Friday, October 31, 2014

Witches by Colin Wilson and Una Woodruff

Witches by Colin Wilson and Una Woodruff

This offbeat art book first was released in the UK in 1981 by Dragon’s World; this edition, from the ‘budget’ publisher Crescent Books, also was published in 1981.

‘Witches’ (158 pp) is an overview of the myth and legend of Witches, and in a broader sense, the Occult, in Western culture. It appears to have been aimed at an audience of New Age adherents, neo-pagans, Wiccans, Goddess worshipers (although many of these categories didn’t really exist as such in 1981), and those with an interest in the occult.

The book’s text was contributed by Colin Wilson, who, of course, was very well-read on the Occult, having authored a number of books on the topic. In ‘Witches’, he suffuses his writings with his own philosophy (what he eventually called ‘New Existentialism’) regarding occult phenomena. In short, Wilson believes that witches and witchcraft were and are, in some instances, ‘real’, and this involves tapping psychic forces as yet-undiscovered by science. 

The chapters are usually two or three pages in length, and cover such diverse topics as The Earliest Witches, The Destruction of the Templars, Werewolves, Mother Shipton, The Witches of Salem, and The Golden Dawn, among others. It goes without saying that Wilson's desire to use anecdotes of 'supernatural' events as evidence supporting the idea of 'man's latent powers' (a touchstone facet of his New Existentialism) makes him quite gullible.

The primary appeal of ‘Witches’ comes from the illustrations, provided by UK artist Una Woodruff (b. 1951), an artist who I had never heard of prior to seeing this book. lists her as the illustrator for four books, all from the late 70s / early 80s, dealing with New Age / fantasy topics. [She has a Facebook page.]

Woodruff’s art - uses both graytone and color - showcases delicate linework, skillful composition, and careful coloring. It contains traces of New Age-inspired art, folk art, and, in some instances, the meticulous style of natural history illustration. Overall, her art has the sort of highly attuned approach to its subject matter that is characteristic of British children's book illustration.

While most of the book's illustrations have a fantastical, eccentric quality to them, perhaps the best piece in the book is the outstanding entry for 'The Witches of Salem', p. 119. This illustration adopts a 'realistic' style, and its dull umbers, blacks, and browns, contrasting with the blue and white of the sky, lend it an appropriately grim atmosphere.

Anyone with an interest in fantasy art, or New Age art, will want to have a copy of 'Witches', which is available at reasonable prices from your usual online retailers.

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