, and honeydew haze.

Witches Kitchen (bourbon tobacco absolute, nagarmotha, vetiver, tomato leaf, gunpowder, yarrow stalks, brimstone, vervain, seared leather, and castoreum accord) I am so curious to know how this sits on other people’s skin, and what sort of smells jump out at them from this kitchen sink jumble of kitchen witchery. It’s not listed in the description, but what I experience immediately and intensely is a minty aspect, cool and camphorous and mentholated. I’m not a huge fan of mint, but this isn’t the unpleasantly spearminty toothpaste variety that makes me gaggy, this is more like a cup of fresh, strong emerald-hued mint tea. I keep looking at the notes, though, and thinking, “where is this even coming from?” Maybe a combination of tomato leaf’s distinctive velvety astringency, vervain’s lemony-grassy aspects, and yarrow’s pineiness? Huh! As it wears, the mint loses its manic fervor and almost becomes a bit sleepy, there’s a warm woody aspect that surfaces, like a worn wooden tabletop where upon aromatic and sweet herbs have been processed and dried, tinctures and elixirs have been portioned out, and all of those oils and essences have worked their way into the grain. At this point, what began as a really energetic “wakey wakey!” perfume now urges you to curl up and take a lovely little nap.

Bobbing for Oblivion (Arkansas black apples with inky musk, wood spice, labdanum, patchouli, dark African woods, and saffron) You arrive at the inn early and await your companions–five strangers who are meeting for the first time, anonymously accepting the intriguingly vague but highly lucrative-sounding adventure guild request. You are served a measure of fresh-pressed apple cider in a rustic wooden goblet. There is a bit of dried patchouli leaf and a thread of saffron floating on the golden surface of the drink. Is this evidence of a hexing or perhaps a culinary oversight? You inquire of the barmaid, who only repeats the same question, “what’ll it be, love?” Huh, that’s weird. Almost as weird as when you noted that you only have one arrow in your quiver, and one health potion in your bag. Almost as if…you have to play at some game to earn more of them. And hey, that’s no barmaid, that’s just a random NPC! Wait a second! Did you get sucked into an RPG again? How does this keep happening to you???

Fleece Skeleton Onesie (freshly-washed fleece skeleton onesie and a little bit of smeared eyeliner) when you realize you’re never going to smell as good as whatever fragrance it was that you wore five months ago and which still faintly clings to the stitches of your coziest cardigan, mingled with whatever uniquely intimate magics your skin oils and musks were making on that particular day, this is that smell.

Shadowed Veil(black pumpkin, leather, pomegranate incense, agarwood, and bourbon patchouli) If one were to pack a picnic for venturing into the shadowy otherworld of the Fae (and one definitely should, because it’s best not to eat any of their tricksy offerings) one might pack a loaf of the humble but gorgeously tasty Icelandic rúgbrauð, a dense, dark rye bread made with golden syrup and soured milk and baked or steamed low and slow. It’s delicious with briny salmon or smoky lamb or even just a dollop of cold, creamy butter, but even–especially!– if you don’t dress it up with a single thing, it still smells absolutely amazing. Rich and hearty and sweet, and really, it kinda smells like Christmas, and you don’t even need to visit fairyland, because this is already some really good magic.  Cancel your plans (yay for canceled plans!) and make some bread instead. Or don’t do any of that, maybe you agreed to all that stuff, but now the vibe is off, and you just want to be a potato for the evening. You can conjure both the fairy ring and the bread by liberally smearing yourself with Shadowed Veil. Protip: slather and suit up in your coziest fleece onesie, skellington or otherwise. Future you five months from now will thank you.

Pomegranate, Patchouli, Moss, & Fir Needle. More an ambient murmur than a sonic scream of a pomegranate, it’s such a subtle red fruit, I can barely tell it’s red, or that it’s a fruit. I smell it faintly on my wrist, in the warmth of my skin, the throb of my pulse. It’s a heart healing itself, stitching itself back together in the small devotions of gentle fairy tales, favorite flowers, and pictures of baby Snoopy. Being kind to yourself when you get sad, and homesick for a home that doesn’t exist anymore. Allowing yourself to weep for someone else’s grief when you read for the 100th time the howling sorrow of Andrea Cohen’s poem “Refusal to Mourn.”

