PAGAN RITUALS IN TECHNICOLOR, PRIESTESSES AND FORTUNE-TELLERS: THE PSYCHEDELIC 70S SAW A RENEWED INTEREST FOR MAGIC, AND ONE MAGAZINE STOOD OUT FROM THE CROWD: "MAN, MYTH AND MAGIC", THE BIBLE OF THE OCCULT.
The fabulous 70s were a special time for magic. Thanks to the intoxicating drugs, psychedelia, Technicolor’s vivid shades, the hippie culture’s aftermath and sexual liberation, this decade fostered the explosion of pagan cults related to nature born during the 60s and underwent the fascination with everything in any way connected with the supernatural and the occult.
Feminist protest movements used the acronym W.I.T.C.H. (standing for “Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell”), documentaries such as “The Power of the Witch” were spreading and two were the names dominating the scene: that of Wicca – the famous British neo-pagan witchcraft movement promoting the cult of nature – and that of its highest priestess, Maxine Sanders, an ethereal figure often immortalized while performing her rituals in the open air along with her husband Alex, “King of the Witches.”
For these and any other subject that escaped the understanding of ordinary people and the masses, there was “Man, Myth and Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural”, an authentic bible of the occult.
We’re talking about an illustrated encyclopaedia in 24 volumes, each of which was dedicated to a particular field within the world of paranormal, a journey through the esoteric in all its forms. It ranged from black magic to voodoo, from superstition to life after death, from astrology to alchemy, from tarots to divination and dreams, from ghosts to zombies and UFOs, from paganism to rituals, from mythology to Satanism, from witchcraft to hypnosis, from exorcists to snake charmers, from telekinesis to Nostradamus, all the way up until themes maybe less ‘fantastic’ but still impenetrable, like religions or philosophies such as Buddhism.
Published by Purnell and Sons, edited by Richard Cavendish and art directed by Brian Innes – former percussionist of the jazz band The Temperance Seven – “Man, Myth and Magic” was born in 1970 in the UK and, at the beginning, it actually was a magazine, published in 112 issues. It was only later on that the American company BPC PUBLISHING decided to collect the various issues of the magazine in the most popular set of 24 hardcover volumes, for the US market.
The magazine was openly academic – as it’s documented by the fact that the names behind the one thousand articles published are always those of university professors and experts in religion, psychology and ethnography.
But what really made “Man, Myth and Magic” so special were its illustrations: full color, often ultra saturated, photographs showing grieve images of rituals around burning pyres or surrounded by the peace of the mountains, with hooded men, young witches with long hair or nude middle-aged curvy women struggling with tools of the trade: tarot decks to read the future or silver trinkets to use in some kind of mystic ceremony.
The most absurd thing is that this magazine, with its disturbing covers depicting monsters, satanic figures with bloodshot eyes and other distorted ones, was sold at any drugstore or supermarket, and commercials inciting to purchase it broadcast on every major tv channel at peak times. Its lavish images, a mix of lust and fear and restlessness, were under the eyes of everyone all the time and, in a way, this helped to make Man, Myth and Magic pivotal in redefining and shaping the 70s’ imagery and the collective fascination with the world of magic.
Text by Francesca Milano