Merry we meet - Merry we meet - Merry we meet
(The Witch of Kings Cross)
Written and compiled by George Knowles
Rosaleen Norton was an Australian visionary artist, mystic and witch, daubed by the popular press of the time as “The Witch of Kings Cross”. At the peak of her artistic fame just before the rise of contemporary witchcraft in the 1960’s, her work was little known outside the confines of Australia. As such her contribution to pagan art was in many ways diminished by the likes of Austin Osman Spare. I hope here to bring her name back to the fore, as one of the most outstanding originators of contemporary pagan art.
The Bacchanal - The Séance
Known as “Roie” to her friends and family, she was born during a thunderstorm in Dunedin, New Zealand, on the 2nd of October 1917. The youngest of three girls, she was brought up by Protestant parents. Albert her father worked as a merchant seaman with the New Zealand Steamship Company. In June 1925, the family moved to Sydney, Australia, settling in Lindfield on Sydney's North Shore.
Roie grew up as solitary child, instinctively feeling different she remained aloof from other girls her age. Her favorite time was the night, and from an early age began to experience strange psycho/spiritual fantasies of mystical ghouls and spirits. At school she particularly liked to draw, but the pictures she created were imitable of her nightly fantasies. The drawing she produced soon got her into trouble, disturbing classmates and teachers. At the age of 14 when attending the Chatswood Girls Grammar School, the headmistress of the school declared her drawings “a corrupting influence on other pupils” and expelled her.
Roie next attended the East Sydney Technical College, where she studied Art under the noted sculptor Raynor Hoff. While her main interest was art, she was encouraged by friends in college to develop her talent for writing, and had several macabre stories published in the popular Australian newspaper, Smith's Weekly. This led to her first job as an illustrator and reporter in training. However, her drawings were judged to be to risqué and unconventional for the majority of the papers readers, so she lost the job after just 8 months.
Out of regular employment, Roie survived working part-time as a waitress and bartender, as well as modeling for Norman Lindsay a fellow artist and close friend whose early drawings were both controversial and notorious, and to which her own work was often compared. She was also researching psychology, magic and metaphysics, studying in depth the writings of Carl Jung and William James, and occultists like Eliphas Levi, Madam Blavatsky, Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley.
In 1935, Roie met and married a man called Beresford Lionel Conroy, and together they spent the next few years traveling around Australia's East Coast. They appear to have separated during the war years, and all that is known of Conroy, is that he spent two years serving in Northern New Guinea as a Commando in the A.I.F. After his return from the war, he and Roie divorced.
By that time Roie had started drawing again, contributing illustrations to a monthly journal called Pertinent. While working for Pertinent she began experimenting with self-hypnosis, trance and automatic drawing, through which she discovered new techniques to heighten her artistic perception by transferring her conscious attention ‘at will’ to inner planes of awareness. These experiments she wrote later “produced a number of peculiar and unexpected results and culminated in a period of extra-sensory perception together with a prolonged series of symbolic visions”. She also met her magical and artistic partner, the poet Gavin Greenlees.
In 1949, Roie and her new boyfriend Gavin, relocated to Melbourne where she held her first major art exhibition at the Rowden-White Gallery in Melbourne University. However after two days of opening the police raided the exhibition and seized four of her paintings, one of which is the now well-known painting called Black Magic, depicting a black panther copulating with a naked woman. The police later charged her with offences under Public Obscenity Laws.
During the following court trial, the Crown prosecution claimed her paintings were pornographic, obscene and decadent, inspired by works of mediaeval demonology, and likely to “deprave and corrupt the morals of all those who saw them”. However all charges were dropped when various academics were called to defend her religious practice of Pantheism, which Roie described as the pagan worship of ancient Greek Gods. The police were ordered to pay all costs of the trial.
While the trial caused a public scandal in the popular press and brought with it some notoriety, it did little to help sell her painting, or lead on to further exhibitions. So she and Gavin returned to Sydney, and took up residence in a dingy basement flat at 179 Brougham Street, located in the bohemian center of Kings Cross, the stomping ground of Sydney's down-and-out artists, prostitutes and criminals. There because of her new status as a minor celebrity, Roie became a well-known local character.
In 1951 they were approached by a publisher named Wally Glover, who after seeing their work, decided to publish a limited edition of 500 leather-bound books called “The Art Of Rosaleen Norton (with poems by Gavin Greenlees)”, which he published in 1952. The book caused a huge out cry from literary critics who denounced it as indecent and attracted widespread media publicity. Copies of the book were even confiscated and burnt by the US customs.
As a result Wally Glover was charged with producing an obscene publication. Two pictures in the book were ruled to be indecent because they showed pubic hair and phallic appendages, in particular was the one called “Fohat”, which depicted a cheeky looking demon with a snake for a penis. Once again Roie was called back into court to defend her art in terms of pagan archetypes based on ancient Greek Gods, despite which, the magistrate fined Glover five pounds and ordered the two pictures removed from unsold copies of the book. The media publicity attracted more notoriety and even commissions for Roie, but poor Wally Glover was forced into bankruptcy.
Due to her renewed notoriety Roie became one of the most famous characters of Kings Cross. Her paintings soon adorned the walls of local cafés such as the Kashmir and Apollyon, and visitors to Sydney began to seek her out. The press by now had added to her fame by labeling her “The Witch of Kings Cross”. Soon she was being called the leader of a witch “cult”, which in reality was no more than a few friends gathering in her flat to talk about metaphysics and the occult, and perhaps engage and experiment with pagan rituals.
