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Interview with GG Irkalla of Up the Witchpunx

Nov 6, 05:38 PM · Posted by dylan ce

I interviewed GG Irkalla, creator of Up the Witchpunx, about her new issue, Radical Hope. GG and I have been friends since high school and creating zines— sometimes together, sometimes separately— for just as long. I was excited to be able to ask GG about the creation of Radical Hope, a witchpunk manifesto that blends the spiritual and political with DIY, punk and radical culture. You can get Radical Hope here from Cutlines Press.

Dylan: Can you tell me about yourself and your history as a zine creator and artist?

GG: I was making straightforward punk zines as young as 16, mostly interviewing local bands (badly) and other stuff, and the occult element gradually found its way in much later.

Over time I became a multi-media artist very interested in collage, painting, drawing, stencils, and the street art that I grew up with the years I was a homeless teenager. My primary zine for years was “The Sun Shines Underground,” which meant to imply that hope and healing can be found in even the most dark, subterranean places.

During and after my initiation onto the Madness Road at the age of 20, there was a sea change where all my zines documented what was happening to me and how I was trying to work it out over time. Sort of like if a caterpillar/butterfly in a chrysalis kept a diary. For the most part, this was extremely dark and intense interspersed with fey-like humor to try to balance it out.

Dylan: It seems like your style has evolved a lot since those early zines. What changed?

GG: I was about to kill myself a third time in the fall of 2011, and instead went on a long and dangerous spiritual pilgrimage where I risked everything and finally found healing. Gradually I felt a need to move away from the personal zine format and closer to what [Up the Witchpunx] is today. In the beginning, the foundational principles of the new work came about because of the assistance of Mirror X, Hannah Phillips, Ezmyrelda Andrade, Coyote, and a lot of other friends.

What may be a little confusing is that Lillita Lustre and GG Irkalla are both me. ​​I’m a multiple system and very complex due to my trauma and other issues, and so two devotional/artistic identities was the best compromise. It was a new balance that brought me from a toxic complexity to a healthy complexity.

Oly Witch Punx graffiti in purpleDylan: Your zine, Radical Hope, feels very intensely related to this current period, this point in history, coming from a queer, trans, poor and witchy or occult perspective. Why did you decide to do this zine now?

GG: H​onestly I wish I had done it sooner, but ​I guess its like my friends said to me during my spiritual retreat in 2011, “it takes as long as it takes.”

Much of it was sort of unmanifest for a while, and it was ​the urgency of this time that forced it into the world. Watching the state that friends and family were in was really hard.

Up the Witchpunx editor Ezmyrelda Andrade did a ton to get it off the ground. We would talk about it for hours, days, weeks. We were involved in a lot of street outreach and direct action at the time, including handing out​food to the houseless every Friday, ​ ​and ​​bringing food and supplies to a train-blockade encampment in Olympia, WA. It was a protest of our ports involvement in the DAPL, and was said by many to be the longest train blockade in history, lasting an entire week.

We also marched against Ryan Donald, a racist cop, and dealt with the increasing presence of Hammerskins and other [white supremacist] groups trying to ​make our town even whiter and even more visibly racist, trying to drive out the POC who were already struggling over whether to stay here. ​

This was an ordeal for a lot of us, for me because of the mental illness that made direct action dangerous. It was an ordeal for Ezmyrelda, being a Latinx trans woman in a fucking racist town.

Knuckle tats spelling "Baba Yaga"

Dylan: I remember that time. It was really intense. How did you and the other creators of Up the Witchpunx process all of this?

GG: Others in our collective, Oly Witch Crew, (pretty much all of us neuroqueer) went back and forth between rage and fear as we tried to balance our need to fight with our need to not get arrested.​ That was the summer I always suspected was the inspiration for “Fight” by G.L.O.S.S..

