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Concerning The Pagan In Art

I have always adored art. Art is my passion, my work, my hobby, my inspiration and my joy. And there has always been something so sacred within my own artistic practice, and something so artistic within my pagan practice, that I can no longer differentiate between the two. And neither do I want it to – for me, paganism and art have always been, and will always be, intrinsically interlinked. 

I am sure I am not the only pagan who marries their artistic and spiritual practices. The relationship between paganism and art is as old as each other. The ancient symbols that adorn so many of our altars are artistic representations of concepts central to our belief systems. The cards we shuffle, runes we throw, or mirrors we scry are all works of art in their own right. 

From an Art History point of view, there is such a rich tradition of artistic representations within paganism. Iconic symbols such as the eyes of Ra and Horus, pentacles, the Triple Horn of Odin, and the Triskele splatter the art historical canon, making their presence impossible to wash out. Looking forward to the twentieth century, spiritual women were at the forefront of painting the face of modern-day paganism and the occult.  

Rider and Waite are often the first names that surface when thinking of the artistic minds behind the most revered tarot deck.

However, it was artist Pamela Colman Smith who designed and created all 78 cards, her style oozing from The Fool to The King of Pentacles. After doing a deep dive into the history and background of the most popular tarot deck as part of my textiles A-level a few years ago, I am now rather obsessed with the artistry drawn into each card. From the somehow muted-yet-brightly-coloured palette to the balance between simplicity and extreme detail, Pamela Colman Smith formed the look of a divination practice which is central to so many pagans. Not only that, but Colman Smith’s art almost stands as a figurehead for our belief systems, regardless of relevance to our own personal practices, as Tarot (and therefore Pamela’s work) is now accessible and witnessed by so many non-pagans throughout the world. 

Hilma af Klint is another woman who shaped the visual landscape of the 20th and 21st century. The first western abstract artist was drawn to the occult early in life, and created art with the help of her spirits, who she called the High Masters, until her death in 1944. Although Wassily Kandinsky is too often falsely heralded as the first western abstract artist, there is no denying the impact that Kandinsky’s 1911 publication Concerning the Spiritual in Art had within the art historical world. His work was a way of legitimising the relationship too often banished under the ridiculous notions of oooOOoooo “evil witchcraft”… Unfortunately for the time, Hilma af Klint rarely ever exhibited her abstract works after being shunned by her spiritual leader Rudolf Steiner, the then Head of the German branch of Theosophy. But there is something ancient within af Klint’s paintings. I really implore anyone to research her work – they are so full of colour and life, riddled with symbols and nature, so beyond human. She also included automatic writing and drawing into her seances with the high masters, surrounded by her fellow women artists and spiritualists, De fem. I love to explore differing forms of divination in my own pagan practice, so sharing that method with one of (if not my absolute) favourite artists gives me such a thrill!

Neither woman, Hilma af Klint or Pamela Colman Smith, have even their own graves. Both were forgotten by history, painted over by falsehoods and other people’s names. But isn’t it exciting that these women’s legacies survived to today? The artistic and spiritual practices of both Hilma and Pamela are being rightly rediscovered and revered. For me, this isn’t just the start of an exciting new epoch in art history, but a rebirth within my own spiritual path. 

I aim to dedicate my life to this relationship between paganism and art. Much like Hilma af Klint and her occult dedications, I cannot see a life path which doesn’t orbit the deeper world of the ‘other’ through artistic means. Art speaks a language that is beyond comprehension. Art evokes feeling, connects us to spirit and has the power to transcend humanity itself – to elevate us to a different realm. And isn’t that what nature does? Isn’t that what our beliefs and faiths, our spiritual practices do? 

Now that is magic.

By Ivy Hewett

Above images - First -  Hilma af Klint, The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood Group IV, 1907.

Second - Pamela Colman Smith, 1912.


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