Norton, Rosalind (1917-1979)

views updated

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 ghoul s, werewolves, and even vampire s, 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.


Drury, Nevill, and Gregory Tillett. Other Temples/Other Gods: The Occult in Australia. Sydney: Methuen, 1982.

Norton, Rosalind. The Art of Rosalind Norton. Sydney: Wally Glover, 1952.

About this article

Norton, Rosalind (1917-1979)

Updated About content Print Article