Several outbreaks of scandal kept the legend of "The Witch of Kings Cross" alive, and controversy was never far away. In 1955 a man offering to sell alleged pornographic photos of Roie and Gavin performing unnatural sexual acts approached the Sun newspaper. These turned out to have been taken as a joke at one of Roie’s birthday parties, but rumors spread and persisted that she was involved in satanic rituals, black masses and magical sexual rites. Such ‘would be’ stories regularly appeared in Australian newspapers and magazines, and ‘Rosaleen Norton’ became a household name.
Another scandal hit the media pages in 1957, when perhaps under pressure from all the media attention and notoriety, Gavin Greenlees was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and institutionalized. Later while out on temporary release, his bubble burst and he tried to kill Roie with a kitchen knife. His attack failed, and he was sent back to the sanatorium never to be heard from again.
Later that year another scandal erupted which rocked polite society worldwide. Sir Eugène Goossens the famous English conductor/composer, at the time ‘the resident conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’, ‘Director of Music for the ABC’ and ‘Director of the NSW State Conservatorium of Music’, much less conspicuously, he was also a close friend and intimate of Roie. He had been a frequent visitor to her flat in Kings Cross since 1952, where they had an intense affair and he played a part in sexual occult rituals. On the 9th of March 1957, after a trip back to England he was stopped by customs at Sydney's Mascot airport and accused of trying to smuggle into the country ‘banned books’, ‘pornographic photos’ and ‘ritual masks’ for use in Roie’s rituals. Goosens was fined £100 the maximum for a breach of the Customs Act. Due to the following public scandal, he also lost all his positions in Australia and was forced to return to England in disgrace.
With the revival of ‘Contemporary Witchcraft’ in the 1960’s, Roie dropped out of the public eye; her behavior and life style no longer seemed so strange. She continued to support herself by selling painting and making magical trinkets for friends and for curious tourists who still sought out “The Witch of Kings Cross”. In 1974, Roie’s name was again briefly made public when the Rt. Rev. Marcus Loane, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney set up a ‘Commission of Inquiry’ into occult practices. Among his most sensational claims, was that occultism and a belief in Satanism was the most sinister of modern craze’s. After the fuss died down, Roie became reclusive and shut herself away with her cats, music and literature.
By the late 1970’s, Roie’s health began to fail, and in 1979 she was diagnosed with colon cancer. She was admitted to the ‘Sacred Heart Hospice for the Dying’ where on the 5th of December 1979, she passed away surrounded by nuns, despite remaining to the last ‘a Pagan’.
Rosaleen Norton was a brilliant artist, but like so many famous people before her, was a victim of ignorance and the prejudices of her times. She was a devotee of the pagan god Pan, and during her life and trials maintained a sincere truth about her art, religion and lifestyle. Her art in the main represented supernatural imagery, which in today’s more liberal society, and interest in fantasy and surrealistic art, it has found renewed acceptance. In her own day, her paintings were regarded as bizarre, obscure and pornographic, and she was not accorded the recognition she deserved.
Her art has recently been rediscovered, and is finding a wide audience. In 1957, after the debacle concerning the publishing of “The Art Of Rosaleen Norton (with poems by Gavin Greenlees)”, Wally Glover was declared bankrupt and copyrights to Roie’s artwork, which had been assigned to him, were taken over by the Official Receiver in Bankruptcy. The copyrights were finally returned to him in 1981 and the book was republish without difficulties in 1982. In 1984, Wally followed this up with a new limited edition called the “Supplement to the Art of Rosaleen Norton”, a collection of tastefully mounted colour photographs of 48 more of her works. Roie’s often controversial art is again available ‘uncensored’ to the public, were recognition can justly be reinstated.
The Art of Rosaleen Norton with poems by Gavin Greenlees. Walter Glover, Sydney. 1952. 2nd edition: Walter Glover, Bondi Beach. 1982.
Supplement to: The Art of Rosaleen Norton (1982 Edition) with poems by Gavin Greenlees. Walter Glover, Bondi Beach, N.S.W. 1984.
To be posted later
First published on the 04 March 2007, 18:22:06 © George Knowles
Best wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
Wicca & Witchcraft
The Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) / Esbats & Full Moons / Links to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft Resources / What's a spell? / Circle Casting and Sacred Space / Pentagram - Pentacle / Marks of a Witch / The Witches Power / The Witches Hat / An esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism / Pow-wow / The Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / A history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope Innocent VIII / The papal Bull / The Malleus Maleficarum / An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum / The letter of approbation / Johann Nider’s Formicarius / Jacob Sprenger / Heinrich Kramer / Stefano Infessura / Montague Summers / The Waldenses / The Albigenses / The Hussites / The Native American Sun Dance / Shielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Festivals:
The Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Rituals contributed by Crone:
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder
Rocks and Stones:
Stones - History, Myths and Lore
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:
Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Wisdom and Inspiration:
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murdered by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A Kelly / Albertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Doreen Valiente / Dorothy Morrison / Dr. John Dee & Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater - Horrible Herman / Isaac Bonewits / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches / Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred / John Michael Greer / John Score / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot - "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" / Monique Wilson / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellars / Mrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" / Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) / Rudolf Steiner / Sabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough" / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - (includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) / Thomas Ady / T. Thorn Coyle / Vera Chapman / Victor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest /
Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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