In the past few years, occult movies have exploded into the mainstream. With directors like Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommer) and Robbert Eggers (The Witch, Lighthouse), and practically everything coming from A24, our homes and theaters have been flooded with all things occult.
A great example of this being Marvel studios recent announcement of Doctor Strange -Marvel comics’ resident sorcerer- being at the helm of their cinematic universe, a position made vacant by the removal of Iron Man from their franchise.
With so many pieces of “Mystic” Media at our fingertips, the big question becomes - “how does the representation of mysticism in the media affect who joins the craft?”
Occult films have been a staple in the movie industry for years and the abundance of esoteric entertainment isn't anything out of the ordinary, From The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Weine, 1920) to Marvel’s WandaVision (Jac Schaeffer, 2021). While proper representation of the occult isn’t inherently anything to worry about, it is important to look at it critically and ask if misrepresentation is detrimental to these schools of thought.
Before we continue, we need to make a distinction between occult film (which is an art form with deep history and a large “cult” following) and Western Mysticism, or, the esoteric practice adopted by groups like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, The Rosicrucians, and Aleister Crowley’s formation of the O.T.O. While films have often claimed these two things to be synonymous with one another, the truth is that’s not the case.
As it stands, Western Mysticism has always been a practice rooted in counter-culture - not because of spooky initiations or demonic required reading, but because traditions like these are steeped heavily in culture and rife in philosophy. To really engage in “mystic” traditions, oftentimes, requires years of study, patience, and discipline.
The development of these systems took thousands of years, so to truly ingrain these understandings takes years of mastery and serious contemplation. So why then, in stark contrast, do we typically only find the gruesome, grotesque, and fantastical on the big screen?
The answer is sensationalism. We don’t see realistic portrayals of mystical work and self development because it’s hard to sell a movie about an individual who reads, meditates, and casts the occasional spell. No lightning from the fingertips, no telekinetic powers, and no fancy portals to other dimensions to keep the viewer on the edge of their seats. Most of the fantastical things we get from magick and the occult are metaphors about the real magic of the human mind.
But misrepresentation is still representation, right? What we do get with movies like Doctor Strange and Hereditary - both vastly different, and overly dramatized sides of the esoteric and the occult - is conversation. Because these movies are so prevalent in our culture, more people are asking questions and at the very least thinking about concepts that may have never crossed their mind otherwise.
The outset of this could very well be a popular rise in modern witches and wizards. The goal of magick, as explained by Dion Fortune laid out by Don Micheal Kraig in his book Modern Magick, is simply to “[Cause] changes in consciousness in conformity with the Will” – Dion Fortune. Meaning true magick is a function of the human mind and it’s will over the world around you. This is no common occurrence, though those of us who call ourselves wizards, magicians, occultists, etc. are just those who strive to study and take it to the realm of art.
While the phrasing may seem quite profound, in reality, this is what we do every day. We realize we want something, then take the necessary steps to achieve it. In the 28 Theorems, Aleister Crowley even goes so far to claim that “Every intentional act is a magical act.”
So what can we take from this? Are we all witches, wizards, sorcerers, and other various goblins? YES! and also no.
While every intentional act is a magical act, and while every single living being on this planet has the same vast capacity for magic within them, it takes a long time to learn, consider, and decide that you want to go down this path of searching for universal truths. It’s the declaration of purpose that sets in stone your identity as a conscious player in the universe. Whether its heroes like Dr. Strange and The Scarlet Witch, the curiosity and intrigue of movies like Midsommar, or just the down right creepiness of Ari Aster’s Hereditary that brings you on this path, the important part is that you’re here.