The Occult Humanities Conference 2019:
Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions

October 4-6, 2019
34 Stuyvesant St. New York, NY

Hosted by Phantasmaphile and the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions

*** The conference is now SOLD OUT ***

*PLEASE NOTE: All conference talks can only be accessed by ticket-holders. However the exhibition, vending area, and Sunday night closing reception are all free and open to the public, per the schedule below.



The fourth Occult Humanities Conference is a weekend conference to be held in New York City on October 4-6, 2019. The conference will present a wide array of voices active in the cultural landscape who are specifically addressing the occult tradition through research, scholarship and artistic practice.

The arts and humanities at present are acutely interested in subjects related to the occult tradition. The tradition represents a rich and varied visual culture that displays a complex set of relations at once culturally specific and global in their transmission. Roughly defined, the occult tradition represents a series of culturally syncretic belief systems with related and overlapping visual histories. Though there are as many ways into this material as there are cultural - and personal - perspectives, universal occult concerns often include a belief in some sort of magic; a longing to connect with an immaterial or trans-personal realm; and a striving for inner-knowledge, refinement of the self, and transformation of one's consciousness - if not one's physical circumstances.

Intensely marginalized throughout most historical periods, these traditions persist and represent an 'underground' perspective that periodically exerts a strong influence on structures of dissent, utopianism and social change. Though history is marked with several so-called "Occult Revivals," the contemporary digital age is a perfect confluence of several factors which make this moment prime for a reexamination of all of the esoteric traditions. While the information age has allowed for easier access to previously obscure writings, imagery, and social contexts, it alternately elicits a deep desire for sensorial experiences and meaning-making once one steps away from the screen.

The presenters at the OHC represent a rich and expanding community of international artists and academics from multiple disciplines across the humanities who share an exuberance and excitement for how the occult traditions interface with their fields of study as well as the culture at large. The small scale of this conference (approximately 100 attendees) will give ticket holders an intimate look at the presenters and their views.

The OHC is co-organized by Jesse Bransford and Pam Grossman




ALCHEMY AND THE ARTS OF CREATION: or what I learned in 50 years of alchemical obsession

“Illustrated with my words, your imagination, and some relevant alchemical images.

I work with alchemical concepts, processes and materials, replicating the work of the early alchemists to gain insight into their world-view and to explore the created world by creating. Through this work I have realized that any act of creation, regardless of the medium, scale, or timeframe, is at heart alchemical, as all creation and creative acts flow from the same principles as stated in the Emerald Tablet, ‘Following the creation of the Macrocosm, the Work is completed.’ This ‘Work’ is the alchemical work of bringing matter to perfection and the soul to union with the One. Alchemical practice actively engages both ‘outer’ physical laboratory processes and ‘inner’ practices such as meditation, visualization, and dream work in the pursuit of this ‘Work.’ This talk will explore how and where material outer practice is united with the inner practice of transmutation in alchemy and how it can be applied to all the arts. So that through our art making we may engage the world and discover the hidden architecture of the cosmos in order to awaken the hidden architecture within us.”

BRIAN COTNOIR is an alchemist, artist, and filmmaker. He is the author of a series of Alchemy Zines. His books include Alchemy: The Poetry of Matter, The Weiser Concise Guide to Alchemy, Alchemical Meditations, On the Quintessence of Wine, and the Emerald Tablet, his translations of and commentary on, the earliest Arabic and Latin versions of this seminal text. His Emerald Tablet was part of the Language of the Birds: Occult and Art show in 2016 in New York City. An alchemical composition of his “Egonomen nekros,” was part of the 2018 exhibition at Green-Wood Cemetery, The Power of Image: Life, Death, and Rebirth. He occasionally gives talks and has presented workshops and seminars around the world on various aspects of alchemical theory and practice based on his research. His film work has been screened at Museum of Modern Art, Film Forum (NYC), Arsenal (Berlin), Sundance Film Festival, HBO, PBS and at other international venues. In 2019 his award winning film The Inland Sea (1991) was re-released on Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection.

Khepri Press launched in 2014 with the publication of the Emerald Tablet, is the vehicle and portal for his alchemical and hermetic work.



