The Third Door:Occult Works of Ray Robinson, at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic (through 15 January)
by Christopher Ian Lutz
Burn the Sun
The persecution of the witch is a war of the hours. The Inquisition that charged women with witchcraft was not just about controlling women’s bodies – it was a crusade to extinguish illumination. The Catholic church is a solar religion, channeling divinity through the Son (sun). The sun is the origin of light. Thus, the church considers its institution synonymous with God. As worshipers of the source of illumination, the church claims to be the only true medium of heavenly light. The Morning Star, Lucifer, signifying the master, is not a true source of enlightenment. Its illumination is merely a reflection of the sun. For this reason, the church regards Lucifer as a deceiver of spiritual enlightenment, as is the Moon. The illumination of lunar knowledge is considered an illusion by the church. It is the enlightenment of darkness. It is knowledge absent of the sun, absent of God, the source of knowledge. Therefore, lunar knowledge symbolizes the antichrist, the anti-sun. The female body is considered a vessel, not a source of divinity, and thereby, if filled with false light, she becomes the mother of the antichrist, the antithesis of the holy Madonna. Although it is through the womb of the mother that the sun is born, the church denies the female body as the vessel of divine light. They instead demand her vessel to remain empty, like a virgin. However, the Mother is nature. She is not an astral virgin. She is celestial and terrestrial. She is the creator. She is God.
The night ritual of the witch unifies and celebrates the spiritual and material dualism of the divine feminine that is manifest throughout nature and is embodied in the female. As the female permeates nature, knowledge of herself opens the door to the entire universe. Light from the sun is an external revelation. The bonfire is an internal mystery. The witch enlightens herself through the fire of her own kindling, not through the drama of Mass. She needs not salvation through the Eucharist because transubstantiation comes through the smoke as burning earth transforms into air, connecting the terrestrial to the celestial.
Ray Robinson’s paintings are like fire, both illuminating the viewer’s consciousness and consuming the panels in monoliths of death. Like fire, the figures and landscapes have form and do not have a form. The figures take on the exact physical likeness of the surrounding natural environment. The same brushstroke and texture that paints the earth and bonfire is the same stroke that depicts the priestess’ figure. The monoliths that hang from gallows and rise from pyres are identical to those figures conducting rituals. The moment the viewer realizes one element, they are introduced to its opposite. This dualism is further visualized by the black and white pigment transformed into an intermediate gray. Robinson contains the composition by grounding the figures within a compacted space. Elements are pushed together, creating density. However, like fire enveloping a solid form, that concentration of heat dissolves into the ether.
There is a sense of direction in the paintings, but there is no distinction between the air and ground. The brushstrokes confuse the politics of moral direction. Robinson’s brush moves between physicality and spirituality. The motion in the paintings circulate, causing the viewer’s eyes to dance with the witches and follow the spirits ascending from the fire. The brushstrokes preserved in pigment appear to be the air circulating the fire and the moonlight. By seeing air, we can see the unseen. This painterly effect is the occult. This is the mystery of the fire. Robinson is not painting scenes of ritual. Rather, a ritual appears as his brush circles the surface of the panel.
There is no sin in a witch reclaiming her relationship with nature. For those channeling the solar current, enlightenment devoid of the sun creates a nightly paradise. According to the church, humanity carries the wound of Original Sin. The sun purifies this sin. Thereby, fire is purification. The church “reclaims” paradise by setting the witch aflame, thus creating a ritual of transforming ignorance into enlightenment. Like the destruction of the temples of Ishtar millennia ago, the church erased the embodiment of female divinity by crafting altars of fire for a deified ember. The church removed the divine feminine from the earth by burning the female body to raise her in smoke and ash to heaven, restoring her purity as an astral virgin. It is a shadow of the divine ascension. It is not the physical that is supposed to rise to heaven, but the spirit. The prayers, not the screams, are to transcend the body.
Their hanging bodies become scrying shadows casting misfortune on earth. A dead witch closes the portal to the spirit world. The execution of the embodiment of female divinity severs our connection to the dust. We silence our communication with nature and become deaf. The witch is an interlocutor between the physical and the spirit worlds. The church wanted to sever this channel to make the sun the one true direct line to divinity. This is not true. As time unfolded, the church has called upon saints and angels as intermediaries of the divine. Furthermore, the earth is now in great peril because of our silence with nature.
Witches are not necessarily anti-church or anti-christ. However, the church is anti-witchcraft. We typically think of witchcraft as the antithesis of the church, but historically, it has been the reverse. The church structured its theology and rituals to absorb and eliminate the pagan practices that preexisted Christianity. Robinson reminds us of the beginning of religion, where witchcraft, the divine feminine, is at its roots. The female is priestess and goddess. The persecution of witchcraft conceals this history. By mourning the executions of numerous witches, Robinson unearths this buried spirituality. The Third Door is a history of light, but these works are not mere imitations of historical figures and events. Instead, they are extensions of our present reality. Robinson is not painting history — he is creating reality. His hand moves through the landscape, through history, through pain, through fire.
Christopher Ian Lutz is a Los Angeles-based writer with an emphasis on contemporary painting and photography. He has written for several art publications, including exhibition catalogs for Stephen Romano Gallery and the Morbid Anatomy Museum.