The Occult in Modern Art 101

Leonora Carrington  "La maja del tarot"  1965

Leonora Carrington “La maja del tarot” 1965

An illustrated lecture by Pam Grossman
Date: Friday, November 18th
Time: 8pm
Admission: $8
Presented by: Phantasmaphile

Though few history books make mention of it, many of our most lauded artists — Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Duchamp, to name but a few — were deeply influenced by the occult.  The imagery and tenets of arcane traditions including alchemy, Spiritualism, Theosophy, and shamanism have infused the work of artists through the ages.  Beginning with the Symbolists, then spiraling through such periods as Cubism, Dada, Surrealism (with its wonderfully witchy women), Abstract Expressionism, and the visionary art of today, this evening’s lecture will be a visual primer on the existence of magic in our museums and galleries.

Pam Grossman is an independent curator and lifelong student of magical practice and history.  She is the creator of Phantasmaphile, a blog which specializes in art and culture with an esoteric or fantastical bent.  Her group art shows, Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists, VISION QUEST, and Alchemically Yours have been featured by such outlets as Boing Boing, CREATIVE TIME, Time Out New York, Juxtapoz, Arthur, 20×200,, and Neil Gaiman’s Twitter.  She is a co-founder of Observatory, where her programming aims to explore mysticism via a scholarly yet accessible approach.

Manly P. Hall and The Secret Teachings of All Ages

mphA Talk and Visual Presentation by Mitch Horowitz
Date: Friday, October 21st
Time: 8pm
Admission: $8
Presented by: Phantasmaphile

It is one of the strangest and most beguiling books of the twentieth century: The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Privately printed in 1928 by a 27-year-old occult scholar named Manly P. Hall, the table-top sized volume – brimming with arcane diagrams, otherworldly illustrations, and detailed entries on everything from Pythagorean mathematics and Egyptian geometry to the origins of the Tarot and the secret authorship of the Shakespearean plays – became one of the most successful underground books ever published. Passing through many printings and versions, including a compact “reader’s edition” in the twenty-first century, it reigns as the Encyclopedia Arcana of the modern age – a must-read for every acolyte of mythical traditions, esoterica, and the occult.

Who was the young and preternaturally gifted author of this massive and impactful work? And what were the circumstances behind the early genius of Hall, a man with little conventional schooling who went on to become the most influential occult voice of the last century? In this vibrant and intellectually lively evening, author Mitch Horowitz (Occult America) – who has written widely about Hall’s life and published the recent “reader’s edition” of The Secret Teachings of All Ages – explores the remarkable persona behind this mysterious tome.

Horowitz dissects the unusual career of Hall and explores his legendary status on the West Coast occult scene for most of the twentieth century. From Hall’s art-deco headquarters in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park neighborhood, the arcane scholar not only helped reignite the academic study of esoterica but made an impact on figures as diffuse as Bela Lugosi and Ronald Reagan (who actually quoted from Hall in his speeches). Horowitz also explores the circumstances surrounding Hall’s 1990 death, which is marked by persistent rumors of foul play. Finally, Horowitz considers the wide-ranging influence of The Secret Teachings of All Ages, including the book’s strengths and weaknesses, enduring mysteries, and seismically powerful, yet underappreciated, impact.

***Books will be available for purchase and signing

Mitch Horowitz is the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin and the author of Occult America (Bantam), which The Washington Post Book World called: “Fascinating…a serious, wide-ranging study of all the magical, mystical, and spiritual movements that have arisen and influenced American history in often-surprising ways.” Horowitz has written on alternative spiritual topics for The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report,, Boing Boing, and The Washington Post, where he recently explored the relationship between Manly P. Hall and Ronald Reagan. In 2003, Horowitz published the “reader’s edition” of The Secret Teachings of All Ages. He leads Observatory’s popular Occult New York Walking Tours and has discussed alternative spirituality on CBS Sunday Morning, Dateline NBC, and All Things Considered. Horowitz is currently writing a history of the positive-thinking movement, to be published by Crown. Visit him online at:

Plant Medicine: An Initiation into an Alchemist’s Art

herbalism-verus-aromatherapyPlant Medicine: An Initiation into an Alchemist’s Art
with Intuitive Herbalist Kate Temple-West
Date: Sunday, September 18th
Time: 2:00–4:30 PM
Admission: $40 cash
Presented by Phantasmaphile

