Peter Brook’s ‘Mahabharata’ Still Timeless 30 Years Later

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The Mahabharata (1989) TV mini seriesDirected by Peter Brook

The Mahabharata (1989) TV mini series Directed by Peter Brook.

By H.B. Gardner

Since there is so much real dark drama of apocalyptic proportions attending the world in the news these days, we decided to take a break from the diabolical for this article and to take a foray into the arena of spiritually profound theatre. Peter Brook’s production of The Mahabharata – an ancient Indian epic rendered into English by an international cast – is filled with deep, universal, perennial, spiritual truths inculcated over millennia in the world’s last surviving ancient high Pagan culture’s spiritual tradition – Hindu India. And the nearly 5 and a half hour film version is available to view for free on Youtube! So if you are bored with your quarantine routine, try something a little different for your spiritual-mystical-creative edification. Link to view below.

Approaching Peter Brook’s ‘The Mahabharata’

If you are new to Peter Brook’s film version of The Mahabharata, there are a few things to keep in mind before watching it.

  1. This is not a typical Hollywood style movie. The sets – in keeping with the original theatre production and modest budget – are austere. The well-costumed, English speaking  actors are themselves the set pieces; and they are  mainly highly adept theater performers  from Europe, Africa, India, Japan, USA and other countries; and they each have their own beauty and accents which bring a unique originality, color and life to their characters. Any “special effects” are done simply and in a theatrically “naive” fashion, or merely suggested by adept acting skill (which is a delight to those who appreciate theatre). But, being directed by the great Peter Brook, one will easily find themselves hooked after the initial 15 or so minutes of back story.
  2. This is not a Bollywood style movie. You will not be distracted by fake gold, paste jewels, blue painted gods, or protagonists breaking into extended dance scenes every 15 minutes. The goal of this entire production is to express the universality of the original story, not to dazzle with “Indian-ness”.
  3. Be prepared to suspend disbelief and enter A Magical Reality. The story is metaphorical, has many layers, and can be read on various levels. Millennia’s worth of mystical culture such as inherent in India carries a lot to absorb. Questions of good and evil, right and wrong, and the choices each must make to fulfill their individual destiny are examined. Before you sit down to watch Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata, say to yourself “Once upon a time…” and just go with it.

Before you sit down to watch Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata, say to yourself “Once upon a time…” and just go with it.

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Yoshi Oida as the warrior Drona

The film should be approached as it is: a theatrical production made to be broadcast on a screen. The international cast of theatrical actors with their varied looks and accents enhance the accessibility of the source material and open a passage to the universal message of the story.

Link:

View ‘The Mahabharata’ on Youtube

Peter Brook

English theatre and film director Peter Brook (born 1925, aged 95) is an internationally renowned personage in theater and cinema. He has received numerous awards and honors throughout his career and his work is wide and ranging from Dr Faustus,  Shakespere, and beyond… including a highly controversial staging of Strauss’s Salome with sets by Salvador Dalí, and an effective re-staging of Puccini‘s La bohème using sets dating from 1899. From 1947 to 1950, he was Director of Productions at the Royal Opera House in London. Brook has been influenced by the work of Antonin Artaud and his ideas for his Theatre of Cruelty as well as others like G. I. Gurdjieff. He directed the first  film version of William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies in 1963; and won a Tony award for directing Marat/Sade in 1966 which he directed as a film in 1967. In 1970, with Micheline Rozan, Brook founded the International Centre for Theatre Research, a multinational company of actors, dancers, musicians and others which travelled widely in the Middle East and Africa in the early 1970s.

In the mid-1970s, Brook, with writer Jean-Claude Carrière, began work on adapting the Indian epic poem the Mahābhārata into a 9 hour stage play performed over 3 nights. It was performed outdoors, in a quarry, as well as in theaters. The stage production was first performed in 1985 and toured until 1989 and then made into a nearly 5 and a half hour televised mini series. It is this filmed version of the theatrical production which we are writing about here. Click the Link below this line to view it on Youtube.

Link: view ‘The Mahabharata’ on Youtube

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The warriors receive zen-like archery training from their teacher in The Mahabharata.

Ancient Roots

First, it must be said that even thinking of attempting to present a theatrical production of The Mahabharata for a western audience is an idea most would unanimously consider to be impossible. But Peter Brook is a theatrical wizard able to direct talented performers and dexterously manipulate all bare resources at his disposal to remarkable effect. The Mahabharata is an epic Indian poem which has been described as “the longest poem ever written”. At about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahābhārata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined, or about four times the length of the Rāmāyaṇa, the other major Indian epic poem. The bulk of the Mahābhārata was probably compiled between the 3rd century BCE and the 3rd century CE, with the oldest preserved parts older than around 400 BCE. The original events related by the epic probably fall between the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.

The original events related by the epic probably fall between the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.

So this is an old, old story. It has travelled far and wide and is still widely regarded not only in India but also in Thailand, Indonesia and other parts of Asia where it is still told and retold and performed in perpetuity in profound regard to it’s perennial message and philosophical truths.

A major point in the story is a tremendous war between two sides of family related clans. At just the point when the long anticipated battle is to begin at the blowing of a conch shell by Arjuna – a major hero figure in the story – he suddenly loses his nerve when faced against familiar faces of family, friends and cousins and revered teachers on the other side of battle. It is at this very point that his close friend Krishna – said to be an avatar of the great god Vishnu – who is serving as his chariot driver, lovingly chides him for this shameful turn of poise, and leads him inwards to the truth of his destiny. This is the portion of the epic known as the Bhagavād-Gīta or Song of The Lord which is the most famous of the revered Hindu scriptures. This is the true heart of Yoga which most westerners – who think yoga is merely a series of physical poses and breathing exercises – fail to grasp. Practicing Yoga exercises without attention to the ancient Indian spiritual context out of which Yoga arose is not only shallow but is to miss the entire goal of Yoga.

This is the true heart of Yoga which most westerners – who think yoga is merely a series of physical poses and breathing exercises – fail to grasp.

The Film

But in this filmed version a lot has been set aside from the epic poem; and only the essential bare bones of the story – which tells of the struggle between two groups of cousins in the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pāṇḍava princes and their successors – is kept. Of course, Indian cinematic productions of The Mahabharata have been being produced ever since film cameras landed in Indian hands. But the accessibility of these Indian film versions are limited and will mostly serve only to confuse, vex and otherwise frustrate your average, non-Indophile,  English speaking audience. This is where Peter Brook’s and Jean-Claude Carrière’s adaptation serves us well, as it is able to express the essence of the story while keeping it infused with much of it’s mythical and philosophical background. It remains the most accessible and understandable version of any Indian epic for a western or English speaking audience.

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A bed of arrows is the only comfortable place to rest for a highly revered dying warrior.

Brook took the main cast for an extended stay in India even before rehearsals began. The cast immersed themselves in the world of The Mahabharata for years and merged with the characters they portrayed. The costumes were commissioned and created in India by craftspeople.

“The show was a culmination of all of Brook’s work, all his research into theatres, acting and actors. We performed in canyons in Australia and standing on top of cliffs. It was 12 hours in the theatre, with intervals, and we never worried whether audiences would respond badly to the length. You could watch it in parts or all together. For an actor, it was a total experience, not just: I’m an actor learning my lines.” – from the book The Mahabharata, Peter Brook’s Epic in the Making, by Garry O’Connor

Peter Brook is a theatrical wizard able to direct talented performers and dexterously manipulate all bare resources at his disposal to remarkable effect.

As the great director Peter Brook commented upon his time spent in India:

“Whatever the aspect of human experience, the Indian has indefatigably explored every possibility. If it is that most humble and most amazing of human instruments, a finger, everything that a finger can do has been explored and codified. If it is a word, a breath, a limb, a sound, a note – or a stone or a color or a cloth – all its aspects, practical artistic and spiritual, have been investigated and linked together. The line between performance and ceremony is hard to draw…” – from the book The Mahabharata, Peter Brook’s Epic in the Making, by Garry O’Connor

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Coronavirus: Black Magic Goes Viral? Part 2: A Vincent Price Double Feature

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By: H.B. Gardner

Current events have confirmed that we are indeed living the plot lines of two films starring Vincent Price.  If self-quarantine and social distancing has you losing your mind like the protagonist in an Edgar Allan Poe story, then you could do far worse than to delight in a diabolical double feature starring Uncle Vinnie.

Both films, The Masque of the Red Death and The Last Man on Earth are from 1964. But these films stand today, each to a certain degree, as prophetical and horrifically relevant to the present coronavirus / COVID-19 (or, can we now say -20?) global pandemic. Let’s take a quick, spoiler-free glimpse at these two films before looking deeper into our current plague.

The Last Man on Earth

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Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan in The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth is a 1964 black-and-white post-apocalyptic science fiction horror film based on the 1954 novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson.  I Am Legend was remade in 1971 as The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, and in 2007 with Will Smith. Matheson later said the Vincent Price film was the most faithful adaptation of his book, but he also called the result “inept” and used a pen name for his screenplay.

Humanity is all but wiped out in a global pandemic, a bacterial plague, in which the dead, if not cremated, return as the vampiric undead. The infected are dying too fast and in such great numbers that they must be disposed of via burning pits in mass cremations. All alone, Dr. Robert Morgan (Price) spends his time hunting down the vampires during the day to pound wooden stakes through their hearts, and defending himself from within his home at night when they arise to attack him. Garlic and mirrors ward them off for a time.

In what appears to be an eerie coincidence to our current Coronavirus pandemic, Morgan hypothesizes that he is immune to the bacteria because he was bitten by an infected vampire bat when he was stationed in Panama, which introduced a diluted form of the plague into his blood. In an article shared below we will see the Wuhan coronavirus connection to the bat. Price’s character eventually meets another person and the potential for a cure using Dr. Morgan’s blood – which has built up antibodies to the virus – is attempted, just as is being considered now for the coronavirus. The Last Man on Earth is available to watch for free on Youtube, so what are you waiting for?

“…these films stand today, each to a certain degree, as prophetical and horrifically relevant to the present COVID-19 global pandemic.”

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No one is left untouched by The Masque of The Red Death!

The Masque of The Red Death

Vincent Price is indelibly linked with the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe, and this is one of our personal favorites. Price is elegantly evil (as usual) as Prince Prospero – a late medieval period character who is part Gilles de Rais and part Marquis de Sade. As a plague known as The Red Death ravages the land, Prince Prospero invites his privileged, decadent, aristocratic guests to a grand party where he promises protection from the disease without – and much debauchery within – his castle’s walls. But the prince is a serious Satanist longing to go beyond the limits of even his own depravity! He brings a young village girl – along with her father and a young suitor – to his palace as amusement for his guests. Even the prince’s wife gets serious about dabbling in the Dark Arts of Diabolism and Demonolatry.

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Hazel Court brands her breast with the first inverted cross in satanic cinema history! The Masque of The Red Death.

What strikes us here in connection with the Coronavirus is the sheer susceptibility of everyone – no matter how powerful or privileged – to the whims of bacterium! Leaders of nations, royalty, the wealthy, clergy, the religious, people of all nations and races, even healthcare professionals are all in the grip of pestilence when it arises because it has far-reaching effects upon every level of society. We won’t spoil the ending – or the inclusion of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Hop-Frog’ as a side story. But we highly recommend this one as – beneath it’s amusing, vulgar, psychedelic theatricality – it carries a deep truth.

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In an epilogue, the Red Death is seen playing with his Tarot cards with the girl who had escaped the massacre of the remaining villagers. Other similarly cloaked figures then gather around him, each wearing a different colour: the White Death, the Yellow Death, the Golden Death, the Blue Death, the Violet Death and the Black Death.

“Sic transit gloria mundi”

(Latin for “Thus passes the glory of the world”)

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90094919_10217946751479572_3704477505470595072_nCommunist Chinese censorship has far reaching tentacles…

…and pincers, and fangs. Actually, many political systems, governments and ideologies rely on fear and ignorance for fuel these days. In part 1 of this article: Coronavirus: Black Magic Goes Viral? we mused, in an admittedly “not-too-serious” manner, upon the Chinese sorcery aspect of Ku or Gu poisoning and how it relates to the Wuhan Coronavirus / COVID-19 as a pestilence born from humans  meddling with things they are unable to control. We would just like to reflect here upon the certain knowledge of communist China’s well known censorship and propaganda machines, its merciless suppression of anything outside communist party approval, and the control its almost limitless economical weight has over the entire world. Don’t believe everything just because you hear or see it on the nightly news, TV talk shows, or media. All of it is doubtlessly being promoted by big money; and these days the biggest money is in China. Look at history, consider what happened to Tibet, what’s been happening in Hong Kong and Taiwan and try – we implore you – to think for yourself. We know that is asking a lot in this day and age; but it is imperative.

“Look at history, consider what happened to Tibet, what’s been happening in Hong Kong and Taiwan and try – we implore you – to think for yourself.”

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The “Masque” of The “Red” Death

There is much to unpack on this topic but we would point those with a serious interest to the following links; and to the censored text to an article by Chinese researchers pasted below.

Link:

Yes, the Virus Came From Wuhan

“And what puzzles us most, in this storm of information, impressions, opinions, expertise, real or alleged, is that no one is asking China, a country with an already horrible record on humans rights and disinformation, to explain plainly what happens in those research centers, one at less than 300 meters from the Wuhan market and the other at only 12 km.”

Link:

Experts think bats are the source of the Wuhan coronavirus. At least 4 pandemics have originated in these animals.

“”Poorly regulated live-animal markets mixed with illegal wildlife trade offer a unique opportunity for viruses to spill over from wildlife hosts into the human population,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement.”

