Bedknobs & Broomsticks

Stained Glass, French c.1259

Bedknobs & Broomsticks

WORDS: Nina Antonia
ART: Anthony Gerace

It is always with the waning of the year that the erotic chimera of the witch returns. If her countenance has softened with the passing of time, let us remember that those who dabbled in witchcraft or even dressed provocatively were once subject to the harshest of penalties. Despite Salem, witchcraft was never actively prohibited in the US, but England was a different matter. Though the burning years were long over by the 18th century, Parliament still voided all marriages where a woman was thought to have employed the witchcraft of ‘scents, paints, cosmetics washes, artificial teeth, false hair, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes or bolstered hips’, to lure a spouse to the altar. The witchcraft act was finally repealed in the UK in 1951; whilst it did little to revive a trend in iron stays and bolstered hips, covens subsequently proliferated across the British Isles. Ironically, the concept of the Scarlet Woman evaporated with contemporary paganism which looked more to nature and fertility Goddesses than ladies of ill-repute. Despite all of Aleister Crowley’s consistently hard work in venerating horny dames, Wicca changed the accent and the occult whore of Babylon sloped back to the pages of Revelations.

Glamour, with its roots in the diabolic, floundered in the Aquarian age where everything including nudity was permissible. Revolting against the slide in standards, Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, whose headquarters were in San Francisco, penned ‘The Satanic Witch’. LaVey’s tips for would-be-witchy-wantons hailed from a smokier era, when taboo and sin still had their place. As a former musician on the burlesque & carney circuit, LaVey, who enjoyed trysts with both Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, appreciated sensual mystique. A thousand feathered fans may have hit the trash cans as burlesque houses closed their doors to make way for full frontal strip joints in the mid-Sixties but the thrill of sneaky peaks, which LaVey termed ‘The Law of the Forbidden’, has lost none of its appeal. The devil has always been in the detail, the flash of a bra-strap or a glimpse of soft flesh above a garter belt. Commercial sex rarely relays obtuse pleasure. According to LaVey, any would-be temptresses can’t go far wrong with blood red-lipstick and three inch heels but he also noted ‘In order to practice magic, you must follow natural law, not violate it.’ In other words, a homely girl may never be beautiful but she can still charm.

Sensual sorcery is a multi-plumed serpent encapsulating the primitive and sophisticated. Heralded by lascivious orchestration and tribal drums, Marlene Dietrich shimmies out of a gorilla suit in the pre-Hays code movie. Blonde Venus’ to perform the sizzling number, ‘Hot Voodoo.’ Conveying a subliminal perversity, Dietrich sports an enigmatic, crafty smile that recalls Leonardo Da Vinci’s timeless cover girl, the Mona Lisa. It is the knowingness that eroticises the Mona Lisa’s otherwise plain features and according to historian Scott Lund, the landscape behind the subject places her between The Vatican, on the right hand side of the image and Lake Nemi, to the left, a centre of witchcraft once dedicated to the Goddess Diana, sister of Lucifer. Did Mona at the Cross-roads practice the forbidden arts? Or did she simply possess the kind of ‘Sly come hither stare’ that composers Leigh & Coleman celebrated when they wrote ‘Witchcraft’ – a massive hit for crooner Frank Sinatra, in January 1958.

Few of course can seduce with a glance but those who do, smoulder like the coals of hell. When it comes to inciting desire, the witch’s male counterpart has more in common with Lucifer the light-bearer than a learned warlock. The ill-omened golden boy, Bobby Beausoleil, whose surname translates to ‘Beautiful Sun’ was born for the role of Lucifer, at least as far as film maker and Crowley disciple, Kenneth Anger, was concerned. Following a brief spell as a guitarist with the band Love, Beausoleil was cast as the lead in Anger’s proposed movie Lucifer Rising. Unfortunately, Bobby fell from grace when he was arrested on August 6, 1969 for the murder of Gary Hinman, which is believed to have triggered the Manson Family’s subsequent killing spree. Now dear reader, I will not bore you with the Satanic-whirligig of conspiracy theories that connect Beausoleil, Anger, LaVey, Charles Manson, Sharon Tate, Mia Farrow and Roman Polanski, except to say that when Bobby was tried, he turned in the best Luciferian performance of his blemished life. Never was he more beautiful or damned than when he smiled at the cameras prior to being dragged off’ to the underworld. To date, this footage which is available on YouTube has had over 666 thousand hits, and we all know whose number that is. If, as Anger reasoned, the sun related to the masculine then the moon remains distinctly feminine and like the erotic, impossible to pin down.

According to LaVey, the sauciest witches were not the stuff of centrefolds but were more likely to be found in exaggerated cartoon form. Alas the old school broomstick bombshells of yore have largely been ousted in favour of overly cute images or jokey hags but seek and you shall find the eternal witch sitting astride her trusty mount as she sails across the night sky. The fear of unbridled female sexuality still haunts and like magic, cannot be contained but you’ll know her w hen she finally calls, through the mists of autumn, at the last stroke of midnight and in dreams as she runs her fingers through your hair. As Frankie once sang And I’ve got no defence for it, the heat is too intense for it, what good would common sense for it do? Cause its witchcraft, wicked witchcraft.’ Of course, back in 1958, Sinatra had no idea that he would one day marry Mia Farrow-, who starred in the satanic masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby alongside Anton LaVey. It is worth noting that Sinatra threatened to divorce Farrow- if she didn’t quit the film. The divorce went ahead and Rosemary’s Baby was born. Best be careful what you witch for.

© Nina Antonia, 2014. All rights reserved.

Nina Antonia: writer/journalist. Books: Johnny Thunders…In Cold Blood (1987), Peter Perrett – The One and Only (1996), The New York Dolls – Too Much Too Soon (2005), The Prettiest Star – Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley? (2006).