Thoughts on Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2016)

the-witch

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 The filmmakers took cues from historical documents, “first hand” accounts, and contemporary folk tales.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

Conceptual companions:

“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.”

23 thoughts on “Thoughts on Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2016)”

  1. Poser Patrol says:

    Harry Potter is another good occult movie.

    1. fenrir says:

      No pearls for you, swine

      1. Virgin Slayer says:

        It doesn’t take much to entertain your simple Mexican mind! This movie drags on and drags on then gives you a predictable soap opera twist (the black goat is actually the devil omg omg; old ladies did “oooooooooooooohhhh”)

        No beef tortillas for you, poncho

        Is your mom proud of your unneeded movie reviews or is she too busy being a Tijuanan drug mule?

      2. Poser Patrol says:

        In all seriousness though, what exactly is the appeal of the “left hand path”? Why would I want to receive spiritual guidance from the clowns who claim to be “practitioners of magick”?

        It seems to me the occult is a gay little club for New Age LARPers where people congratulate themselves for being privy to “ancient forbidden wisdom” while writing off any criticism as coming from those incapable of understanding their ludicrous ideas.

        1. fenrir says:

          Hmm, sounds exactly like the kind of thing people who know ZERO about metal say about metalheads, doesn’t it?

          Easy to criticize others, hard to discriminate your own bias.

        2. fenrir says:

          What I am saying is…

          There are Motley Crue “metalheads”
          and there are Gojira “metalheads”

          then there are Iron Maiden metalheads
          then, Slayer and Metallica metalheads
          and also Slayer and Hellhammer / Celtic Frost metalheads…

          and so on, and so on

          there is a strong parallel between the individualistic, realist but epic-minded metalhead and the sincere “occultist”. There are huge divergences. Metal has little correspondence with academic philosophy. All good occultists are good thinkers, same with metalheads, and both are independent of semantic rigors and formal rules.

          Just as you would differentiate between the dude with the SJW-PC modern ambient noise indie metal, the beer metal types, and the metal hessian, if you know how to look, there is a huge difference between the “elfin” wikan SJW, the retarded LaVey types, and the more discreet but serious “renaissance man” types, and so on…

          1. Poser Patrol says:

            You make fair points. Admittedly I know nothing about “true” occultism; there probably is some insight to be gleaned from it. But it seems a rather patchwork belief system without any kind of consensus on what the authoritative works are or even the basic beliefs. And the vocabulary (magick, witchcraft, etc) makes it hard to take seriously. So I hope you understand my skepticism.

            What kind of occultist would you consider yourself?

            1. Misanthrope says:

              “But it seems a rather patchwork belief system without any kind of consensus on what the authoritative works are or even the basic beliefs.”

              Exactly. Talk to 10 different occultists, and you probably will get 10 different variants of their occult belief, with each one claiming theirs is the original one that was practised by magicians in Mesopotomia 4000 years ago. Reminds of the fat Goth chicks at this industrial gig I stumbled into in a drunken stupor years ago (a “WHAT THE FUCK” moment if ever there was one).
              It seems as though they’re just talking about the power of symbols, semiotics, psychology and propaganda, but just refuse to call it as such and have to mangle the English language to get their point across. But when you refuse to play their game, you’re a vulgar philistine. Sure.
              At least the Judeo-Christians are consistent, albeit totally delusional and insane.

              1. Ludvig B.B (vOddy) says:

                “At least the Judeo-Christians are consistent, albeit totally delusional and insane.”

                Hell no, they are not.

            2. fenrir says:

              I do not consider myself an occultist.
              Nor do I really consider myself a metalhead.

              I like some metal, the little that is actually worth investing time and mind.
              I find some occultist ideas and methods to have potential, and some very few are argued convincingly and honestly.
              I like the skeptic, almost nihilist, side of it — of both, that tends to fall on the Kantean.

    2. Marc Defranco says:

      Fukk yeah man Snape was goth as hell.