As, in addition to the work of confronting systemic racism in ourselves and in society, many of us felt Nazis needed to be aggressively driven out. ​ ​That was the summer 11 Nazis tried to start shit with a bloc nearly 200 strong, and the result was that the leader went blind from a fire extinguisher to the skull. ​​So that’s the paradigm that Radical Hope came out of.

Oly Witch Crew hoodie back patchWe all came upon the idea that hope was an organism, like a plant, that needed to be protected, sheltered, and actively cultivated. It needed light, water, and healthy soil, or otherwise it would die. So I decided that “there is always hope” is a trite truism. That kind of thinking is well-intentioned, but it robs hope of its grit, its presence, its urgency and power. ​Once you realize how easily hope can die, one is driven to actively fight to keep it alive, rather than just pompously assuming it will always ‘be there’. ​

We also felt called to examine structural issues in the left which can be boiled down to the fact that struggle is expensive, and this demands a new economic model beyond scraping by with fundraisers and grants.

One of the solutions to this problem, which I discuss in Flowers of Praxis, is the feHub, a network of 3D-printing-focused anarcho-socialist​ ​​workers’ collectives.The collective provides a practical service to the surrounding community which keeps the lights on, but it is able to do this in a radical, non-hierarchical fashion, thus finally having a type of community center/info shop which is liberated from the chains of grant-writing and the unstable nature of door charges at events.

Dylan: You interviewed some amazing people for this zine and also received a lot of contributions. There are also some names people will recognize, like Venus DeMars. Who else is part of this zine?

GG: U​nfortunately Venus wasnt able to work with us this time around​. I interviewed her during Toronto Pride 2013, after she did some amazing solo performances, and she was a joy to speak with. I was hella starstruck, honestly, and so I was devastated when my computer crashed and I lost the interview. We spoke about doing it again, but shes a very busy woman, especially recently. ​

Cristy Road The Next World Tarot Justice cardCristy Road was amazing to work with. Her tarot project (The Next World Tarot; See left, Justice card) was a massive success, and I recommend checking it out.

Kook Teflon was also great to interview. I am pretty starstruck around both of these people, Cristy and Kook, and so I really appreciate how approachable they both were in spite of my social awkwardness. Kook is an important voice when it comes to radical magick and witchy themes in punk performance art, like bringing Baphomet on stage and having queers, queens, and punks get on stage to kiss her (Baphomet’s) ass.

We were also able to feature a piece by Rust Belt Jessie, someone whose work I’ve always admired.Their piece ended up being a perfect coda to the zine.

We also got some amazing pieces from Christian Lee and Adriana Lopez which expressed perfectly the aesthetic we were going for, through the lens of their unique perspectives. And with your piece, and Bunny, and myself, suicide survival became a big theme here and ended up being an amazing way of combining the personal with the universal.

 Christian Lee black and white line art illustration of two witchpunx
Illustration by Christian Lee, from Up the Witchpunx: Radical Hope

Dylan: What inspired you to reach out to these contributors?

GG: W​ell a lot of them reached out to me, like Christian and Adriana. Kook and Cristy I approached by email. Most of the others were a kind of telepathy I guess— [laughs] where we kind of contacted each other at the same time.

In particular, I felt really inspired by Cristy’s “The Next World Tarot” and how perfectly it captures how so many of us feel about the world right now and what our place in it could be. Things like tarot were always tools whose job it was to orient the individual in space, time, and history. Many just use the old tarot systems, but this is such a unique and overwhelming time in history. It makes sense that we would need some hella radical re-imaginings of occult tools …to really face whats going on. ​

Kook is a person whose art and music I had admired from a distance for a while. ​ ​I was actually going to interview her band, the Witches Titties, but they broke up in the middle of me trying to think of questions. I really appreciate the decadence, chaos, catharsis, and child-like exuberance in Kook’s performances​, while at the same time her magick is dead serious and very well-practiced.

Kook Teflon performing
Kook Teflon performing with The Witches Titties (via Facebook)

Dylan: A lot of what I get from this zine is the sense that this current era requires a new kind of hope. A lot of people feel hopeless, and other people have a sense of hope that is… well, for lack of a better description, kind of detached and new-agey. What exactly is radical hope and why do we need it now?