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“…in mid-February two Chinese researchers, Dr. Botao Xiao from South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, and Dr. Lei Xiao, from Wuhan University of Science and Technology, recognized bats as the real source of the infection. Interestingly, the paper has since disappeared from the international scholarly data base Research Gate, not the first such incident for texts from China the CCP does not like,”

The Censored article that disappeared:

The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus〉 (Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao)

The 2019-nCoV coronavirus has caused an epidemic of 28,060 laboratory-confirmed infections in human including 564 deaths in China by February 6, 2020. Two descriptions of the virus published on Nature this week indicated that the genome sequences from patients were 96% or 89% identical to the Bat CoV ZC45 coronavirus originally found in Rhinolophus affinis. It was critical to study where the pathogen came from and how it passed onto human.

An article published on The Lancet reported that 41 people in Wuhan were found to have the acute respiratory syndrome and 27 of them had contact with Huanan Seafood Market. The 2019-nCoV was found in 33 out of 585 samples collected in the market after the outbreak. The market was suspicious to be the origin of the epidemic, and was shut down according to the rule of quarantine the source during an epidemic.

The bats carrying CoV ZC45 were originally found in Yunnan or Zhejiang province, both of which were more than 900 kilometers away from the seafood market. Bats were normally found to live in caves and trees. But the seafood market is in a densely-populated district of Wuhan, a metropolitan of ~15 million people. The probability was very low for the bats to fly to the market. According to municipal reports and the testimonies of 31 residents and 28 visitors, the bat was never a food source in the city, and no bat was traded in the market. There was possible natural recombination or intermediate host of the coronavirus, yet little proof has been reported.

Was there any other possible pathway? We screened the area around the seafood market and identified two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus. Within ~280 meters from the market, there was the Wuhan Center for Disease Control Prevention (WHCDC). WHCDC hosted animals in laboratories for research purpose, one of which was specialized in pathogens collection and identification. In one of their studies, 155 bats including Rhinolophus affinis were captured in Hubei province, and other 450 bats were captured in Zhejiang province. The expert in collection was noted in the Author Contributions. Moreover, he was broadcasted for collecting viruses on nation-wide newspapers and websites in 2017 and 2019. He described that he was once by attacked by bats and the blood of a bat shot on his skin. He knew the extreme danger of the infection so he quarantined himself for 14 days. In another accident, he quarantined himself again because bats peed on him. He was once thrilled for capturing a bat carrying a live tick.

Surgery was performed on the caged animals and the tissue samples were collected for DNA and RNA extraction and sequencing. The tissue samples and contaminated trashes were source of pathogens. They were only ~280 meters from the seafood market. The WHCDC was also adjacent to the Union Hospital where the first group of doctors were infected during this epidemic. It is plausible that the virus leaked around and some of them contaminated the initial patients in this epidemic, though solid proofs are needed in future study.

The second laboratory was ~12 kilometers from the seafood market and belonged to Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. This laboratory reported that the Chinese horseshoe bats were natural reservoirs for the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) which caused the 2002-3 pandemic. The principle investigator participated in a project which generated a chimeric virus using the SARS-CoV reverse genetics system, and reported the potential for human emergence. A direct speculation was that SARS-CoV or its derivative might leak from the laboratory.

In summary, somebody was entangled with the evolution of 2019-nCoV coronavirus. In addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan. Safety level may need to be reinforced in high risk biohazardous laboratories. Regulations may be taken to relocate these laboratories far away from city center and other densely populated places.

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Note: We do not consider the Chinese people at fault for the viral contagion. It is the lack of transparency, censorship and disinformation of the repressive communist government that needs to be addressed.

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Coronavirus: Black Magic Goes Viral?

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By H.B.Gardner

In this article on a serious topic, we go a-musing on the themes of occult poisons, satanic plague, and an occult horror theory of the Nova Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a form of Oriental black magic …and the ancient Chinese idea of “Let your food be your medicine.”

“Bugs on a plate”. That’s one interpretation of Gu or Ku, the ancient Chinese ideogram pictured here. The actual strokes of the first character above depicts three “insects” in a “pot” or “bowl. The bottommost portion of the character is the same as for a bowl or dish such as one will find on a menu or in a cook book in Japan or China; but it may be more broadly interpreted as a vessel. The simplified modern form (on the right) depicts one bug in a pot or jar. “Bug” or “insect”  is a rather oversimplified term here as, in this case, the characters also encapsulate a wider range of creatures including snakes, spiders, worms,  scorpions, centipedes, frogs and other creepy-crawly “pests”.

The meaning of Gu or Ku has some various interpretations; but it mostly relates to a slow-working venomous poison of the black magical kind which we may loosely interpret as “Chinese sorcery” or “witchcraft”. This line of thinking may also lead us to extrapolate upon an esoteric interpretation of these Chinese characters as not so much as “bugs in a vessel”, but “worms in the belly / body”, suggesting a nefarious viral or parasitic invasion of the human body. To suggest our theoretical linking of such sinister connections between Chinese black magic and the COVID-19 or new coronavirus, permit us to endarken you on some  ideas in “traditional Asian medicine and sorcery” as we look for the Devil In the Details, and offer some interesting insight into some possible contributing factors to this confounding viral epidemic.

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“This art of black magic …is usually focused on poisoning at a distance, creating disease, controlling a lover or for causing death.”

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1932’s extremely racist The Mask of Fu Manchu (with Boris Karloff as the evil Chinese villain) has a scene with this type of Oriental Black Magic used for nefarious purposes. A “venomous serpent” is caused to bite a black slave whose blood is then drawn to be included in a magical serum to gain control over another character.

“Gu or Ku is an ancient form of oriental black magic in which toxins are concentrated in order to wield occult powers over others.”

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Oracle Script for Gu “Poison” or “Bewitch”.

This Gu or Ku is an ancient form of oriental black magic in which toxins are concentrated in order to wield occult powers over others. This has been depicted onscreen in 1932’s The Mask of Fu Manchu, starring Boris Karloff as the nefarious villain planning to conquer the world.yjimage

The Chinese ideogram itself dates back to the 14th century BCE Shang Dynasty bone oracle inscriptions meaning “poison” or “bewitch”. The typical method of this Ku sorcery is the collecting of various venomous or poisonous creatures such as snakes, lizards, centipedes, scorpions, and worms which are enclosed within a vessel in order to fight it out. The survivor in this death match – having killed and devoured the others – is then considered to be extremely potent in its toxicity by having absorbed the poisons of the others. This creature, the Ku, may then serve as a prized familiar spirit and/or as the main ingredient of either a love potion or toxic poison, usually administered in food or drink to an unknowing victim.

“Its a serious problem. Wild animal farming to supply exotic substances for “health tonics” for China’s wealthy elite – a “small percent” of China’s population which is nearly equivalent to the entire population of Japan.”

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Seal Script for Gu “Poison” or “Bewitch”.

This magical practice is reputedly often accomplished in the southern regions of China in the hot and humid season (5th day of the 5th lunar month),  which certainly provides an ideal condition for the growth of bacteria.

This art of vengeful black magic and it’s particular methods is usually focused on poisoning at a distance (in both space and time), creating disease, controlling a lover, or for causing death. Descriptions in antique Chinese texts report incidents of slow poisoning and death, sometimes weeks after imbibing the toxic dose. Medicinal antidotes are also often cited such as ginger and licorice root. (This makes visceral sense as, here in Japan, sashimi is served with pickled ginger as well as wasabi horseradish as condiments to aid the safe digestion of raw fish).

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The occult works of Kenneth Grant offer some knowledge on The Cult of the Ku.

“Descriptions in antique Chinese texts report incidents of slow poisoning and death, sometimes weeks after imbibing the toxic dose.”

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Above: Chinese coins depicting the 5 poisons.

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1964’s The Masque of the Red Death

COVID-19

The “New Bug” Going Around

Now, another mysterious virus has seemingly arisen to spread rapidly over the globe. With the SARS, MERS and Ebola outbreaks still fresh in memory, the recent news of the Wuhan Nova Coronavirus COVID-19 spreading outwards from China – with over 6,000 reported cases and causing over a hundred to die (update from original time of writing: as of March 17th there are now 7426 deaths reported globally); and the recent estimates pointing to the virus reaching its peak at the end of this April or May (at the time of writing) – we thought it of interest to outline the occult links to this issue because, in our estimation, there are always esoteric links to every imaginable and unimaginable phenomenon.

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Artist: William Blake. Women before a blazing cauldron with a child’s corpse. A magical attempt at resurrection?

There is no telling with 100% certainty where this coronavirus disease originated – whether from a fish and wild animal market in Wuhan, China as many have speculated, or from a nearby infectious disease lab where – much like the Ku spirit nurtured in a vessel containing centipedes and snakes – viruses are cultured and grown in Petrie dishes. We can say that – whether by accident or insidious design – this “New Bug“ has escaped its containment vessel and somehow managed to jump the species barrier.

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Dogs and bunnies for sale at a Chinese food market. This is no pet shop. Feces, urine, blood, pus, parasites etc.. are showered down from cage to crowded cage upon suffering animals.

Note that the viruses mentioned here have all been animal linked diseases. According to the World Health Organization (WHO)  SARS coronavirus (identified in 2003) is thought to be an animal virus from an as-yet-uncertain animal reservoir, perhaps bats, that spread to other animals (civet cats) and first infected humans in the Guangdong province of southern China in 2002. 

MERS = Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome came from camels in contact with humans. These are animal viruses which have somehow been transferred to humans.

The Ebola crisis that happened in Africa is also linked to bats.

“In China it is often the case that animals sold for food consumption in certain open markets are often crammed tightly together in conditions that most would consider unthinkable.”

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A Satanic plague is unleashed upon the world by a circle of wealthy elites in 1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

In China it is often the case that animals sold for food consumption in certain open markets are often crammed tightly together in conditions that most would consider unthinkable. Its a serious problem. Wild animal farming to supply exotic substances for “health tonics” for China’s wealthy elite – a “small percent” of China’s population which is nearly equivalent to the entire population of Japan. Consider the energy of whatever you imbibe or digest as literally in-forming the substance of your being. The food we consume has an effect on our entire system. This is both magical thinking and scientific fact.

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How about some bat soup?

“Let Your Food Be Your Medicine”

But it isn’t only for rare black magical purposes for which certain exotic creatures are sought as ingredients in Asian culture. There are also medicines and cuisine to consider! It seems to us no mere coincidence that the new corona virus outbreak happened to coincide with celebrations for the 2020 Chinese Lunar New Year holiday of January 25th! A holiday which sees the massive movement of people traveling to visit family and loved ones for special family gatherings …and special meals.

“China has a very ancient and venerable history of traditional medicine.”

The first thing to be understood is that – like most Asian and Eastern cultures – China has a very ancient and venerable history of traditional medicine. In China, one significant idea regarding one’s health is expressed as “Let your food be your medicine”. This is good advice in general. But the lists of rare, exotic ingredients for certain traditional formulae has sometimes led to the hunting and near extinction of certain species of animals such as the black rhinoceros, musk deer, tigers, snow leopards and all manner of rare beasts and birds in order to obtain portions of these creatures and their organs which are reputed to cure particular ailments or illnesses, or to give certain desired health benefits.

“This, in conjunction with the lists of exotic ingredients for traditional medicinal formulae, has sometimes led to the hunting and near extinction of certain species of animals…”

China Outbreak Lessons from SARS

Man looking at raccoon dogs (Yes, there are such things.) at a market in China.

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Fire burn and Cauldron bubble: European Witches adding a cockerel and a snake into a blazing vessel. Sorcery performed for fortune, fame and power, for cursing or for love, appears to be systemic to the human race.

It comes as no surprise that the epicenter of the current corona virus outbreak has constellated around a fish and wild animal market in Wuhan, China – a region which also happens to host a nearby disease lab. This market had all manner of beasts in cramped and dirty cages all stacked together in highly unsanitary conditions where their immediate slaughter for food could also be carried out. Blood, urine, feces, pus and the standard sicknesses, viruses and parasites natural to wild animals all blending and stewing in a melange of filth. This is not so unlike a giant Ku poison pot, an unwholesome alembic or Petrie dish, if you will. Which brings us back around to the poison magic known as Ku. The witches cauldron containing “eye of newt and toe of frog” appears to be a universal phenomenon. Sorcery performed for fortune, fame and power, for cursing or for love, appears to be systemic to the            human race.

“Witchcraft performed for fortune, fame and power, for cursing or for love, appears to be systemic to the human race.”

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Asian centipedes grow large and carry poison.

It is impossible to say how many people engage in the riskier food and health practices constellating about these potential centers of pestilence. But it is likely a smaller portion of the population which knowingly imbibes or absorbs these substances. A simple search online will turn your stomach to watch Asian men eating live baby mice or pretty young women tasting writhing centipedes, for instance. Far fewer are those who dare to dabble in poisons such as in Ku magic. But greedy and intemperate scientists and the administrative powers which support and finance them – not only in Asia but worldwide – know no bounds when it comes to dabbling in these unseen forces which are ever at the ready to exploit a weakness in the human immune system. While many folks are content to try an occasional exotic delicacy, the truly nefarious deeds are being done in labs and factory farms around the globe, with or without government approval. 

We must also admit the deplorable conditions of our own factory farming practices – and of puppy mills – in the good old USA and other Western nations. The wretched un-lives lived out by animals farmed and raised for meat, eggs, dairy and pets are also swarming with filth, disease and suffering beyond the limits of any diabolical horror movie. Until people wake up to these heinous practices, the suffering will continue and the chances for potential outbreaks of disease loom imminently over the land.

