CHICAGO — Photographer Allan Spiers is a self-taught artist whose life began in Peru surrounded by the magic and religious beliefs of its culture. After moving to the United States at the age of 13, he carried a natural call and love of Witchcraft and the occult into adulthood and, eventually, into his professional career.
As highlighted in part one of our interview, Spiers recently merged his artistic talents with his spiritual beliefs to launch several multi-image projects, allowing for a new level of artistic freedom. In his newest project The Sabbath, Spiers explores both the male form and occult expression. In part two of our interview, he talked with us about the specifics of the project, its inspiration, and how his unique and evocative imagery fits into the extensive canon of traditional western-based Witch visuals.
TWH: Considering the attention given to the female body and sexuality with regard to Witchcraft imagery, your use of male fitness models creates an irony. Was this choice simply a function of your professional work or did you actively make this artistic decision?
AS: This was definitely an artistic choice. When I started the project I intended to include women as well, however there was a hidden message and a hidden voice I never realized was there and I started to get messages from male Witches rejoicing in the project, finally they felt their side of the story was getting told. So I decided to let that experience take over the project.
TWH: In the traditional western narrative imagery, male Witches are relatively uncommon. When they are presented, male Witches are generally constructed as elderly wizard-types, tricksters, or child-like fools. Your images present something different: a sexualized and powerful male witch – a form more typically reserved either for a non-magical epic hero or for a depiction of a Satan-type figure. Do you feel that this aspect of masculinity has been left out, to some degree, of the Witch’s story?
AS: I definitely feel it has been left out. There is a dark ages of sorts that separates the ancient and the new age. This period of time where the true power and mystery of the Witch in his and her primal form has been lost. It is no surprise this is also a time of overwhelmingly oppressive patriarchy that birthed a need for women to reclaim their power and press maledom under their heel. While this need was and is definitely justifiable, it altered the image of the male Witch. He became subservient and fragile tipping the scales and threatening the balance, the other end of the horseshoe effect.
This project rekindles that equal male potency, it reawakens the Bacchic and Panic rites of lust, sex, and witchcraft. Witchcraft is nature, it is raw, and it is powerful. It runs in both male and female equally. I want men to be proud to call themselves Witch without the fear of being trivialized or feminized. Of course there is a subculture of feminine male witches, but this project focuses on divine and virile masculinity within the context of its important role in Witchcraft.
TWH: Why, in your opinion, are traditional narrative images of male witches, unlike female witches, presented without concern for the body at all? And, why are they mostly constructed as non-sexual creatures, while Satan as a character is often very sexualized?
AS: This was definitely propaganda by early artists. Nothing was more terrifying to them than the woman sexually free. These standards were not needed for men because the sexuality of men was never questioned. Men relied on more civil standards of office and stature. The male Witch was then made to reflect the magistrate, the wayward priest, or the old farmer, abandoning their societal roles to cohort with the Legions of Darkness.
To revisit earlier topics, when we travel back to the classical cultures that shaped Witchcraft, and saw the heights if its power, we find sex, both male and female, as an important part. The historical Witch’s Sabbath has its roots in the Bacchanalias of the Roman empire, as well as the rites of Kybele, Hekate, and Pan. Ritual possession, drunkenness, feasting, adoration of the idol, animal sacrifice, and orgy were considered sacred.
Many rites of Witchcraft call on attractive youths, and emphasize nudity. It wasn’t until the rise of the Abrahamic religions that this was frowned upon, and slowly demonized. The rites of Pan and Bacchus became rites of Satan, these gods, predominantly phallic, sexual gods such as Pan were transformed into the Devil, and all things lecherous and sexual were his domain.
TWH: Through your project The Sabbath, are you making a statement about the masculine role in modern Witchcraft practice?
AS: I am definitely making a statement, and a very personal one. My husband and I have been on the receiving end of a very obscure type of judgement from the occult community: fit shaming. There has been this prevalent idea of what a male Witch is and what he looks and acts like. We don’t necessarily fit into those molds, and many have expressed their disdain for it. We are masculine; we include fitness into our daily lives, and we unapologetically display the masculine male form, not only within ourselves, but in our art. Somehow the “fit” became the “anti,” as if the musculature of the Witch gods such as Mercury, Hermes, Dionysos, and Pan, were somehow forgotten. We have gotten threats, ridicule, and have been told we are not true Witches for abandoning the typical image that makes them comfortable.
