In the late 19th century, Southern California attracted misfits, idealists, and entrepreneurs with few ties to anyone or anything. Swamis, spiritualists, and other self-proclaimed religious authorities quickly made their way out West to forge new faiths. Independent book publishers, motivational speakers, and metaphysical-minded artists and writers then became part of the Los Angeles landscape. From yogis, to psychics, to witches, City of the Seekers examines how creative freedom enables LA-based artists to make spiritual work as part of their practices.
There may not be a real-life Wicked Witch of the West, but there's definitely a White Witch of LA—and she's been conjuring some mesmerizing art.
Maja D'Aoust is arguably the most publicly active practitioner and spokesperson for esoteric studies in the City of Angels. She's worked as a librarian at Manly P. Hall’s Philosophical Research Society and is the co-author of The Secret Source: The Law of Attraction and its Hermetic Influence Throughout the Ages. Among her many talks, she's given lectures with titles such as "Witches: Ladies of the Beast" and "Electricity, Ectoplasm & Spirit Rapping," and performs rituals before an ever-increasing fanbase of people interested in the occult.
With degrees in biochemistry and psychology, D'Aoust doesn't necessarily teach how to cast spells, mix potions, or ward off curses. Instead, she shows how to obtain a more holistic and inspiring attitude toward life through her public educational nonprofit, The Well Wishers, which is dedicated to bringing information on esoterica and wellness to the larger community. Most recently, however, she's taken to representing her unique spiritual perspective in drawings, joining the ranks of LA's visionary artists.
As part of her creative process, D'Aoust meditates in front of a black page until images emerge, then uses gold ink to execute them. She employs a technique called Nei Gong, taught by Dr. Kelvin DeWolfe, which she says provides access to her subconscious mind in order to retrieve the imagery.
"In the visions, there are a lot of weird light rays and stuff, so I had to experiment with different media and ways to really get it the closest to how it looked," she explains.
D'Aoust says that she seeks to transfer the images she sees in her meditations in order to communicate her visions. "Each piece is like a peep show into an aetheric moment that otherwise would not be viewable by anyone but me."
While she says her influences are "too many to name," D'Aoust is inspired by the work of the Surrealists as well as fantasy and symbolist artists like Franz Stuck.
"The Surrealists would also use subconscious access techniques to procure their imagery," she notes. "Dalí spoke of one method he had of balancing a key on his hand and falling asleep till the key dropped and woke him, whereupon he would record his dream imagery as swiftly as possible."
In terms of her own creative and spiritual philosophies, D'Aoust finds truth in just about every religion, as well as in the sciences. Basically, she never rules anything out.
"Truth can be found all over the place. In my years of going through pagan and spiritual traditions from around the globe, I have found certain elements are pervasive through time and location, and I include those things in my personal philosophy."
Originally from Canada, D'Aoust made her way to LA while dating another artist. She quickly fell in with a group of talented creative types and began working at the Philosophical Research Society, where she remained for 11 years before moving on to establish her own nonprofit in Los Angeles.
"I think LA is open, wide, expansive, and opportunistic," she explains. "It's a city with huge creative industries that are like queen bees, attracting all their little creative hive minds with the promise of sweet honey. If you combine this with the thriving spiritual atmosphere in LA, you get a mix of creative spirituality."
Indeed, LA's spiritual environment is a huge part of D'Aoust's inspiration. By interacting with a remarkably diverse spiritual community, D'Aoust says she's been able to grow and push herself in order to transcend the limits of her own creative expression.
D'Aoust believes in a union of opposites as well as a type of universal consciousness, which is reflected in her art, and often manifest in Los Angeles. "I've had some very mind-bending experiences within my spiritual community here, where it was very obvious to everyone [that] we were all sharing some kind of group mind," she says. "Many of us would either see the same image, or draw the same thing at the same time, or people would say they had a dream of one of my images, or I dreamed of one of theirs, you know? Cray-cray things like that."
Though D'Aoust has had her work displayed in places such as Baltimore's American Visionary Art Museum and LAST Projects gallery in Hollywood, she mostly shows her art on social media, since at this point, her drawings are really part of her own spiritual practice more than anything else.
The artist and witch regularly encounters synchronicities after posting her images on social media, too. "For example, I did a meditation, received an image, and drew it—and the next morning when I woke up and checked my Facebook page, my friend had posted a picture that looked almost exactly like my drawing," she says.
But for D'Aoust, this kind of occurrence is not uncommon. In fact, it's just another part of being a witch.
Click here to learn more about Maja D’Aoust.
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