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Vincent Price meets The Masque of The Red Death (1964)

The Affair of the Poisons

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Catherine Deshayes, aka “La Voisin” was burned at the stake for being involved in poisoning and satanizing.

Sometimes an outbreak of magical poisoning may be the result of a more amorous type. There is always the possibility of passionate intrigue, occultism and love spells gone awry. Attempts at poisoning, or concocting aphrodisiacs or “Spanish Fly”, such as the Affair of the Poisons (1677 – 1682) is one famous example that scandalized the court of King Louis the XIV. The Sun King’s own mistress, Madame de Montespan, bought aphrodisiacs to remain in the king’s favor and performed Black Masses with Catherine Deshayes, a known fortune teller, poisoner and abortionist, known as “La Voisin”, who was later burned at the stake in 1680. Eventually the scandal and criminal cases surrounding The Affair of the Poisons led to the execution of 36 people while many others received life sentences or were sent to the galleys.

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Habushu is a liquor from Okinawa in which a venomous pit viper has been steeped.

Germ Warfare, Infectious Disease & Pandemic

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Great book on the Plague. Recommended reading!

Germ warfare is nothing new. It’s been going on for centuries. Throughout history, invaders have catapulted the bodies of plague victims over city walls. Wells have been poisoned with animal carcasses. The Black Death, which spread the Plague from Asia and wiped out 30% to 60% of Europe’s population in less than a decade, is a devastating example of the effects of a pandemic. We must ask ourselves if the world is due for another one – whether by nature or by design. Or perhaps certain systems of control and authority wish to reduce the surplus population by eradicating the weaker members of society, such as those with compromised immune systems. It is certainly something that has happened before. The medieval witch hysteria in Europe was sparked by the Plague and sections of society were quickly accused and executed.

 

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A satanic new plague is to released on the world at Dracula’s command! The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973)

In Asia, where the serpent – often epitomized as the Dragon – is revered, even worshipped, as well as consumed as a sacramental or potency enhancing meal or beverage, there is definitely a different psychology at work than in the Christianized West. Christianity has long demonized the serpent as an emblem of evil. But the consumption of the flesh and blood of a deity is not unknown in the West as anybody who has attended Holy Mass or communion in a church should be aware.

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Black Magic 1975, Horror film from Hong Kong exhibits Chinese sorcery known as Ku.

Evil certainly exists but the concept of “sin” remains a foreign idea in East Asia; there is more a line of thought of  shamefully “missing the mark” or “failing to achieve” rather than the imposed guilt of “sin”. Christianity is a tree that has never taken firm root in Japanese or Chinese soil. And wherever it has taken root, it is invariably only surface deep and rather frail and sickly. In a way the West has infected the East with its religion just as coronavirus is spreading outwards from Asia.

Whatever the origin of the current COVID-19 outbreak, it is certainly linked to human contact with animal virus. Whether this happened by accident or on purpose (for the record we suspect the inevitable corporate greed and stupidity of humankind over the admittedly more intriguing occult means) the scorpion has crawled / the bat has flown / and the serpent has slithered out of the pot! And it is probably already too late to clap the lid back on.

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The Occult Influence of Alejandro Jodorowsky

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Alejandro Jodorowsky with his restored Tarot of Marseille.

Alejandro Jodorowsky is much more than an acclaimed firebrand of underground cinema. His unique career and work extends far beyond avant-garde film making and into writing, music, comics and graphic novels, performance, mime, surrealism, art, the Tarot, teaching, therapy, psychology and mysticism. Indeed, it is a difficult task to encapsulate the man with any one label as his pursuits bleed and merge artistically into one another in an organic, creative and surreal consciousness-expanding milieu where one finds an ever uncoiling universe constellating around him.

Unknown-1On his religious views, Jodorowsky has called himself an “atheist mystic”; a statement which just barely scratches the surface of this original and pioneering  Magician. He has a profound understanding of psychology and the traumas inherited from family, along with symbology, magickthe Tarot and spiritual alchemy – all of which has enhanced his work and – through his art – opened people’s minds to some of the deeper strata of human experience. This has not always occurred in a smooth fashion for the film maker. In fact, it has often been a struggle to have a wider showing of his work and there have been more than a couple of outrages along the way.

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Dance of Reality (2013)

Although not a “occult horror” film director in the conventional sense, Jodorowky’s films have caused controversy as they are often steeped in religious and occult imagery which has at times caused outrage or even been interpreted as blasphemous. His avant-garde cinematic productions such as  El Topo, The Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre – along with the more recent The Dance of Reality and Endless Poetry – express a kaleidoscope of symbolism and psychological insight that are often beautiful, unsettling, breathtaking and disturbing – all at once.

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A plethora of mass produced crucified Christs – and The Fool who was their model screaming in the middle of them all – in The Holy Mountain.

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Skinned and crucified dogs carried by marching soldiers in      The Holy Mountain.

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Santa Sangre  (1989)

Santa Sangre (1989) may be labeled a drama / mystery,  but the surrealism of the story carries it into stranger territory. A young boy, the son of a circus knife-thrower, witnesses his mother’s arms being amputated in a spectacular way as she attempts to defend her heretical cult. She survives and he learns how to become her hands for her, even killing for her.

 

The Holy Mountain

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Jodorowsky himself plays the Magician in The Holy Mountain.

The Holy Mountain (1973) is a film only the ’70’s could have produced. Nothing else like it has even been attempted. It was almost impossible to even view the film for decades due to a distribution dispute, but is now widely available. John Lennon and Yoko Ono put up production money for this film. Originally, George Harrison was to play the lead role of The Fool but declined because he didn’t wish to have his bare naked ass getting washed to be projected onto the silver screen. It is a surreal, beautiful, and somewhat disturbing experience (much like life) as it follows The Fool’s Journey on the path towards mystical enlightenment. The archetypal planetary Forces are also impersonated – with all their flaws – in a 1970’s fashion which somehow feels timeless; but the surrealist imagery and occult symbols may leave any but those educated in the Arcane Arts rather baffled. Somebody commented that there is so much weird stuff going on in this film that you almost forget about all the nudity. A psychedelic shamanic trip into occult exploration.

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The Magician initiates his apprentice in The Holy Mountain.

Jodorowsky was famously set to direct a film version of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic novel Dune in the mid 1970’s,  but the $9.5 million production would have resulted in a 14 hour movie (featuring Salvador Dali and Orson Welles). The visionary project was aborted but the unmade film is claimed to have been an influence on other actual science fiction films, such as Star Wars, Alien, Terminator, Flash Gordon, The Fifth Element and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Jodorowsky’s tremendous influence is more widely known in the French and Spanish speaking countries and to a growing cadre of English language fans.

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Mr. Jodorowsky has spent a great deal of time studying the Tarot over the years and has even offered a marvelously colored “reconstructed” version of the famous Marseille pattern Tarot deck which he worked on with Philippe Camoin – descendant and heir to the guardians of the Tarot de Marseille tradition for centuries. This may be considered as the most perfect version we have of The Marseille Tarot pack. It is certainly the best colored one we’ve seen.

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Camoin Tarot website

You have never read a book on Tarot like this before! While some of the associations and interpretations Jodorowsky offers in his Way of Tarot book may surprise and perplex some who study and practice Tarotmancy or “Tarotology”, It is nothing short of genius and will be an exercise in psychological expansion and spiritual unfoldment for any serious occultist who spends some time reflecting on what is presented in the book.

Anyone wishing to go beyond Jodorowsky’s films and delve deeper into the mind of this occult genius must check out his amazing books The Way of Tarot and Psychomagic.

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13 Diabolical Movies for Halloween

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BY H.B.G. (Your Satanic Cinema Sommelier)

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Some of us struggle with our demons, others just want to cuddle. The Church, 1989

As Halloween – the ancient pre-Christian Celtic Pagan festival of Samhain – draws near, when the air chills and the vibrant leafy green signs of summery life are dressed in faded flame to kindle it’s dry surrender to the coming season of death, our mind turns naturally inwards – towards the darkness within – as a reflection to the deepening night without. The Season of the Witch is upon us once again and ’tis time to reflect upon the ebon mirror-screen to read the signs traced there by the cool fingers of Our Lady of Darkness. Many of our own home video screens will inevitably flicker with the cold fire of choice occult horrors, old and new, from cinema’s dreadful dream machine.

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Karloff leads a Luciferian cult in The Black Cat.

Connoisseurs of the genre are undoubtedly familiar with Cinema’s Unholy Trinity of Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen. Others may already know Vincent Price as Prince Prospero in 1964’s Masque of the Red Death. Below we will present a modest list of 13 sorcerous and satanic ‘sin’ematic tales spun by film makers. We will point out some popular examples as well as draw attention to some of those which may be overlooked. These and many other examples appear in our growing list of Devilish movies: Satanic Cinema Sommelier; Our Favorite Devilish Films.

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Hazel Court as Vincent Price’s mistress in The Masque of the Red Death, 1964,  brands an inverted cross on her breast in an act of devotion to Satan. This is the first instance of an inverted cross as a symbol of devil worship on film.

These films offer us the full congregation of evil: The Witch, The Cult, and The Devil Himself.

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Barbara Steele in Curse of the Crimson Cult, 1968

The Witch is a primal archetype of our collective unconscious; an image so ancient and long held that we still remain spellbound by her powers. The Hag, the child-snatcher, the cannibal crone in the gingerbread house, the satanic siren or seductive succubus licking her blood red lips… they all live inside us. She resides in that secret place from where dreams arise; that place most of us expend effort to avoid noticing. But she is always there, waiting, in our stories, fables, movies and fashion magazines.

The Cult is a nightmare that is often all too true in reality and even makes the occasional appearance on the evening news. Often formed by a group of devil worshipping acolytes in these movies, The Cult is most often hidden from view in plain sight. Their predatorial eyes stalking their victims with a cold obedience to a perverted sense of unholy and supreme evil.

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The Exorcist, 1973

The Devil …well, what can one say about the Old Man? The Opposer, The Adversary, The Tempter, Shaitan, Satan… the very embodiment of all that is evil, of all malice, of all we fear… and, simultaneously, all that we desire: Power, Wealth, Talent, Fame, Sex.. all are on the Demon’s auction table… for a hefty price, of course.

Some of these movies are crude attempts, some are jumbled fever dreams, cult films, a few are special masterpieces that linger long after the lights are out and the covers are drawn up… when dreams of primitive horrors etched in our ancestral DNA lurch and suddenly shamble towards you out of the dreaming dark… with claws extended.

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Evil Takes Many Forms in The Witch.

1. The Witch (2015)

Satanic Sommelier: Guiness, or an Irish red like Killians. The Witch is an atmospheric period piece set in 1630 New England. A  folktale saturated with fearful religious paranoia that inexorably tears apart a family of Puritan settlers trying to survive on the edge of a vast threatening forest after being banished from the safe confines of their colony. The fear of Satan’s power may be real or imagined, or seen as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are looking for jump scares or buckets of gore, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. This one is a slow burning thriller with committed performances and some unsettling imagery of classical witchcraft.

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Christopher Lee is great as a Satanist in almost every film he ever made.

2. Horror Hotel, AKA City of the Dead  (1960)

Satanic Sommelier: Chardonnay, chilled. Features Christopher Lee (who certainly holds the record for Actor Who Has Portrayed a Satanist or Appeared in More Satanic/Occult Films More Than Any Human Ever) as a college professor with more than a dabbler’s interest in Witchcraft. An atmospheric thriller that takes a cue from 1960’s PSYCHO in regards to the premature fate of it’s first main protagonist. Good atmospheric early piece of witchy cinema.

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You’ve never seen anything quite like Alucarda.

3. Alucarda   (1975)

Satanic Sommelier: A Spanish red. (Read the title backwards). This nunsploitation film has some great surrealistic set pieces, plenty of hysterical blasphemy, flagellation, sadistic monks, exorcism and…. bleeding nuns! But the tale itself, with its elements of lesbian vampirism, seems at least somewhat inspired by J. Sheridan LeFanu’s ‘Carmilla’ (1872). A young woman is brought to live at a convent where she encounters the mysterious Alucarda. The young women form a strange relationship and make a pact and become satanically possessed as part of Alucarda’s cursed history.

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More Nasassja Kinski, please.

4. To the Devil a Daughter (1976)

Satanic Sommelier: Blue Nun. Three reasons to watch this film: 1. Christopher Lee (starting to see a pattern here?!) as a Satanic priest (he does it so well! Look for that smile during a nasty scene near the beginning of the film). 2. A 15-year-old full frontal nude Nastassja Kinski  (we also love her dressed as a nun), and 3. some rather atypical Satanic ritual  imagery. Great cult film if you can somehow manage to ignore Richard Widmark.

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Jessica Harper in the original Suspiria. She also makes a cameo in the 2018 remix.

5. Suspiria (1977)

Satanic Sommelier: A fine Italian red wine.  Suspiria is a film that stands out in horror cinema and remains perhaps the most celebrated artistic horror film ever made. Director Dario Argento’s masterpieceThe Three Mothers motif is carried on in the sequels Inferno (1980) and The Mother of Tears (2007). The 2018 remake featuring Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton is a thoughtful homage to some ideas inspired by the theme but is not nearly as fun as the original. We started #TheThreeMothers hashtags. Read our Occult-Horror geek articles on the original Suspiria here:

SUSPIRIA: In the Eye of the Peacock

SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey and the Dark Goddess; Part 1

SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey & the Dark Goddess; Part 2

SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey & the Dark Goddess, Part 3

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Sherri Moon Zombie breaks on through to the other side in The Lords of Salem.