***You must email phantasmaphile [at] gmail dot com to register for this event, as we have a limited class size.

For millennia people have made medicine for the body and psyche through direct relationship with nature. This knowledge is our birthright. Awakening our senses to the energetics of healing is something we can access with intention and creativity. In this class we will look at the history, myth, science, and art of magical herbal preparations. We will experience first hand local shamanic plants and learn to make our own tincture for creativity and enhanced intuition. Our work with plants will open us to further transformational healing and connection to the natural world.

*Please bring a towel or small blanket to sit on, as we will be working on the floor.

Kate Temple-West is an NYC-based herbal practitioner. She trained extensively with acclaimed herbalist Robin Rose Bennett in her 4 year apprenticeship program, as well as an additional two years in her clinical practice program. She was also a student of Matthew Wood, and an apprentice of renowned herbalist Lata Cheitri Kennedy at Flower Power Herbs and Roots in Manhattan’s East Village. She is a member of the American Herbalist’s Guild, and a certified permaculture designer who strongly believes that we have the ability to adjust our habits and technologies to comfortably live in a way that no longer harms the earth, but instead promotes regeneration. Please visit for more information.

From the Magnificent to the Macabre: Send-Offs for the Dead


Capuchin Catacombs in Sicily, photo by the author

Illustrated talk and book signing with Sarah Murray, author of Making an Exit
Date: Thursday, October 20th
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5
Presented by Morbid Anatomy
*** Thematic DJed after-party will follow the lecture; Books will be also available for sale and signing

Sending off the dead is something mankind does spectacularly well. There’s perhaps no human condition to which more attention has been devoted—faced with death, we create elaborate ceremonies and build great architectural edifices. We bury our loved ones in the ground or burn them in fire. We leave corpses as carrion for the birds, hang them in trees, or stow them in caves. We arrange for riderless horses to accompany the cortege to the cemetery or toss the remains of our fellows into sacred rivers amid the sound of bells and the swirl of incense.

In researching her latest book, Making an Exit (St Martin’s Press), Sarah Murray traveled the world in search of the best send offs. She will describe her encounters with everything from a spectacular Balinese royal cremation and a chandelier in the Czech Republic made entirely from human bones to the American death care industry’s biggest road show and a ghoulish Sicilian crypt where mummified corpses line the walls. Join Sarah for an engaging and highly personal discussion in which she will also present some of the unusual objects and artifacts she collected on her travels (she might even tell you about the plans for her own eventual send off).

Sarah Murray’s new book is Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre—How We Dignify the Dead (St Martin’s Press, October 2011). She is also author of Moveable Feasts: From Ancient Rome to the 21st Century, the Incredible Journeys of the Food We Eat (St Martin’s Press 2007, Picador 2008). A longtime Financial Times contributor and freelance writer, she lives in New York City.

Bohemian Occult Subculture in Britain’s 1890s: How Artists, Actors, and Writers Made the Golden Dawn

moina_mathersAn illustrated presentation by Dr. Christina Oakley Harrington of Treadwell’s, London’s legendary occult bookshop
Date: Thursday, August 25th
Time: 8pm
Admission: $8
Presented by Phantasmaphile

The Order of the Golden Dawn is an icon for modern occultists: it’s the late Victorian ceremonial magic organization which created the template for subsequent occult magic.  Western mysteries, Kabbalah, Celtic mysticism, and even Wicca would follow forms it developed in its 25 short years, c.1885-1925.  It was an occult renaissance, sudden and powerful.

Historians stress the first founders’ connection with freemasonry, giving the impression that it was a club of old Establishment men with gray suits and gray beards.  Their rites and study course were, one imagines, equally boring and patriarchal.  But in fact, the Golden Dawn core group were a bunch of young creatives – friends working in creative collaboration, inspired by the mysterious. They were the kind of people who, if they lived today, would perhaps hang out at Observatory.

