The full moon was in Aquarius and Mercury in retrograde as members of L.A.'s cosmic mafia — a fashionable collection of white witches, black wizards, Crowleyites, healers, shamans, alchemists, magicians, cult members, Aquarians, Santeria priestesses, bohemian artists, mystically-minded musicians, pagans and acid hipsters — gathered at Cinefamily on Saturday for a crash course on witches, and why we love to hate on them.

The night was sold out, which was no surprise — magic and occultism are alive and well in Los Angeles, and in the popular culture in general. Black mass images, upside-down crucifixes and pagan imagery have infiltrated fashion magazines everywhere, not to mention musicians' minds — take witchhouse artists Salem, demon rappers Odd Future and even Lady Gaga, all of whom have been borrowing from the grand library of the occult.

Marlene Vargas, santeria priestess; Credit: Maria Demopoulos

Marlene Vargas, santeria priestess; Credit: Maria Demopoulos

Jodi Wille, the brains behind book publisher Process Media (along with Adam Parfrey), co-organized the event with Maja D'Aoust, otherwise known as the White Witch of Los Angeles. Wille emphasized that the face of this occult movement is more white magic than dark, less goat sacrifices and more herbal tea; it's about sustainable living, psychedelic music and avant garde art. As such, it's a movement that is very at home in Los Angeles, a natural hub for the kind of supernatural hippie who likes to embrace magic.

Aiden Chase, white wizard clairvoyant; Credit: Maria Demopoulos

Aiden Chase, white wizard clairvoyant; Credit: Maria Demopoulos

And indeed it was a chic, well-attired crowd that had gathered to learn about the poor old Witch, one of the most demonized archetypes of all time. D'Aoust, who holds her monthly “Maja's Magic School” metaphysical lectures at Annie Besant Lodge in Hollywood, explained to the audience why witches have so often been scapegoated and abused by patriarchal society.

Basically, “they were freaked out by our periods!” That's right, witches, priestesses and female healers have been despised because not only could they bleed for five days and not die (which makes a lot of us witches, I guess), but also because they are vestiges of matriarchal culture, and connected to nature in a way that men cannot understand. “They had really strong relationships with nature and the earth and other realms. When monotheistic patriarchal culture came along, all that was squashed out.”

D'Aoust explains that men have hated witches because "they were freaked out by our periods"; Credit: Maria Demopoulos

D'Aoust explains that men have hated witches because “they were freaked out by our periods”; Credit: Maria Demopoulos

Not all dudes are frightened of witches, however. Take author and magician Brian Butler, aka “Black Magic Brian,” who introduced a newly-restored 16mm clip of Curtis Harrrington's film “Wormwood Star”, featuring the art of 1940s occult icon Marjorie Cameron, an intoxicatingly witchy redhead who famously robbed Anais Nin of the lead role in Kenneth Anger's “Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome,” thanks to her imposingly magical presence. Cameron destroyed all of the paintings seen in “Wormwood Star” while living with her second husband Sherif Kimmil (thought to be the inspiration for the R. P. McMurphy character in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). She did this because, as any witch artist worth her salt knows, her paintings were talismans, too dangerous to remain on this earth.

In the audience was Djin Aquarian, member of legendary Los Angeles mystical tribe, the Source family, and guitar player for the group's band, YaHoWha 13. He was fresh from rocking Hollywood strip bar Cheetah's the night before, alongside members of space rock band Spindrift (the combination of psychedelic hippie jams and confused tittie dancers will never be forgotten by anyone who was there…but that's another story). Djin, along with the rest of the Cinefamily audience, watched never-before-seen archival footage of Source family members performing two unique white magic rituals — the sacred herb ritual (basically, a super rad way to wake-and-bake), and the Star Exercise. (The footage will be featured in an upcoming documentary about the Source family, being co-directed by Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos.)

Djin Aquarian, member of a legendary Los Angeles mystical tribe; Credit: Maria Demopoulos

Djin Aquarian, member of a legendary Los Angeles mystical tribe; Credit: Maria Demopoulos

And still, there was more witchiness to be had. Contemporary witch Sera Timms, alluring singer for stoner/doom band Black Math Horseman, introduced a music video she directed for the band Isis. There were clips from 1922 Danish film Haxan, featuring eerie imaginings of the Inquisition and witch burnings, plus Maya Deren's film of a bona fide chicken and goat voodoo sacrifice in Haiti. Even after the slide shows and film clips had been shown, there was still more magic — out back, on the patio of the movie theatre, a white wizard and a Santeria priestess dispensed healing, gifts and magical advice to a by-now fully energized and inspired audience.

D'Aoust and Wille, who live in the same apartment building in Glendale, had been planning the evening for some time. One witchy conversation led to another, and they realized they both wanted to raise awareness of the true significance of witches in western culture. “Understanding the power of the witch is understanding the power within yourself to make magic happen,” explains Wille. She and D'Aoust will be back with another event in the fall, about “demon possession and radical healing,” featuring a shamanic healer, a kabbalist and an acupuncturist who deals with entity removal…the magic, it appears, has just begun.

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