6. The Lords of Salem (2012)

Satanic Sommelier:  Magic mushrooms with a gin & tonic, and a beer chaser. Rob Zombie’s hallucinogenic trip into the weird world of witchcraft is, like it’s creator,  certainly original. This film links back to ancient blasphemous heresy for starters before relocating us into modern Salem, Massachusetts where young DJ Heidi (played by Sherri Moon Zombie) is ensnared in the ancient sorcery of a family curse while trying to break free of a heroin addiction. Worth seeing for Meg Foster, Dee Wallace, Judy Geeson and Patricia Quinn (Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) as witches, and some bizarre artistic moments.

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THE SENTINEL 1977 with horror veteran John Carradine as a blind priest. Jeffrey Konvitz wrote the book.

7. The Sentinel (1977)

Satanic Sommelier: Whatever your poison may be, drink plenty of it! The gateway to Hell requires a vigilant ward. The requirements for the position are a particular sin. The Sentinel is kind of like a blend of ‘Hell House’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ with some Law & Order mixed in. If it feels tedious at times you can amuse yourself by spotting the many big names in it, enough to give even a jaded movie goer pause: Ava Gardner, Burgess Meredith, Sylvia Miles, Jose Ferrer, Eli Wallach, Christopher Walken, Chris Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum, John Carradine, and Beverly D’Angelo in…. well, an unforgettable scene. Make-up effects by the legendary Dick Smith of The Exorcist fame. This gritty ’70’s devil movie has a politically incorrect climax to creep you out.

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Mickey Rourke stumbles into a diabolical mystery in Angel Heart.

8. Angel Heart  (1987)

Satanic Sommelier: Jack Daniels or Jim Beam (any way you like) for you “Hairy Angel” types.  Or try Toots Sweet’s favorite Twin Sisters Cocktail: Ingredients: 1/2 oz. light rum 1/2 oz. spiced rum 1 dash lime juice 1 dash Coca-Cola Directions: Shake with ice and strain into shot glass. Atmospheric film with an excellent cast. The story pulls you in and won’t let go. Mickey Rourke in his prime as Harold Angel (“Hark! The herald angels sing…”) and Robert DeNiro as Louis Cyphere (wink). Based on the novel ‘Falling Angel’ by William Hjortsberg. The novel is centered in New York and never travels to New Orleans like in the film. The book  depicts a gritty Black Mass that takes place in an abandoned New York subway. Well, that scene didn’t make it into the film, but we get some good Voodoo ceremony here along with a (at the time it was released) controversial and passionate sex scene with the lovely young (and underrated) Lisa Bonet. Actress Charlotte Rampling appears as a mysterious old flame into more than just star-gazing. A horror mystery with a real twist at the end.

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Masks, Death Masks, & Sadistic Face Lifts in The Sect / The Devil’s Daughter, 1991

9. The Sect,  aka The Devil’s Daughter   (1991)

Satanic Sommelier: Italian red wine or German Riesling. (Italian title: La Setta), is another Italian horror film co-written and produced by Dario Argento and directed by Michele Soavi. The film stars Kelly Curtis (sister of Jamie Lee Curtis: ‘Halloween’ 1978) who has a destiny with the devil’s crew.  Herbert Lom also stars. It’s a weird film with some echoes of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, but embellished with some truly bizarre twists, some surrealistic, dreamlike and nightmarish imagery, along with some gore. A creative departure from the standard.

the-house-of-the-devil-original.jpg10. The House of the Devil   (2009)

Satanic Sommelier: A good Californian red wine to go with your “mushroom” pizza. Inspired by the Satanic Panic of the 1980s; the story feeds on the deep psychological fears people had at that time which manifested in a widespread social panic. The film takes place and even appears like it was filmed in the ’80’s. A very good, slow burning thriller with a Grand Guignol finish. We highly recommend this one for the simple story and great acting by a small cast. Like Rosemary’s Baby, it shows how effective storytelling, great acting, and very good filmmaking can create so much suspense with minimum special effects.

Unknown-311. Hereditary  (2018)

Satanic Sommelier: Whiskey with a cola chaser. The ripple effect of Hereditary is still being felt even as director Ari Aster’s latest release Midsommar is gaining much critical acclaim for these well formulated, suspenseful and artistic horrors. Demonolotry is not a typical thing to inherit from one’s family …unless you’re in a horror film. Forget the haters who criticize it, Hereditary is a very good film with superior performances and an unsettling punch-to-the-gut story that leaves much to ponder regarding the fine line between demonic horror and family drama.

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The occult symbolism overflows in 1989’s The Church.

12. The Church (1989)

Satanic Sommelier: Italian red wine. (Italian title: La chiesa),  is an Italian horror film directed by Michele Soavi. It was produced by Dario Argento (along with a list of others). Asia Argento is a young girl in the film. Some nice set pieces, demons, Satanic rituals and plenty of gore. Visually captivating. There are some definite nods to ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ including an uncanny homage in a Devil Rape scene (compare the music for these scenes in the two films), and an old couple that seem patterned on Minnie and Roman Castevet that tour The Cathedral. You should definitely go to The Church, it’s good for your soul.

evilspeak-2013. Evilspeak (1981)

Satanic Sommelier: A very good beer. This one is unique as it is the first (and perhaps only) film to use the high-tech-demon-summoning-computer-motif  by the bullied young man out for revenge. Think Stephen King’s ‘Carrie,’ but with a male misfit instead of a young woman in the lead, who turns to the Devil for unholy revenge. Practically in a category by itself, innit?

Enjoyable but often overlooked for it’s eccentricities, Evilspeak is a rare 80’s gem that is delightfully nasty. The scenes of the cruelties by young men in a military academy who gang up on a weaker one (played by Clint Howard – brother of director Ron Howard) are especially unpleasant with gratuitous shame. This film carries some rather heavy Satanic  motifs with a vicious and gory climax to boot (effects are a little dated, but so what?), which caused it to be banned for a number of years in the UK. One of the few Satanic horror films which draws upon the less popular porcine symbolism of the Devil. The “evil” Egyptian god Set is associated with pig iconography (among other animal totems). Almost want to take a shower / bath after watching this one… almost.

Remember to find out about more devilish films from the Satanic Cinema Sommelier; Our Favorite Devilish Films.

May your Halloween be less than harrowing!

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THE DEVIL, Key XV from the Tarot. From the Smith – Waite Tarot. Art by Pamela Coleman Smith.

Inspired by the Gods: Artist Rafael Espadine

 

Rafael Espadine @ Dakshineswar Kali Temple near Calcutta

Rafael Espadine at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple near Calcutta, India.

Devil in the Details is proud to share this interview with Rafael Espadine, an artist and Philosophy student, researcher on the occult and ancient spiritual cultures. He works in the field of Indian culture in his native Brazil. He is also a fan of occult horror and was the first contributing writer to Devil In the Details with his thought provoking Suspiria inspired piece: Susanna Bannion (or the power that lies in a name). The pictures of artwork accompanying this interview are those by the hand of the artist, courtesy of Rafael Espadine. More of his fine art work may be viewed at his site: Spadini Arts , and @r.spadini on Instagram. 

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Hekate painting by Rafael Espadine

Devil In the Details: Have you always been creative or interested in art?

Rafael Espadine: My earliest recollections of myself and the world around me always involve art. My mom often says her womb is probably full of frescoes. She was and is my greatest sponsor, the first to ever buy me paints and canvases and papers etc. She is a ballerina and can draw and paint and sing very well, so I guess it’s kind of… Hereditary… (drums a rimshot).

Devil: How do you approach making a piece of spiritual art?

R. Espadine: For me sacred art has to be truly inspired by the spirit, touched by a bolt of light, emotionally and intellectually moved and it must bring a fresh glance into something that is by nature, timeless. Some of my best works came out of nowhere and involved physical reactions that could be compared to trance states. I like to be respectful to the spirit of the character or symbol being represented. I’m a lover of tradition and traditional iconography and my experience has proven to me that one can innovate in style and approach and yet retain the traditional spirit. I guess it is high time to leave fantasy art to RPG books.

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Ugra Tara (Kalika) – a fierce form of pregnant Kali. Original creation inspired by traditional design; by Rafael Espadine.

Devil: What are some of your artistic influences or inspirations?

R. Espadine: Artistically speaking my inspirations would be the Renaissance period and the Symbolists and Pre-Raphaelites, but I always go back to Pompeii’s frescoes and Egyptian art in general but mainly from the Ptolemaic Era. The timeless character exuded by ancient art is unmatched and a big part of my work pays tribute to such aesthetics. Oh, not to mention the East as Indian art has always fascinated me and the art produced during the Pala dynasty is my all-time favorite Indian art.

Devil: You are a culturally well-rounded individual and kind of a Renaissance Man. You also have an impressive singing voice.

R. Espadine: Oh, thank you so much for listening! Music is a big part of my artistic expression and I have always being involved with vocal groups and solo experiences. Dance too, as I have been exposed to ballet and practiced northern Indian classic dance (Kathak) but music, or better saying, the art of singing, is–in my humble opinion–, the only art you can truly carry with you in a most natural way that does not depend on external tools and conditions and that characteristic is amazing. The songs I managed to compose myself are usually short and inspired by ancient folk ballad tunes. Opera is where I meet almost a perfect combination of all those experiences and expressions and I am a coloratura aficionado.

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Oberon by Rafael Espadine; from his Instagram page.

 

Devil: Where else do you find the touch of Spirit?

R. Espadine: Besides the artistic inspiration, I would say the obvious: Nature is the highest inspiration. Subject wise I would say that mythology, fairy lore and witchcraft are my favorite subjects.

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Witchy Deity sculptures by Rafael Espadine

“Evil for me has always been a desmesure, an unbalanced excessiveness.”

Devil: When were you first drawn towards the horror genre? Through what medium?

R. Espadine: I guess I have always been fascinated with the supernatural and I see the horror genre, in cinema above all, as the only genre that deals with the subject in all its natural turmoil, especially of its darker shades.

Devil: Do you feel that the horror genre touches upon spirituality?

R. Espadine: Spirituality for me has never been a rigid experience, but a vivid dynamic one. I believe that the world of Spirit has a natural grip to our deepest emotions and I think that good supernatural horror is the best genre to induce that in a cinematic experience. We sometimes need extra doses of shock to question what we see around and inside ourselves and the symbolic language of supernatural horror can be a good way to cathartically express that.

Devil: What diabolical or occult horror films or books have impressed or made the biggest impact on you?

R. Espadine: The Exorcist is for sure one of my favorites. It is the Maria Callas of horror. I was lucky to read the book before I saw the film, and the book was a very impacting experience. Just the opening transcriptions of human atrocities would be enough as a glimpse into the problem of evil. However, The Omen had the biggest impact on me as a film in my childhood because the implications were easier to understand at that time. Later on I could understand better the so many substrata present in The Exorcist – including the political ones and even the possibility that poor Pazuzu had nothing to do with poor Regan… – but as a kid The Omen made me think and question deeper theologies (and also to look for a certain birthmark under my hair…). Even later on Rosemary’s Baby proved to be a most instigating root of that type of plot and a much more elegant and disturbing one. I like the depiction of the supernatural within the apparently ordinary life that doesn’t call for too much gore or CGI to convey the message.

“The Exorcist is for sure one of my favorites.

It is the Maria Callas of horror.”

Devil: What were your earliest religious or spiritual influences?

Rafael Espadine: As a kid I was never told that there were fixed parameters to be followed or a single universal true that should be blindly accepted by all. When I asked my mother “how God is?” , and she said “it is Energy,” to which I replied, “I’m gonna make a drawing of God”, which I did. The result was a drawing of a bearded strong man seated on a cloud… but naked and holding a trident, so I can only guess that there are things that we simply bring within ourselves to this world somehow.

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Roman Isis, From a statue of the Hadrian era (117 – 138 AD).  25cm high. Sculpture by Rafael Espadine.

Devil: How would you describe your present spiritual path?

R. Espadine: I am an initiate of, and in, many spiritual paths – all duly practiced, although not at the same time and not all continued. I have always tended to the mystic ways within the greater spiritual traditions – or the alternate ones. At this point it is clear to me that the ancient mystery and magical traditions are my stronger strands as they normally coexist without clashing and are more open to personal gnosis, although I also tend to like things traditional in essence as I do in art. Philosophically-wise, I would say that Buddhism and (Indian Tantric) Kaula metaphysics are the most compelling ones to me. I’m a nature lover and the acceptance of this world and nature as a whole and as divine in itself is a basic tenant to me. Despite all that, I have the strong impression that Art is itself a valid expression of spirituality and it can be a full-fledged spiritual path like any other and such an achievement is a main goal for me. Above all, if I should have a God that would be Nature Herself in all its splendor and darkness.

Devil: Now, a Devil In the Details question we wish to pose to any one we interview, as a way of getting different views on our diabolical horror theme. What do you consider evil in today’s society?

R. Espadine: Evil for me has always been a desmesure, an unbalanced excessiveness. Think of it: a nation trying to expand territory at all costs, a virus, a cancerous cell, an animal out of its environment, a mind that can’t focus in the present time, excessive worry, man trying to be superior to Nature, a person who tries to get a promotion at all costs, etc. It’s always related to expanding and having more and more and more. It was true in the past and it is true today. Knowing our place and our potentials and trying to reach and do more but only as much as possible and in harmonious ways is mandatory at all costs.

Devil: Thank you so very much Mr. Espadine. It has been a delight getting to know you  and we will certainly be keeping an eye on your artwork and other creative endeavors as something to look forward to.

