Editorial #6 Witch/Craft

Witchcraft. Crafting is embedded in witchery, part of the practice of magic.

From crafty or cunning crones to charms and casting spells; from spinning, traditions, rituals, weaving, to herbs, botanics and potions – craft, creation, myth and mystery all surround the occult. Witchcraft is intimately linked with ‘women’s work’ and the domestic arts – in this way, traditional modes of making become transgressive. As Constance Classen reminds us, the witch was a woman out of place, on the margins, often elderly and/or widowed; yet she was also ‘in her place, a woman in the home who made use of the very basis of her domesticity – her cooking, her cleaning, her child-rearing, her healing – to defy the social and cosmic order’.

The history of witchcraft is also accompanied by oppression and violence. The Salem witch trials saw many women accused of being witches drowned. Silvia Federici situates the witch trials as a tool wielded by early capitalism, a way of containing any semblance of power that women were gaining through communal living and making. The vestiges of this violence can be found in directly in Anne Jackson’s work ‘The Witchcraft Series’, which commemorates individuals tried and condemned to death in the early modern period. In this issue, she presents her tapestry work, which uses a hybrid of knotting and woven tapestry technique. Elsewhere, Jane Fairhurst’s ethnographic research into wand-making and fetishes have led her to examine the role of the goddess in Viking culture, reflecting on the diminution of the female in the human story throughout history.

From early modern to the contemporary, Anna Nolda Nagele provides a link in her algorithm-inspired textile design, crafting conductive yarns and fabrics into a ‘digital shrine’ for the practice of magical ritual. Indeed, craft can be thought of as a type of ritual itself. Repetitive actions can lead to meditative states. We also spotlight the work of Xenobia Bailey, who combines influences from African, Native American, and African-American cultures with craft techniques to create an ‘aesthetic of funk’. Drawing on traditional African healing rituals, Bailey’s crochet tents offer spaces of sanctuary, healing, and renewal that celebrate the cultural legacy of African American women. 

Poetic craft sits comfortably alongside the elements of making in this issue, words become threads that weave together ideas. We need only look at the work included in new small press Ignota Books to see the way in which poetry is made active through ritual. Publishing the likes of Ramayya, as well as CA Conrad and Bhanu Kapil, Ignota publishes fiction and poetry where technology meets myth-making and magic, allowing the possibility through reenchantment of the world around us through language. Poet Nisha Ramayya has gifted us a ‘ritual selection’ of her poetry, which explores themes of tantric poetics, sacrifice, connection and correspondence. In an interview with Jade French, Ramayya also highlights both the generative and fun elements of writing through ritual as well as the way ‘ritual can provide a safe space in which to dwell on, respond to, and even perform violence, fury, revenge’.

Modernism meets our magic theme in the ‘Modernism & Alternate Spiritualities Conference’, held in January at the Royal College of Arts in London. Aoiffe Walsh offers a fascinating overview of the papers presented on the day, which ranged from an exploration of the history of yoga practice, to retreat movements, ritual, ‘abracadabra language’ and chemical enlightenment. Walsh’s review demonstrates the myriad ways that witchcraft and spiritual practices have acted as a touchstone for modern cultural movements. 

Finally, those wanting to engage in their own rituals can turn to the ‘Black Tarot’, a collaboration between musician King Khan, graphic designer Michael Eaton, and director Alejandro Jodorowsky. The deck follows the  Tarot De Marseilles with each major acana highlighting a black performer, activist or artist, from Tina Turner as ‘La Force’ to Malcom X as ‘X La Rove De Fortvne’. Or you might prefer to follow performer Christopher Croucher’s doorway into nature. He shares with us his own ritual, connecting to nature through a combination of dance and textile. Using an embodied, transcendent art practice, Croucher explores placemaking and impact of the earth’s natural rhythms on our bodies and our sense of spirituality. 

As January draws to an end, we hope these reflections on craft, ritual, and magic will inspire and invigorate you through the new year. In difficult and often dark times, craft’s subversive, transformational powers conjure up avenues of resistance and practices to defy the social order.