Melancholy Mysticism in The Green Sheaf by Harleigh Keriazes


“As a visual artist, she nurtured the image of herself as a mystic
invested in an occult form of synesthesia.”

– Dennis Denisoff

The term mysticism refers to the practice of religious ecstasies within a chosen ideology. In the case of The Green Sheaf, the chosen ideology emphasizes imagination and melancholy. There is also an obvious inclusion of a symbolist approach to the tone of the magazine, which refers to representing concepts through symbols rather than through realism. I believe this tone for the magazine is due to the viewpoint of Pamela Colman Smith, the only editor of the magazine as well as writer and artist. Both her writing and art is displayed throughout the magazine’s thirteen volumes, causing the melancholic but mythical atmosphere throughout the pages.

For example, her work displayed in the magazine’s second volume on the fifth page “Once in a Dream,” includes both an illustration and written component. The writing describes a dream in which the narrator sees a church, surrounded by greenery. Offhand this seems like a serene scene, however Smith quickly turns the demeanour closer to the macabre. It’s clear that Smith views these scenes through a melancholy lens, as she changes the focus from the church appearing picturesque to the detail that the building includes a tomb and that souls have been resting on the premises. This distinction changes the way the reader imagines the church. Instead of a beautiful building surrounded by greenery it’s now mystified through the image of spirits and ghosts floating through the large doors.

Illusration by Pamela Colman Smith, accompanying her writing in volume 2 of The Green Sheaf

The cover image for volume 2 of The Green Sheaf by Pamela Colman Smith

Smith’s accompanying image also encompasses this mystic but haunted tone through the long and draped figures that appear. The soft linework surrounding them assumes that they approach a coffin in in a dream-like manner, as if they’re floating across the page. What leads me to believe that this image is meant to be a similar subject matter to the written piece below it is the church-like building in the background. Due to this similarity, the bright colours in the image work to complete a mystic experience in a scene that realistically wouldn’t be so saturated. This assists with the mythical tone of the artwork and allows for the reader’s eye to catch on the vivid reds that lead the eye around the figures depicted.

The work that Smith includes herself as well as chooses to display encompasses the idea Denisoff outlines in his biography on Smith of “occult synesthesia.” Synesthesia is defined as a neurological condition in which information stimulates many senses at once. Therefore, Denisoff’s observation refers to the inclusion of the melancholic or occult throughout all mediums of art within the magazine. Smith allows for the focus of her mysticism to be on subjects deemed melancholic, due to how she translates her mystic view into both visual and written mediums. She finds the wonder within the occult or macabre and transforms it into a place where one’s curiosity is drawn towards the mythical possibilities.