Rafael Espadine: Thank you so much for this interview. It is a big pleasure to contribute to this website in any possible way since this is one of my favorite places on the internet.

Please view more of Rafael Espadine’s fine artwork at his website Spadini Arts and you can also find him and more of his art on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/r.spadini/

Hereditary : Decoding the Demon’s DNA

By: H.B.G.

Contains spoilers! (Viewed three times)

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Milly Shapiro makes an impression in an understated performance in Hereditary.

As fans of Diabolical and Occult Horror we dare to stare into the artistic abyss in an effort to understand why we find the theme so appealing. Is it an attempt at psychological self-analysis of the Jungian Shadow? Or is it a floundering fight to wrestle with our own inner demons?

Whatever the reason (not that one is needed), few such films  in recent years have had quite the impact that ‘Hereditary’ has had. While some have compared it with another icon of Satanic Cinema canon by calling it “this generation’s ‘The Exorcist’”  (Time Out New York) – others have ridiculed it for obscuring it’s more subtle elements beneath too much eye candy; or (more bizarrely) claiming that its “predictable” or “supernatural” ending ruined it (!). But in a film in which the supernatural and diabolical elements are the main plot point, what else should one expect, or want, from the ending of such a film? Should the ending be made more ambiguous via: Was it really the Devil or was it all just in her own head?

Why not have a supernatural ending? (Some of us like that sort of thing, you know). And with director Ari Aster‘s latest spiritual folk horror infused film ‘Midsommar’ set for imminent release (and timely Midsummer being the time for the Feast of St. John the Baptist – the famous decapitated prophet), we thought it  time to take a closer occult-geek look at Hereditary.

Let us allow our eyes to adjust to the Darkness within and see what we can read upon the twisted familial tree of Hereditary. Of course, if you have not yet viewed the film, this article will certainly spoil the movie for you; save it for after you’ve seen it.

The Opening Shot Sums It All Up

The opening shot of Hereditary has us looking out from a window of the Graham family’s home at the exterior of a treehouse – which itself is a kind of home in miniature.  It is built upon and supported by the trunks of mighty birch trees, a few of which have had their tops severed off  to form a base for the treehouse structure which is the site of the film’s climax. A fly buzzes around the window’s interior hinting that a germ of corruption is already present. The camera then pulls back to show us an artist’s studio where realistic miniatures are created in minute detail before settling on the interior of one of these miniature houses, steadily zooms in, and the action begins taking place from within a “miniature” house.

The miniatures featured in the story are the work of the artist / mother Annie Graham – played to Oscar worthy heights by actress Toni Collette. Annie tries very hard to maintain control over her world. Her work on miniatures is a reflection of this: Annie’s reality is being reduced to what she is able to hold and manipulate with her own hands, keeping a grip on what is largely beyond her control because, as we come to learn, there are potent occult forces at work.

The trees supporting the treehouse, with either their tops (heads) cropped off or appropriated trunks (torsos), could represent the disintegration and eventual overcoming of the family of four’s natural identity (see below for more on the significance of the decapitation motif). The cropped (decapitated) and appropriated (possessed) trees supporting a smaller house outside the family home could be the sacrifice of the Graham family’s individual lives to support an outside force, a daemonic element. This demonic element we come to discover is the demon King Paimon – an infernal spirit who appears in a number of demonic lists and magical grimoires. This treehouse is a refuge for “outsider” daughter Charlie Graham (Milly Shapiro); it’s a microcosm of, or spiritual battery for, the forces converging upon the Graham family.  Viewing  the treehouse as superseding the family tree element supports the parasitic or false identity element of demonic possession. This treehouse also calls to mind the Spirit houses of Asia and Pacific Islanders; and this treehouse is indeed a “spirit house” as we discover by movie’s end. The artificial house of geometric form and triangulated roof surmounts and replaces the sacrificed tops of God’s  and Nature’s birches; the family tree is capped with an artificial alien construct.

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Inspiration from the film’s final shot: This Xmas, switch up your nativity scene a bit and see if any of your holiday guests notice.

Miniatures, Mannequins and Manipulation

imagesThe mother-artist is a combination which on its own creates a dynamic tension (we know whereof we speak). Indeed, there is an automatic inner struggle for Annie to maintain a balance between supporting these two facets. She is a creator of artificial worlds in miniature. She creates miniature scenes: houses, a daycare, a hospital room, a funeral home, and – in a bizarre pseudo meta revelation – even a replica of her own planned exhibition; and she peoples them with perfectly scaled mannequins which she paints and positions in realistic ways. Annie is fighting to maintain a grip on her world, a world which is steadily and increasingly slipping away from her. The subtle cracks in the edifice of the Graham family are – like the demonic formulas scratched into the walls of the house – showing from the start. Annie and her family are themselves (like miniature mannequins) in the grip of much greater powers than they can possibly realize. It is as if they are themselves being artificially manipulated by the art of unseen hands as they move about their daily existence.

…And Mother

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An uncredited actress portrayed Ellen Leigh.

Motherhood is an essential thread throughout the story but not in the way it usually is represented. We come to suspect – and find unreliable – every mother figure presented in the film. The non-presence of Annie’s recently deceased and manipulative mother Ellen (portrayed by an uncredited actress) is a mysterious key to this occult force; a key we are unable to totally grasp until it is much too late. Annie’s mother  is a mere ghostly presence hinting at the the unspeakable. But the artifacts left behind by Ellen – the necklace with the charming demonic sigil, a disturbed family history recounted by Annie in a grief support circle, a book on demonic spiritualism, personalized hand woven mats with odd geometric configurations, photographs hinting at unsettling connections,  a black triangle on her bedroom floor, a mysterious note referring to their “sacrifices” being worth it in the end, etc. – all these elements are woven into a sinister diabolical plot.

 

On the Significance of Decapitation

There is a fair amount – and effective rendering – of decapitation in this film, and this is no arbitrary horror trope concerning the story’s psychological, spiritual – religious,  or demonic possession (or obsession) aspects. The head is the seat of identity and intelligence, and is considered the best part or member of the body – being indisputably essential for existence. One may survive without any other limb or member, or even a kidney or portions of other internal organs, or with implants to accompany the heart, etc.; but the head is naturally an absolute necessity for a person’s existence.

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Goddess Chinnamasta, Her name means She Who Cuts Off Her Own Head. She stands upon a copulating couple as She nourishes Her two handmaidens which are  aspects of Herself.                                                                                         Calcutta Art Studio lithograph, c. 1885

As a reference to the mystical insights of decapitation let us look East. In her book Chinnamastā: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess, Elisabeth Anne Benard analyzes the myths and outlines the worship of the self-decapitating and blood drinking esoteric goddess Chinnamastā – one of a grouping of Ten Wisdom Goddesses (Dasa Mahavidyas). She recounts a few myths on the theme of decapitated and transposed heads – an important theme to Hereditary. Decapitation is largely interpreted in Asian culture as representing the annihilation of the ego, or false individual self (atman), to unite with the greater Self (paramatman). The Goddess Kali is often depicted as carrying a severed head; and some forms of god Shiva have him carrying the skull of creator god Brahma as a begging bowl. These also point to the dissolving of the false ego identity into The Absolute. The story of elephant headed god Ganesha is also of some relevance but let’s not get lost in Indian mythology here. Chinnamasta is a goddess of tremendous  esoteric significance we cannot even scratch the surface of here, but like witchy Hecate, She is a threefold goddess – of triple form. Hereditary gives us three generations of female energy through Annie Graham, her mother Ellen, and her daughter Charlie. So we are also supplied with the archetypes of the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone of contemporary witchcraft and goddess religion.

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Jan van Eyck’s Annunciation, from the 1432 Ghent Altarpiece, has an inscription streaming towards the Virgin and the dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above.

The young girl, the virgin, usually verging on maturity, as a vehicle for supernatural powers is a natural, almost instinctual,  device in human legend and storytelling. Modern horror interpretations abound (Carrie, Poltergeist and The Craft spring to mind). The character of Charlie Graham (Milly Shapiro) is a disarming take on the theme, and we are left nearly breathless about a third of the way into the film by her sudden and tragic demise.

3068817_0Charlie is apparently a special child, and like her mother and grandmother she has creative artistic gifts. Creative gifts which allow her to bring forth – to birth – art into the world. Her sketching and assembling of figures made from found objects turns  toward the macabre when she severs and collects the head of a kamikaze pigeon and sketches the bird’s head with a crown – indicating murky intimations of the dove of the Holy Spirit of the Annunciation of Maria – heralding the conception of a new incarnation.hereditary-17-gif-that-bird-lost-her-head-wtf-watch-the-film-saint-pauly 

As Peter (Alex Wolff) drives his sister Charlie and himself to a party, the camera lingers upon the fateful roadside post the first time they pass by; a shot in which the discerning eye will note the carved demonic sigil of King Paimon. The three formed Greco-Roman goddess of witches and witchcraft Hecate is also strongly associated with roads, and her shrines were sometimes posts situated at crossroads where masks may be hung to face in each direction the paths would lead. Then, when Peter and Charlie leave the party in a rush to head to the hospital, Peter swerves at high speed to avoid hitting a dead animal, causing his sister to… well, you know, lose her head.

“self decapitation echoes the Chinnamasta motif of sacrifice and feeding or nourishing her “children”.”

hereditary-64-gif-shes-losing-her-head-wtf-watch-the-film-saint-paulyAnnie Graham’s dramatic self decapitation in the final act (did you notice she had nabbed piano wire to accomplish this? It wasn’t until our second viewing that we realized what she was using to sever her own neck) is – in a sick and twisted way in this case – the mother’s ultimate sacrifice for the “betterment” of her children. This self decapitation echoes the Chinnamasta motif of sacrifice and feeding or nourishing her “children”. She is the sacrifice, the sacrificer and (somehow, we are left to suppose) a recipient of shares of some hellish sacrificial boon as her mother’s message implies.

Freud wrote about the castration symbolism of decapitation; but aside from vague intimations of viewing possession as a type of “impregnation” – relating it to genetics or fertility – to shoehorn it into the “hereditary” theme seems unrelated to our present topic.

A Restoration of the Head

The transposition or restoration of a decapitated head provides a vital note of mystical completion in the myths of Chinnamasta and elephant headed god Ganesha. For the Goddess it displays her ultimate power as being the embodied but transcendent energy of the sacrifice, the sacrificer and the receiver of the sacrifice, and as the force orchestrating the entire scope of the perpetual unfolding, sustainment, disintegration and recycling of manifested existence. As a goddess She can survive cutting off and replacing Her own head as a part of Her divine play (Lila). In occult horror we find supernatural manipulation of the head as ghoulish and threatening because it indicates the identity of the person you care about has been overtaken and possessed by a force majeure.

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Annie becomes a sick headbanger in Hereditary.

 

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The Exorcist still causes some heads to spin.

Mr Graham (Gabriel Byrne in another great understated performance) is informed that Ellen’s grave has been desecrated – a ghoulish fact he shields from his family. We come to find (late in the story) that not only has her corpse been stolen but the head removed and the rotting body laid out in the Graham family’s attic in a ritualistic way. By the climax of the film the grandmother’s head seems unaccounted for though her body, along with that of Annie’s, is positioned in an obscene act of hellish reverence in the treehouse. The headless bodies of grandmother and mother are brought into headless/egoless submission and surrender to the Demon King Paimon. tumblr_pe3372oydr1r0btqdo2_500But Charlie’s head (also apparently retrieved by grave-defiling cultists and brought to the treehouse) has been fixed upon a life sized, undressed  mannequin icon – reminiscent of those dressed saints and madonnas paraded through streets on holy days – as a kind of cult effigy and object of worship and devotion. This is echoing both Annie’s mini mannequin figurines and Charlie’s strange sculptures which she seems so preoccupied with fixing heads on. The undressed state of the icon reflects Chinnamasta’s own nudity which is known as digambara or “sky clad” as symbolic of the deity’s transcendent state and accounts for King Paimon’s cultists’ nudity.

A Mysterious Light (& Enlightenment)

Like the strange blooming iridescent light which haunts Susie Bannion in another form of spiritual possession in 2018’s Suspiria remake (directed by Luca Guadagnino), 2018’s Hereditary also signals an occult spiritual presence by the zara like pulsations of light which appear to the characters touched by the hellish forces. It’s a device to inform the audience that something outwardly imperceptible – but actually of a profound nature – is taking place within those who become demonically obsessed. Lucifer as Light-Bearer may also offer us a clue as to the occult enlightenment these dark entities (Mater Suspiriorum, King Paimon) offer to their respective protagonists.

These modern occult horrors, these new stories – these updated and thought provoking tales – are not mere horror films but stories delving into the deeper aspects of human suffering: grief, darkness and despair. For the past forty or fifty some years Satanic Cinema and occult horror has reflected (as in a mirror darkly) modern culture’s shifting attitudes towards the supernatural, religion, the occult, The Devil and the origins of “evil”. Are these most recent cinematic incarnations an artistic reflection of a wider acceptance of having to come to terms with the Darkness apparent within human culture and the human condition? Could this lead us towards greater Wisdom and Understanding? As Pinhead / the Lead Cenobite informs us when asked as to just what he and his kind are in Hellraiser, he replies: “Demons to some, Angels to others.” It’s really all about perspective isn’t it? Are demons and angels both not part of God’s divine plan? Is a demon just an angel in a dark mood, or on a dark mission?

