Norton, Rosaleen (1917–1979) New Zealand pantheist and artist of the supernatural, whose eerie works of magical consciousness earned her the title of “the Witch of kings Cross.” Rosaleen Norton’s surrealistic Pagan work was greatly misunderstood by the public during her life and was subject to censorship.
Norton was born in 1917 in Dunedin, New Zealand, to a family with conventional religious beliefs. Her father was a captain in the merchant navy. By age three, Norton exhibited artistic talent and was drawing unusual pictures of animal-headed ghosts. At age five, she experienced an apparition of a shining dragon at her bedside.
Her family moved to Lindfield, Australia. Norton was expelled from secondary school in Sydney for her drawings of vampires, werewolves, ghosts and other supernatural beings; the headmistress stated that she had a “depraved nature.”
At age 15, she began selling occult short stories. She worked for a while as a cadet journalist and then an illustrator for Smith’s Weekly but found the work too limiting and left. She studied with artist rayna Hoff, then took her works to the streets to sell. She supported herself with various low-level jobs. She pursued a study of Magic, occultism, metaphysics and psychology.
Norton received her inspiration from what she said were real encounters with Pagan deities, especially those of ancient Greece and rome. They would appear to her in trance visions, but only if they so desired. In addition, to deities, Norton had encounters with Lucifer, bAphomet, Demons, astral entities and other beings, some of whom she drew as nude half-animal, half-human beings.
In 1949 Norton exhibited paintings at melbourne University. They shocked and offended many and were treated as obscenities.
In 1952 publisher Walter Glover of Sydney published The Art of Rosaleen Norton, a collection of her works accompanied by poems written by Gavin Greenlees, Norton’s lover. The book was attacked by critics as “blatant . . . obscenity,” and the Post master General threatened to prosecute Glover for an indecent publication. A magistrate fined the publisher five pounds plus costs for including in the book two illustrations deemed “offensive to public chastity and human decency.” The offending works were blacked out of subsequent copies.
Copies shipped to the United States were confiscated and burned by U.S. Customs. Glover had difficulty advertising the book. Serious financial problems developed, and in 1957, Glover declared bankruptcy.
In 1955 Norton’s reputation was further damaged by charges that she was “the black witch of kings Cross” and had participated in Satanic cult activities. The charges were made by a 19-year-old waitress who had been arrested on vagrancy charges and later admitted her accusations against Norton were based on hearsay. Norton attempted to make a public explanation of how PAn, one of her favoured deities, was not Satan, but the episode nevertheless was played up sensationally in the press. A month after the arrest of the waitress, Norton and Greenlees were arrested in their basement tenement flat by the vice squad.
Norton and Greenlees endured nearly two years of protracted court hearings, which received a great deal of media attention. The two had been filmed in ceremonial garb performing a ceremonial ritual to Pan. It was alleged that they had engaged in an “unnatural sex act” and that the film supposedly was evidence of a kings Cross witch cult. There was testimony about the “lewd” and “lustful” nature of Norton’s work. Norton and Greenlees eventually were fined 25 pounds each for assisting in the production of obscene photographs.
After the conclusion of the court hearings, Norton retired from public view. She died in 1979. In 1981 Glover, back in business, received the copyright to Norton’s book from the Official receiver in Bankruptcy. He reissued it in 1982, to a more sympathetic audience.
- Drury, Neville. Pan’s Daughter. Sydney: Collins Australia, 1988.