GG: T​o me, the new age is collapsing. My only wish is that this had happened sooner.

It takes up a lot of space without really doing anything, like a pile of feathers that blocks a sidewalk. Some really great mockery of this— “the new age bullshit generator” [by Seb Pearce], Stephen Colbert mocking Gwyneth Paltrow’s [lifestyle brand] “GOOP”— peak new age— with his own fake lifestyle brand, and a lot of our own projects, like The Billy Graham Cracker Show, and our “Tarot of Disfigurement” where we destroyed “angel cards” and remade them as queer collage and chaos magick.

Ezmy and GGBut beyond this satire, there’s a lot of structural collapse. Peter Grey talks a lot about this, about the new age’s false promises and how they use apocalypse as a “cure-all,” wherein they long for ascension.​ ​

The most frustrating thing is that rather than being driven to action and self critique, the new age uses the apocalypse as proof that we just need more ascension, more fluff. ​ ​

As a Gnostic, I believe that ascension has its place, and eschatology is important, but this must never keep us from action. We have a responsibility to the earth, to the dead, to the people, and to the Goddess, while we are still here.

[Right: Ezmyrelda Andrade, left, editor of Up the Witchpunx, with creator and co-editor GG Irkalla]

The new age is increasingly irrelevant because it does none of this. It doesn’t mourn. It doesn’t get angry. It doesn’t cry. It doesn’t look at the hard, painful realities of what working class people, endangered species, and threatened cultures are going through. It’s inert. And inertia is not something any of us can afford right now.

Like all trends that have gone past their expiration date and have begun to sour, the new age must go in the garbage where it belongs. Because there is no new age, except for the apocalypse itself. ​

Babalon, Mother of Harlots andAbominations of the Earth by L. Lustre
Babalon, Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth (detail) by L. Lustre, from Up the Witchpunx: Radical Hope

Dylan: What you are saying reminds me of the therapist and spiritual teacher— who is a trans woman— Brielle Love Eden, who I follow on Facebook. She talks about premature forgiveness and other things like that, fluffy new age concepts, as being “spiritual bypasses.”

GG: Interesting.

Dylan: She advocates for primal techniques to release rage and buried emotion.

GG: That’s great.

Returning to my idea about hope being like a plant that must be actively cultivated, the new age is like feeding that plant with crystals and vibrations. Without studying the plant, getting good topsoil, enough sun, good drainage, it will die. So we cant lie to ourselves or seek comfort. We have to be brave and seek the pain, the hurt, the rage, the darkness, without fetishizing it or turning it into a lifestyle. We have to let it transform us.

Dylan: I have always admired the work that you do with zines, but it can be hard to talk about, because it’s pretty unique. Rather than addressing a particular identity or experience, you’re speaking to the whole cultural zeitgeist from a very unique perspective. Basically, this is political and cultural theory.

GG: Thank you. ​I appreciate that perspective. It has its challenges, because most zines are pretty specific, such as healing from trauma, or being into a particular hobby/pasttime, or really liking a band. This was kind of where I started.

Over time I realized that Witchpunk was not a specific topic, or a personal project, rather it was kind of an entire world. I was seeing a lot of amazing art, music, and performance that seemed to be… unique tributaries moving towards a single current. What I wasn’t seeing was a publication that could pull all this stuff together and give it a unified voice. ​My hope is that our zine does that.

Dylan: What were some of the influences on the idea of Radical Hope? When we’ve talked, you’ve often brought up Rushkoff’s Present Shock and Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft.

GG: I’ve rambled endlessly with most of these other questions so I’ll try to actually be brief here. Rushkoff is a media analyst and writer whose been making books for a few decades. I’ve spoken to him and he’s a really nice guy.

