Fascinating Female Occultists

Counterculture icon and essential figure in the early postwar Los Angeles art scene, Marjorie Cameron is the subject of an upcoming retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). Cameron: Songs for the Witch Woman opens October 11 and will feature over 90 artworks and ephemeral artifacts, including correspondence with husband and occult mentor, the engineer and Thelemite Jack Parsons. “Her hallucinated vision, at the edge of surrealism and psychedelia embodies an aspect of modernity that deeply doubts and defies Cartesian logic at a moment in history when these values have shown their own limitations. Her work demonstrates that the space in the mind is without limit,” states MOCA Director Philippe Vergne. The exhibition offers a rare look at the life and work of a female occult practitioner — too frequently depicted as mere muse or lunatic, even though female-centric mysticism has existed for thousands of years. Here are a few other female occultists who deserve mention.

Madame Blavatsky

Helena Blavatsky

Author of the pioneering esoteric text The Secret Doctrine and co-founder of the Theosophical Society (focused on exploring the origin of humanity and the divine “without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color”), Helena Blavatsky is one of the progenitors of the New Age movement. Attempting to unify Eastern tradition with Western occult practices, Blavatsky traveled throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States studying various doctrines. She reportedly underwent training with Hindu gurus in India. In her first major book Isis Unveiled, Blavatsky raised eyebrows when she claimed that science and religion was not the way to true enlightenment (she also believed she was psychic), though she did find legions of followers in America during the Spiritualist craze (and later in India once more). She was frequently declared a fraud — a vastly different reception than in her native Russia where she was born into an aristocratic family. Her coarse demeanor and seemingly exaggerated personal history didn’t help her reputation, but Blavatsky’s contributions are still celebrated today.