My first act of ceremonial magic was in honour of the horned god, whose pipes are symbol of magic and mystery, and whose horns and hooves stand for natural energies and fleet-footed freedom: And this rite was also my oath of allegiance and my confirmation as a witch.Rosaleen Norton, 1965 interview
A new documentary about the provocative occult artist and practicing witch Rosaleen Norton was recently released on multiple streaming services including Vimeo, Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. The film, which was written and directed by Sonia Bible, made its debut last year in various festivals where it received favorable reviews and earned several awards. Despite its short running time and limited scope, The Witch of Kings Cross is a much welcome and creative look at a captivating woman whose talents often went unrecognized during her lifetime.
Rosaleen ‘Roie’ Norton was born in New Zealand during a stormy night on October 2, 1919, and the booming unruly thunder that trumpeted her entrance into this world accompanied her throughout her life. Norton grew up in a relatively middle-class family and developed an interest in art and the occult early on that manifested in a deep appreciation for the natural world. She later relocated to Australia where she haunted Sydney’s infamous red-light district for three decades (the 1950s-70s) as a colorful bohemian figure known as ‘The Witch of Kings Cross.’
Her bold and expressive esoteric art shocked the public and landed her in court on numerous occasions while her unconventional lifestyle was the stuff of tabloid fodder. Norton was a proud Pagan, openly bisexual, enjoyed experimenting with mind-altering drugs, and had a ferocious sexual appetite. She was also very outspoken and unapologetic at a time when women were encouraged to be demure domestic partners without a unique identity of their own. Her unconventional look, which included extremely arched eyebrows, dark lipstick, slacks, and men’s ties, made her an object of fascination for the press as well as a subject of ridicule.
With a running time of just 75 minutes, the film is somewhat light on information about its subject. Tantalizing details about Norton’s life spill out between imaginative sequences involving a captivating actress who effectively portrays Norton (Kate Elizabeth Laxton). She lounges in an otherworldly nightclub inhabited by scantily clad pagan Gods and Goddesses. These dancing figures represent Pan, Lilith, Hecate, and Baphomet who were transmutable objects of adoration in Norton’s occult practices and manifested in the incredible art she produced.
Along with these dramatic sequences the film includes interview snippets with Norton’s friends and acquaintances who were lively and surprisingly candid at times, but my favorite interview subject was Norton’s biographer Nevill Drury (1947-2013) who provided some much-needed context for the film’s subject. I wish he had been given more screen time because his biography of Norton (Pan’s Daughter: The Magical World of Rosaleen Norton) is an insightful and thought-provoking book about her art and life that I highly recommend.
My quibbles with the film involve its lack of serious insight into Norton’s occult practices which involved an unusual concoction of traditional witchcraft brought to Australia from Britain (also known as the ‘Goat Fold’ tradition), the Kabbalah and ceremonial magick inspired by The Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley involving deity worship as well as trance and sex magick. I also would have appreciated more background information on Norton’s upbringing and a deeper appreciation of the art and writing she produced.
Besides being an accomplished artist, Norton was also a writer who published horror and occult fiction as well as poetry but that gets scant mention. Having art experts provide contextual history and deep critiques of Norton’s work would have enrichened the film. Instead, much of the documentary is focused on her relationships with the men in her life such as composer and conductor Eugene Aynsley Goossens and poet Gavin Greenlees, as well as the “shocking nature” of her art and sex life. Particularly how authorities tried to censor and suppress her. Fascinating as that is, the film’s choice to examine her life through a tabloid lens feels a bit exploitive at times but it is entertaining and makes for a fun and fast-paced film.
Rosalee Norton undoubtedly enjoyed her notoriety as a sexual deviant and provocateur. But by most accounts, she was also a sweet-natured woman who disregarded material wealth in favor of fostering her creative mind and enjoyed caring for a menagerie of adopted animals throughout her life. And despite her impish grin, she took her art and pagan practices very seriously. I hope this new documentary encourages viewers to seek out more information about this fascinating woman who made invaluable contributions to the occult arts and helped usher in the sexual revolution of the 1960s with her unabashed primal passions and carnal art magick.