The first question I want to discuse inthe post is why Brett Manning has used the word “sorceress” to define his illustration instead “witch”. Both words could be exchanged each other but there is a notable differencee between them: “witch” has a negative component, the witch has a pact with the devil and from it all her power emanates; however, “sorceress” is a woman who practices sorcery, makes spells, prepares ointments, always because she knows the Nature and from it comes all her wisdom and magic. So, our character of today is a pretty woman (beauty is also an attribute of sorceresses traditionally) who is in communion with the Nature and her powers come from this relationship.
I think the word “sorceress” cannot be applied in the western civilization for centuries, under the Christianism, because the women that took the role of witch doctor were accused of heresy and devil’s pact. So, we cannot find images of sorceress in the western imaginary till the Inquisition was suprimed (so lately as Spain, it finished at the beginning of 19th century). So, the first examples of representations of sorceresses appears in one of my favourite painting movement: the Pre-Raphaelites, who turn back the look to ancient legends (the Saint Grail) or cultures (Celtic). There we have two notable examples of sorceresses: The Magic Circle by Waterhouse (1886) and Morgan le Fay by Frederick Sandys (1863-64).
But the sorcerress of this post is quite different from the Pre-Raphaelite ones, with the only similitude of the beauty of the character. Let´s examine the image to try to find the marks that help us to understand the illustration.
The image is a bust turned to the right but the head is looking front. She wears an interesting headdress from which we can understand many things: the helmet is the head of an eagle, which represents her connection with the wind, with the ability of look far and the majesty of being the queen of the air. Also, surrounding the helmet there are eagle feathers that covers her hair, that emphasize this connection. Over the eagle’s head there is a circle that represents a star: maybe the Sun or the Moon, another source of her supernatural power and link with the Nature. Her face is made up with strange symbols: an inverted triangle in the forehead and longitudinal lines with little black triangles.
All these elements let me think in two cultures: native Americans and Egyptians. The native Americans use feathers and skulls from birds of prey in their hair-dresses and paint their faces with lines and symbols. But there is an important question, the females didn´t take the role of witch doctor in this culture. Anyway, I think Brett Manning has taken inspiration from native Americans.
About Egyptians, I find two elements linked with the illustration: the eagle and the circle (the Sun), that were two very important symbols of the Egyptian religion that are connected with Horus and Ra. Anyway the look of our sorceress is aesthetically different from Egyptians.
I think Manning has created a personal illustration taking several elements from different cultures to create his own iconography. No doubt, the image of this sorceress is quite beautiful and suggestive and brings to nowadays a female icon forbidden for many time in our culture. I think it has an esoteric meaning and I enjoy a lot all the rich elements around this sorceress.