Tag Archives: magic

Hidden women of history: Leila Waddell, Australian violinist, philosopher of magic and fearless rebel



Leila Waddell performing during the Rites of Eleusis.

Alice Gorman, Flinders University

Leila Waddell (1880-1932) was a country girl from Bathurst, NSW, who entered the world stage as an acclaimed violinist – and left it having influenced magical practice into the 21st century.

Her early life focused on music. She studied violin and joined the Sydney music scene, teaching genteel girls at some of Sydney’s most prestigious schools. Her concert performances earned her a devoted following. She favoured composers such as Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps, and soon gained a reputation as one of Australia’s leading violinists.

Waddell left Australia as part of a touring orchestra in 1908, and found herself in London. Here she was introduced to New Zealand author (and cellist) Katherine Mansfield at a concert. They became firm friends, and regulars in a Bohemian society centred around the Cafe Royal.

As well as musicians, poets and artists, the cafe attracted members of London’s magical orders. It was likely here that Wadell first met the magician Aleister Crowley, who liked to distribute samples of the hallucinogenic drug peyote at parties. The meeting opened the door into another world.

Sex, drugs and violins

Within a short time Waddell and Crowley became lovers. Waddell began studying magic as part of Crowley’s order, the A .‘.A .’. (Astrum Argentum), in which she was known as Sister Agatha. Crowley, however, called her Laylah, his Scarlet Woman. In his magical universe, the role of the Scarlet Woman was a sort of anti-Virgin Mary who transgressed the boundaries of feminine virtue by wallowing in excess.

A photo of Leila Waddell on the cover of Crowley’s The Book of Lies.
Wikimedia Commons

Waddell is often relegated to a character in Crowley’s life. But if we assess her life on its own terms, we see a brilliant musician, a philosopher of magic, and a rebel who was unafraid to take risks and be true to herself.

Crowley was experimenting with using sex in rituals. He was interested in how heightened emotions could be harnessed for magical outcomes, such as achieving transcendental states or summoning otherworldly beings.

The moment of orgasm, he believed, focused the magician’s will and increased their power. As a poet and playwright, Crowley was also exploring rituals as theatrical performances, where the audience were co-practitioners.

Crowley was entranced by Waddell’s musical prowess. Together, they began devising magical rituals which combined music, poetry and dance. The idea came about during a weekend at the house of Crowley’s disciple Guy Marston (who believed that married English women could be induced to masturbate by the sound of tom-tom drums).

Waddell’s extensive experience as a performer was a key part of bringing this idea to fruition. The result was the Rites of Eleusis: musical theatre redefining magic for the new era of modernism

Democratising ecstasy

The Rites had seven parts, each associated with a planet or celestial body. Waddell composed original music for them, as well as drawing on her favourite composers. The purpose was to enable the audience to attain spiritual ecstasy.

Digital version of Waddell’s composition Thelema – a Tone Testament, by Phil Legard.

The first performances were tested before small groups, enhanced by drug-laced “libations”. A journalist, describing Waddell’s playing, wrote:

Once again the figure took the violin, and played […] so beautifully, so gracefully, and with such intense feeling, that in very deed most of us experienced that Ecstasy which Crowley so earnestly seeks.

In October 1910, the Rites were ready for the public. The venue was Caxton Hall in London. The audience was encouraged to dress in the appropriate colour for each Rite, such as violet for Jupiter, russet for Mars.

Waddell played her violin, Crowley’s disciple Victor Neuburg danced, and Crowley intoned his turgid paeans to the god Pan. The hall was in semi-darkness. The performances were filled with sexual symbolism, but no sex magic took place on stage.

The critics were not very kind to the public Rites of Eleusis, but most agreed Waddell’s virtuosity was a highlight.

‘Consciousness exalted into music’

The Great Beast and the Scarlet Woman had a prolific creative life. Both contributed to The Equinox, a publication devoted to Crowley’s circle. Other contributors included Katherine Mansfield, Katherine Susannah Pritchard and the Irish writer Frank Harris.

After the Rites of Eleusis, Crowley embarked on writing a book which many consider his most significant work. Magick: Liber ABA, Book 4 was a collaborative effort between Crowley, A.‘.A.’. member Mary Desti, and Waddell. In Part III, they reflected on the lessons learnt from the Rites of Eleusis.

They concluded that an audience of initiates would more effectively channel magical power than the general public. As for the music, it should be composed specifically for the ritual – indicating that Waddell’s own compositions had hit the mark. The book was published in The Equinox in 1912.

Waddell booked a concert tour to the US. She had planned to buy her passage on the ill-fated Titanic, but just missed out on a ticket. Her narrow escape was widely reported in Australian newspapers. After completing this engagement, she returned to Europe to tour with the Ragged Ragtime Girls, a violin group managed by Crowley. She continued her magical studies in the Ordo Templi Orientis, an order with a strong focus on sex magic.