In lieu of
flowers, send
him back.

Letting your heart feel all of it, so much of everything. Breaking it every day. Mending it forever. Hoping and dreaming and loving and doing it again and again and again and waking up in the morning with the sunrise and feeling and smelling that tiny throb at your wrist and knowing that it’s the only way any of this works. What else can we do?

The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2022 Halloween collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.

Need more ‘Weenies? Have a peep at my ‘Weenie reviews from the autumns of yesteryear, over at Haute Macabre 2021 // 2020 // 2019 // 2018 // 2017 // 2016 

And PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)


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“Takk for at du ser meg.” (“Thank you for seeing me.”) 

After reading the details of Aleksander Nordaas’ new Kickstarter project for his Huldra photography book, it was those words above, that jumped forth from his description of the undertaking, and which burrowed their way into my brain. But I think I am getting ahead of myself.  First, a bit of background.

In 2013 Nordaas released the beguiling film Thale (which I recently found out was pretty much made in his father’s basement!), drawing on Norway’s rich folklore to explore the concept of certain forest spirits, the huldra. A beautiful, tricksy supernatural being–with the tail of a cow, according to Scandinavian myth.  I recall seeing this odd little gem of a film and being absolutely entranced, from beginning to end. I bet a few of you have seen it as well.

It seems Nordaas has been obsessed with the huldra for nearly a lifetime, and recounts hearing stories from his grandmother about these creatures:

And I guess that’s where it started; my belief in the huldra. Some inherit their parents faith and religion – my grandmother made me believe in human-like creatures with tails.

The folklore proved true, he observes: once she gets hold of you, she won’t let go. And five years later, Nordaas created his second huldra project:  Heim (Home.)A short film “about finding home with oneself – the back to basics, remembering who we are, w[h]ere and how we got here. And how to use that (self-)insight to change course.” For the endeavor, he aimed to get ahold of six extras. But ended up with 54!


From this interest, the idea of the book was born, the concept for which initially was to create a photography book portraying the folklore creature herself, in all kinds of traditional and modern settings. Nordaas shares that though the old folklore stories and creatures have always fascinated him, it’s the huldra in particular that he’s drawn to – “perhaps because she’s the most complex of them all, being quite similar to us humans. And it was that very human essence that turned this project into something a lot more than just fiction.”

He goes on to explain:

“The human side of the project – making sure everyone were 100% OK with everything before, during and after the shoot – wasn’t just my major priority. It re-shaped the whole project..Body-positivity was and is a core aim of the project; that we’re all of different shapes, sizes, colors and ages. It’s what makes us all unique, it’s the most natural thing in the world – and it’s absolutely ridiculous that it needs to be repeated over and over again.”

After one of the early shoots, Nordaas sent the model some sample pictures and got this in return: “Takk for at du ser meg.” (“Thank you for seeing me.”)

“The Huldra” is the combo of that raw, natural and powerful creature that the huldra is, and all these authentic, badass North Norwegian women portraying her, and themselves – side by side, in flock. All these stories, all these different lives, challenges, sorrows and joys – the lives lost, and the lives brewing. They’re all part of the project for different reasons, ranging from “Why the hell not?” to dealing with the deep-down personal; shattered body images, eating disorders, self-harm and abuse.

Though not in words, all these stories are in here. In the faces, the scars, the tattoos – in what once was, and now is.

We all need to be seen – for who we are, not necessarily were.”

What a glorious sentiment and a gorgeous freaking project. I wish I could figure out out to share the video on my blog here, but instead of saying more and giving the whole thing away, I hope you’ll take a peek at Aleksander’s Kickstarter page and consider backing this stunning book of intimate power, vulnerability, and magic.

The Huldra – 97 women, in all shapes, sizes and ages – with tails. A very different XXL folklore photo book – five years in the making.

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Today there is an interview with me up at the very excellent blog, A Universe in Words! I thoroughly enjoyed answering these engaging and thought-provoking questions and I do hope that you will give it a read.

Juliane has previously reviewed both The Art of Darkness and The Art of the Occult, and it was a real pleasure to share a bit about the process that went into these writings and the curation of the art included in the books, as well as having the opportunity to articulate why I even want to write about–or look at!–these things in the first place!

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