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  • On the Nature of LightThe Cinematic Experience as Occult Ritual
  • Raymond Salvatore Harmon (bio)

These were her Instructions, which were no sooner delivered, but she brought me to a clear, large Light, and here I saw those Things, which I must not speak of.

Thomas Vaughan, Lumen de Lumine

On March 7, 2008, I staged the first screening/performance of my forty-nine minute occult cinema piece Rites of Eleusis as a three-channel improvised video environment at Horse Hospital Gallery in London. Based on the seven public rituals performed by British occultist Aleister Crowley in 1910 in Caxton Hall London, my own seven seven-minute-long visual distillations of Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis represent a specific form of performance-based occult ritual. Utilizing the cinematic experience as a practical tool for conscious expansion, my work draws on a wide range of associative ideas: from the writings of alchemist Thomas Vaughan and the experimental films of Harry Smith to traditional Kabbalah and contemporary occult ritual. All of these concepts find themselves sharing the table with a vast array of hand-modified video electronics, circuit-bent video signals, and live manipulated feedback. Beneath the apparent visual imagery I utilize the entire text of the original Rites of Eleusis as complex subliminal content.

Improvised cinema at its broadest definition is a form of filmmaking in which the visual element of the film (and potentially the audio as well) is created in a live context from scratch before the audience. Much akin to improvisational music forms like jazz and taqasim, improvised cinema covers such artistic forms as VJ performance, video-circuit bending, and interactive installation environments. Within the context of improvised cinema exists a specific form of creative filmmaking. Its roots are in the domain of the spiritual in so far as it is concerned with the practical application of the cinematic experience to the use of mystical attempts at the expansion of the conscious mind. Transcendental cinema codifies the cinematic experience into that of the ritual performance. Utilizing the paradigm of ritualized set and setting, it takes on the traditional role of spiritual ritual (e.g., the mass, ceremonial magic, vodoun performance, tantric recitation, etc.) but pushes the traditional form into the cinematic realm. This Transcendental Cinema is, at its core, the cinematic understanding of the use of spiritual content in relation to the context of its practical use [End Page 91] as a device for controlling the state of our conscious mind. In a practical sense all film (or any cinematic experience) changes our perceptions and alters our sense of the real. (For instance, we are constantly fooled into believing we are seeing motion instead of a series of still images.) This ability of the mind to reinterpret incoming data based on preconceived notions of reality (we interpret motion because what else could it be but motion?) gives us a clue to the function of Transcendental Cinema’s mechaniques.

The human mind does not specifically relate reality to us. It alters the actual in order to give us the necessary information for our survival. Filtering data, the mind softens the edge of our world through various implementations of data flow. What cinema possesses is an ability to create a mental landscape, like a waking dream state, in which humans can explore their desires and fears, fulfill their lusts and passions without conflicting with the “real” world of their existence. Thus cinema gives us the ability to manipulate the emotional and mental state of the viewer. From the beginning, film directors have sought to utilize this ability that film possesses in order to create an overwhelming cinematic experience for the viewer. Artists like Eisenstein and Vertov developed basic formulas for implementing complex ideas via the cinematic model. Montage, rapid cut editing, and disassociation between sound and visual input were tools utilized from the earliest days of film’s birth in order to propagate philosophical and political ideals and to explore forms of creative expression.

The means by which the transcendental film may affect our mind state are varied and can utilize iconic imagery, empathetic plot lines, and abstract imagery in conjunction with subliminal content, specifically chosen strobic effects, and color...


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pp. 91-97
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