Anna Wythe, with permission for varsity

I find a small shrine at the back of a crowded room. Tarot cards are scattered across a low wooden table decorated with white lace and a half-burnt candle. In the centre opal-coloured zines glisten with words like ritual and dream.

Each Cambridge zine has its own atmosphere, but few carry an aura as strong as the zine scene’s apocryphal gospels: The Cambridge Cult and Lunulae. In honour of the impending hallow’s eve, I decided to enter their eerie world, and I soon realised that this was not the realm of jump-scares or plastic skeletons. These zines strip spookiness of its tacky costumes and reveal the dark themes beneath. They stand in a morass of interlocking ideas and aesthetics, conjuring ghosts from the Freudian subconscious and the afterlife, reading bodies as cogently as dreams.

“These zines strip spookiness of its tacky costumes and reveal the dark themes beneath”

The Cambridge Cult was initially created “to provide a space for esoteric work, with a focus on magic, witchcraft and fantasy”, as its co-editor Tilda Butterworth told me. These days it’s interested in “anything unconventional and strange.” As I turn the dark pages, I’m struck by the sensuality of its words and images. Tattooed skin moves tentatively into sunlight. An uncertain subject goes down on death.

Lunulae, a younger zine, is dedicated “to the space between the beautiful and the uncanny.” Its creator, Anna Chandler de Waal, explained, “I have always liked the idea of creating a kind of dreamscape — a space apart from reality, the ethereal twinned with darkness. … Each issue is pervaded by the idea of the ‘liminal’ — the in-between — whether between the unconscious and conscious, mundane or occult, dream or nightmare… An emblem of lunulae, I think, is the moon hung in daylight.”

Where The Cult’s pages are glossy black, Lunulae’s are white with bones and pearls. The Cult bubbles with anarchic energy whilst Lunulae seems to hold a deep spiritual stillness. More practically, Lunulae is distinguished from other Cambridge zines for its ability to bring material culture into its pages. The Cult is perhaps most absorbing in its photography.

They are different beasts and yet undoubtedly share preoccupations. In both, I was drawn to the seriousness with which they approached aesthetics. I found myself thinking about the Reformation, the shift from a spirituality grounded in materiality, movement, dress, blood to one that relied upon a painful individual conscience. In modern society the word aesthetic is often synonymous with trends and with superficiality. These zines restore beauty to its throne. Through their focus on ritual, they unlock the spiritually transformative potential of aesthetics and objects. Indeed, this ethos spills beyond the printed page: sometimes the editors themselves can be found in ruined abbeys performing sacred rituals together.

“The Cult bubbles with anarchic energy whilst Lunulae seems to hold a deep spiritual stillness”

I was struck too by the way that these zines invert the classic halloween trope of fleeing the monster. I haven’t watched many horror movies but trying to run away from something that cannot be outrun seems to be a recurring feature. Yet, Lunulae and The Cult dive headfirst into the uncanny and the subconscious. The new issue of Lunulae, Unreality, ushers ghosts out of hiding and tames them through dream interpretation and tarot reading. The Cult’s exploration of chaos likewise urges an embrace of those turbulent internal forces that, if crushed, will re-emerge as monsters. In both, art is a kind of conjuring.


Mountain View

A ‘who’s who?’ of Cambridge zines

Halloween is a meeting point for art, ritual and of course demons. I asked the editors of both zines for advice on how to celebrate it. “Ritual sacrifice. Or a good house party. Or both!” was Tilda’s recommendation. Anna told me about the Celtic Festival of Samhain, and the importance of letting things emerge into the silence. For Halloween, “Dressing up is paramount…I consume lots of red wine and other bloody foods — pomegranates, berries, jelly in strange animal moulds. If I am spending the night out I get headily drunk and go dancing and feel Dionysiac.” Perhaps there will also be time in the last days of October to make art for the pages of Lunulae and The Cult.

The next issue of The Cambridge Cult, CYCLES, is open for submissions until October 31st. Submissions are open to everyone, not just Cambridge Students.

The Third Issue of Lunulae, Unreality, will be available soon.