Review – The Occult: The Truth Behind The Word (DVD)

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Title: The Occult: The Truth Behind The Word
Genre: Documentary, Occult, Magic, Paranormal
Written by: Brian Allan
Director: James Earnshaw
Production Company: Reality Entertainment

“You have the world at your fingertips”
Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus

Back in my twenties a friend once joked, with a touch of sarcasm, that I was into “The Occult.”

This was the mid-1980s. I was studying the Chinese I Ching and Tai Chi, and can’t remember which one of those disciplines seemed “weird” enough for my friend to imply that I was an occultist.

It’s now 2010. The I Ching is a part of pop culture, and the health benefits of Tai Chi are enjoyed around the world by people of all ages.

Funny how times change. And social attitudes along with them.

O. H. Krill’s The Occult: The Truth Behind The Word does a good job at illustrating this. People can be afraid and overly judgmental about things they don’t understand. Or worse, downright brutish.

The Occult makes this abundantly clear by recalling past Catholic abuses regarding the persecution of so-called witches. The film correctly notes that the perverse witch hunter’s manual, the Malleus Mallificarum (Latin: “The Hammer of Witches”) was approved by the University of Cologne’s Faculty of Theology, and received full support from a Papal Bull: Summis desiderantes affectibus (Latin for: “Desiring with supreme ardor”) in 1484.

Ouch. Talk about big mistakes.

The film, however, doesn’t dwell on the downside of our checkered human history. Instead, it also optimistically heralds the resurfacing of the apparently hidden, interior knowledge of the occult.

Along these lines, The Occult suggests that the ancient belief in animism, where individual spirits are said to inhabit all phenomena, has been reaffirmed by the discoveries of quantum physics.

To demystify the idea of the occult, people like Philip Gardiner, Sheena McDonagh and Doc T use everyday words like “intuition,” “hunch” or “gut feeling.”

As well, it looks at the related areas of shamanism, magic, gnosticism, alchemy, psychotropic plants, the Gaia Hypothesis and Jungian psychology, to name a few. And interviews with contemporary figures like Philip Gardiner, Sheena McDonagh and Doc P make this film comprehensive and up-to-date.

Gardiner, for example, says that magic, especially the dark side of magic, is really about manipulating people. The manipulator may be a small time snake oil salesman, an advertising exec, a politician or a religious leader. This sociological aspect of the film gives it a down-to-earth realism often lacking in other accounts of magic and the occult.

The film also gives a penetrating account of the life and works of the notorious magician, Aleister Crowley. And it examines Crowley’s links with another controversial figure, L. Ron Hubbard. Other leading names in the history of mysticism and demonology also come up—for example, John Dee and King James I.

My only misgiving about this film is its tendency to polarize organizational Christian worship and mysticism. Catholicism, for instance, has always recognized meditation, contemplation and profound mystical experiences. And, in contrast to the idea that the Catholic Church is all about misogyny (also hinted at in the film), many pious women have been venerated and canonized by the Holy See. One only has to think of St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Faustina Kowalska, and many others.

So the argument that Catholicism is largely about ignoring and oppressing women might be a bit off the mark.

Granted, it did take the Catholic Church centuries to apologize for the persecution of so-called witches. But it eventually did acknowledge this distressing aspect of its past (better late than never, one could say). Moreover, not all of the condemned who came under its jurisdiction were women. As the film points out, men, children, and even animals were also victims.

Now, I’m not maintaining that a mere apology suddenly makes all human foibles disappear. And we should accept nothing less than zero tolerance for any scapegoating of the weak and vulnerable in society. Scapegoating is an age old practice that continues today under the sometimes ugly but seemingly pretty masks of social power.

But things have changed in the digital age. Citizen journalism is on the rise and public accountability is becoming increasingly important. As a result, information, to include compromising information, is not so easily concealed as in the pre-internet age.

What fun! Perhaps the occultists are finally about to have their day in the sun again. After all, insights about corruption are more readily supported by the wealth of knowledge (and news) at our fingertips in the 21st century.

The Occult seems to encourage this welcome development. For too long callous individuals have hidden in backrooms, boardrooms, and, of course, cheap motel rooms where all sorts of bad choices can be made.

Today, however, insight and empiricism are coming together. Hopefully this meeting of mind and method will create a new kind of culture where goodness, not old world arrogance, will be the order of the day.




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