Insecurity is a powerful thing. The strong can be insecure and prey on the talents of the weak, and the weak can be insecure and prey on the strength of the strong. Neither is justified in any circumstance so this project tramples and rejects stereotypes, and celebrates carnal masculinity in its bull like form, raging and unapologetic. We celebrate the goat gods, the devils, and the lecherous, powerful male occultist. Most aspire to look like these models, yet they lack the will to attain it. They promote hatred toward it but secretly desire it. After all, fitness is the most irrefutable and literal manifestation of pure willpower. They manifest their desires very observably into the aesthetics of their bodies. This is a direct parallel with Witchcraft, and it is magnificent when the two are combined.
TWH: Why do you think the body itself, in any form or part, is so prominent in Witch-related images?
AS: I think it is because it makes us uncomfortable, it makes us feel vulnerable and insecure. It rushes the viewer back to Eden, and confronts them with their own lust and sin. We like to look at the naked body, after all, it is sex and the desire for it that drives every aspect of our life. We want money so we can afford things that make us attractive. We have a deep rooted instinct to want people to find us attractive to have sex with us. The things that make people feel most insecure are the things they feel people will not desire sexually.
When we see individuals celebrating their sexuality and nude body, especially if they fit society’s standards of beauty, the anger and jealousy we might have comes solely from our own insecurities. “Why can’t I be like that?” “Why can’t my body be celebrated like that?” The fact is, it can, and it should be! When we embrace our primal sexuality and lust, when we shed our clothes and flaunt our prideful and vain physical bodies as objects of pleasure we violently usurp the Puritanical views of nakedness as shameful and immoral. This is the devils and the panes, the nymphs and the witches. This power that liberates is the ultimate form of Witchcraft. Once the Witch, or even the viewer can achieve this, their will can manifest in ways they could never imagine. When you are confident in every way, you can bid the mountains to tremble, and break the heavens!
TWH: Your photographs seem to draw from classic art, which again is ironic considering The Sabbath celebrates the Craft and the body. Most classic depictions do not. Why pull from images that have traditionally defamed Witchcraft and women specifically?
AS: Did it defame or did it empower? During this time period, what is the social image of the Witch? She is powerful, she is frightening, and she is uncontrollable. These scenes often depict women standing over cowering men with confidence and defiance. These artists captured one element of the Witch, the awesome power, yet betrayed a very important facet, their sexuality. Look at the witches of classical times, Circe, Medea, the legendary witches of Thessaly and Iberia, beautiful seductresses, the maenadic revelers of Dionysos, sexually free and liberated, queens like Maria Padilla and Elizabeth Woodville who used sex and witchcraft to attain power. It is no surprise that it was fashionable for women to boast about their pet like imps and spirits and perform divinations and conjurations for love and power.
And this can also be reflected on the male Witch. From the priests of Faunus and Pan who performed rituals and divinations, sacred orgies, and saw power in the erect phallus. Fauns and Satyrs dancing seductively aroused releasing their seed to create power and life. While Goya and Falero definitely have inspired this project visually, the content itself is invoked from ancient cult experience, confessions from the Inquisition, research from works such as the Compendium Maleficarum, and practical sources from various grimoires, each lending bits and pieces to the project, hopefully creating a unique and authentic experience.
TWH: Are there any paintings or artists that you drew from specifically?
AS: The way it happened was actually quite accidental. As you can tell from the first images, Mendes and Blaspheme, as I did more, it is as if I tapped into the same vein of inspiration of artists before me. Once Spectral and Hemlock were born, it started to become apparent that there was a continuity with artists such as Goya and Falero that I only noticed after their creation. So that is when I started to pour over sources more closely and vividly. I let the artists who came before add a brush stroke to this project in a reverent nod to their contribution to the perpetuation of interest in Witchcraft and the occult.
TWH: With that in mind, your imagery definitely has a syncretic feel in its religious overtures. Is this your childhood experience come into play?
AS: The experiences that come into play are experiences I had later in life combined with those of my childhood. It is the clash of Pagan polytheism with the brand of monotheism I experienced when I moved to the United States. In Latin America, there is always an heir of sexuality even in the modest. The United States features this rigid and horrifically oppressive brand of Christianity called Evangelicalism. Seeing human nature squandered and shamed has been absolutely nightmarish. This project cuts deep into that concept, and the imagery will get more shocking, more vulgar, and more controversial. This is a metaphysical journey for the viewer. It takes them deeper and deeper into the limits of their comfort zones and makes them evaluate why they feel what they feel when they see these images. Is it intrigue? Is it desire? Why does it challenge them? Like The Sabbath itself, the longer you stay, the more it unlocks and reveals about your own nature and potential.
TWH: Earlier, you talked specifically about how you developed the images in LOA. Talk about The Sabbath. How did each image come to you?