Curator and editor Alison Fraser will discuss witchcraft and magic in the poetry and visual art of Helen Adam (1909-1993), including work recently published in The Collages of Helen Adam (2017). Adam was a Scottish-American poet, visual artist, and student of the occult whose creative work and life took on magical dimensions. Drawing from Adam’s extensive archives at the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo—including manuscripts, correspondence, black magic scrapbooks, astral projection photographs, artworks, personal library, and artifacts—this paper will explore the ways in which witchcraft and magic appear in Adam’s work as sources of poetic inspiration and tools to undermine the patriarchy.

ALISON FRASER, PhD, is Assistant Curator of the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, which houses the archival collection of Helen Adam. She is editor of the book The Collages of Helen Adam (2017) as well as selections of Adam’s work appearing in the Chicago Review and Paideuma: Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. She is editing the collected letters of Helen Adam and Robert Duncan, and revising a monograph tentatively titled Homemade Books: A Twentieth-Century Literary History.



Betye Saar is lauded as a prominent figure in the Los Angeles assemblage scene and the Black Arts Movement. Her early works deeply engage the mystical, incorporating imagery related to astrology, palmistry, the tarot, and spirituality. This talk will trace the presence of the occult in Saar's early works and its transformation towards gesturing the political.

NECTAR KNUCKLES was recently a joint Curatorial Fellow between The Studio Museum in Harlem and The Museum of Modern Art. She received her B.A. in Art History from Barnard College, Columbia University.



Brooklyn based writer Dianca London will examine the role that the witch, seer, and conjurer play in Black women’s writing. Through the work of writers like Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Rita Dove, and Luisah Teish, London will explore how the divine feminine has been used as a catalyst for self-expression, bearing witness, and social justice within the Black literary canon. This presentation will also explore how each writer’s embodiment of the witch and textual expression of spirituality deliberately confronts and subverts the violence of colonialism, white supremacy, misogyny, and respectability politics. This presentation and the dialogue that it will foster is a celebration of the witch’s inarguable connection to the history and collective memory of the African diaspora.

DIANCA LONDON earned her MFA in Fiction from The New School and her MA in English in addition to her MA in Humanities from Arcadia University. She is a 2015 Pushcart Prize Nominee and a Best Small Fictions finalist for 2016. She is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow, a Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop participant, the former prose editor of LIT Magazine, and the former online editor of Well-Read Black Girl. Her words have been featured in Shondaland, The Washington Post, The Village Voice, Lenny Letter, and elsewhere. Her memoir, Planning for the Apocalypse from Simon & Schuster / 37 Ink. She currently works and resides in Brooklyn. You can follow her musings at @diancalondon.   



A Search for the origins of the Qliphoth, the dark side of the Kabbalah

While the origins of the Jewish mystical system known as Kabbalah are easy to trace, beginning with its basic concepts, first introduced in the Sefer Yetzeriah, later expanded upon by Sefer ha-Bahir before finally given full form in Sefer ha-Zohar, the origins and significance of its opposite, or ‘Dark side’, the Qliphoth, remains obscure. Despite this, the sequence of 10 ‘Averse Sefirot’ has become the focus of interest for a number of modern occult authors and researchers without examining its history.

By studying the original source material for the Kabbalah Andy Mercer has traced a shadowy path to the Kabbalah’s ‘other side’ examining its fascinating twists and turns along the way and uncovering some intriguing mysteries with regards to its development and incorporation into Western Occult practises.

A.D. (ANDY) MERCER is a writer, researcher and professional psychotherapist with over thirty years’ experience investigating both the esoteric and the paranormal, primarily from a phenomenological perspective. Outside his professional publications in the field of psychotherapy, his occult works have focused on the Runes (Runen – The Wisdom of the Runes) and the Enochian magical world of Dr. John Dee (Liber Coronzom – An Enochian Grimoire) His most recent title to be released, ‘The Wicked Shall Decay’ is his first work for internationally renowned Three Hands Press. Andy is currently working on his next work for Three Hands Press, which focuses on areas related to his talk for the Occult Humanities Conference.

Andy also the co-organiser of ‘The Nameless Arte’ annual occult conference in the UK.



“My presentation will articulate a series of creative and magical interactions with two ancient human sites: Barclodiad Y Gawres (The Giantess’ Apronful) and Dowth (The Place of Darkness) in County Meath, Ireland. Both these places have had a formative influence on my work as an artist and witch for many years and continue to be present in my work. Barclodiad Y Gawres is a stone tomb containing megalithic artwork (one of only two surviving, both on Anglesey, in the UK). Dowth is a much larger megalithic mound; the art carved on its stones is very similar to that at Barclodiad. Both had ritual uses involving cremated human remains. I grew up very close to Barclodiad and have haunted these places since my childhood. The work centres on spirit contacts induced by sleeping in these places and other interactions with them. Art and magic arise from stones, earth, moon and sea here; they are the same thing.”