The women, first.  One was a polyamorous working actress who wrote for feminist magazines. Another was a feisty trust-fund girl who staged avant-garde plays with her friends.  A third was gorgeous Swedish art student who liked older men and doing portraits.  The guys: a very cute poet from Irish parentage; a bright researcher with no money and a bad temper; and a rich kid who did a lot of drugs and a lot of boyfriends.  They were all bright, feisty, achievers; by old age each had made real impact in their chosen fields.  Together they made art, made ritual, did meditations, hung out, had romances, had breakups, studied old texts, and tried to reach into something beyond normal human experience.  As we see them anew via this illustrated presentation, it is hoped we can see the Order of the Golden Dawn anew.

Dr. Christina Oakley Harrington is the founder and managing director of the legendary Treadwell’s of London, a bookshop and events center for the British pagan and esoteric community.  She is co-editor of the Abraxas International Journal of Esoteric Studies.  A former assistant professor of History, she feels passionately that esotericism is an important strand in Western culture, to be addressed, studied, celebrated – and, of course, practiced.

From Baphomet to Marlene Dietrich: Traversing the Boundless – Modes of Transgression and Transcending Duality

marlene_dietrich_gallery_4An illustrated presentation by Frater Puck
Date: Thursday, August 11th
Time: 8pm
Admission: $5
Presented by Phantasmaphile

Tonight, Frater Puck will present a brief, illustrated discourse on methods of the exploration of taboos, boundaries, and cognition itself, as intimated in Art, Culture and the Occult.

From Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema, to the Aktionists in Austria, an impulse to revolutionize Society through the transmutation of the Taboo, and the unification of Opposites, exists among the vanguard in fields of Art and Occultism. This transmutation begins with the individual, however, and this impulse hints at an integral desire to transcend all limitations. Fascination with the Androgyne, be it personified by Marlene Dietrich, or Baphomet, speaks to this innate impulse. This lecture explores these implications and ventures to discuss practical application towards the Great Work.

Bio: Frater Puck has been a member of Ordo Templi Orientis for 17 years and has proudly served locally, regionally and nationally his brethren in the Cause of Freedom. He has served as Treasurer of Tahuti Lodge in New York City (1995 EV – 2000 EV) and Master of Tahuti Lodge (2000 EV – 2005 EV). From 2000-2010 EV, he has been a member of the Membership Committee and Committee of Four of Tahuti Chapter R&C. He has been a Chartered Initiator and Ordained E.G.C. Priest since 1998 EV and is a Certified Initiator Trainer. He is a member of the Mentorship Program as well.

He is currently a co-organizer and co-host of the OTO USGL Podcast, Thelema NOW!, and is a co-organizer and co-founder of the Musicka Mystica Maxima Festival, arranged under the Auspices of the OTO, bringing together a diverse group of Occultists and Musicians.

Anima, Animus, Animate: Exploring Masculine and Feminine Archetypes Through the Tarot

mag-hp-tarotDate: Friday, September 9th
Time: 8pm
Admission: $8
Presented by: Phantasmaphile

Masculine = Male. Feminine = Female. Right? Not necessarily. The masculine and the feminine are archetypal and ancient energies that exist within us as a collective as well as individually, regardless of gender. Long before Jung interjected “anima” and “animus” (inner female and inner male) into our understanding of the self, the Major Arcana, or Major Trumps, of the Tarot incorporated facets of these concepts into its depiction of the journey of the soul. Kathy Biehl, a professional proponent of symbolism as life guidance, will lead a visual and experiential exploration of the masculine and the feminine through images from the Tarot. Using a variety of decks from her private collection, she will discuss the diverse and nuanced ways in which the masculine and the feminine find expression — and each other. After surveying artists’ interpretations of the archetypes, she will introduce participants to their own inner masculine and feminine, through guided meditation.

