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The Cinema of Illumination

Jack Sargeant talks to a modern day cinematic magus about his latest work – a series of films based on Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis

With an interest in the occult from the age of 11 and an academic background in cultural anthropology, Raymond  Salvatore Harmon has been making occult based experimental films since 1998. Harmon’s  films and videos use light, sound, and subliminals to stimulate an expansion of consciousness in the viewer, using the visual image as a form of illumination. To this end his works such as YHVH and Tree of Life are not designed simply for visual pleasure - although the swirling patterns and colours that form these works are regularly screened at film festivals - but as a magical tool designed for incorporation into rituals.  

Based in America, Harmon will be screening a new work at London’s Horse Hospital on 7 March, based on Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis. Publicly performed in London by Crowley in 1910, accompanied by Australian violinist Leila Waddell, the seven rites are focused on Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sol, Venus, Mercury, and Luna. Harmon’s screening celebrates the centenary of the union between Waddell and Crowley. For Harmon, as an esoteric scholar, the date and form of the screening has numerological significance, with the seven Rites being screened in films lasting 7-minutes on the 7th day of the third month. “I find most of my workings develop like this”, says the cinematic magus. “They come together in ways I can’t predict but that lend themselves to the power of the work” . The date is also the night of the new moon, offering “plenty of darkness in which to seek illumination.”

While the Rites of Eleusis have been performed theatrically on numerous occasions, for the event at the Horse Hospital Harmon has abstracted and re-contextualized them into “seven 7-minute long films that utilize the entire text content of Crowley’s written Rites in conjunction with complex abstract imagery all improvised live to a prepared score.” Removing the Rites from the theatrical format in which they are usually presented,  Raymond describes the purpose of his films as “relying on the content of the abstract imagery as the key to trigger the intended states of conscious.”

“This film piece is one of the many films that I have created to be utilized as practical devices for use in occult ritual and mystical exploration of the human psyche. This public presentation of a practical occult ritual will be presented much in the way Crowley's original Rites were presented, without much explanation as to intent other than to enlighten the masses. But more importantly it will illustrate the methods and usage of this new ritual device to potential practitioners.”

For Harmon, the visual density of the abstract imagery used will enable the viewer to  enter an almost hypnagogic, liminal state, and “become perceptually distant from the sense of the real. Once the enveloping visual content has become the landscape of the mind to the viewer, the subliminal content (namely the text of the rite) will have access to the subconscious mind.”

While critics may quibble about turning the Rites into a series of seven films, Harmon  points out that he has not edited the ritual material: “All of the original text is presented - even stage instructions - yet various passages will be flashed repeatedly or changed in size or shape as text in the subliminal field, though the viewer will not be capable of seeing this usually.”

The efficacy of subliminal content has been questioned on numerous occasions. Harmon acknowledges that there are often antithetical answers to studies into the success and effects of subliminal content, but sees the tactic as creating the desired response in his films. “I have seen a direct correlation between certain passages in the text, similar states evoked, points of repeated text causing specific states to be triggered, the conjunction of word concepts and certain colors having a pronounced effect when combined in specific ways. Between the flickering colour, the form and the subliminal content I strive for a balance. Not to overwhelm the viewer at first, to draw them into the content then unleash the underlying context of the work once the mind is exposed.”

As to the intention that informs the event,  Harmon is pragmatic enough to suggest that “Many will come away having merely seen pretty lights and colours, like a Stan Brakhage or a Len Lye film”. However, he suggests that “to a handful of the audience the films will open up to reveal their true nature and I hope a certain amount of light.”
In short, they will become illuminated.

'Raymond Salvatore Harmon presents Aleister Crowley's Rites of Eleusis - a three channel occult video performance' will be taking place at 8pm on 7 March at the Horse Hospital, London. Tickets cost £7; £5 for members or concessions.

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