Members of Wax Idols, Sabbath Assembly, and Void Vision reflect on a bloody, glittering evening of burlesque, witchcraft, and female empowerment.
There’s no denying that the witch is trending right now. From listicles on how to channel your inner Stevie Nicks to witch-centric films like Robert Eggers’ recent triumphant directorial debut, the maiden, the mother, and the crone are more present than ever across all facets of contemporary culture. In addition to being embraced by the American mainstream, the legendary icon of divine femininity is inspiring women like Slutist editor (and Noisey contributor) Kristen Korvette to cultivate sex-positive feminist collectives. Founded in 2013 and dedicated solely to celebrating feminism and sexuality while challenging gender oppression, the online publication quickly became a vital space for voices often excluded from more conventional communities.
As the Slutist collective grew, Korvette began to notice a charmed connection between contributors’ spiritual and sexual identities. “As we interviewed various forms of humans, I noticed that so many of the people that contributed also identified as witches,” Korvette explains. “Over the past two years it’s become more about music, art, cultural criticism, and essay that delve into human sexual expressions as well as the identity of the witch through alternative spirituality, the occult, and how feminism and female power play into that.”
That’s when Korvette decided to celebrate the intersectional power that can be found by reclaiming and celebrating “the slut” and “the witch” with last year’s first Legacy of the Witch Festival. Suitably held at Brooklyn's Saint Vitus Bar, the first iteration of Slutist’s witch-centric celebration unapologetically explored various facets of the identity of the witch through burlesque, performance art, divination, rituals, and rock'n'roll. The inaugural Legacy of the Witch festival was a success, allowing Slutist to raise $1,200.00 for the RAINN Foundation through ticket sales and donations—and this past weekend, the event took over Saint Vitus again for one spellbinding, cathartic evening.
“The witch is rising for a reason right now,” says Korvette. “It’s inextricably linked from the new rise of feminism, because there are so many parallels between the way women are sexually persecuted today and how they were persecuted in the past. They’re rising together because they’re both offering all modes of female expression empowerment, beyond gender.” As if instantaneously spoken into being by Korvette’s words, Saturday’s Legacy of the Witch festival did just that for festivalgoers and performers alike.
The evening began with a reading by Slutist contributor Morgan Claire Sirene, who also identifies as a witch and as a kink and sexuality specialist. Winged and clad in a leather harness and a bright pink strap-on dildo, Sirene (who was accompanied on stage by the Chicago-based music critic Megan Fredette), set the intention for all that would follow by venerating the uncontainable and unruly. The performance was followed by breathtaking back-to-back burlesque performances by Catland’s Melissa Madara, the astonishing Reverand Mother Flash (who drenched herself in blood while on stage), Minx Arcana, and so many more (including a surprise tribute to Prince’s “Purple Rain”). Gretchen Heinel and Luna Duran performed a bloody art piece, tassles flew, amplifiers hummed—and the evening only grew darker and more electric as time passed.
In terms of the musical program, 2016’s Legacy of the Witch honored a refreshingly diverse spectrum of witchy embodiment, ending in three dynamic sets by Void Vision, Sabbath Assembly, and Wax Idols.
If you’re wondering if Korvette’s choice to showcase three musical acts was intentional, you can be assured that it was.“In numerology the number of three is synonymous with power,” she explains. “I feel different variances of power coming from these artists and bands. Hether Fortune [of Wax Idols] is a contributor to Slutist and an incredibly talented woman and witch, and what Shari Vari [of Void Vision] conjures by herself as a solo performer is so fantastic. She’s defying everything that people think about a female synth artist. She’s a force, and Jamie Myers from Sabbath Assembly casts such a spell on the audience through sound. It’s fucking amazing.”
Korvette felt that it was important to showcase women who connect with the archetype of the witch through music in a way that was explicitly paid homage to “feminine aggression. “We’re not here to declaw the witch or make her more palatable,” she insists. This is a sentiment that is shared unanimously between Korvette, Vari, Myers, and Fortune, who also identify with the archetype of the witch through various creative and personal ways.
“When I was in grade school I was bullied a lot. I found myself attracted to witchcraft because I realized I could use it to freak out the people who were cruel to me. It gave me a sense of power and control over my environment.” Void Vision’s Shari Vari admits. “I think it was a pretty common thing for kids to be attracted to in the 90s, when movies like The Craft and Hot Topic was on the rise. I also went through a Hole phase and for me, Courtney Love was the epitome of the modern witch—an unapologetic antagonist and strong female figure that I found inspiration in. I didn't practice witchcraft in a serious sense back then, but it got me sent to my school counselor a few times.”
