Typefaces of the occult revival

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Man, Myth & Magic #1, January 1970; McCall’s, March 1970.

The announcement last week of the death of British character actor Geoffrey Bayldon prompted some discussion here about the typeface used for the titles of Bayldon’s TV series from the early 1970s, Catweazle. This was a humorous drama in which the actor portrayed a warlock transplanted by a time portal from the Norman era to the present day, a comic counterpart to another occult-themed series, Ace of Wands (1970–72). Being aimed at children, both Catweazle and Ace of Wands are at the lighter end of the great flourishing of occult-related media that runs in parallel with the rise and fall of psychedelic culture, a period roughly spanning the years 1965 to 1975. The two trends reflected and fed off each other; the hippie movement stimulated interest in the occult (Aleister Crowley is on the cover of Sgt Pepper) while giving to the commercial propagators of the supernatural a range of aesthetics lifted from the 19th century.

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Muller, 1972; TIME, June 1972.

Among the graphic signifiers is a small collection of typefaces from the Victorian or Edwardian eras, designs which vanished from sight after 1920 only to surface 50 years later in very different settings to their previous deployment. I’m always fascinated by the way context changes the perception of a typeface, and the repurposing of Art Nouveau fonts—which hadn’t previously been associated with diabolism—to signify witchcraft or sorcery is a good example of this. In the case of the occult revival this was partly opportunism: the commercial application of post-psychedelic style made the previously untouchable trendy again, decoration and elaborate stylisation was no longer taboo. But it was also a solution to the problem of signifying the sorcerous with typography when there were no off-the-peg solutions as there were for, say, Westerns or stories about the Space Race. As well as carrying with them a flavour of old books, some of the more curious letterforms were reminiscent of the glyphs of magical alphabets which no doubt explains their popularity.

What follows is a chronological selection of the more striking examples (or my favourites…) which conveniently begins with Ringlet, the Catweazle font. With the trend being towards Art Nouveau you find popular Nouveau styles such as Arnold Bocklin also being used in the 1970s but I’ve avoided these in favour of the less common choices.

Ringlet (1882) by Hermann Ihlenburg

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Pall Mall, 1971.

Jullian’s landmark study of the Symbolist movement isn’t an occult text but it is a great favourite of mine whose original title—Esthètes et Magiciens—puts it in the right sphere. Inside, the author touches on the spiritual concerns of many of the artists which included Theosophy and fashionable Satanism.

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Duckworth, 1973.

Aleister Crowley is represented here with the first reprinting of his erotic poetry, produced in a limited run by the venerable London house of Duckworth.

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Rise Above Records, 2016.

Blood Ceremony are Canadians devoted to the occult rock of previous decades. Their presentation matches songs with titles like The Great God Pan and Morning Of The Magicians.

Continue reading “Typefaces of the occult revival”

Weekend links 306

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• The Midian Books Occulture catalogue launched this week sporting a cover that I pieced together for Midian’s Jonathan Davies. The design pastiches the look of the Process Church magazines of the early 1970s; inside there’s a haul of Process material on sale together with COUM/Throbbing Gristle ephemera (that’s Cosi Fanni Tutti on the right, as seen on her modelling business card), Kenneth Anger ephemera (that’s Bobby Beausoleil on the left) and much more.

• More occulture: Lost Envoy: The Tarot Deck of Austin Osman Spare launches on 11 May at Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London NW3 6DG, from 7–9pm. All are welcome.

• Out this week: Close To The Noise Floor – Formative UK Electronica 1975–1984: Excursions in Proto-Synth Pop, DIY Techno and Ambient Exploration.

• Mixes of the week: Spin Doctor’s All Vinyl Prince Tribute Mix, and the Rum Music Mix by Russell Cuzner.

David Gentleman’s illustrations for New Penguin Shakespeare books, 1967–1977.

• More electronica: Walberswick by Jon Brooks is now available in a digital edition.

• Blown up: Steve Rose on how cinema captured the dark heart of the swinging 60s.

• Six Quietus writers choose favourite Prince songs. Related: The A–Z of Prince

A Timeline of Slang Terms for Male Homosexuality by Jonathan Green.

Berenice Abbott’s views of New York streets then and now.

• Jan Svankmajer is crowd-funding his next film, Insects.

Laurie Anderson on the creation of O Superman.

• Blood Ceremony: The Great God Pan (2011) | Oliver Haddo (2011) | Ballad Of The Weird Sisters (2013) | Let It Come Down (2014)