We know pretty well how modern witchcraft developed in the last 100 years but in most movements that become mainstream there are outliers, people who are ahead of their time. One such is an Australian witch and artist, Rosaleen Norton, who on her own developed a magical practiced that prefigured the Left-Hand Path, environmental paganism and Great Goddess worship. She developed her unique cosmology by reading works like the Kabbalah and travelling in the Astral Plane and encountering entities there who helped and guided her. A real pioneer.Summary
Rosaleen Norton – or The Witch of King’s Cross – was an Australian artist, a proto-Pagan and an enigmatic figure in Western esotericism. In this episode, we’ll dive into her unique connection to the Left-Hand Path, her devotion to the pagan god Pan, and how her visionary experiences shaped her beliefs and practices. Don’t miss this captivating look into the mystical realm and cosmology of Rosaleen Norton.
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Hello everyone! I’m Dr Angela Puca and welcome to my Symposium. I’m a PhD and a Religious Studies Scholar and this is your online resource for the academic study of Magick, Esotericism, Paganism, Shamanism and all things occult.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Australian trance occultist and visionary artist Rosaleen Norton (1917-1979) gained notoriety in Sydney’s red-light district as a colourful and rebellious pagan figure. She was targeted by sensationalist media, which thrived during a socially and politically conservative era in Australia. Norton’s controversial artwork reflected her deep-rooted pagan beliefs, challenging orthodox religious sensibilities. Lesser known was her talent as a natural trance artist, who experimented with self-hypnosis and depicted supernatural beings in her work. Central to her magical cosmology was the Great God Pan, which she considered an all-pervasive life force of the Universe. Norton’s beliefs can be seen as a precursor to the environmental and Goddess spirituality movements that emerged in the late 1970s, emphasising the need to “re-sacralise” the planet.
Rosaleen Miriam Norton, born in 1917 in New Zealand, was a self-taught Witch and Occultist who migrated to Australia with her family in 1925. As a teenager, she was expelled from high school for her “depraved nature,” and later studied at East Sydney Technical College. Norton was well-versed in occult writings and began experimenting with self-hypnosis and automatic drawing in 1940.
Norton’s concept of gnosis was a deeply personal and experiential form of spiritual knowledge that emerged from her mystical encounters and inner exploration of the spiritual realms. Her gnosis was not based on dogma or doctrine, but rather on her unique experiences and relationship with the divine.
Her fascination with the Great God Pan, a central figure in her magical cosmology, began in her adolescence when she discovered ancient Greek mythology. Norton considered Pan the true god of the world and believed in the innate sacredness of Nature and the Cosmos. She painted a large-scale interpretation of Pan and conducted magical ceremonies in his honour, often experiencing his presence during trance states.
Norton’s art reflected the entities she encountered in her visions, including devilish creatures, pagan deities, and supernatural motifs. She believed she was born a witch and had unusual physical attributes associated with her persona. Norton’s rebellious and antinomian spirit manifested early in her teenage years, which later aligned her with the Left-Hand Path in her magical career.
Rosaleen Norton, a high priestess at the altar of Pan, considered Pan to be the supreme deity in her magical pantheon. However, she also revered other ancient deities and supernatural entities like Hecate, Lilith, and Lucifer in his role as “The Adversary.”
Hecate, here seen as a goddess of the night, darkness, and transitions, was associated with birth and death and ruled the hidden aspects of Nature. Norton saw Hecate as an imposing and frightening deity who dealt with death and curses, but she could also be a protector.
Lilith, originating from Sumerian mythology and later entering Jewish tradition, was known as a beautiful but dangerous she-devil. Norton discovered references to Lilith in Carl Jung‘s Psychology of the Unconscious and saw her as the “Queen of Air and Darkness,” symbolising night and the underworld.
Lucifer, or The Adversary, was associated with rebellion and the quest for secret knowledge in Norton’s cosmology. She considered Lucifer’s role as an adversary not to be inherently evil, but rather to expose the limitations of the human ego and human pride in his own existence.
In Norton’s cosmology, numerous magical entities exist alongside the major figures of Pan, Hecate, Lilith, and Lucifer. These beings come from different cultural traditions, reflecting Norton’s eclectic and idiosyncratic occult interests. Some examples include Bucentauro, Eloi, Makalath, Fohat, Erzulie, and Dubouros.
Norton also refers to an important magical figure known as her “Familiar Spirit-in-Chief,” which she calls by various names such as the Monk, Frater Asmodeus, Brother Hilarian, and Janicot. Janicot, originating from Basque cosmology and witchcraft, is seen as the guardian of all portals leading to magical awareness. He is often depicted as a satyr-like being and is associated with the Roman god Janus.
Norton’s cosmology also draws from the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, inspired by Dion Fortune’s Hermetic Qabalah, with frequent references to the ten spheres of consciousness or Sephiroth. She also delves into the darker aspects of the Tree, known as the Qliphoth, where she encounters a hostile magical entity called the Werplon. Norton claims to have experienced this encounter while using her “aetheric body” to explore the astral planes through trance and self-hypnosis.
Norton believed that the “magical universe” or astral realm was a place where thoughts became tangible and visible, often taking anthropomorphic forms. She considered many mythological and religious entities as projections of human consciousness but emphasized that the actual gods or intelligences were beyond these human constructs.
She was in fact a hard polytheist by today’s terminology.
The astral plane, according to Norton, acted as a mediating domain between the gods and human consciousness, with god-forms providing a link between different levels of reality.