Bio: Astrologer, Tarot master, attorney and author, Kathy Biehl lives and works on a bridge between intuition and the rational mind. She has been reading the Tarot since her mid-teens, when her mother unexpectedly gave her a deck after an otherwise ordinary day of high school. An undergraduate diet of German literature (heavy on Romanticism and fairy tales) and art history cultivated her innate bent for interpreting and working with symbolism, which informs her writing, classes, guided meditation recordings, and client consultations. Androgyny and gender confusion became an unintended but ongoing research project during her two decades in and around Houston’s alternate arts community, which she chronicled in her long-running zine The Ladies’ Fetish & Taboo Society Compendium of Urban Anthropology. Her website is

The Witch’s Dungeon

Cortlandt Hull with figure of his great uncle, Henry Hull, "The Werewolf Of London"

Cortlandt Hull with figure of his great uncle, Henry Hull, "The Werewolf Of London"

An illustrated lecture and show and tell with collector, artist, and proprietor of “The Witch’s Dungeon” Cortlandt Hull
Date: Friday, May 20th
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5
Part of
Out of the Cabinet: Tales of Strange Objects and the People Who Love Them, presented by Morbid Anatomy and Evan Michelson

Friday, May 20th may be a dark and stormy night. Brave souls normally catch the coach at midnight from the Borgo Pass to access the lawless and far off lands of Bristol, CT, spoken about in hushed tones as the home of the Witch’s Dungeon. But on this rare occasion the stars have aligned and like the Baba Yaga’s chicken-footed cabin, the Witch’s Dungeon is coming to Observatory!

Tonight, Cortlandt Hull will be speaking about his life’s work: the creation and evolution of The Witch’s Dungeon, a museum consisting of life size reproductions of classic film monsters. Growing up during the 1960′s monster boom, Cortlandt began construction of the Witch’s Dungeon 45 years ago in the back yard of his parent’s house. Over its near half century in existence, the Witch’s Dungeon has continually creaked open its doors, striking chords with patrons, becoming a true piece of Americana, and attracting many of the actors and filmmakers commemorated in the museum.

Cortlandt will also be screening clips of his multiple documentary films, providing a visual history of the actors & makeup artists who created the classic films. Original head props from fantasy films will be on display along with samples of Cortlandt’s work from the Witch’s Dungeon.

Cortlandt Hull–artist, museologist, and film historian–began “THE WITCH’S DUNGEON CLASSIC MOVIE MUSEUM” when just 13. in 1966. It is now considered the longest running tribute to the makeup artists & actors from classic horror films. Featuring accurate life-size figures of Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, and many others. Many of the figures are made from the actual life casts of the actor’s faces Cortlandt has produced documentaries on the history of classic horror & fantasy films. Actor, Henry Hull (“Werewolf of London”) was Cortlandt’s great uncle, and Josephine Hull (“Arsenic & Old Lace”) was his great aunt, so fantasy & horror is “in the blood”! He has lectured at universities, and film festivals, across the country, and has written for books and magazines.

Occult New York: A Manhattan Walking Tour with Mitch Horowitz

horowitz_occultamerica(Back by popular demand!!!)

Date: Sunday, May 22nd
Time: 2pm sharp – 4pm
Admission: $25 cash per person
***SOLD OUT***, but email phantasmaphile [at] if you’d like to be added to the waitlist

Time Out magazine calls it a “can’t-miss event” featuring “seldom-told stories of New York’s mystical history”

Presented by Phantasmaphile

*We will be meeting at 2pm at the front gates of Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue just north of East 29th Street, in front of the bronze statue of Norman Vincent Peale.

**You must RSVP to phantasmaphile [at] if you plan on attending, as we have a 40 person maximum for this event.

Long before the “Aquarian Age” hit California, America’s laboratories of spiritual experiment were in the tenements of Hell’s Kitchen, the metaphysical churches built in New York’s old cow pastures, and the lodges nestled among Manhattan office buildings. Join Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America, for a walking tour to explore New York City’s astonishing – and overlooked – role in igniting the occult revival and the revolutions in alternative spirituality that swept America (and the world) from the nineteenth century to the present day.

Discover little-known landmarks of our underground spiritual legacy, such as:

The New York New Church. This beautifully restored Renaissance-revival Swedenborgian church was a wellspring of supernatural ideas in America in the mid-nineteenth century, when its pulpit was presided over by Spiritualist minister George Bush – ancestor to the Bush presidential clan.

Fred F. French Building. This jewel of the art deco movement of the early-twentieth century is a landmark of esoteric symbols and hidden imagery, designed by an aficionado of the occult who left his mysterious markings on apartment and office buildings across New York City.

Marble Collegiate Church. From the pulpit of this Romanesque church (and one of America’s earliest congregations) the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale spread the philosophy of “positive thinking” throughout America – a spiritual system built on American mystical teachings.

