I finally got around to watching Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s The Holy Mountain. It is a visually rich film replete with occult symbolism that rewards viewers who have studied western occult systems. Many of the reviews I have read have basically described The Holy Mountain as a feature length eye fuck, but really, it is quite a straightforward film that should feel very familiar to students of tarot, meditation, etc. It is a highly stylized  fool’s journey in which the ultimate goal is a genuine zen-like connection with reality. I will warn you that despite the film’s surreal beauty, the imagery can be violent and there is a fair amount of violence directed toward animals. Otherwise, the film is well worth watching.

What was most interesting to me was how The Holy Mountain represents two contrasting spiritual paths. The Western magical tradition relies heavily upon a multilayered network of corresponding intrasystemic symbols that Israel Regardie has described as a mnemonic system that trains the imaginative faculties, heightens the vision of the soul that peers directly into the divine astral in order to transcend the normal plane of consciousness. Grossly speaking, the Eastern traditions of zen and yoga take the opposite approach by stripping away attachments and by stilling the imaginary faculties of the mind.

Regardie describes the approaches as complimentary:

In the one case, the spiritual axe is laid to the root of the tree, and the effort made consciously to undermine the whole structure of consciousness in order to reveal the soul below. The Magical method, as opposed to this, endeavours to rise altogether beyond the plane where treets and roots and axes exist. The result… is identical. – Regardie, The Tree of Life

Regardie also notes:

Magic proves more efficacious and puissant when combined with the control of the mind which it is the object of Yoga to achieve. And likewise the ecstasies of Yoga acquire a certain rosy hue of romanticism and inspiritional worth when associated with the art of Magic. – Regardie, The Tree of Life

Being of a practical nature, rosy hued romanticism isn’t much of a value-added proposition for me. But the power and immediate accessibility of symbols cannot be denied. Sitting and not thinking is never going to become a practice embraced by the masses. There is such rich potential contained our symbols and stories to awaken our inner vision, to work with psychic material that we do not fully comprehend and to train us toward greater ethical comportment in a way that is natural and responsive rather than in a pedantic, moralizing manner. (Of course, these very same symbols and stories can be easily manipulated toward the opposite means, to blind us to our inner vision, to hold projections for the lazy and to galvanize masses toward harmful and largely unconscious behaviour, but that is content for another post.)

I liked The Holy Mountain because it demonstrates what I think is the proper attitude toward magic. Throughout the film, it plays with the imaginary with a great reverence but ultimately reveals in a heavy handed, self referential way that it is very aware of its play.

Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13