AS: As with Legion, I do the shoot first and through a specific divination, let the photo pick itself. Once selected I open up my mind to the spirits and gods, in this case, those who hold dominion over Witchcraft. I also offer to my patron Minerva, the Devil, Maria Padilha, Diana, Pan, and Hekate, and evoke any daemons or forces that would like to speak through the project. As I start to work on the skeleton of the image, I start to look at historical accounts, rituals, and practices to see if it fits any legitimate experiences. If it does, I know it is going to be a genuine image, and I let it overwhelm me. I can’t stop the process once it starts, and after several hours I am left with the result of modern conjuration. I have summoned a being into physical reality.
TWH: Was there religious work being done during the series creation to this point?
AS: Absolutely. As I mentioned before, I offer to several gods and spirits, and enter a creative trance to the sounds of ‘Of Earth and Sun’, whose music is featured on The Sabbath’s page. There is also follow up ritual of thanks after each image is created. It takes the form of libations, fumigations, and adornments for their altars. This whole project has had a personally profound impact on my religion and spirituality. I feel the hands of the gods guide my hands, I feel the Witch Flame inspire within my subconscious, and it has been a sensation I have never felt before. This is religious because it honors every Witch, every conjurer, every being who has been demonized, and it presents it raw and unfiltered. The project doesn’t care for fragility and personal feelings. It doesn’t care if it offends. It cares only to fan the flames of Hell and shake the vaults of Heaven, at least in the mind of the viewer.
TWH: When developing the project, did any of the models reject the offer to participate due to the subject matter?
AS: To my surprise, no. Most of the models are intrigued and fascinated by the project. I get offers on an almost daily basis from models who want to be a part of it. I think the anonymity helps, as does such a controversial subject matter. It has gotten to the point where several models have started to express interest in Witchcraft and the occult. We spend hours with them showing them our practices and touring our altars. Some have even become temporary employees of the Vodou Store. This goes for the public as a whole as well. The overwhelmingly positive response has been amazing.
TWH: Are there more images coming in The Sabbath? What about a book?
AS: There are definitely more images to come. The project is still very much in its infancy. The collection so far is somewhat out of order. Once it starts to be compiled into its book and gallery form, they will be reorganized so the journey is more apparent. I want this to be my masterpiece so I am going to take time perfecting it and making it astounding.
TWH: What is your hope for this project?
AS: The hope for this project is to bring witchcraft to the forefront, to expose it to the mainstream, and to incinerate previous stereotypes. I want others who may not have had an interest before to feel at least the heat of the witch flame, and those who have never acted on their interests to take the leap into the deep darkness. So far, it seems to be achieving that. I have yet to realize the full impact given that it is so new, but only time will tell where it will go and what its end goal is.
TWH: Do you have a favorite image from The Sabbath?
AS: It is so hard to pick just one. Each image offers its own challenge and experience. Some create arousal, some create feelings of power, some take you deep into altered reality, but I can say two that stand out are “Invocatio” and “Satyr.” “Invocatio” because the model demonstrated power to hold that position. That power is then reflected in the levitation within the photo symbolizing that through strength of will the impossible is possible.
“Satyr,” because it fit that model so well. He is one of the most sexual people I have ever met. That photo captures that excessive arousal in an authoritative and strong posture, and it was only appropriate to let the satyr energy have its way with it. But I could go on and on with each image as they all have their own story, and their own challenges.
TWH: Along with finishing up Legion of Aeons and continuing with The Sabbath, you are launching another series called The Esbat? When will that begin?
AS: The Esbat is coming soon. We are in the process of finding models who are open to the ideas proposed in the project.
TWH: Will it feature mostly women?
AS: Yes, this is definitely the women’s voice. It will follow the same rules as The Sabbath, and both will be cohesive. While The Sabbath focuses on the rituals of Devils and Panes, The Esbat will focus on the rites of the Moon and Night.
TWH: If so, how will you capture the female spirit? Will you be working with any women to assist?
AS: My husband and I come from long lines of powerful practicing women. We also maintain prominent altars and shrines to Witch goddesses like Diana and Hekate, and will use their energy to channel these images. I also do a lot of female fitness photography and capture the female in a more dominant and powerful way, while maintaining her sexuality. We do have several women who will be advising us on the women’s mysteries, so that will be invaluable for this project.
Keep an eye out after the new year! That is when we have the first shoot with one of the most talented and amazing models we have ever worked with!
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[Editor’s Note: All images are reprinted her with express permission and are copyright Allan Spiers Photography.]