…Towards midnight in the still cold the moon at last quarter rose very yellow over Yr Eifl…On the hearth in the chamber a wood fire burned down to charcoal.. they poured a stew over it…eel, grass snake, natterjack toad, mouse, shrew, rabbit… a witches’ brew… (Barclodiad)

JUDITH NOBLE is Head of Academic Research at Plymouth College of Art. She is the joint Co-ordinator of the Black Mirror International Research Network which publishes on contemporary and modernist art and the occult and esoteric. She organised the symposium Seeking The Marvellous: Ithell Colquhoun, British Women and Surrealism (Plymouth 2018) and co–organiser of the Cambridge interdisciplinary conference: Visions of Enchantment (2014). Her research centres on avant-garde film in the UK and US (1940-80) with specific emphasis on the work of Maya Deren and women film makers, on surrealism and film, and on film, the esoteric and the occult. Her most recent publication (which she edited with Daniel Zamani) is Visions of Enchantment: Selected Papers from the Cambridge Conference (Fulgur, March 2019) and other recent publications have included chapters on Deren, Kenneth Anger and Derek Jarman ( a full list is available on request). She is editor  (with Tilly Craig and Victoria Ferentinou) of a forthcoming volume of papers from the Seeking The Marvellous symposium. Judith continues to practice as a film maker and artist. Her films are distributed by Cinenova.

Before returning to an academic career in 2007, she worked for over twenty years in the film industry where as head of production at Sgrin Cymru Wales she developed and financed feature film scripts and she executive-produced films by directors including Peter Greenaway and Amma Asante.



“In 1980, my book Seventy-eight Degrees Of Wisdom took a radical approach to the Tarot. Rather than a list of meanings for fortune-telling, or a “memory palace” of occult correspondences, it saw the cards as a portrait of our lives, one that shifted and opened up as we explored it, with readings as our map. We can call this approach “psychological,” but only if we take that term beyond the narrow “rationalist” approach of most modern approaches to the psyche (a Greek word that means “soul” and “butterfly”). Instead, the Tarot helps us see the links between our inner selves to the outer world, including the world of spirit. In this talk we will look at this basic idea, then go beyond it to specific examples, some from as recently as earlier this year.“

RACHEL POLLACK is the author of 43 books of fiction and non-fiction, including two award-winning novels, a poetry collection, a translation (with David Vine) of Sophocles’s Oidipous Tyrannos (“Oedipus Rex”) and a series of books about Tarot that have become known around the world. Rachel has taught and lectured in the U.S. Canada, Europe, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and China. Rachel has designed and drawn The Shining Tribe Tarot, and recently worked with artist Robert Place to create The Burning Serpent Oracle. Her work has been translated into 16 languages. Her most recent book is The Beatrix Gates. Until her retirement, Rachel was a senior faculty member of Goddard College’s MFA in Writing program. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.



Brooklyn-based painter Laurel Sparks will discuss the adaptation and layering of esoteric symbol systems in her studio practice. Using inventive principals of Chaos Magick, Sparks applies a range of divinatory methods to generate a geometric and material lexicon. Woven, stained and embedded with trinkets, her paintings reflect a ceremonially encoded world view that pays tribute to occult histories of abstraction and outsider legacies.

LAUREL SPARKS hold an an MFA from Bard College and a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Tufts University in Boston, MA. Her exhibitions include solo shows at Kate Werble gallery, NYC and group shows at Cheim and Read gallery, NYC; LX, NYC; Franklin Street Works, Stamford, CT; Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, NYC; Barbara Walters Gallery at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY; Berman Museum at Ursinus College, Collegeville, PA; Elizabeth Foundation Gallery, NYC; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA; and Art In General, NYC. Recent reviews include the New Yorker, New York Magazine and Brooklyn Rail. She is a 2019 MacDowell Colony Fellow and teaches painting at Pratt Institute’s BFA and MFA programs.



