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Westminster Arts Library
35 St Martins Street
London WC1
Admission: By advance ticket only from WeGotTickets

The occult history of London is often told by men as a story of men. But in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded at 17 Fitzroy Street, women held equal status with men and were some of the most interesting and influential members. SALON NO. 15: LONDON PSYCHE brings together occultist Caroline Wise and Strange Attractor curator Mark Pilkington to offer glimpses into the largely unknown magical London world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A soundtrack for the city will be provided by The Clerkenwell Kid.

Florence Farr was initiated into London’s Isis-Urania Temple of the Order of the Golden Dawn by the Irish poet Yeats in July 1890. A remarkable first wave feminist, successful actress, theatre producer, mistress of George Bernard Shaw and social activist, she became High Priestess of the temple in 1894.

Occult historian Caroline Wise will join us to tell Florence Farr’s story and those of some of the other turn-of-the-century London women involved in the capital’s magical revival, women who along with their radical predecessors, wished to bring about radical changes to society. They included actresses and authors, heiresses and artists, members of the Bohemian free-thinkers and a psychologist who presented rites of Isis and Pan in a Presbyterian Church in Belgravia.

When the occult Order of the Golden Dawn declined, it was succeeded by others including The Theosophical Society whose public lectures were attended by one Ethel Le Rossignol. Between 1920 and 1933 Ethel created a series of 44 paintings, a ‘series of psychic drawings given through her hand as an assurance of survival after death’, identifying herself only as the medium and a spirit known as ‘J.P.F’. as the actual artist. (J.P.F himself claimed to be channelling other spirits, who wanted to impart the secrets of the soul to those still on the physical plane). The paintings reveal a world of pure light, colour and energy with aspects of Art Deco, popular playbills, Eastern mysticism and miniatures. They radiate an ecstatic joy and are prescient of the psychedelic art that would emerge in London several decades later.

Strange Attractor’s Mark Pilkington will describe how he discovered the paintings at London’s College of Psychic Studies (to who Ethel had bequeathed them) and where they were on display in various rooms but largely forgotten. Only 21 remain (the rest have vanished) but his discovery sparked a fascination culminating in the recent extraordinary ‘A Goodly Company’ exhibition at The Horse Hospital which brought these deeply strange works together in one space for the first time.

Mark will relate the little that is known about Ethel’s London life based on the clues left in her writing and trace her interest in mediumistic spiritualism developed through her psychic studies in the London of the 1920s. He will show images of a selection of the paintings and read extracts from Ethel Le Rossignol’s book ‘A Goodly Company’

MARK PILKINGTON is the founder and curator of Strange Attractor who have carved out a unique cross-media platform for authors, anthropologists, historians, scientists, sorcerers, artists, film-makers and musicians since 2001. Strange Attractor Press have published four Journal anthologies, Phil Baker’s biography of Austin Osman Spare, the Wellcome Trust’s ‘Medical London’, Mike Jay’s ‘The Influencing Machine’, ‘Welcome to Mars’ and ‘The Bright Labyrinth’ by Ken Hollings, ‘London’s Lost Rivers’ by Tom Bolton and ‘Trip or Squeek’ by Savage Pencil.

CAROLINE WISE has worked at Psychic Press, publisher of the Spiritualist paper Psychic News, and as publisher at the renowned London secondhand book company Skoob Books. She is a former owner of the famous occult Atlantis Bookshop, a founder member of The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP). In 1993 she revived and produced the 1901 Egyptian-magic themed plays of the actress and Theosophist Florence Farr at the Rudolf Steiner Theatre. She has a particular interest in bringing the women in the magical revival to a wider audience, combined with a passion for mythic and legendary London. She leads walks on Legendary London.