Occult Grand Central. The crowning edifice of the beaux-arts architectural movement, Grand Central Station forms a temple of esoteric and mythical imagery (some of it hand-picked by the Vanderbilt family), including magnificent statues of Hermes, Athena, and Hercules, and a domed ceiling featuring one of the largest and most intriguing zodiac murals in the world.

Esoteric Lodges. The tour identifies and discusses remarkable and little-known spiritual lodges nestled along midtown Manhattan streets that many of us walk down each day.

The Lamasery. In the 1870s this west-side tenement housed the salon of the occult Theosophical Society, whose earliest members included Thomas Edison, Major-General Abner Doubleday, and the mysterious Russian noblewoman Madame Blavatsky. This is where Civil War-era Colonel Henry Steel Olcott said he was visited by mysterious “Masters” who heralded the dawn of a new spiritual age.

Here is an unforgettable opportunity to experience a lively and up-close overview of the “secret history” found right in our own neighborhoods. Plus a few surprises along the way…

A widely known writer and speaker on the history and impact of alternative spirituality, Mitch Horowitz is the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin and the author of Occult America (Bantam), which The Washington Post Book World called: “Fascinating…a serious, wide-ranging study of all the magical, mystical, and spiritual movements that have arisen and influenced American history in often-surprising ways.” The book received the 2010 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for literary excellence. Horowitz has written for The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, and BoingBoing, and has appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, Dateline NBC, and All Things Considered. Visit him online at

Art and Alchemy with Ann McCoy

Ann McCoy "The Queen and Red Bird"  2011

Ann McCoy "The Queen and Red Bird" 2011

Date: Friday, May 13th
Time: 8pm
Admission: $5

Presented by: Phantasmaphile

Alchemy is a way of bridging the opposites.  Through an richly illustrated presentation, artist Ann McCoy will discuss the alchemical imagery in the work of contemporary artists such as Herman Nitsch, James Lee Byers, Joseph Beuys, and Eric Orr, as well as within her own work.

She will touch upon the stages in the Great Work such as the putrefactio, the rubedo, and the albedo, and their relationship to depth psychology and dream imagery — as well as the role of depression, introversion, and dream states.  She will also explore the role of the artist as an alchemist, and the ideas of incarnation, transmutation, and transformation.

Psyche and spirituality have become devalued currency in today’s art world which is focused rather on political and sociological content.  Ann will show how the alchemical model is, in fact, a model for political and spiritual change both in the individual and society.

This talk will be in conjunction with Observatory’s group art show, ALCHEMICALLY YOURS.


Ann McCoy is a New York based sculptor and painter, as well as a curator and published writer who has been involved in studies of comparative religion, Jungian psychology, 15th. century alchemy, and Native American culture for thirty years.  Ann worked with C.G. Jung’s main successor, Dr. C.A. Meier in Zurich for twenty-eight years, and has studied alchemy both in texts and in her dreams.  She currently teaches a class on visual iconography at Yale, in the Drama Department.  A student of alchemy and dreams, McCoy brings her understanding of depth psychology.  She has worked on alchemical studies in the Vatican Library, and the Corsini in Rome.  She also taught in the Art History Department at Barnard College from 1980 through 2000, and her Barnard class appears in the recent documentary: KEEP THE RIVER ON YOUR RIGHT: A MODERN CANNIBAL TALE.

Ann’s work is included in the collections of many major American museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Hirshorn, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Whitney and others. She is primarily known for her large format drawings, but also works with light projection, installation, and sculpture.  She has done large-scale projection installations at Majdanek in Poland, and also in New Delhi at KHOJ.  She is the winner of a Prix de Rome, a D.A.A.D. Berliner Kunstler grant, an Award in the American Arts, a Pollack Krasner, and a Gottlieb, among others.  Her work was included in the Venice Biennale ART AND ALCHEMY in 1985.

For the last three years she has created fairy tales dealing with the alchemical theme “the death of the king.”  This political and spiritual allegory was about the need for a transformation in the collective in this time of endless war.  Her Berlin exhibition on this theme received a full page in the Berlin Zeitung, and recently a spread in Fabrik Magazine and the Huffington Post.