She believed that the astral plane allowed for communication between humans and these intelligences through trance states. Norton’s experiences in this realm led her to believe that various inner-plane intelligences pervaded the universe, manifesting through the anthropomorphic images found in religions and mythologies.
These trance states allowed her to access a dimension of consciousness unfamiliar to most of her contemporaries. Norton’s magical practice was private and based on personal trance encounters with gods and goddesses like Pan, Hecate, Lilith, and Lucifer. Unlike other occultists, Norton did not believe she had full control over the magical energies she encountered, and she viewed these entities as independent, powerful beings that chose to reveal themselves to her.
Her interactions with these magical deities heavily influenced Norton’s art, and she believed she could only depict the qualities they chose to reveal. In her later years, Norton lived a private life in Sydney’s Kings Cross district, surrounded by a few close friends and her older sister Cecily. She enjoyed spending time with her pet cats, listening to classical music, and reading about magic and mysticism. After battling cancer, Norton passed away at the Sacred Heart Hospice for the Dying on December 5, 1979, remaining a pagan to the end.
Norton’s approach to magic is distinct from the ritualized theurgy of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the ritualism of Eliphas Lévi and Aleister Crowley. Instead, her methods involve trance states and personal encounters with god forms. Her perspective aligns more closely with the Left-Hand Path in modern Western magic, which often emphasizes individual self-mastery, self-empowerment, and self-deification, as seen in the practices of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, the Scandinavian Dragon Rouge, and the San Francisco-based Temple of Set.
The Left-Hand Path is a term used to describe various spiritual and magical practices that diverge from conventional religious and moral norms, often embracing individualism, antinomianism, and self-deification. In relation to Rosaleen Norton, the Left-Hand Path can be seen as a framework through which her beliefs and practices can be analysed and understood. Now let’s analyse a few elements that we find in Norton’s beliefs and practices that align with the Left-Hand Path:
- The first is Antinomianism: Norton’s spiritual practices were characterised by her rejection of conventional social norms and moral values. Her libertine approach to sex magic and her controversial art often challenged societal expectations and taboos, which aligns with the antinomian spirit of the Left-Hand Path.
- Then we have an emphasis on Individualism: Norton’s spiritual journey was highly personal and unique, focusing on her own experiences and interpretations of the deities and realms she encountered. This focus on individual experience and self-discovery is a common trait in the Left-Hand Path.
- Also, Qliphothic Artistic Orientation: Norton’s art often depicted dark and chthonic aspects of deities and supernatural beings, aligning with the Qliphothic or “night side” of the psyche. This focus on exploring the darker aspects of spirituality is another characteristic of the Left-Hand Path.
- Then we have the Chthonic Magical Quest: Norton’s spiritual practice emphasized her connection with chthonic deities, such as Pan and Hecate, who are associated with the earth, nature, and the underworld. This connection to the chthonic realm resonates with the Left-Hand Path’s focus on exploring the hidden or darker aspects of spirituality.
Norton never associated herself explicitly with the Left-hand path as the term emerged in Western esoteric discourse later in the 20th century. It’s also important to note that Norton’s practices did not fully align with all elements of the Left-Hand Path. For instance, many Left-Hand Path practitioners emphasise self-deification, seeking to become gods themselves. Norton, on the other hand, did not aspire to self-deification. Instead, she acknowledged Pan as the Lord of the Universe and did not seek to challenge his control or dominance.
So, our sources argue that she can be seen as a proto Left-Hand path practitioner, just as she was also a nature-worshipping and horned God worshipper Pagan ante litteram since she exhibited foundational elements of both before they emerged and got popularised as traditions.
Norton’s occult imagery was often misunderstood as Satanic symbolism in the conservative climate of post-WWII Australia, leading to her being labelled as a Satanist. However, she consistently denied this association, explaining that her practice of witchcraft was rooted in ancient Greek mythology and had no connection with the Christian Devil. Norton’s Pagan practice focused on ceremonial altars dedicated to Pan and Hecate, and her coven rituals made no reference to the Christian Devil. In her artwork, she used symbols like the Kabbalistic hexagram to symbolize the connection between Spirit and Cosmos, rather than the inverted pentagram associated at the time with contemporary Satanism.
In the pre-feminist 1950s, Rosaleen Norton emphasized the sacred qualities of nature, attributing them to Pan, who she saw as the divine essence of nature and the creative force in the universe and also as an androgynous figure. Norton believed that magic had political consequences, and viewed Pan as an active presence in anti-pollution movements and environmentalism. Her views anticipated the later beliefs of feminist witches and Goddess spirituality practitioners, who argued that the Earth was innately sacred and a manifestation of the divine.
Norton’s unique contribution to the twentieth-century Western esoteric tradition was her magical cosmology based on her own personal trance explorations of the “inner planes” of the psyche. She depicted the deities she encountered in her art, making her the only woman known to have done so. This lasting legacy may lead to wider international recognition for Norton as her contributions become better understood.
This is it for today’s video. So what do you think about this video and about our artist and occultist Rosalie Norton? Don’t you find her fascinating? She was so ahead of her time, a proto-Pagan, a proto-left-hand-path practitioner and employing unverified personal gnosis before it was cool. So let me know in the comments which aspect you find more interesting and whether there is something in your research or in your practice that this video has helped you with.
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Drury, N.S. (2011). The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton. Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, 12(2). doi:https://doi.org/10.1558/pome.v12i2.208.
Drury, N. S. (2012). Dark spirits : the Magical Art of Rosaleen Norton and Austin Osman Spare. Bracken Ridge, Qld.: Salamander And Sons.
First uploaded 18 Apr 2023