Rest assured that anywhere you see the word Magic spelled Magik flakiness will be descending at any moment. The only time that variant on the word seems to come up is within the confines of a role playing game or on the spines of various books tucked into the shelves of Barnes & Nobel’s New Age section. On this occasion it stares at me from the cover of Reality film’s 2009 release The Rites of Magik. This documentary was produced by The Church of the Hermetic Sciences as a follow up to their previous films The Magik of Solomon (which I assume is where cutting a lady in half got started) and Dark Mirror of Magik. Written and hosted by Poke Runyon, Archmage of the Ordo Templi Astartes, The Rites of Magik seeks to explain various traditions of Hermetic Sciences and their connection to the ancient world.
Runyon describes the belief of the Church as an extension of English and European shamanistic traditions, but it was hard to take much in the video seriously after it came to light that the Church of the Hermetic Sciences is headquartered in a compound they call “Rivenvale”, after the legendary home of the elves in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. To top it all off, he touts their wonderful amenities which include (and this is a direct quote) “an outdoor henge”. I always thought that post-Spinal Tap, everyone knew all henge’s have to be kept outdoors in order to head off the whole issue of scale. After waxing poetic about their home base, Runyon is off and running with a discussion of chakras and how Magikal studies have realigned the chakra from the tradition of Indian mysticism. He even goes so far as to have a model show off some of the chants and positions of what he calls “Hermetic Yoga”.
Right then, I noticed something that carried on throughout the film. Archival footage from the ’60’s or 70’s showed hippies getting their Magik on, your average group of beardos and weirdos, but in the newer footage everyone wore masks. During the bigger ceremonies, there were more people in domino masks than at a roll call of the Justice Society of America. Personally I don’t get it. I’ve seen shows about Satanists, no masks. Shows about Mormon polygamists, no masks. Shows about Scientology or Kabbalah, no masks. If the Hermetics are so happy with their religion and seek to share it with the public through these DVDs, why not look like the average man or woman on the street? Instead the practitioners come off like they are ashamed of their beliefs, and while I find many of their practices strange and some even somewhat laughable, I always contend that if a person believes something they ought to be proud of it.
After the talk about Yoga, it’s time to delve into Astral Projection…..whoops, I mean Astral travel, no wait, that’s not right either. Inner Plane Projection, there we go. In a nutshell, practitioners are put into a hypnotic trance in which they travel to a magical land. There they go through a rite of self crucifixion intended to impart wisdom in the Inner Plane traveler. This kind of self-deification is the kind of thing that has brought New Age practices into the crosshairs of the critics many times over the years. If there was any question as to their intent, Runyon intones repeatedly, “Know yourself because you are the temple and within you are one with the Gods.” Runyon also begins to shed the last vestiges of credibility at this point, claiming to have spoken to King Solomon’s court mage person to person via a “dark mirror.”
The Rites of Magik then delves into a number of filmed rituals for celebrations of the Equinox. I really have to hand it to a religion with more pomp and ritual than the Catholic Church, but the Seasonal Ceremonies smack of a less fun version of LARP-ing, where you never get to fight dragons or hit anyone with a foam covered PVC pipe sword. After viewing a number of these rituals, the conversation turns to 17th century mathematician credited with the discovery of the secret Angelic language, Enochian. The discovery is discussed briefly before cutting away to show a example of the language being channeled. The ritual itself is highly dramatic, but when the mystical voice coming out of the crystal ball is so plainly that of Poke Runyon again, the drama quickly dissipates.
The last portion of the film is Masa Confusa, a short movie about Alchemy, by Erik Isaac. I really don’t understand the reason for this film’s inclusion, even though it was both the most enjoyable and most entertaining portion of the proceedings. Isaac’s film features some interesting imagery (along with some silent film level mugging and overacting) detailing a tragic tale of an alchemist seeking to regain a missing eye. In his own folly, he loses the other eye instead. The short is interesting and well shot even reminding me of a bargain basement Jowderowky at times, but I found it hard to understand its purpose here nestled between what should have been a non-stop infomercial for The Church of the Hermetic Sciences and their Magik.
When any kind of religious group produces a film, no matter if it’s Wiccans or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it generally presents them in the most favorable light possible. To believers in The Church of the Hermetic Sciences or similar groups, that may well be the way The Rites of Magik plays. For practitioners of mainstream theologies, this documentary is unlikely to turn anyone away from their faith. For atheists or agnostics (such as myself), there is an entertainment factor that will provide a few chuckles, but I spent the majority of the running time deciphering the New Age mumbo jumbo and hoping something would come along and save it. Erik Isaac’s short film almost pulled it out at the last second, but it was too little too late. I have no problem believing that Poke Runyon is an expert in his field, but I do have a problem believing in the things in which his expertise lies.