While working on a book about Spiritualism, Shannon Taggart encountered a number of mediums who claimed to be in contact with the spirit of Michael Jackson. These séance experiences led her to contemplate the mysterious life—and afterlife—of the King of Pop. This illustrated presentation will consider Michael’s ambiguous dead/alive status and explore him as the ultimate liminal figure who blurs the binaries: black/white, male/female, child/adult, good/evil, human/god, man/animal, reality/fantasy, and even the states of awake/asleep. Materials drawn from pop culture will demonstrate Michael Jackson’s status as a contemporary mythical figure and will reveal his clear parallels with the gods, saints, and shamans of the past. The new revelations presented in the documentary Leaving Neverland will also be addressed.

SHANNON TAGGART is a photographer, artist and author based in Brooklyn.  Her work has been exhibited internationally and featured in publications such as TIME, New York Times Magazine, Discover and Newsweek. From 2014 – 2016, she was Scholar and Artist-in-Residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum.  Her book, SÉANCE, will be released by Fulgur Press in October 2019.  For more, visit shannontaggart.com.



Along with mayhem and catastrophe in politics and nature, the basis of reality undergoes fundamental change. Together with  dark surrealism, the amplification of animism and mimeses leads ineluctably to the metamorphic sublimity of the re-enchantment of nature. 

MICK TAUSSIG is Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University and author of several books including What Color Is the Sacred?, Defacement, Mimesis and Alterity, and Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man; a Study in Terror and Healing.



Though the tarot is many centuries old, it is currently experiencing a significant resurgence, with new decks being created each day - not to mention a marked increase in tarot readers and the rise of tarot fashion. Whether reflective of a growing interest in alternative forms of spirituality, psychology, or creative expression, this divination system can be viewed as a tool for inner-, outer-, and collective evolution. But as we move ahead as a society, so too must our approach to tarot shift and expand. In this session, conference co-organizer and host of The Witch Wave podcast, Pam Grossman, will speak with three of today’s leading tarot creators and experts about the ways in which they are helping usher in a new age of tarot that is adaptive, intersectional, and future-forward.

COURTNEY ALEXANDER is a multimedia artist, writer, and the creator behind Dust II Onyx: A Melanated Tarot Deck. She uses tarot as an avenue to visually explore the rich and complex layers of blackness and all of the meaning and magic that word entails. Her work has been featured in such places as The Hoodwitch, Teen Vogue, and Autostraddle.

PAM GROSSMAN is the creator and host of The Witch Wave podcast and the author of Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power (Gallery Books) and What Is A Witch (Tin Can Forest Press). She is co-founder of the Occult Humanities Conference at NYU, and her art exhibitions and magical projects have been featured in The New York Times, Artforum, and The New Yorker. Her writing has appeared in such outlets as Sabat Magazine, HuffPost, and her occulture blog, Phantasmaphile. You can find her at PamGrossman.com and @Phantasmaphile.

RACHEL POLLACK is the author of 43 books of fiction and non-fiction, including two award-winning novels, a poetry collection, a translation (with David Vine) of Sophocles’s Oidipous Tyrannos (“Oedipus Rex”) and a series of books about Tarot that have become known around the world. Rachel has taught and lectured in the U.S. Canada, Europe, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and China. Rachel has designed and drawn The Shining Tribe Tarot, and recently worked with artist Robert Place to create The Burning Serpent Oracle. Her work has been translated into 16 languages. Her most recent book is The Beatrix Gates. Until her retirement, Rachel was a senior faculty member of Goddard College’s MFA in Writing program. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

CRISTY C. ROAD is a Cuban-American artist, writer and musician who’s been supplying creativity for punk rock, publishing, & social justice movements since she was a teenager in Miami, circa 1997. Road self-published Green’zine for ten years, and has since released three illustrated novels which tackle gender, sexuality, mental health and cultural identity; truthfully spoken with curse words and bathroom humor: “Indestructible” (2005), “Bad Habits” (2008), “Spit and Passion” (2013), and her most recent project, The Next World Tarot, a traditionally illustrated Tarot deck depicting resilience and revolution. C.Road’s illustrations has been featured in New York Magazine, The Advocate, The New York Times, Maximumrocknroll, Razorcake, Bitch Magazine, Bust Magazine, and countless other publications; as well as on shirts, record album covers, concert and political advocacy posters worldwide. As a musician, Road is a songwriter and guitarist. She fronted the pop-punk group The Homewreckers for eight years, and currently fronts her new project, Choked Up. Road has been touring nationally and internationally on her own, with her punk rock bands, and with Sister Spit: The Next Generation since 2001. Cultivating a performance trajectory with a consistent show of defiance, she performs at bookstores, record stores, basements, bars, college campuses, and beyond. She is a Gemini and lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.



