Elisabeth Krohn is founder and editor-in-chief at Sabat Magazine, a publication of witchcraft and feminism, female archetypes and contemporary art. She launched Sabat Magazine in March 2016 (The Maiden Issue) and published issue two (The Mother) in September 2016 and issue three (The Crone) in March 2017. Sabat Magazine was shortlisted for the Magazine of the Year Award 2016 by Stack and took home a Pencil in the Independent Magazine category at the D&AD Awards 2017. Grimoire caught up Elisabeth Krohn recently to talk about the magic of witches and magazine making, as well as who would be in her ideal pop culture coven.
GRIMOIRE: What was your curatorial process like for the magazine?
EK: Assembling Sabat was always an intuitive process. That said, I think it’s been wonderful to have a really niche concept to be creative around, that we could push in different directions to accommodate sparks of inspiration or happy accidents that presented themselves along the way. I really wanted Sabat to embody a sense of narrative and dialogue, echoing the phases of life, or a relationship, headlines or graphic spreads that talked to each other expressing a kind of ambivalence or conflict about female existence. I’d listen to Stevie Nicks or Hole or read up on Jenny Holzer and shamelessly pinch lyrics or quotes I felt were appropriate and try to collage that with 17th century engravings, a really surface-level fascination with Jungian psychology, moody analogue photography and tech-age hexing, hoping to encapsulate a slice of witchy womanhood (but also where I was at) at this point in time.
Was it important to you to feature a range of different mediums and approaches to witchcraft?
To be honest, when I started the project I wasn’t really aware of the diversity of the modern witchcraft world, I was holding the hoof of a unicorn so to speak, not knowing there was a lot more to this magical creature. Through building Sabat, we gained access to a growing network of witches, writers, and creatives, both irl and online. Our knowledge base expanded from that - I’ve learned most of what I now know about witchcraft from doing interviews with witches, but also from our contributors’ submissions. The magazine grew into shape in a very organic way.
Could you talk about Sabat’s origins? What led you to create the magazine, and what kinds of influences were you drawing from, both in terms of how the magazine was constructed and in its witch and occult-themed content?
I made this zine (called Sabat) about “pop vs. real” teen witches when I was doing my first project for my MA back in 2015. Through my nostalgic eyes, the 1990s maiden witch was very alluring, both as an aesthetic but also as an analogy for coming into power as a young woman and the struggle of figuring out what to do with your powers. It was hard to find people who would talk to me about witchcraft and to find this young witch I was sure could not just be a product of my imagination. I approached witchcraft shops, online forums, and finally through social media discovered the world of the #witchesofinstagram where this amazing network of young witches was growing before my eyes.
For the first issue, finding contributors and convincing them I knew what I was doing was a challenge. Sabat’s designer Cleber de Campos and I were making a magazine for the first time, it was not an obvious lifestyle magazine concept to say the least, and in so many ways we were making it up as we went along.
Witchcraft has a rich visual history. Right now, a new generation of photographers, artists and writers are exploring this heritage in a fresh and contemporary way and communicating their work online. Working with a concept of the ancient and the instant, we tried to create a kind of micro-cosmos around this collaborative community, but also a publication that is a strong haptic experience. It’s been amazing to scroll down our Instagram feed and see how Sabat has become this object that sits comfortably on a reader’s altar with tactile tools and tarot decks.
There’s a lot of writing going around the internet right now about the rising popularity of the witch in feminism, fashion, and art. Why do you think witchcraft and the figure of the witch are experiencing such a renaissance at this particular historical and cultural moment?
If we look at witchcraft and feminism in particular, the upsurge in mainstream attention and awareness for both subjects correlated in the 70s and 90s and again now. For the girls that grow up today, this male-dominated world of insatiable consumption has an air of uncertainty, tragedy, even dystopia, about it. We appear to have an ocean of options, but at the same time: are we changing anything? Can we really be and do whatever we like? Do we have powers? Echoing the sentiments of a lot of women, the modern witch is informed of the structures that keep women in their place. She craves a less patriarchal and cynical world and uses new tools to hack the system. But she also offers us another, left hand path, one that is mystical and nature-orientated where we come into our own feminine power as women and witches. However ancient, witchcraft resonates with many values in contemporary society: individualism, gender equality, personal empowerment and environmentalism and becomes a surprisingly progressive passageway to spiritual enlightenment.
Is the witch a figure of resistance?
Yes and a powerful one at that. What I really like about the witch is that in whatever incarnation she retains a sense of individualism and independence, of being the necessary outsider or ambivalent archetype that challenges the status quo in her politics, thoughts, practices or simply in her way of life.
What does the word “witch” mean to you?
A witch is one who dares to stand alone as an individual, who believes in her powers to evolve and change herself and her world. She encourages a sense of connectedness yet is aware of her own boundaries. Trusting her intuition, she feels the smallest of vibrations and allows space for magic and mystery.
Does magic play a role in your day-to-day life?
Yes, more and more I would say! On one hand, I’m a skeptic who cringes passionately at the theatrical, any kind of baroque language and ceremony, but I also look for synchronicity everywhere and engage in A LOT of magical thinking around the most mundane things. After Sabat, it’s as if a lot of thoughts patterns and theories found a more concrete form, from small practical rituals to aspects of philosophy I’d like to explore further. I’m quite convinced our subconscious world, a world of symbols, myths and personal and universal archetypes, rules our life trajectory in powerful ways. Connecting with different levels of our selves, whether that is through psychotherapy or witchcraft or just being creative, is a way to understand and flow with this rather than ignore it and then end up drowned by our own fears or desires.
Sabat’s issues are thematically organized around the figures of the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. Why were these archetypes especially meaningful and useful for you?
To push my own limited perspective as a young woman, I wanted to explore womanhood through these three lenses echoing the Neo-Pagan deity the Triple Goddess and the phases of the moon. I thought it would be an interesting way to approach the changing perspectives and new challenges that face us at various stages of female existence. It could also be an analogy for all the life-death-rebirth micro-cycles of our everyday lives. It’s not just been educational in terms of learning about witchcraft and learning to practice it, it has also been a feminist journey, from naive ingénue to admiring apprentice.
Sabat has become wildly successful and beloved (you could even say it has cult status!). Were you surprised by the strength of your readership, and why have you decided that now is the time to end the magazine?
Thank you (!!!) — it’s really wonderful and absurd that it has gained such a comparatively big readership so quickly. I could not have imagined that in my wildest dreams. Sabat was always going to be a triple goddess trilogy, I’m just really glad that we managed to do the three issues as we set out — I hope they embody a sense of the cycle, of growing up, while at the same time keeping a conceptual and aesthetic essence throughout.
Now that Sabat has ended its run, what projects are next on the horizon for you?
I’m working on a reincarnation that might explore similar themes, although in a slightly different format.
One last question: if you could build your own coven of witches from pop culture, who would you invite, and why?
Ohh… That would have to be a like Courtney Love, Roxane Gay, Anna Biller, Stevie Nicks, Tavi Gevinson, Lorde, Marina Abramovic... I’d be thrilled and terrified to be part of their coven!