  2. Misanthrope says:

    I liked the movie. This article, however, is juvenile balderdash. You talk about power and relate it to esoteric occult principles, when there are classics like Machiavelli and Von Clausewitz to plunder, not to mention the political and financial maneuvers of the ancient Roman noble class, which in turn had direct implications for the development of European history. And you talk about so-called “realism” and then mention magic? Magic, really? What’s next Mr Rosales? Leprechauns? Fairies?
    No sacred cows in metal. Fuck Satanism. Fuck esoteric occult bullshit. Fuck the left hand path.

    1. Poser Patrol says:

      No sacred cows in metal. Fuck Satanism. Fuck esoteric occult bullshit. Fuck the left hand path.

      Preach

    2. Ludvig B.B (vOddy) says:

      Magic is cool, but it’s not real. So I agree, it is silly to talk about magic like this.

      If one wants power, a real craft has to be learned. For example:

      – Chemistry. It allows the creation of explosives and toxins.

      – Programming. It allows hacking, or the creation of one’s own programs.
      Wherever there are computers, power is granted through programming.

      – Martial arts. By mastering a martial art, it is possible to turn one’s body in to a deadly weapon.

      These are but a few examples, all more useful than magic. There are mystical things that are real and profound, too, like insight in to and power over one’s own consciousness. It is mystical because science can not quantify it.

      But it is through that context that we should see the left hand path and the right hand path. The context of the mind, and psychology, and meditation. Not the context of magic.

      1. fenrir says:

        Again, take Harry Potter out of your mind.
        Read, educate yourself on the subject.
        You continue to think about the wrong thing.

        “Magic” is as real as philosophy, as real as “methodologies”. These are abstract tools.

        1. Ludvig B.B. (vOddy) says:

          What is magic?

          1. Ludvig B.B. (vOddy) says:

            And which books should I read?

    3. fenrir says:

      You talk about Machiavelli, but forget the psychological aspect, and the practical impact of symbol, act, etc, as in propaganda;
      It’s the same as saying “forget about logic, we have mathematics”.

      What you understand as “magic” in mainstream society, is not what others understand as “magick”.
      We are not talking Harry Potter.
      We are talking Pope Alexander VI, whom Machiavelli mentions, btw.

      Don’t call yourself a fan of “the underground” if you are incapable of “getting under” something, instead of expecting to be spoon-fed.

      1. Misanthrope says:

        So according to you, Pope Alexander VI used magic, sorry “magick”. And Machiavelli mentions Pope Alexander VI, that makes the case for using “magick” to gain power even more compelling. And manipulating popular opinion via the use of symbols, is a form of magic. Never mind that William Gibson covers such topics in layman’s terms in his novels.
        And I’m not worthy of calling myself a fan of the underground because I prefer to call a spade – a spade.
        Sure, whatever. I’m sure this “magick” shit has allowed you to ascend the state structure and amass vast wealth, power and influence amongst the political and financial elite.

        1. fenrir says:

          Now you are just puting words in my mouth. :)

          To ridicule the idea that he might have been aided by magic (which you continue to not understand, since you think it is about a wand and a harry potter spell), is to ridicule that he used grammar, or philosophy, or tactics, or an appropriate diet.

          Open and close open and close.
          You cannot expect to understand a new paradigm if you just WANT to shut everything you do not know out.
          To learn anything, even the simplest thing, you gotta be lenient, Mr. Expert.

          Read more about Alexander VI, you obviously don’t know what I am referring to.

    4. fenrir says:

      There are no sacred cows in open, sincere esoterism.
      And metal is as esoteric as it gets in the arts ;)

  3. Pelagius says:

    To each one he gave a name, since the two orders are in a name. Those belonging to the thought and those of the representation are called “the Right Ones” and “Psychic” and “the Fiery Ones” and “the Middle Ones.” Those who belong to the arrogant thought and those of the likeness are called “the Left”, “Hylic”, “the Dark Ones,” and “the Last.”

Comments are closed.