The Secret Life of Puppets
by Victoria Nelson
At the same time, however, this demonology is the only avenue open to the transcendental. “You can raise issues in the horror genre that you can’t raise so easily in other types of films,” a Hollywood screenwriter once ingenuously explained, adding, “Characters can talk about the existence of God in a horror movie, whereas in other films that would be incredibly pretentious.” Ironically, beacause of the old Reformation link between Catholicism and the supernatural, the only means for defending oneself against the Devil in these narratives is always represented as a potpourri of faux rituals rendered in Latin or Greek and always erroneously attributed to the Catholic Church, to the unending aggravation of that church’s worthies, who might be less upset if only they reflected on the unavoidable implication—that the Protestant mainstream unconsciously perceives its own rituals as utterly inadequate for warding off demons.
Lacking an allowable connection with the transcendent, we have substituted an obsessive, unconscious focus on the negative dimension of the denied experience. In popular Western entertainments through the end of the twentieth century, the supernatural translated mostly as terror and monsters enjoyably consumed. But as Paul Tillich profoundly remarked, “Wherever the demonic appears, there the question of its correlate, the divine, will also be raised.”
Far from being mutually exclusive, nous and logos share this common denominator of human consciousness, a field that remained constant while its content and focus have swung like a pendulum between the two modes. For the gnosis-oriented authors of the Corpus Hermeticum tractates, consciousness was not only humanity’s distinguishing characteristic but the special feature that connected us with the divine. This position was counterbalanced by the materialist views of their contemporaries the Stoics and Skeptics; indeed, many Greeks and Romans of the time openly mocked graven images. And, as Susanna Elm argues, far from being a “decline into belief” as is usually supposed, the radical iconoclasm of Judeo-Christianity, learnedly argued first by the rabbis and then by the early Christian fathers, represented a scientific revolution of rational discourse that supplanted the gnosis-dominated cults and religions of Late Antiquity analagous to the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation, which performed a similar function in relation to the Catholic Church a millennium later.
Secret Cinema: Gnostic Vision in Film
by Eric G. Wilson
Gnostic films understandably migrate toward the gothic genres—science fiction pictures devoted to ambiguous relationships between humans and machines; fantasy movies exploring blurred boundaries between dream and reality; noir movies hovering on the boundary between psychic projection and brute fact; horror films fraught with ambiguous meldings of monstrosity and miracle. There are historical reasons behind this connection between the Gnostic and the gothic. As Victoria Nelson has shown, ever since the early modern age, esoteric ways of knowing including Gnosticism, Cabbala, and alchemy, have been pushed to the margins of culture. There on the edges these heretical visions have attracted the aesthtic mediums rejected by mainstream institutions. This confluence of occult religion and underground expression reached full force in the pulpy sub-world of the twentieth century, the lurid realm of weird tales, comic books, and gothic movies. These historical connections are valid and interesting. However, as I have been suggesting, there are also deep epistemological reasons for the merger between Gnostic vision and gothic cinema. Both modes are dependent upon mental failure: the inability of the rational mind to reconcile opposites and of the physical world to transcend dualistic conflict. However, these failures offer success: the possibility of the mind finding knowledge beyond reason, of the world dissolving into a unity beyond time.