Article by David Rosales.
The Witch is a non-Hollywood movie set in the 1630s dealing with a witch psychological attacking a family of New England colonists. The Witch here is typical of traditional European folklore. The filmmakers took cues from historical documents, “first hand” accounts, and contemporary folk tales. Lurking behind the vague but shocking impressions veiled in mystery that our post-Christian society still has, are the insubordinate traditions and purposely asocial philosophies that defined the attitudes of practitioners of the left hand path.
The film is color graded to an appropriately muted greenish-grey filter, enhancing the cold and desolate surroundings of the settlers. The looming forest hiding unknown dangers is perceived as more distant and foreign. Nothing here is welcoming. The soundtrack is an economical and effective meeting between Arvo Part and Gyorgy Ligeti that adjusts to the needs of the movie perfectly, never completely existing apart from it while constituting a crucial element. The minimalism of this film would find itself seriously crippled if any one element in photography, music, plot development be removed.
The Witch can be mistaken for a simple collection of folk tale trivia on its own, especially without some background knowledge of the black arts themselves, esoterism, philosophical incursions into ancient and primitive cultures, or at least psychological insights. If the film is taken as a holistic product of cinema even without these, we find a minimalist artwork of outstanding quality.
The movie both reveals and hides a magus’ mark. It plays completely within the cliches of inverted deception of so-called Satanism while allowing a perceptive and interested viewer to glimpse at what lies behind the frontispiece. From a certain point of view, this simultaneous showing and hiding is important for its final effect. Like a sniper, it cannot fulminate its target without at least briefly revealing itself. However, for those playing the game it is important to keep reinforcing the superstitious fear of magical practices that so dominated the Christian world. That filters through to our own secular, post-Christian one as a mixture between superficial derision and unspoken uneasiness. Paradoxically, black magic is more taboo today than it ever was; never before has it appeared more disenfranchised.
The voice of the people expresses the mind of the people, and that mind is made up for it by the group leaders in whom it believes and by those persons who understand the manipulation of public opinion. It is composed of inherited prejudices and symbols and cliches and verbal formulas supplied to them by the leaders.
— Edward L. Bernays, ‘Propaganda’ (1928)
The attraction for the metal artist in the Left Hand Path, whether the aspiring adept wishes to call it Satanism or otherwise, lies in its unabashed mockery of everything this decadent civilization and rotten society stands for while clearly being a product of decomposition. The history of the abstract Left Hand Path is a long and complex one, popping up in different cultures in accordance to local traditions. Some say it stems ultimately from extremely ancient ones in proto-historical epochs. The superficial anti-Christian imagery is not as important as the deeper psychological implications, which far from being atheistic or narcissistically self-adoring, come together in forming a much more complex but ever-mysterious picture of the universe as seen through the eyes of MAN.
Metal, as a movement against the very foundations of modern society while being a product of it, is naturally akin to this mode of thinking. But taken as a whole, metal cannot be said to have its origin in it, just as it correlates strongly with 19th century romanticism but cannot be said to be the same as or to stem from it. In attaining a deeper view — a peak of the Dionysian — underlying both romanticism (which saw a popularizing of esoterism), the psychic darkside, and post-modernist dilemmas, an emerging picture of the nature of metal, or at least shadows of it, start to form a more definite outline.
To make a pact with the Devil or any spirit is to negotiate for yourself. This is true evil —according to the church and society. Recall that Jesus rebelled against both. You have rejected their help, their intermediaries, and most importantly, their authority. This is the ultimate evil—the crux of sin—to disobey—to refuse the services of those in power— to deny their authority over your life.
— S. Jason Black, Christopher S. Hyatt, ‘Pacts with the Devil’ (1993)
The inherent nihilism underlying the metal spirit leads to amorality; it is neither moral nor immoral, essentially beyond good or evil. This cannot constitute faith nor atheism; this is nihil. Creative will of unfamiliar provenance is the only thing that can set things into motion. The adept or the independent mind, the metal hessian, needs not an emotionally satisfying explanation to move, to create, to conquer, to become. He needs to move and learn, to adapt and acquire power as befits the occasion. There alone is true faith (not the cheap farce of modern Christianity or the ‘hope’ of secular modernity) born — one must first die, in order to possess the sword that breaks the stone whence living water pours forth.
Reality is what it is, whether we like it or not, and however we perceive it, but this is understood by the minority only. The way to excellence lies in commitment in the right places, while discarding the useless, the dead ends, the illusory. This is realism. This is also what lies at the very core of metal. It is the reason why metal expression can blossom into anti-Christian blasphemy or Kristian (that Visigothic channeling of the esoteric traditions of Mithraism lying dormant in the bastard child of Judaism) devotion, in the reveling of the destruction of the weak or in the forceful overcoming of the tyrannical. Heads and tales, tales and heads.
Do not thou let slip any occasion of learning and be vigilant in thy calling, and thou shalt want nothing that is necessary for thee.
— ‘Arbatel of Magick’, from Aphorism 13
At the root of it all lies the practice power. To acquire power may be a relatively straightforward affair, but only through preserving it can any group or individual drive long-lasting or significant change. Beyond what we knowledgeably name ‘magic’, in the esoteric traditions, concealment serves as more than the holistic training of the worthy, therein lies also the prudent protection of valuable knowledge. In other words, the safest way to keep something in your possession is to conceal the fact that it exists — or that you, as a possessor of such power, exist at all.
Here is where the trip down the netherworld gets progressively more dizzying, yet clearer in the same manner. The dizziness comes from the shock, the clarity comes from the final settling down, from the sound of logical pieces finally coming together. Caricatures of evil are not only there to terrorize the witless, to beat sheep into line, they exist to draw a veil over reality — to distract and protect the source of power. This is why baby-eating witches, Captain America, and Hitler as an inhuman anti-Christ are all extremely popular and undying. Harder to digest (and probably less entertaining) are the full pictures of a Newton, who both revolutionized physics and exercised his mind in alchemy, and of generations of variations of Freemasonry, whose existence was exclusive to influential circles, and still very much alive today in elite circles, though ignored or ridiculed at large(what is comical is no longer threatening). Almost invisible is the ever-present hand of the Judaic Mystic tradition underlying the main practical esoteric traditions of European magi, flourishng in the renaissance, surviving all manner of social upheavals, and as alive today as 500 years ago.
None were allowed to sit in the Sanhedrin unless they had a knowledge of magic.
— Sanhedrin, fol. 17, col. 1., quoted in the anthology ‘Hebraic Literature: Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala’, by Maurice H. Harris
“Black Phillip, Black Phillip, a crown grows out his head. Black Phillip, Black Phillip, to nanny queen is wed. Jump to the fence post. Running in the stall. Black Phillip, Black Phillip, king of all.”