Revolution

The First World War interrupted the idyll of sex, magic and music. Ireland was under British rule, and many Irish nationalists saw the war as an opportunity to fight for independence. As the daughter of Irish famine refugees, Waddell was sympathetic. In New York she joined a secret revolutionary group under the name of “L. Bathurst”.

Crowley arrived in New York in 1914, purportedly on a mission to discredit Germany by spreading absurd propaganda. This was the impetus for an extraordinary stunt.

At dawn on the morning of 3 July 1915, Waddell, Crowley and a party of Irish revolutionaries sailed down the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty, with the intention of declaring Irish independence and war on England.

But the guards wouldn’t let them land. Crowley made an impassioned speech, which no-one could hear from the prow of the boat, then tore up his passport and threw it in the river. Waddell played the rebel anthem The Wearing of the Green to accompany the Declaration of Independence.

The following year the Easter Rising, an armed rebellion which aimed to overthrow English rule in Ireland, was brutally suppressed in Dublin.

Aleister Crowley in the garments of the Ordo Templi Orientis in 1916.
Wikimedia Commons

Crowley left New York for the West Coast, while Waddell continued to tour, write and socialise. She was friends with writers like Rebecca West and Theodore Dreiser, and regularly attended salons held by Frank Harris, who had not yet attained notoriety as the author of the sexually explicit My Life and Loves.

While touring US cities, she played lunch time concerts in factories, organised by the YMCA. The venues were barns, sheds, and gardens, and the audiences were mostly male migrant workers. The men sang along with the arias and would give her wildflower posies. She loved this experience and considered it the greatest work of her career.

Already a seasoned writer, Waddell came to wider notice with her memoir of Katherine Mansfield, who died in 1923. Details are murky, but it seems this led to contracts for a novel and a book of short stories with a London publisher. Crowley, meanwhile, had set up a magical Abbey in Sicily with his new Scarlet Woman. It was time to move on.

Return to the Antipodes

In 1924 Waddell returned to Australia as her father was very ill. The prodigal violinist was greeted enthusiastically, and quickly became immersed in concerts, touring, and radio appearances. She resumed her earlier career teaching violin to affluent schoolgirls. If Sydney society remembered her association with Crowley, dubbed “the wickedest man in the world” by the press, it did not dim their eagerness for her music.

However, soon she became ill herself from uterine cancer. Her books were never finished. She died in 1932 and was buried next to her parents in Sydney.

The Rites of Eleusis are still performed today by Crowleyites across the world, including the Ordo Templi Orientis in Australia. In 2015, Wadell was celebrated as one of Bathurst’s favourite daughters at the town’s 200th anniversary. From country to city to world and other-world, her life was truly a magical journey.The Conversation

Alice Gorman, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Space Studies, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Spells, charms, erotic dolls: love magic in the ancient Mediterranean



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Statue of Eros of the type of Centocelle. Roman artwork of the 2nd century AD, probably a copy after a Greek original.
Wikimedia Commons

Marguerite Johnson, University of Newcastle

In our sexual histories series, authors explore changing sexual mores from antiquity to today.


It was a well-kept secret among historians during the late 19th and early 20th centuries that the practice of magic was widespread in the ancient Mediterranean. Historians wanted to keep the activity low-key because it did not support their idealised view of the Greeks and Romans. Today, however, magic is a legitimate area of scholarly enquiry, providing insights into ancient belief systems as well as cultural and social practices.

While magic was discouraged and sometimes even punished in antiquity, it thrived all the same. Authorities publicly condemned it, but tended to ignore its powerful hold.

Erotic spells were a popular form of magic. Professional magic practitioners charged fees for writing erotic charms, making enchanted dolls (sometimes called poppets), and even directing curses against rivals in love.

Magic is widely attested in archaeological evidence, spell books and literature from both Greece and Rome, as well as Egypt and the Middle East. The Greek Magical Papyri, for example, from Graeco-Roman Egypt, is a large collection of papyri listing spells for many purposes. The collection was compiled from sources dating from the second century BC to the fifth century AD, and includes numerous spells of attraction.




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Some spells involve making dolls, which were intended to represent the object of desire (usually a woman who was either unaware or resistant to a would-be admirer). Instructions specified how an erotic doll should be made, what words should be said over it, and where it should be deposited.

The Louvre Doll.
Wikimedia Commons

Such an object is a form of sympathetic magic; a type of enchantment that operates along the principle of “like affects like”. When enacting sympathetic magic with a doll, the spell-caster believes that whatever action is performed on it – be it physical or psychic – will be transferred to the human it represents.

