Magic and the Art of Leonora Carrington

September 28, 2013

Wouter J. Hanegraaff’s fascinating paper at the Enchanted Modernities conference, ‘Leonora Carrington and the Occult’, deliberated on the nature of Carrington’s debt to esoteric speculation or occultist practice. He presents her ‘stubborn unwillingness’ to explain occult references in her work, an attitude consistent with the feeling that the world of visual experience ‘just happened to her’, eluding rational explanation. Such experience is resistant to the kind of close textual analysis expected of literary works.


Hanegraaff’s paper devolved to two avenues for future research. First, to know more of Carrington’s actual experience of visionary realities, which included a lifelong propensity to see otherworldly entities. Secondly, to learn more of her actual readings of esoteric texts and to establish a chronology of those readings, so as to trace any parallel allusions in her paintings and other works. This is a very interesting proposition, though I wonder how far such an approach would analyse the life out of an art  that has a spontaneous vitality, that ‘just happened to her’.

Notwithstanding my ambivalence about such an analytical approach, I include here a reproduction of Leonora Carrington’s Litany of the Philosophers (1959). On the centre of the wall she places an occult symbol, a seven-pointed star which I take to be a representation of ‘the Seal of Babalon’ or ‘the Star of Babalon’, symbolising the ‘Scarlet Woman’ of Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic magick. By her use of this symbol I assume Carrington had at least a passing acquaintance with Thelemic magick, either through her own reading or through her associations.

star of babThere’s also a retrospective on Carrington’s work, at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, called The Celtic Surrealist. Details here http://www.imma.ie/en/page_236722.htm

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