A Look Back at America’s Psychedelic Countercultural Witch Music
Occult albums in the ’60s and ’70s combined ambient tunes and spoken spells.
In the middle of the 20th century, pretty much anything went, in hip American circles, when it came to unlocking the doors of perception. A generation bent on questioning the social and moral status quo of the establishment was on an earnest quest for happiness, fulfillment and mind expansion. On this quest, a wide variety of tools and technologies were fair game for exploration—from alternative family and living structures (such as communal living or open marriage) to nonwestern belief systems and spiritual traditions, like the Zen Buddhism so beloved by the Beat poets. Searchers dabbled in psychedelics, astrology, yoga, Satanism, eccentric variations on Judeo-Christian faith, and psychology-driven groups, cults, and practices like EST and Scientology.
There was also magic. The surface aesthetics of witchcraft—long and flowing hair, beards and fabric, plus arcane symbols—dovetailed nicely with hippie fashion, and women-centered practice and a sense of connectedness to the earth and moon fit in well with new waves of female liberation and environmental consciousness.
The ‘60s counterculture wasn’t the first flowering of interest in magical practice or free love or Eastern spirituality in industrialized Western society. Waves had come and gone, most recently at the turn of the 20th century and in the 1920s creating recent lineages and legacies for the beatnik and hippie-era seekers to connect to. But one thing that was new, or new enough, was the utter explosion of the recorded-music industry and its overt alliance to the counterculture, and that is what we have to thank for a fascinating mini-trend of trippy recordings meant to open up the listener’s connection to the eternal power of the stars and her own innate magical ability to shape her destiny—and also sound very neat at cocktail parties.
Mainstream rock and rollers like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, of course, had dabbled in occult imagery and themes. Other recording artists had more direct connections to the dark arts: Graham Bond, a sax player and organist who played with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce before the other two musicians would go on to join Eric Clapton and become Cream, was to all accounts a practicing occultist in the Aleister Crowley mode, using a well-known quote (“Love is the Law”) from Crowley’s Book of the Law as an album title and recording under the name Holy Magick. Wilburn Burchette, who released seven albums in the ‘70s, regarded his psychedelia-meets-New Age guitar compositions as tools for mystical practice.
Vincent Price’s 1969 double album Witchcraft & Magic: Adventures in Demonology falls somewhere in between entertainment and instruction; bubbling cauldrons, whistling winds and other familiar chilling-and-thrilling sound effects underscore actresses quoting lines from Macbeth and his own signature over-the-top macabre theatricality. But he’s also quite deadpan in giving instructions for spellwork over creepy synth, and his tales of witchcraft in history, on tracks with titles like “Hitler and Witchcraft” and “Witch Tortures” if lurid, seem well-researched and accurate.
Louise Huebner, who released her Seduction Through Witchcraft album on the Warner Brothers label the same year, on the other hand, was definitely no actor. A psychic, palm reader and astrologer since childhood, Huebner had written several books on the occult and had a regular public presence in Los Angeles media, appearing frequently on radio and TV in her capacity as a practitioner of the esoteric arts. In her thirties when she recorded the album, she cut a rather elegant figure, with lush brunette waves and dramatically arched eyebrows adding to her glamorous, sexy hippie-witch look. When she received the formal designation of “Official Witch of Los Angeles County” at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968—a position that hadn’t been filled before, and hasn’t since—she cast a spell to increase the sexual vitality of her magical constituents. The spoken-word album, though it includes witch history and other general rituals described over electronic exotica, is, as the title implies, a sensual listen, with Huebner purring her way through the spells.
Seduction Through Witchcraft was reissued on vinyl in 2009. For Halloween 2017, a similar album (The Hour of the Witch) of recited spells from a Detroit-based witch named Gundella the Green Witch, originally released in 1971, got a similar treatment. It’s a beautifully done package, pressed on bright, antifreeze-green vinyl, and it includes a delightful booklet compiling examples from a column Gundella wrote—titled “Witch Watch”—for a regional newspaper chain in the ‘70s, in which, like an spookier, more prescriptive Dear Abby, she advised her readers on spells to assist in their particular predicaments.
The Hour of the Witch comprises several tracks of spell instruction (the “Spell to Make a Man Love You – Flower Bulb” is a notably little less than half as long as the “Spell to Make a Woman Love You – Wax Doll”) backed by subtle, mood-setting synthesizer music composed and performed by Gundella’s son. And that—very charmingly —is where its similarity to Seduction through Witchcraft, Adventures in Demonology or The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds ends.
On tape, the accomplished sorceress Gundella, whose legal name was Marion Kuclo, sounds every inch the sensible Midwestern schoolteacher that she, having spent more than 20 years working in the Michigan public school system, was. The Hour of the Witch isn’t sexy, or dramatic, or space-age hip: it’s simply a no-nonsense guide to spellcasting, dictated in the sort of brisk, patient, authoritative voice one might also trust for advice on how to plant tulips, or breed spaniels. Giving directions on how to strain a potion, she suggests using cheesecloth, or “perhaps one of those new disposable coffee filters.” It’s easy to imagine her—maybe wearing the flowered muumuu she sports on the album cover—in front of the camera for the Food Network or a more eldritch version thereof, pleasantly shepherding novice magicians through a recipe. (“If you don’t have fresh eye of newt,” she might have said, “canned or frozen is fine.”)
Gundella’s daughter, Madilynne Mulleague, wrote liner notes to The Hour of the Witch, portraying her mother as the good-natured, friendly Michigan matriarch who comes across on the recording. She was a natural teacher, with boundless creativity and enthusiasm that benefited her grade-school students as well as her grown-up friends and acquaintances: she delighted in throwing theme parties, for which she would make piñatas, write original plays, and once, for a luau, built a six-foot-tall volcano—but she drew the line, Madilynne wrote, at serving alcohol. In 1992, the year before Gundella died from cancer, she published a book on Michigan-area hauntings, although she had long since given over her newspaper column from spellcraft to recipes and culinary advice.
It’s spookily ironic, then, that for all of her down-to-earth, demystified, cookbook-witch lifestyle, Gundella’s story is the one with the real-life horror for its coda. The famous witch had a second daughter, Veronica, who inherited her interest in magic and had opened a shop, Gundella’s Witchcraft and Wares, four years after her mother’s death, telling fortunes and selling tarot cards, spellbooks, and other occult items. Veronica was married to a man named Peter Raub, with whom she had four children. On Halloween morning 1999, the morning after the couple had hosted a Halloween party, Veronica Kuclo-Raub was found stabbed to death in the couple’s bed. “Man arrested in death of his witch wife,” read the Detroit News headline.
Mr. Raub, who had been charged with spousal abuse three years prior to the murder, was arrested in Los Angeles after a week-long manhunt. The children, three daughters and a son, went to stay with Ms. Mulleague, according to a mid-November report from the Detroit News—which also, in a surprisingly sensitive move for the time, ran a short piece examining its use of language in the coverage of Kuclo-Raub’s murder.
“In hindsight, we shouldn’t have said the slain woman was a witch in the headline,” wrote the News’ public editor. “Her religion was a critical part of her life, but not pertinent as it relates to the tragedy.”
Certainly, that’s the kind of sensible, thoughtful behavior that Gundella—the mom, the teacher, the advice columnist, the Green Witch—would have wanted to see.
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