Norton, Rosalind (1917–1979)
Rosalind Norton, an Australian occultist and avant-garde
artist whose life anticipated the modern Wiccan movement, was
born in Dunedin, New Zealand. As a child she had a vision of
a shining dragon beside her bed, one of several events that convinced
her of the existence of a spirit world. When she was
seven, her family moved to Sydney, Australia. As she grew into
her teen years, she felt increasingly alienated from mainstream
life and by her 14th birthday decided to make her own way and
express her unique vision in her art. During her years at East
Sydney Technical College, she developed a deep interest in
witchcraft and magic and began reading Éliphas Lévi, Dion
Fortune, and Aleister Crowley.
After college Norton supported herself with a variety of menial
jobs in King’s Cross, where she had moved, but increasingly
lived for her art and occult life. She experimented with selfhypnosis
as a means of inducing a trance state during which she
would produce her art. Meanwhile she continued her reading
in the occult and Eastern religion. Her paintings became increasingly
demonic complete with ghouls, werewolves, and
even vampires, She also increasingly focused her subconscious
on Pan, the ancient Greek deity, whose spirit she felt pervaded
the Earth. She decorated her apartment with a Pan mural, did
rituals invoking his presence, and felt him when she entered
her trance states.
In 1949 she moved with her husband, Gavin Greenlees, to
Melbourne. The next year, she had her first major encounter
with the law. An exhibit of her art at the University of Melbourne
was raided by the police, and Norton was charged with
obscenity; the court ruled in her favor. In 1952, a limited edition
book of her art was judged to contain two obscene pictures;
the publisher was fined, and future copies were produced with
the two pages blacked out.
Then in 1955, a woman who was being questioned by police
on other matters began to make statements claiming that Norton
was leading black masses as part of a Satanic cult. She described
her as the ‘‘black witch of King’s Cross,’’ a label that
would be frequently repeated by the press. While the woman
later recanted some of her statements, they had already made
their way to the newspapers, and Norton was forced to defend
her attachment to Pan. No sooner had the issue died, than a
film of her and her husband performing a ritual to Pan, which
had been stolen from their apartment, found its way to the police.
The film included some sex scenes, and the pair were arrested
again. The trials of both the men who had stolen the film
and of Norton entertained the public for almost two years. In
the midst of the publicity, a café where Norton’s paintings were
hanging was raided and the owner fined. Norton and Greenlees
were eventually found guilty of making obscene pictures.
After the lengthy court proceeding, Norton became reclusive
and stayed out of the public eye for the remaining 20 years
of her life. She died in King’s Cross on December 5, 1979. In
the years since, her work has been reevaluated and her artistic
accomplishments praised by a new generation of art critics. Her
magical career has found appreciation by the expanding Australian
Wiccan movement who now see her as a herald of their
community.
Sources
Drury, Nevill, and Gregory Tillett. Other TemplesOther Gods
The Occult in Australia. Sydney Methuen, 1982.
Norton, Rosalind. The Art of Rosalind Norton. Sydney Wally
Glover, 1952.