California native, DIA LUNA, is a painter, songwriter, and seer. Raised by the light of visionary cultural icons like Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Anais Nin, and Bjork, DIA LUNA synthesizes her many parts to create haunting and soulful indie music. She has performed in dive bars and opera houses, Brooklyn venues and LA house parties. She has sat in ceremonies, read tarot on the road, and practiced magic in her railroad apartment. Her latest record, Camellia, is a coming of age story woven from tales of her ancestors, images from opposite coasts, American myths and personal dreams. Camellia explores the possibility of looking all ways at once, holding the self and the other with equal presence, and finding sovereignty in the struggle for wholeness.

Apple Music







8:00-8:30pm  WELCOME & INVOCATION from conference organizers Jesse Bransford & Pam Grossman

8:30-10:00pm  WINE & CHEESE RECEPTION with live music from Dia Luna




9:00-9:30am  WELCOME ANNOUNCEMENTS & OPENING REMARKS by Jesse Bransford & Pam Grossman

9:30-10:30am  ALCHEMY AND THE ARTS OF CREATION with Brian Cotnoir

10:30-10:45am  Break

10:45am-11:45am  TERRAPOLIS: CHIMERICAL GEOMETRY with Laurel Sparks

12:00-1:30pm  Lunch Break


2:30-2:45pm  Break

2:45-3:45pm  THE QUEST FOR THE BLACK SERPENT with A.D. (Andy) Mercer

3:45-4:15pm  Intermission


5:15-5:30pm   Break

5:30-6:30pm  METAMORPHIC SUBLIMITY with Mick Taussig

6:30pm  Dinner and Free Evening




10:00-11:00am  MYTH, MAGIC, AND MICHAEL JACKSON with Shannon Taggart

11:00-11:15am  Break

11:15-12:15pm  TAROT AS SPIRITUAL PSYCHOLOGY with Rachel Pollack

12:15-2:00pm  Lunch Break

2:00-3:00pm  PANEL DISCUSSION: TAROT TODAY, TAROT TOMORROW with Courtney Alexander, Rachel Pollack, and Cristy C. Road, Pam Grossman moderating

3:00-3:30pm  Intermission

3:30-4:30pm  BETYE SAAR AND THE "ETHNIC OCCULT" with Nectar Knuckles

4:30-4:45pm  Break

4:45-5:45pm  THE GIANTESS’ APRONFUL with Judith Noble





FRACTAL LABYRINTH: curated by the Sphinx Northeast

Sensibilities of noetic experience and esoteric investigation combine for contemporary artists engaging with magic and hidden meaning, bringing about forms that illuminate the substrate of experience. The fractal is endlessly recursive, a pattern that embeds itself repeatedly in macrocosm and microcosm, and the labyrinth is without obvious pattern, perhaps representative of the navigation of active consciousness. In Fractal Labyrinth, these two forms coexist, presenting as a variety of interactions with the principles of gnosis.   

Jesse Bransford  

Lorenzo De Los Angeles  

Hunter Hunt-Hendrix 

Elizabeth Insogna  

Jess Johnson  

Alessandro Keegan  

Steven Mayer  

Tracy Molis

Paola Oxoa  

Max Razdow  

Dominic Shepherd  

Laurel Sparks  

Eliza Swann  

Bob Szantyr 

Shannon Taggart    

Gordon Terry  

Viktor Timofeev

Domenico Zindato

*The exhibition is free and open to the public on Saturday Oct 5th from 9am-6pm and Sunday Oct 6th, from 9am-8pm





Catland Books

Cult Party NYC

Dust II Onyx Tarot: A Melanated Tarot

Fiddler's Green Peculiar Parish Magazine

Fulgur Press

Inner Traditions

Mithras Candle

Ouroboros Press

*The Vending Area is free and open to the public on Saturday Oct 5th from 9am-6pm and Sunday Oct 6th, from 9am-8pm




TICKETS AVAILABLE HERE *** The conference is now SOLD OUT ***

$140 advance sales, $160 day of conference if any are available. Only full weekend passes are available.

*PLEASE NOTE: All conference talks can only be accessed by ticket-holders. However the exhibition, vending area, and Sunday night closing reception are all free and open to the public, per the schedule above.





Email:  occulthumanities [at] gmail . com

Conference location: 

NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions
Barney Building
34 Stuyvesant St, New York, NY 10003