Defenestration …again

We wrote an article not so long ago on the topic of defenestration, which is the act of jumping or being pushed from a window, as it appears in diabolical horror films; and now it appears that ‘Hereditary may be added to the list of films which portray a satanic leap of  faith as Peter Graham panics and jumps from the attic window – perhaps freeing his own soul (?), but with his body becoming a carnal vehicle  for King Paimon to appropriate, enter, possess and utilize. Demon King Paimon is thus finally embodied in his desired male form and crowned and adored by Joan (Ann Dowd) and the other cultists. Could his name Peter relate to Saint Peter? – Holder of the Keys to the kingdom of …well, maybe not Heaven but to Hell?  Or maybe as holder of the keys to the car? The vehicle to enter and transport one around as a demon does a corporeal form?

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Sacrifice

Sacrifice – in one form or another – is a perennial  theme throughout every religion. Life (and Love) is a perpetual flame which constantly needs to be fed in order to maintain itself. “Love dies without sacrifice” as Saint Marie Eugenie said. Existence itself can be seen as a kind of ritual enacted where life is in fact constantly poured forth, killed and consumed in a ceaseless round of birth, consumption and recycling death upon the bloody altar of Mother Earth and Her inhabitants. And sacrifice is what a parent does to ensure the survival of their young. The legacy left by Annie’s mother warns of sacrifice but also promises of some reward to be reaped. By destruction – through sacrifice – a sort of hellish revivification is activated.

“Love dies without sacrifice” as Saint Marie Eugenie said.

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The film’s title implies how a demonic entity may transmigrate from grandmother  to granddaughter to mother to son. It’s a family issue; a trait carried in the blood as a vehicle for a spiritual entity that is pumped and recycled until the opportune avatar is achieved. As Dracula observed long ago: “The blood is the life”. Mr Graham the husband / father is the only family member who is not called to be a vehicle for the entity known as King Paimon, as he is the only one not blood related to Annie’s mother, and so he serves as the final barrier to be sacrificed, sending Annie completely over the edge and into the Abyss.

As Dracula observed long ago: “The blood is the life”.

MV5BNjYwZjkzZWEtYmFjNC00YzA5LTg2NzAtYWQyZmQxZTliNmRlXkEyXkFqcGdeQW1yb3NzZXI@._V1_CR106,0,1705,959_AL_UY268_CR29,0,477,268_AL_The demon King Paimon is presented as an entity which hijacks the bodies of those it possesses until using them up to serve its own purposes. We are witnesses to seeing the demonic force obsess and possess members of the Graham family leading to it (the demon) obtaining its targeted host at the finale. The father, not being blood related to Annie’s mother, is spared the “Hereditary” possession and becomes a mere casualty, a burnt offering made of love, a sacrifice to the greater evil.

In Conclusion: “Demons to Some, Angels to Others”

large_hereditary_ver2Should we have been left with a more ambiguous ending in which the supernatural and psychotic elements could be left up to personal interpretation? Should we have been left guessing if Annie Graham is, after all the spooky ephemera, merely another hardworking American mom in a psychotic midlife crisis? Observing the long-standing successful Unholy Trinity of Satanic Cinema (Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen) we see that the stories in the first two films ultimately depend upon a belief in the manifestation of the supernatural or diabolical elements – although Rosemary’s Baby keeps the viewer in suspense between belief in the Devil and suspicion in Rosemary’s state of mind – until the final reveal at the climax of the story (or did before it became a well known horror sub-genre of its own). The original ‘The Omen’ left the viewer in doubt as to whether it was all a shared delusion or an actual satanic conspiracy (however, in every Omen sequel or remake thereafter, the presence of a supernatural diabolical force was depended on and taken as a given). It is all pointing us towards a collective revelation, an Apocalypse – a rending of the veil of our delusion by material existence – as human kind awakens to its true spiritual nature – and to our unique and privileged position as stewards and caretakers of this planet and all it’s lifeforms – in all it’s horror and beauty – in all it’s Darkness and Light.

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Thanks for reading.

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Susanna Bannion (or the power that lies in a name)

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By: Rafael Espadine

Rafael Espadine is an artist and Philosophy student, researcher on the occult and ancient spiritual cultures. He works in the field of Indian culture. He is our first contributing writer to Devil In the Details. His work may be viewed at: Spadini Arts  and @r.spadini (Instagram).

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Dakota Johnson as Susie Bannion, Suspiria 2018.

Luca Guadagnino’s rebooted Suspiria (2018) has certainly surprised both followers of the cult classic and newcomers alike. It is a beautiful, lengthy, haunting, multi-layered and dreamy depiction or better saying, experience. And it has witches. That’s the very rare combination that every admirer of the occult expects to see when going for a supernatural movie. Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) — I’m not calling it “the original one” on purpose, for both films are too original to be compared — has that quality of attracting the esoterically minded too; and it stands at its own place of honor for that occult taste as well as for its aesthetics, among other reasons. Whereas the first film shows the two sides of the story by clearly dividing the good girls from the bad ones in a more typical representation of good versus evil, the new  take of Suspiria leaves much space for questioning, but it seems that “space”, and how it may or may not be filled, is precisely one of the key words of the reinvented plot. By not totally following the new trend of completely rectifying the story of well-known villains by portraying them as betrayed, and unjustly vilified creatures (as done in the plots of Maleficent and Wicked, for instance), perhaps what Guadagnino’s  Suspiria remarkably does is to show us a type of horror — for lack of a better term — that, we could say, is almost an unavoidable part of Nature itself. This horror is  beyond most any human comprehension of the cosmos and is not just a mere fruit of human cruelty although mixed with it at times. It presents what could be easily seen as opposite sides of a coin, blurring frontiers; and how the two sides really look to be parts of a single coin now!

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After this brief appraisal, what’s presented next is a short analysis that aims to stir a possible new interpretation for the central and unique mystery of the new version of Suspiria out of the symbology present in the name of the character that goes through the deepest transformation, while also causing major changes around her: Suzy Bannion.

I’ll assume that the reader of such a focused analysis is a connoisseur of both films and that the two works can be treated as classics (yes, even the new one already), so major plot details are freely discussed here.

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Jessica Harper as Suzy Bannion. Suspiria (1977).

The name: Susanna, Suzy, Susie

Sources are varying in the spelling of the short version of the name, but if we are to trust the official records and the subtitling, the full name of the main character would be Susanna Bannion, with short forms varying from Suzy in Argento’s production and Susie in Guadagnino’s version.

Now Susanna, a feminine personal name widely used across the globe, is itself very interesting. Derived from the Hebrew Shoshannah (שושנה), with the most common spelling coming to us via Greek form Σουσάννα (Sousanna), making the S letters softer, this Hebrew word is also transliterated as shūshan, shōshan and shōshannā, and means simply “lily”, the flower (while lily is derived from the Latin lilium). Many flowers in the past have been designated by that name, including the so-called water lilies. Now the implications of the lily as a symbol, the heraldic fleur-de-lis (which literally means “lily flower” in French), the symbol of the six-pointed star, its connection to moon spirits and deities, the annunciation of the Virgin and Mary herself , Lilith — besides royal families and bloodlines — are endless (and who needs another book on that?). For those acquainted with the plot, the final discovery of the first heroine is through a very similar flower: an iris; whose shape also follows that of the fleur-the-lis pattern, i.e., three petals turned upwards, and three petals turned downwards. The flower seems to be missing in the new version (although one room is named iris in the new film as an obvious reference), but isn’t the new Susie haunted by a nocturnal flowering light in her bedroom that will lead her way to her final discovery/empowerment? A side note: Cinematic-wise we may cite another contemporary dance themed psychological thriller that also hints at Lilith’s disruptive power as a dark independent feminine principle that promotes drastic changes: Lily is the name of the lavishly sensual ballerina from Black Swan that so shockingly contrasts with the fragile and candid Nina and who also paves the way for the latter’s transformation. Her name leaves very little to be revealed…

“Lilith is the universal rule breaker”

The Lilithian theme seems to fit the character of Susie very well, especially the new Suspiria. The theme is that of the shattering of the old order by means of a rebellious behaviour, and that is the biggest fear of Western civilization and it’s created illusions of continuity, valor, and rigid legacy. If it comes from women then, there’s even more to be feared, given the millennia of prejudice against women and against the feminine in itself. Lilith is the universal rule breaker. However, as pointed by the Italian occultist Fulvio Rendhell, a renowned medium and magician still active in Rome, in his ‘Lilith la terrorista cosmica’ (Lilith, the cosmic terrorist ) — part of the book Lilith, la Sposa di Satana nell’Alta Magia a rare and authoritative treatise on the dark feminine — any revolution stiffens, gets institutionalized as norm and establishes new rigid dogmas and therefore, will have to be destroyed in due course by another revolution and so on and on endlessly. In astrology, Lilith is, among many other possible interpretations, an aspect of the non-normative: wherever she rules the aspect she is presiding over must irrevocably be fulfilled by unusual courses of action for the usual ones simply won’t work out.

In various philosophical approaches, the end of something and its transmutation into something new is the very way life itself manifests; and if we could perceive every transformation, we would see it happens all the time, and that every instant is made of that: an eternal “becoming”. The insistence in connecting the basic theme of the Three Mothers and Alchemy, both in Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) are quite revealing: the mothers could be symbols of the alchemic stages of Nigredo, Rubedo and Albedo. Besides that, sighs could be seen as a negative manifestation of air, tears of the inner emotional turmoil, and darkness as the opposite to light and an all-encompassing factor, essential for the symbolism of the dark feminine in various cultural and spiritual backgrounds. Curiously the Kabbalah recognizes three basic elements: air, water and fire. Earth in this interpretation would be a gross manifestation resulting from the amalgama of the other three elements mentioned.

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The surname: Bannion

According to genealogical records, the surname “Bannion” and its other forms are Welsh and derived from the personal name Eignion or Enion — from ‘einion’, stability, fortitude, the name of a clan ancestor — with the patronymic prefix “ab” added to it. The prefix would be later assimilated into the surname itself and from ab-Enion it would become Bannion. As a masculine name Enion may also mean “anvil”. An anvil as a symbol and allegory is very interesting in itself, but we are about to see a feminine version with most appealing implications: we will now briefly step into the very mystical universe of William Blake (1757–1827). In that rich and mesmerizing universe Enion is a character of the Gnostic mythology of Blake. She is an Emanation paired with Tharmas, one of the four Zoas, beings created from the division of the primordial human, Albion. Tharmas is an allegory for the sensations, whereas Enion of the sexual impulses and desires and both should be reunited after the Final Judgement when Enion will then consummate a sexual union. Blake’s Enion seems to be all “why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?” in her every line, especially here in these selections from ‘The Four Zoas’.

[The Wail of Enion]:
(Four Zoas, Night II, ll. 595–626.)
I AM made to sow the thistle for wheat, the nettle for a nourishing dainty:
I have planted a false oath in the earth; it has brought forth a Poison Tree:
I have chosen the serpent for a counsellor, and the dog
For a schoolmaster to my children:
I have blotted out from light and living the dove and nightingale, 5
And I have causèd the earthworm to beg from door to door:
I have taught the thief a secret path into the house of the just:
I have taught pale Artifice to spread his nets upon the morning.
My heavens are brass, my earth is iron, my moon a clod of clay,
My sun a pestilence burning at noon, and a vapour of death in night. 10
What is the price of Experience? Do men buy it for a song,
Or Wisdom for a dance in the street? No! it is bought with the price
Of all that a man hath — his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither’d field where the farmer ploughs for bread in vain. 15
It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer’s sun,
And in the vintage, and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn:
It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,
To listen to the hungry raven’s cry in wintry season, 20
When the red blood is fill’d with wine and with the marrow of lambs:
It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements;
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughterhouse moan;
To see a God on every wind and a blessing on every blast;
To hear sounds of Love in the thunderstorm that destroys our enemy’s house; 25
To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, and the sickness that cuts off his children,
While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door, and our children bring fruits and flowers.
Then the groan and the dolour are quite forgotten, and the slave grinding at the mill,
And the captive in chains, and the poor in the prison, and the soldier in the field
When the shatter’d bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead: 30
It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity — 
Thus would I sing and thus rejoice; but it is not so with me.

Yes, dear Enion, we know… it’s all a mess. The one out there, the one in here.
In another interesting passage from the Four Zoas entitled Night the First, Blake’s poetry says a little more about Enion’s powers and strong personality that causes her to hurt her own creations:

“…Then Enion in jealous fear
[240] Murdered her, & hid her in her bosom, embalming her for fear
She would rise again to life. Embalmed in Enion’s bosom.
Enitharmon remains a corse — such thing was never known
In Eden, that one died a death never to be revived.”

While reading this passage it is difficult not to think of the living dead victimized students of both Suspirias, above all those of the new production, kept by the witches in an embalmed intermediary stage between life and death serving the witches mysterious purposes.

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Sara (Mia Goth) falls under the spell of The Three Mothers in Suspiria.

A relation between Enion’s wails and the Mother of Sighs is easy to notice as both are presented as principles that predate all history (“pre-Devil, pre-God”, as explained by the character of Dr Klemperer in Guadagnino’s Suspiria). But a relation between this Enion and our good friend Suzy Bannion can also be made: Both Susie and Enion are anxious to bloom as perfumed lilies and they are making anything possible to achieve that.

I have mentioned Blake as a literary source as his mythology stems from the genius of a writer’s mystical imagination, — the same case as with the mythology that would be created later on by Thomas De Quincey, of which we will be talking soon.

