Lucifer Rising- Film as Magick
In memory of Kenneth Anger (February 3, 1927 – May 11, 2023).
A few students leave the classroom with disgust. Others are glued to their seats, their eyes wide open. Enchanted, they soak in the filmic magick. The Age of Aquarius is herald by Lucifer, the artist filmmaker, carrying the instruments of light and enlightenment in the dark organic materia of the room, the city, the world. He walks on the bank of the Nile, around stone circles, across the Milky Way via Stonehenge. Kenneth Anger disappears. The magician is gone, but his films remain. Their hermetic life is violated. They are unleashed, digitised and disseminated by many hands and minds. Their mutated celluloid bodies become data, merging with the web, spreading like veins, flooding the technosphere with trails of colourful blood. The spell of moist media has been working its way through dry media. Shut your eyes or let the vision cast a spell on your perception.
Alan Moore said that Kenneth Anger, Maya Deren and other artists and occultists have taken the old ideas of magic and then thought, “Well why not apply them to the technology that we have now?” Kenneth Anger realised that film can function as a magical technology. Maya Deren and Kenneth Anger are the two most important filmmakers in the development of the New American Cinema. Both were forerunners of a generation of visionary filmmakers (Brakhage, Harrington, Markopolous) who began their work in the mid-1940s.
Maya Deren conceived film as a ritualistic form, which is uniquely modern. She was not a Thelemite. However, Anger, who was a devotee of Thelema, was profoundly influenced by her notion of the ritualistic art form. They both depersonalised their film characters and treated them as Jungian archetypal personas. Such archetypal characters are open-ended and can be interpreted in various ways. They conceal more than they reveal. Enigmatic and mysterious, they lure the viewers to follow them on their strange journeys.
In Lucifer Rising the main personas are reenacted by unique personalities and cultural figures. Their personal and transpersonal traits as film characters are defined by their individual astrological signs, their function or position in the cultural sphere, their looks, consumption of psychedelics or other substances, all which contribute to their assignment in the ritual. We watch them as they become the players of a non-verbal ritual-drama dedicated to the invocation of the Age of Lucifer, that is the Aquarian Age.
Haydn Couts as The Adept
Kenneth Anger as The Magus
Leslie Huggins as Lucifer
Donald Cammell as Osiris
Marianne Faithfull as Lilith
Myriam Gibril as Isis
Chris Jagger as the Man in Yellow Tunic
Jimmy Page as the Man Holding the Stele of Revealing
Interestingly, Bobby Beausoleil who composed the soundtrack for the film, became a member of the Manson Family and was sentenced to life imprisonment after murdering Gary Hinman in 1969. Anger explained Beausoleil’s imprisonment as the outcome of karma, and a just payment for his crime. For Beausoleil, composing the soundtrack which was completed in 1980 in jail was based on his life experiences. Through the music he told the story of the “mythical Lucifer awakening in his pit of despair, rekindling his torch, and rising like a phoenix from the ashes of his own unmaking to begin his long journey from the dark recesses of the underworld–shedding his pride along the way in his uncompromising desire to regain the Beloved”.
For a decade I screened Lucifer Rising for students of my Film and Ritual course as part of an academic programme in mysticism and spirituality. Every year the film divided the class into two opposite camps, the camp of scorn and the camp of awe. Perhaps these camps represented Western culture’s perspectives of both Lucifer and the New Age movement. The film indeed captures the zeitgeist of the 1960s and the strong archetypal waves that fuelled the paradigm shift that began dismantling patriarchal conventions.
Lucifer, however, has remained a challenging archetype. His title and identity derived from the name Hilel ben Shahar, a Babylonian king denounced by the prophet Isaiah for his vanity (Isaiah 14:12–15). Shahar was the name of the god of dawn in the Ugarit culture. The name is a cognate of the Hebrew word and name Shahar, meaning dawn. In Arabic, the word for dawn is also Sahar and derives from the same Semitic root. The association of the name to Venus, the morning star, is described by Isaiah: "O light-bringer, son of the dawn." The word” “hilel” means to praise in Hebrew. Thus, the combination of the words: Hillel Ben Shahar, Praise the Son of Dawn, highlights the initial high status of the figure prior to his transformation into the archetype of the Christian devil due to its ambition to overpower the position of God, and all other stars, in heaven.
According to Jung, Lucifer is a reflection of the dual nature of the unconscious, which represents the importance of human consciousness. Lucifer is akin to the chthonic spirit of nature, which can be made conscious through us. Our ability to recognise evil in the external world can be complemented by recognising the evil contents of our own psyches. To repair the evils of this world, humanity must know itself first. Jung compared this process to modern art, which has this dual aspect of destruction and nature-mysticism. Therefore, Jung saw in modern art the symbolic representation of the psychological and spiritual processes of the modern collective unconscious.
The film Lucifer Rising is the expression of the modern impulse to explore consciousness by allowing the juxtaposing poles of destruction and creativity, good and evil to manifest through ritual film. Ancient archetypal forces, and powerful gods and goddesses are conjured by the filmmaker, as the Magus and his Adept. Together they invoke Lucifer in the form of a young man whose evil lies in his capacity to literally explode the remains of the Age of Pisces. The gods in the film as well as in Aleister Crowley’s Thelema are representative of psychic forces. They are not worshipped but utilised as part of a self-development process through which one puts into practice one’s True Will. Thus, the only Thelema law: “Do what Thou Wilt” implies the manifestation of the True Will of the Self rather than the will of the ego.
Anger is not a surrealist who surrenders to the dream landscape of the unconscious. He is the visionary Magician who manipulates archetypal contents . For Anger, "Making a movie is casting a spell." He claims "Magick" as his lifework and "the cinematograph" for his "Magick weapon." His films are evocations or invocations, attempting to conjure primal forces which, once visually released, are designed to have the effect of "casting a spell" on the audience (Carel Rowe, Illuminating Lucifer, 1974).
For me the film Lucifer Rising is an invocation of the art of filmmaking. A return to the negative, the prima materia of creation, the process of development in the substance of the filmic medium. Sheer de-light !
Rowe, C. (1974). Illuminating Lucifer. Film Quarterly, 27(4), 24-33.