The best preserved and most notorious magical doll from antiquity, the so-called “Louvre Doll” (4th century AD), depicts a naked female in kneeling position, bound, and pierced with 13 needles. Fashioned from unbaked clay, the doll was found in a terracotta vase in Egypt. The accompanying spell, inscribed on a lead tablet, records the woman’s name as Ptolemais and the man who made the spell, or commissioned a magician to do so, as Sarapammon.

Violent, brutal language

The spells that accompanied such dolls and, indeed, the spells from antiquity on all manner of topics, were not mild in the language and imagery employed. Ancient spells were often violent, brutal and without any sense of caution or remorse. In the spell that comes with the Louvre Doll, the language is both frightening and repellent in a modern context. For example, one part of the spell directed at Ptolemais reads:

Do not allow her to eat, drink, hold out, venture out, or find sleep …

Another part reads:

Drag her by the hair, by the guts, until she no longer scorns me …

A Coptic codex with magic spells, 5-6th century AD from the Museo Archeologico, Milan.
Wikimedia Commons

Such language is hardly indicative of any emotion pertaining to love, or even attraction. Especially when combined with the doll, the spell may strike a modern reader as obsessive (perhaps reminiscent of a stalker or online troll) and even misogynistic. Indeed, rather than seeking love, the intention behind the spell suggests seeking control and domination. Such were the gender and sexual dynamics of antiquity.

But in a masculine world, in which competition in all aspects of life was intense, and the goal of victory was paramount, violent language was typical in spells pertaining to anything from success in a court case to the rigging of a chariot race. Indeed, one theory suggests that the more ferocious the words, the more powerful and effective the spell.

Love potions

Most ancient evidence attests to men as both professional magical practitioners and their clients. There was a need to be literate to perform most magic (most women were not educated) and to be accessible to clients (most women were not free to receive visitors or have a business). However, some women also engaged in erotic magic (although the sources on this are relatively scarce).

In ancient Athens, for example, a woman was taken to court on the charge of attempting to poison her husband. The trial was recorded in a speech delivered on behalf of the prosecution (dated around 419 BC). It includes the woman’s defence, which stated that she did not intend to poison her husband but to administer a love philtre to reinvigorate the marriage.




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The speech, entitled Against the Stepmother for Poisoning by Antiphon, clearly reveals that the Athenians practised and believed in love potions and may suggest that this more subtle form of erotic magic (compared to the casting of spells and the making of enchanted dolls) was the preserve of women.

Desire between women

Within the multiplicity of spells found in the Greek Magical Papyri, two deal specifically with female same sex desire. In one of these, a woman by the name of Herais attempts to magically entreat a woman by the name of Serapis. In this spell, dated to the second century AD, the gods Anubis and Hermes are called upon to bring Serapis to Herais and to bind Serapis to her.

Statue of a young seated Hermes (the Greek messenger god) at rest.
Wikimedia Commons

In the second spell, dated to the third or fourth century AD, a woman called Sophia seeks out a woman by the name of Gorgonia. This spell, written on a lead tablet, is aggressive in tone; for example:

Burn, set on fire, inflame her soul, heart, liver, spirit, with love for Sophia …

Gods and goddesses were regularly summoned in magic. In the spell to attract Serapis, for example, Anubis is included based on his role as the god of the secrets of Egyptian magic. Hermes, a Greek god, was often included because as a messenger god, he was a useful choice in spells that sought contact with someone.

Anubis depicted as a jackal in the tomb of Tutankhamen.
Wikimedia Commons

The tendency to combine gods from several cultures was not uncommon in ancient magic, indicative of its eclectic nature and perhaps a form of hedging one’s bets (if one religion’s god won’t listen, one from another belief system may).

Deities with erotic connections were also inscribed on gems to induce attraction. The Greek god of eroticism, Eros was a popular figure to depict on a gemstone, which could then be fashioned into a piece of jewellery.

The numerous erotic spells in antiquity – from potions to dolls to enchanted gems and rituals – not only provide information about magic in the ancient Mediterranean world, but the intricacies and cultural conventions around sexuality and gender.

The rigid system of clearly demarcated gender roles of active (male) and passive (female) partners, based on a patriarchy that championed dominance and success at all costs, underpinned the same societies’ magical practices. Yet it is important to note that even in magic featuring people of the same sex, aggressive language is employed because of the conventions that underlined ancient spells.

The ConversationStill magic remains, in part, a mystery when it comes to erotic practice and conventions. The two same-sex spells from the Greek Magical Papyri, for example, attest to the reality of erotic desire among ancient women, but do not shed light on whether this type of sexuality was condoned in Roman Egypt. Perhaps such desires were not socially approved; hence the recourse to magic. Perhaps the desires of Sarapammon for Ptolemais were also outside the bounds of acceptability, which led him to the surreptitious and desperate world of magic.

Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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