After this small exercise of possible symbolic references, it’s time to get back to the film and stitch together a few parallels between the two scripts. As we wouldn’t be able to cover all possibilities in a platonic dialectic process to reach the aporias of this subject, I’ll briefly go through factors that might have been perceived in the first Suspiria and carried on to the new screenplay by David Kajganich — only explored through a different angle:

The Suzy/Mater Suspiriorum factor was always there.
Yes, in the 1977 film itself, hidden in plain sight, shrouded in delicate mystery. The background for the new version may arise from an interpretation of very subtle facts and passages, some listed below: 

When the newcomer Suzy finally manages to join the dance academy, Mrs. Tanner, one of the instructors, promptly introduces her to Madame Blanc, the vice-Director of the Academy who then says that years ago in New York she knew a great benefactor of arts called Carol Bannion, which Suzy reveals to be her aunt.

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Suspiria 2018’s Susie Bannion is a rule breaker and catalyst for transformation.

Suzy’s name itself, besides the possible symbols it carries as discussed above, could be a good hint as well. The film seems to try to show that when Olga while bullying Sara and the newly arrived Suzy says that she once heard that names that start with the letter “s” are names of snakes, and the snake is referred to later on. Moreover, we can’t deny that Suspiriorum and Susanna share initials.

Suzy decides to find answers and reasons for the strange facts happening around her and while being informed by experts on occult matters about the true nature of the Markos academy and its director Helena Markos herself, Suzy expresses that what is being told to her by Dr. Frank (played by a young Udo Kier) is familiar to her, as if she already knew about all that. The elder expert Dr. Milius (Rudolf Schündler, do you remember him as the butler Karl in The Exorcist? We do; and we know about that crucifix, Karl) also tells her that “a coven is like a serpent”, when explaining that the head of a coven is its source of power and when a coven has no head it is totally inoffensive like a headless cobra.

The final sequence shows an enraged Madame Blanc (played by a marvelous Joan Bennett) on her throne inside the hidden rooms of the academy, saying that the American girl must vanish. In the final confrontation, Helena Markos herself tells Suzy she’s been “expecting her” — now that sounds like more than just an ordinary desire for witness elimination, and maybe the coven had knowledge of an old prophecy of sorts about someone who would come for them, so they were trying to act in Herod’s manner to secure the throne (this Herod factor fits well the Snow-White tale which inspired Argento) — or maybe they just realized how powerful and clever Suzy was and decided to get rid of a potential predator and competitor.

Finally we see the first Suzy also putting an end to a passe order of witches, anyway, however doing it by flames (and you can tell how joyful she is when she leaves the academy in a most perfect “mission accomplished” expression!).

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Suzy (Jessica Harper) escapes at the end of 1977’s Suspiria.

If these and other possible connections are conscious deliberate decisions taken after some genius interpretation of the original plot or if these are some of the finest examples of unconscious manifestations of symbolism, is yet to be known.

Daria Nicolodi, co-author of  Suspiria (1977) and Inferno (1980) – the stylish continuation of Suspiria which was successful in keeping up with the atmosphere of the first film of the trilogy of the Three Mothers in which Daria also plays the part of a countess – is actually responsible for the plot of a school that hides an occult background (which is, according to her, something that happened in her family) and also for the insertion of the Three Mothers mythology to the plot. She expressed in an interview that she is the only person who knows the end of the story and that there is another Mother to be explored: Levana. Daria says she was not consulted for the making of Mother of Tears, the third episode of the trilogy, and that the film is not the actual conclusion of the story (we dare to say the film is not a conclusion to anything. Period. And let’s not even mention the Levana from the incredibly messy Il Gatto Nero (1989) aka Demons 6: De Profundis, but, oh, we just did…).

Now Levana, this Roman deity that rules over childbirth was associated with the goddess Artemis in her role as protectress of childbirth and is the character that appears in the title of the essay from where the names of the Three Mothers were taken, “Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow”, part of the fragmentary and unfinished collection of fantastic essays from 1845 by the English writer Thomas De Quincey grouped under the title of Suspiria de Profundis’ (sighs from the depths). De Quincey imagines the character of Levana accompanied by three sisters that mimic the triplicity of the Parcae, Furies and Graces: Mater Lachrymarum, Mater Suspiriorum and Mater Tenebrarum, Latin names for Mother of Tears, Mother of Sighs, and Mother of Darkness.

Levana’s role in child birthing is related by Quincey to the reality of sorrows: to be born is to realize the nature of this world. However, Levana, from the Latin levare (to uplift) was represented by the act of raising up the newborn by one of the people present as a life affirming act. De Quincey goes on to explain that Levana was tutelary of human education as well. The plots for the Suspirias (and Inferno, for that matter) surround educational centres and its students, i.e., the dance school and the music college in Rome where Mark (lived by the splendid Leigh McCloskey of whom we should talk one of these days) studies. However, as De Quincey explains, Levana’s educational program is not that of the grammars and schools, but an internal one and she is aided by the ministries of passion, strife and temptation to achieve the ends of her syllabus. “If, then, these are the ministries by which Levana works, how profoundly must she reverence the agencies of grief.” says the text.

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Mark (Leigh J. McCloskey ) is a witness to the agencies of grief in Inferno (1980).

Interestingly, the Hebrew term levanah (לְבָנָה) is a word for “moon”. Notice how similar it is to the Latin name Levana or even to the Latin word for moon itself, luna. This word can also be seen in the monthly Jewish ritual of the sanctification of the new moon, or the Kiddush Levanah, a ritual performed in obedience to Exodus 12:2 as a form of saluting the Shekhinah — the Divine Presence, an aspect long regarded by Kabbalists to be feminine, a concept not be taken lightly in contemporary neopagan or psychoanalytic views, though. Influential occultist Dion Fortune (whose real name, by the way, was also that of a flower, Violet) recorded in her celebrated occult novel The Sea Priestess — yet to be made into a glamorous film one day — that:
“Our Lady is also called the Moon, called of some Selene, of others Luna, but by the wise Levanah, for therein is contained the number of her name.”

The Lilithian theme is visible in De Quincey’s essay when it informs the reader that “every captive in every dungeon; all that are betrayed and all that are rejected outcasts by traditionary law, and children of hereditary disgrace, — all these walk with Our Lady of Sighs”. Well, that we believe could be the very definition of the Lilithian image of witches: outcasts that are powerful by being outcasts.

Back to cinema, we see that both Suspirias – as well as Inferno – are tales about the strife of growing up and the self-blooming through the suffering, the tears and the grief that comes along with being born. In virtually all spiritual currents it is told that initiations bring about some good amount of suffering, for there’s no true learning without pain (Nietzsche has just winked) since the simple fact of becoming aware means being able to see the sorrows of this world in a clear cruel way. In Inferno, Mater Tenebrarum makes clear that she is bringing about Mark’s transformation. De Quincey’s Mater Tenebrarum, the Mother of Darkness, finishes her soliloquy saying:
“So shall he rise again before he dies, and so shall our commission be accomplished which from God we had, — to plague his heart until we had unfolded the capacities of his spirit.”

Yes, we know all of this is a bit of a cathartic textual musing with huge chunks of pure speculation (as is almost any creative exercise) and once again I must go back to the beautiful words of De Quincey, as he wisely puts it: “Theirs were the symbols; mine are the words.”

In the end we all realize that speech is silver, but silence is golden, and that, dear reader, is another fairy tale for another bedtime.

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Hooks, Hair & Blood: Suspiria 2018’s Occult-Horror-Geek Analysis

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This Occult Horror Geek Analysis of Suspiria 2018 contains major spoilers!! If you have not yet enjoyed viewing the film then don’t read this review until after watching it. You were warned.

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Suspiria poster art inspired by Hindu god Nataraja – a form of Shiva as ‘Lord of the Dance’ -whose feminine aspect is Kali. Design by La Boca Design Studio

Let’s face it, there is just no comparing the original classic 1977 Suspiria directed by Dario Argento with the recent reimagining by Luca Guadagnino. The recent remix takes a completely different stylistic approach. So, although Argento’s classic has been praised and analyzed for decades and will ever remain in a special shrine in our black little hearts, there is also much to investigate in the art – and black art – of this recent film version.

Read our occult horror geek analysis of The Three Mothers here: https://devilinthedetailssite.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/suspiria-dario-de-quincey-and-the-dark-goddess-part-1/

The dark feminine is certainly highlighted in 2018’s Suspiria, and aspects of dark goddess imagery can be discerned. We were reminded of the goddess Hecate in the back-to-back-to-back arrangement of the three undead girls at the climactic ceremonial scene. And the goddess Kali – who is nearly always depicted with a sickle-shaped sacrificial sword – came to mind with the theme of destructive dance and rebirth, and the wielding of sickle-shaped hooks in the film.

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As in all Hindu art, every thing carries significance including the black, red and white color symbolism of goddess Kali. The white teeth upon the red tongue and mouth against Her black skin alone would take an entire article.
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With eye-black and mouth-white, and a shibari inspired outfit of knotted red cords like a witch’s ladder, Suspiria brings a modern twist to the image of the witch.
Indian goddess kali.
Silver crescent hook evokes the lunar feminine current of witchcraft and the idea of periodicity.

The hooks employed by the coven as sacred tools may connect to such ideas as “to get one’s hooks / claws into a person” and thus having them at your mercy, or of a feline claw. The sickle shaped sword of the goddess Kali – much like the sickle shaped scythe wielded by the Grim Reaper in Western culture – represents Time (among other things we do not have the space to digress upon here. But Kali means Time in Sanskrit) and mortality. just as the sickle shaped waxing and waning of the moon has served as humanity’s oldest calendar (hence “month” and “menses” shares the same etymology as “moon”).

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Is Susie a psychopath or a witch goddess?

Because it really must be one or the other.

In 2018’s Suspiria, Susie Banion (Dakota Johnson) is very different from Jessica Harper’s Susie in Argento’s 1977 classic. Set in 1977, Susie is a girl obsessed from a very tender age with Berlin and Madam Blanc. She admits to fleeing from her little Mennonite community to see Madam Blanc perform in New York on three separate occasions (hitchhiking twice). She  also steals things: money meant for the Mennonite church is stolen and used to fund her trip to Berlin; she snatches a cosmetic from a drawer at the Tanz company’s reception office in a scene where she even shows Sarah (Mia Goth) how to properly break into the file cabinet (!) in order to look for files on missing fellow students. When Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) asks her how it felt to dance on her first day at the Markos dance company, Susie admits that she thought it felt like what it must be like to get fucked. “To be fucked by a man?” asks Madame Blanc. “No, I was thinking of an animal.” admits Susie, seemingly puzzled that Madame would have considered otherwise. And did you happen to notice that by the end of the film Susie has even appropriated Sarah’s clothing? 

More tellingly, Susie also shows little to zero remorse or emotional response to destruction or the suffering of others – like her dying religious mother, or a bombing outside her lodgings on her second night in Berlin. She giggles when she spies the matron witches teasing the genitals of an entranced police detective with one of their sickle-hooks. She’s immune to Sarah’s injury during the Volk dance performance as well as to Madame Blanc’s sudden demise. Susie cares not a bit for the obsolete religious morality of her family and in fact she transcends all conventional religious morality and sense of right or wrong to get where and what she wants. And she does it all her way, in her own sweet time …almost effortlessly! If timing truly is everything then it was just Fate that brought Susie to her own rebirth. Not the sort of horror movie heroine we’re used to! She hijacks the divided Markos Tanz company in a way echoing the hijacking and political unrest continually broadcast in the news from radio and t.v. throughout the story. She was born to (super)naturally blossom into the goddess she becomes – Mater Suspiriorum.

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Suzy (Dakota Johnson) and Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) share a special kind of relationship.
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Wait! Wait! I feel a sigh from the depths coming on…

Through it all Susie remains Cool, detached, and yet also strangely connected – with Madame Blanc as her spiritual Mother and preceptor – and to the pain and destruction going on all around her like so many reflections from a many-faceted jewel of suffering. Or perhaps she herself is a reflection of sorrow and destruction – of all the miseries of her personal life and of the world-at-large being refracted and focused into and through her as the very soul of sighs, the Mother of Sighs. She brings not only mere destruction but utter upheaval and transformation; out with the old Mother and in with the new one – herself! Like some insect queen which bites the head off of the old diseased queen so that the hive may flourish.

An artistic rendering of a gruesome goddess.

Helena (Mother) Markos, Madame Blanc and the rest of the coven come to believe that they are preparing Susie to become the living vessel for the spirit of Mother Markos, whose spirit they plan to magically transmigrate from Mother Markos’ incredibly diseased body into Susie’s fresh young one in an intentional act of spiritual possession. In order to do this Susie is instructed to become a vehicle for the work of another. Madame Blanc explains: “When you dance the dance of another, you make yourself in the image of it’s creator. You empty yourself, so that her work can live within you.” However, in an ironic twist of Fate – and an act of spiritual aikido –  Susie actually ends up using the coven for her own ends as she blossoms at the climax of the film to fully become and embody Mater Suspiriorum – the Mother of Sighs. Instead of Susie being a tool for the coven’s designs, the coven actually becomes the tool for Susie’s own apotheosis.

Instead of Susie being a tool for the coven’s designs, the coven actually becomes the tool for Susie’s own apotheosis.

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The theme of rebirth and feminine power is hinted as dancers pass through under the legs of Susie who could be imaged as draped in entrails like a bloody mother goddess.
Miss Tanner (Angela Winkler, at left in red) always wears what appears to be a talisman of human hair.
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Did you notice that Miss Tanner (Angela Winkler) always wears a talisman on a chain around her neck – a pouch of human hair?! And some of the coven is dressed in human hair for the final ceremony!