Vari, who became fascinated with the figure of the witch due to its representational rejection of patriarchal political and spiritual power, doesn’t consider herself a practitioner of witchcraft, but does admit to having a deep fascination with the occult and its intersection with science. “I think that there are certainly invisible forces at play in the world that might seem like magic because modern science hasn't reached an explanation as of yet, but I wouldn't consider myself a witch, at least in the Hollywood sense,” she says. “I do worship nature and have my own sense of spirituality, but I think I'm more drawn to the witch as a metaphor for the outsider and the persecuted.’”
For Vari, the songs that she’s crafted under the moniker Void Vision are conceptually connected to what some might call the divine. “Songwriting is something that I would consider to be a form of magic,” she states. “The act of creation is divine, whether you are giving birth to a child or to a work of art, and because of the nature of childbirth and our inherent anatomies. I think females especially have the gift of being able to create and nurture.” Through tracks like “Queen of Hearts,” Vari explores the lore-laden archetypes of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, which resonate with many of the common characteristics that are often attributed to the witch: being an outsider, being a villain, and being misunderstood.
Just as with cuts like “Sour” and “Hidden Hand,” Vari’s darkwave anthems aren’t afraid to explore the experience of pain and the transformation that suffering can bring. “I tend to use the most negative events in my life to create my music because I think it is important to try to transmute negative energy into something positive.” she says. “I find it cleansing, and when I see the result of how it affects others, it makes all of the suffering worthwhile.” Witnessing the buzzing magnetism of Vari’s live set makes it clear that although she is not a true practitioner of witchcraft, she possesses the power to enchant a crowd.
Sabbath Assembly’s lead singer Jamie Myers, who took the stage after Void Vision, had a similar impact on listeners, which she attributes to the ritualistic characteristic of music. “I would say that music is my biggest ritual,” says Myers. “When people can get in a room and get past that point of creating and you’re just instinctually following where the music is going, that's some of the best magic there is. Music is my base. I wouldn't say that I sit around and burn sage or bury crystals under a full moon—I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m into that—but art and music push those boundaries for me.”
While watching Myers sing with her band, it becomes clear during the primal growl of songs like “The Fiery Angel of Desire" and "Risen From Below" that the communal aspect of performance and the exchange of energy between Myers, her band, and their audience is something that is easily “tapped into” if they’re open to it. It couples the band and its listeners into a collective not unlike a coven (in the truest sense of the word), which, in a setting like Slutist’s Legacy of the Witch Festival, couldn’t feel more appropriate.
The heightened vibes that filled Saint Vitus during the night of the festival culminated in a satisfyingly frenetic set by Wax Idols—appropriately, they took the stage at the bewitching hour. Dressed in black, Hether Fortune, the shoegaze outfit’s lead vocalist and guitarist, seemed to personify everything about the witch archetype that Korvette had set out to commemorate. The gap between the witch as an archetype and the embodiment of its creative prowess and emotional strength dissolved as Wax Idols’ fans stood in awe at the power of Fortune’s onstage presence.
“The first person who said to me Hether, you are a witch was a roommate that I had in San Fransciso when I was nineteen,” Fortune says, reflecting on her decision to identity as a witch. “He was an older gay punk dude and a practicing voodoo priest who had trained in Haiti for eight years and grew up in New Orleans. I spent a summer with him and he trained me in all kinds of rituals. He gave me the basics, and since then I’ve been a rogue on my own doing my own thing in my own way.” Part of Fortune’s way coincides with her identity as a writer and as a musician, making the stage a sacred space where creativity becomes a craft in its own rite. “I’m definitely not the kind of artists who is like, ‘i’m a witch and I make witch music.’ I’m a pop writer,” she explains. “It doesn’t correlate in a very obvious way. but what I am worked out in a lot of ways through music and the process of writing and performing. It’s extremely ritualistic for me.”
The sacredness of Fortune’s ritual was vehemently detectable during “Surrender,” “Lonely You” and the mesmerizingly heartfelt “Seraph,” which connects directly to ritual acts and the empowerment obtained by their performance. “‘Seraph,” which means the burning one, is a pretty esoteric song,” says Fortune. “It's about feeling depleted, like you've had too much energy taken from you or you feel broken. It’s about the act of empowering yourself. I wrote it because I wanted a song that I could perform live that would be a ritual act for me to empower myself, and my band, and the audience.”
For those in attendance, Fortune and her bandmates’ lyricism, energy, and fuzzed-out riffs undoubtedly left a bewitching impression, ending Slutist’s night of feminist magic just as it had started: with a ritual of reclamation and reverence.
Check out more of photographer Justina Villanueva's shots from Legacy of the Witch 2016 below!
Miss Lana Monroe
The Reverend Mother Flash
Gretchen Heinel & Luna Duran
Dianca London Potts is casting spells on Twitter.