Issy Marcantonio discusses iconic witchy music-artists.
It is the season of the witch and these witchy women have been conjuring magic their entire careers. Their music collectively emotes the supernatural, weaving it into their discographies and images to summon cosmic forces. Modern witchcraft is a tool of empowerment, a lens through which artists have been able to explore sex, death, feminism, mythology and emotional landscapes. This list presents to you five artists who you should listen to this spooktober and their connection to mysticism.
The Dianic Witch: Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks has been referred to as a witch since the rise of Fleetwood Mac in the 1970s, a role which she has played into in recent years with her appearance as herself in American Horror Story: Coven. The long hair, the black fabrics that glide across stage and her solo album Belladonna, named after a plant often employed in spell work, all work to portray Stevie Nicks as a Dianic Witch. Dianic witches practice the most overtly feminine type of magic, worshipping the moon Goddess Diana.
Nicks’ song ‘Rhiannon’ has become a witch anthem since its release in 1975. Stevie would often begin her live performances of it by whispering into the mic “This song’s about an old Welsh witch”. The song is as elusive, enigmatic, and enchanting as Stevie herself. Her lyric “She is like a cat in the dark and then she is the darkness” encapsulates Stevie’s witchy image, an alluring and mysterious invocation of feminine power.
Nicks has celebrated and empowered fellow female artists across the years, inducting them into her “Sisters of the Moon” coven by gifting them gold crescent moon necklaces, of which sister trio Haim are proud recipients. Stevie Nicks has danced, sung and wrote her way into being a ‘Gold Dust Woman’, so in her own words “rock on ancient queen”. We all pale in your shadow.
The Green Witch: Kate Bush
“Out on the wiley, windy moors/ We’d roll and fall in green” is the lyric Kate Bush introduces herself to the public in her 1978 number one ‘Wuthering Heights’. The gothic romance of Emily Bronte’s novel of the same name is brought to new pastures as Bush cartwheels across the Yorkshire moors – swathed in chiffon embodying the attitude of a Green Witch.
Green witches as the name would suggest are intimately connected to the earth and the foliage within it. Bush’s own name calls forth shrubbery; however, it is her lyrical finesse influenced by mystical knowledge, lore and legends, and children’s literature that project her witchy nature across the musical and physical landscape. Witchcraft in Bush’s discography has provided an angle through which to meditate on love, loss, and misogyny.
Her third album, Hounds of Love, is filled like a cauldron to its brim with a chorus of inner voices each of whom turns to nature and the mystical to seek comfort. On ‘Cloudbusting’, Bush laments “I still dream of Orgonon”, a site surrounded by rolling hills. She attempts to climb in ‘Running Up That Hill’ with a Romantic stubbornness that has become symbolic of her often-guarded temperament. As the first woman to achieve a number one single with a self-penned song, Kate Bush has been ‘Waking The Witch’ within all of us for over four decades.
Modern witchcraft is a lens through which artists have been able to explore sex, death, feminism, mythology and emotional landscapes
The Ceremonial Witch: FKA Twigs
Ceremonial witches hold rituals in high regard, casting magic through specific movements, elements and actions. The physicality of FKA Twigs and her otherworldly voice are deliberately enchanting. It took six months of training for Twigs to gain the strength for her pole-dancing performance on ‘Cellophane’, learning how to aerial cartwheel and using her body as a surreal, shape-shifting tool. She’s even recently been learning how to wield a sword in a type of kung-fu called wushu. Each performance is carefully crafted to convey intensity, beauty, and a dose of supernatural freakiness.
Her videos suspend the rules of time and space as she immerses the viewer in a variety of experimental atmospheres, transforming herself into a modern witch whose spirituality and dancer’s precision meld together to defy the order of the world we inhabit. In “Glass & Patron”, Twigs pulls a scarf out of her body while dancers’ envelope her through the fabric in what becomes both an entrancing and disturbing image. Twigs takes command of her narrative through the force and precision of her body combining power and nuanced understanding in a series of coordinated moves.
Twigs’ latest offering ‘Home With You’ follows in this ceremonial vein as she whispers “Breathe in, Breathe out” focusing on the way in which her body is experiencing itself. Her dancers and herself resemble the Midsommar May queen participants as they run around fields, decked out in white flowing dresses whilst Twigs reaches operatic heights in the repeated refrain “I’d be running down the hills to be with you”. For Twigs every movement has its purpose and mystical significance, her ceremonies are awe-inspiring and every space she conducts herself in becomes ‘Holy Terrain’.
The Elemental Witch: Lorde
In numerous interviews Lorde has referred to herself as a witch. From the purple lipstick, the gothic attire of the Pure Heroine era, and her Gollum like moves when on stage, she certainly has the look down. Lorde evokes the spirit of an elemental witch, whose lyrics often feature the four elements – earth, air, water ,and fire. It is the latter that is her calling card, fire.
‘Buzzcut Season’, ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’, ‘Perfect Places’, and ‘Liability’ all see Lorde conjuring flames, describing herself as a “forest fire” and seeing fire as emblematic of her teen self “I’m nineteen and I’m on fire”. Lorde is one witch that revels in being on the stake, her elemental witchcraft is a weapon she uses to empower herself. Her live performance of ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ at the American Music Awards in 2014 was a master class in turning flames into fuel as she smeared lipstick on her face, snarling “I got my fingers laced together and I made a little person and I’m locking up everyone who ever laid a finger on me”.
Katniss Everdeen may be the literary girl on fire, but it was Lorde who curated and performed on the Mockingjay Part 1 soundtrack for the penultimate Hunger Games film. Her videos too are lit up like a bonfire. From dancing around fires on a beach, swinging light bulbs around a dark room, to setting a swimming pool on fire in ‘Magnets’ – her 2015 collaboration with Disclosure. Lorde is ‘Homemade Dynamite’, allowing her to cast a fiery spell on you this Spooktober.
The Cosmic Witch: Florence Welch
Florence Welch has big cosmic witch energy. Astrology, astronomy, and celestial yearnings all bleed into her repertoire. To watch a live Florence Welch performance is to observe a spell in motion – an exorcism, a transcendence. She really is a sorceress having formed her first coven as a schoolgirl in Camberwell and even now her book club Between Two Books brings women together in such a way, that it could be called magic.
Her haunting ballads and chants fuel the sorcery that surrounds her as she constructs her altars of song with mythological reflections and the power of the cosmos. On ‘Which, Witch’ she even sweeps history to find her magical sisters, conducting her narrative from the perspective of a woman persecuted during the Salem witch trials. In the pop landscape, Florence takes her place as an spiritual oracle of sorts, using her ‘Third Eye’ to explore the “hole where your heart lies”. Her lyrics meditate of devastation, wreckage and love. She might be surrounded by ‘Seven Devils’, but its through her the universe comes to light on a grand scale. Searing vocals and her Ophelia-like appearance she transports us along with her to different places and times, a conduit of emotion.
The supernatural gives Florence a reprieve from reality, and in turn lets radiate ‘Cosmic Love’ back at her.