Present Shock is essentially about how we have entered into a digital paradigm that makes demands of our limited biological bodies, demands which are impossible. Our networks have been built based on tech utopianism, fetishized futurism, and a deeply flawed spin on trans humanism. Actually, these network should be built around our limitations, flaws, and struggles. A human mind and body can only pay attention to so much, process so much, and do so much.

The autonomous economic strategy that runs the digital world, doesnt understand this, and treats us all as if we are just parts of itself, which, when subjected to enough stress, will simply evolve.

Peter Grey’s Apocalyptic Witchcraft​ ​is a major publication from Scarlet Imprint, which seeks out and finds a core myth which can revitalize modern witchcraft and give it rooted meaning. It is very radical, it doesn’t mince words, and it speaks plainly and directly on topics like ecological collapse, Babalon, Thelema, the witch as Other, and the way the political and magickal have always intersected. It counsels witchcraft to radicalize immediately.

Dylan: What is the witchpunk aesthetic?

GG: So this is a topic I’m really passionate about, and unfortunately we haven’t really been able to explore fashion for a while. But what we always try to do in these zines is explore a unique aesthetic.

I think its important to distinguish the difference between fashion and aesthetics. Aesthetics is a word really attached to the “aesthetes and decadents” movement that Oscar Wilde was a part of. They believed that Beauty was the highest virtue and it should be cultivated no matter what. Later Wilde moved away from this idea and said other values needed to be cultivated just as much.

I think this is important history, but aesthetics are far more ancient than that. ​ ​It’s how an individual ​​and their community finds a balance between themselves (the microcosm) and the larger universe (the macrocosm) which often seems overwhelming.

The job of culture is to help the individual find balance, and aesthetics is one of the things that emerges from that. Fashion is what happens when those aesthetics meet civilization, art, and the various forces of the postmodern world, as well as capitalism itself.

Dylan: What part does fashion play in Radical Hope?

GG: For fashion to be radical, rather than more capitalist dick-pulling, I think its needs to be accessible, and it needs to center queer people of color, and other groups without whom fashion would not exist at all. Vogue is a great example, a culture that was formed entirely by black and brown streetqueens, and queer street youth of color. ​Picked up by Madonna and the industry she was a part of, it became an issue of cultural theft.

Gay cowboys t-shirt, black printI think for fashion to be relevant, it needs to directly confront this kind of shit. I think for fashion to be radical, it also has to be offensive in the right ways. I’m a huge fan of Vivienne Westwood’s gay cowboys shirt, which I think was a really amazing moment in fashion. But fuck old school faux-punks like Sid Viscous wearing Nazi arm bands, because it’s gross.

You have to offend the right people for the right reasons, like fundie Christians seeing two screenprinted cowboys comparing dicks. Throwing around imagery for shock value just makes you a troll and a racist edgelord. ​ ​

The interesting thing about the witchpunk aesthetic is how much diversity there is in it, while at the same time you get a strong sense that all these artists and designers are expressing the same basic idea in a huge number of unique ways. The idea is simple: That magick is a radical act when it is grounded in the world as it is.

Magick must have what Peter Grey called ‘rooted meaning.’ It must mourn, cry, rage, fight. It must be harnessed as a tool for self-care so that struggle is sustainable and not a way for people to get burnt out.​

Stepping away from the theory and into the style…I see a lot of radical runework (seeing runes spell out “KILL NAZIS”), Halloween colors (purple, orange, black, green), slogans like “We are the granddaughters of the witches you couldn’t burn”, as well as embroidery, hands stained with ink, and a return of the feral, the terrifying, the fierce to witchcraft. Scarlet Imprint does a lot to strengthen the foundations of this shift. So Apocalyptic Witchcraft is a huge sacred text for me.

The most important thing is that it isn’t just aesthetics, it’s aesthetics with rooted meaning. You ask me about my vest and I can tell you stories about every single thing on it, and how I feel about the different symbols, and why they were placed there. And so many other witchpunks are the same way. This rooted meaning is what gives a subculture power, grit, presence, and substance.


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