The Volk dance performance scene displays the creatively captivating blend of dance and magick – of art and black art. Everyone knows about the Dance of the Witches and how it’s used as a way to generate magical power. Witchcraft is interpreted here as a late ‘70’s German dance style. Energy is generated within a field of movement set upon a silver starburst-like pattern taped upon the floor. The precise and fierce rhythmic movement of bodies in set patterns – (and the esoteric void spaces in between them, as Madame Blanc teaches Susie in regard to the space created beneath her when she jumps) – creates a living, breathing mandala – a machine of occult force to be harnessed by the coven. This motif reoccurs in the intense ritualistic finale where the dancers are positioned in a physical pattern of rebirth – the shape of the feminine, downward pointing triangle, hands drenched in blood, dressed in the shorn hair of many young women. the coven becomes not only midwives in an attempt to rebirth Mother Markos into Susie’s body – they themselves form a pattern of a bloody womb of rebirth: all knotted flesh, hands smeared in human blood and covered in hair.

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The shibari styled dance costumes made of carefully knotted and artistically arranged red cords are both emblematic of the umbilical cords binding the daughters of the dance company to their sorcerous Matrons (who indeed “pull the strings” in order to channel their collective energy towards their own purposes) and the  well-known witches’ cord, or “witches’ ladder,” used in traditional witchcraft for making and containing magic by the intentional tying of knots and the weaving of spells. The witch goddess Hecate is occasionally depicted holding cords among her accoutrements.

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Blindfolding and bondage for initiation into witchcraft.

Read more about Hecate imagery and the Matrones in the original Suspiria and Three Mothers films in our series of articles on 1977’s Suspiria here: The Three Mothers & SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey & the Dark Goddess; Part 2

Need we state the obvious occult reference regarding the school’s collection of each dance student’s hair and urine? Ostensibly to drug test (or for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections) the school has the student’s urine, and the cuttings of their hair, as magical tools for binding and controlling who they will, how and when they will. A woman’s hair has long been held in esteem as a source of her magical power, her force of glamour. You can witness certain patriarchal religious traditions which enforce a covering of a woman’s hair as a method of attempting to suppress that wily female nature which may cause varying degrees of chaos on masculine order. This is why the goddess Kali always is depicted with long loose flowing hair emblematic of her freedom and her unbridled force. Just as one requires a personal item, or better clippings of hair, nails or the bodily fluids from an intended magical victim in order to cast a spell upon them, so do the matrons of the dance company gather these bits of matter to better serve their Mater… Suspiriorum. Miss Tanner is always wearing a talisman of human hair.

The necromancy employed by the coven manifests as a type of vampirism in which their magic, and probably Witch Queen Mother Helena Markos, is fed and nurtured on the suffering of those who fall onto the witches’ black list. Pat, Olga, and Sarah are made into undead automatons whose blood and internal organs are used in the witches’ black magical workings. Miss Vendegast the Matron who says “Don’t hurt Olga” just before they sink their sickle shaped hooks into her grotesquely twisted and tormented flesh appears to have been reminding them not to damage the internal organs so as to preserve their magical potencies to be used in their spell casting or other necromantic intentions.

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Ingrid Caven as Miss Vendegast warns the witches not “to hurt Olga” just before they sink their hooks into her.

Mirror, mirror on the wall… who’s the strongest witch of all? The mirror is a truly powerful magical instrument and a tool for psychological transformation. Just as Argento credited the influence of Disney’s Snow White upon 1977’s Suspiria we find the magic mirror resurfaces to reflect the soul in all it’s beauty, grace, torment and pain – multiplied – in the new Suspiria in a fractalization of the one into many.

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This coven does things the old fashioned way.
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The moment Susie becomes “Mother” echoes iconography of The Sacred Heart.
The Sacred Heart of Mary is echoed by Our Mother of Sighs – Mater Suspiriorum.

Occult horror geeks such as ourselves may find these reimagined occult symbols of interest in the growing list of occult flavored horror. Especially as we dive into this 21st century – where traditional religious ideology shifts along with the troubled cultural landscape and where Suspiria’s Susie Bannion is a heroine who – instead of defeating a coven of murderous witches – becomes the supreme witch by disposing the old model – it will be interesting to view what this strange world now considers “evil”.

Suspiria Reborn: Revisioning A Vintage Horror Classic

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A witches dance? Hecate Triformis? Goddess Kali? Suspiria (2018) will leave you gasping and sighing.

A Spoiler-free review

By: H.B. Gardner

“We were truly impressed by what we saw.”

Horror remakes have been around since the old days. Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, Freddy Kruger, The Omen and many others have all been resurrected and redone. But in recent years many filmgoers have understandably balked at the idea of horror film remakes due to the obvious increasing lower artistic quality being sacrificed in favor of quick financial gain by studios which habitually crank out bubblegum films for the masses; films with superficial excitement but no lasting flavor and are disposed of and forgotten in a very short time. It has embittered some genre fans to see their treasured cinematic touchstones smeared as it were by the hand of corporate greed, incompetent acting and shoddy CGI.

Well, we viewed director Luca Guadagnino’s passionate 2018 revisioning of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic ‘Suspiria’ on it’s opening weekend here in Japan and will try to write, while still fresh in our minds, our thoughts on the subject of Horror Remakes – without any spoilers! (We plan to do a deeper occult analysis of this new Suspiria in a future article after we’ve had the chance to view it again …and again).

We are not only a longtime fan of Dario Argento’s original 1977 cinematic masterpiece Suspiria, but have spent considerable time meditating upon a key piece of inspirational source material, namely the essay called ‘Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow,’ from ‘Suspiria de Profundis,’ by Thomas De Quincey, where the title of the film and the idea of The Three Mothers were born. These Three Mothers – Mother of Sighs, Mother of Tears and Mother of Darkness are at the dark heart of the Suspiria universe. We being steeped in witchcraft, the occult and the horror genre ourselves ….well, our keen anticipation for the new Suspiria has been considerable. We went in with an open mind and with no expectations but to witness, as in jazz music, an improvisation on a theme.

We were truly impressed by what we saw.

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Mia Goth plays Sara.

Many, if not most of the popular movie-going populace, will not “get” this film, and at least two or three viewings may be needed to fully appreciate it. Suspiria 2018 is an artistic horror film. Those who expect a standard sort of remake, or who prefer their horror to be spoon fed to them with a smattering of jump scares, will likely be disappointed; and those with tastes reared on shallow bubblegum entertainment designed for those with short attention spans will be left impatient and bewildered. Luca Guadagnino’s film represents a deeper artistic turning into the profound regions of psychology, dance (as art), and witchcraft in the sense of The Black Arts than the more  typical horror film fare. The disturbing horror element is lasting in contrast to the superficial jump-scare formula that has long plagued the horror genre and it’s numb audience. Whatever your opinion of this new Suspiria, you must admit it is still a much more sophisticated and worthy sequel than Argento’s own 2007 Mother of Tears.

Learn about The Three Mothers by clicking the link below to another of our occult horror geek articles:

The Three Mothers & SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey and the Dark Goddess; Part 1

Guadagnino has stated that:

“I hope that the movie comes across as a relentless experience that’s going to go deep into your skin all the way down into your spine,” the director shared with The Hollywood Reporter. “I want the movie to perform as the most disturbing experience you can have. The movie is about being immersed in a world of turmoil and uncompromising darkness.”

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This he has succeeded in doing. The film has indeed gotten under our rather jaded and genre toughened skin. The palpable after-effect of this unsettling film reminds us of a few other Art House films with an unsettling vibe.

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Japanese poster

What we liked about the movie:

The Dance scenes. In 1977’s Suspiria, dance was a rather insignificant aspect of the story, and did little more than provide a setting for the murderous mayhem. In the remake the dance is an esoteric key to the story. Art and The Black Arts are melded into a united force of Witchery heretofore undeveloped in film. Esoteric readings of the film abound with occult and witchcraft symbolism in unfamiliar yet traditional manifestations. This aspect will be explored more thoroughly in a future occult-horror-geek article.

The story, in a way seemingly disjointed or random at first (though not quite as so dreamlike as the original psychedelic Suspiria),  is actually held together throughout and underneath it all by an umbilicus of deeper psychological interpretation and esoteric continuity. A Psychological reading of the film will immediately highlight  the mother-daughter complex throughout, and within a few differing configurations (Suzy and her mother, Suzy and Madame Blanc, Helena Marcos and Madame Blanc etc.). The fuller background given for Suzy couldn’t have been better and adds a whole other  dimension to the story. There is also the wider scope offered of interpersonal relationships especially between women: sisters (Suzy is a twin), the status of older and younger woman, the naturally inspired novice and the experienced teacher; all added into the general theme of female empowerment – though mostly in it’s negative, or darkest, devouring Mother sense.

“The fuller background given for Suzy couldn’t have been better and adds a whole other  dimension to the story.”

The witches of the dance company are intriguing characters and deserve a mini-series in their own right.

The perhaps bewildering inclusion of so much focus on Dr Klemperer the character of the psychologist, pining for his loving wife he lost during the Nazi regime, who gets pulled into the web of witchcraft also highlights this psychological interpretation of Suspiria. He spends his time counseling those he meets who have been consumed by the devouring mother of the Markos dance company. He also spends a great deal of time crossing the border between East and West Germany. He is placed in the neither-neither realm of not being firmly in one world or the other: East and West Germany, past and present. He is already situated at the witches twilight crossroads and is thereby already under the sway of Mater Suspiriorum. This split, or division, is also accented within the Marcos Tanz company where a rivalry of sorts is brewing and the developing tension, suspicions and paranoia of listening through walls echoes that of  East Germany at the time of the setting. It was a time of turmoil, much like today.

With an unsettling atmosphere woven through with anxious sighs, fearful tears,  brooding darkness, and a good dose of body horror, Guadagnino has created a chilling and angst-ridden atmosphere of pain evocative of the late 70’s or very early 80’s. The inclusion of the psychologist’s story as a prominent rather than cameo role brings an added measure of De Quinceyan depth and poignancy undeveloped in the original.

Seeing it in Japan:

We are at a disadvantage as far as viewing new horror movie releases here in Japan. It usually takes several months for most films to make their way here to the Far East with their accompanying Japanese subtitles. Also, the cinematic experience in Japan was a little less than we had hoped for in that the theater was of quite a small size, the screen being no bigger than our own living room wall. We had viewed Hereditary just last November in a very nice, new spacious theater with a big screen in another part of Osaka. However, Toho studios must have got exclusive rights to show Suspiria in Japan as it was only viewable in a Toho theater which required a visit to Umeda in the heart of Osaka. We were able to purchase a Suspiria souvenir movie booklet at the cinema (in Japanese). It was a packed theater that first Saturday of it’s release in Japan. We were unprepared for a substantial amount of the dialogue to be in German or French so deciphering these languages amidst the Japanese subtitles was a bit perplexing. Surprisingly, however, this anglophone handicap did not mar the visual storytelling. We are anticipating multiple future viewings on blu-ray.

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Tilda Swinton works magic in three seperate roles !

The acting was the best we’ve seen in any horror film in a while. The performances were believable even amidst the often unbelievable mayhem going on.

The filmmakers took the original ‘Suspiria’ and spun it in the darkest and deepest directions it could possibly go.

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Dakota Johnson is amazing as Suzy.

A lot of thought and passion was obviously put into this rendering of the story and the art and crafting of it. The filmmakers took the original Suspiria and spun it in the darkest and deepest directions it could possibly go. This is a very different Suspiria from Argento’s. There is no comparing the two, each being a very different creature telling the same myth in a different way. While the original Suspiria remains a classic of the genre it may be said to feel a bit dated or even to contain a bit of camp, especially as viewed from our jaded eyes 40 years after the fact (consider the bat scene!). The new Suspiria never descends into the current trend of torture porn or detours into outright camp. The psychological tension is at first subtle but present right from the start; and the horror and mystery wrap slowly and insidiously about and clings like a viscous, membranous veil. There is suspense, mystery, striking imagery, dark fantasy, dread, horror, gore and the grotesque but it never really seeks to terrorize with mere cheap thrills in the way commonly done nowadays. The story is crafted to leave you unsettled and disturbed afterwards, recalling in this way Cronenberg’s films like Dead Ringers,  or like 1999’s The Reflecting Skin, and the more recent Hereditary. It also echoes the original source material from English opium eater Thomas De Quincey who, as already mentioned, originally conjured The Three Mothers in his work Suspiria De Profundis, in a brief essay titled Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow.

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Tilda Swinton gives compelling performances as three separate characters.

Due to our mistrust of Hollywood – having lost faith with expecting studios to deliver quality horror, along with the tastes of the masses of film goers having seemingly devolved to the level of a 14 year old with a superhero fetish – we sadly suspect that this film may be greatly under appreciated. The original Suspiria has two sequels – both directed by Dario Argento, the first of which Inferno (1980) is a worthy successor. Mother of Tears (2007) despite having three Argento family members and Udo Kier involved in the production remains an unsatisfactory conclusion to the baroque, oneiric drama of the first two. Could we see a trilogy develop from this recent Suspiria remix? one that would focus on each of The Three Mothers? Only time will tell.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria has given us hope. While the pacing may feel a little slow or the story seem to try to encapsulate too much, we think it is an epic dark horror fantasy that brings one to meditate on the condition of a world that seems to so often feed off of pain and misery; whether this be on the level of interpersonal relationships, or of the individual to a group, or the warring sides of a fractured society.

…it is an epic dark horror fantasy that brings one to meditate on the condition of a world that so often seems to feed off of pain and misery.

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Tilda Swinton is a phenomenal actress.