“The true Magick of Horus requires the passionate union of opposites.” ~ Aleister Crowley
In 1981 Kenneth Anger completed Lucifer Rising, his last major film to date. It demanded 14 gruelling years of his life to will it into its final form. One of the nine shorts comprising Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle, it is perhaps the most breathtaking work in his oeuvre, due to the incorporation of international locales and the ever-present influence of Eisenstein and the Russian masters on Anger’s stunning cinematography and creative, artful editing. Although the formal elements of Lucifer Rising resemble “classic” cinema, Anger’s aim is subversion. He seeks to overturn the world-view of the spectator through the invocative and incantative ceremony and ritual of cinema. From the opening shots of Lucifer Rising the spell is cast – glowing images of volcanic eruption are inter-cut with the ocean and sky; a crocodile hatches from its egg in the Nile mud. As the primal elements gather, Isis looks down approvingly in preparation for Lucifer’s rising.
The visual narrative of Lucifer Rising is traced by Anger to Aleister Crowley’s Hymn to Lucifer. Based on Crowley’s occult world-view (Thelema), the film incorporates ancient Egyptian ruins, reanimated Egyptian gods and goddesses and their counterparts, and high priests (Magi) performing ritual Magick in a sacred circle to invoke Lucifer. It is the English Magus who oversees the film’s central ritual, and Anger incorporates many images of Crowley along with illustrations from his sacred texts through superimposition. Anger chose Egypt as a location because it was there that Crowley had a vision of the Angel Aiwast, who became the “source of the revelation of Book of Law.”(1)
As devotee of Crowley, Anger developed “a thematic preoccupation with Lucifer as the “light bearing god” rather than the devil.(2) Anger envisioned Lucifer as a rebellious angel and patron saint of the visual arts, “a figure of light, invoking love and hope.”(3) But for Anger, Lucifer is also an iconoclastic force heralding a new spiritual and historical epoch. For this reason, the radical juxtaposition of images in Lucifer Rising is “first dreamlike [oneiric], then menacing,” for as “centuries of mystical thought are distilled” and channelled through the cosmic portal opened by the Magus, their effect on the terrestrial world is devastating.(4)
With Ankh in hand, Isis signals to her consort Osiris in preparation for the (re)-birth of Horus, the winged falcon god of light. Their cosmic dialogue, across a vast spatial and temporal distance, elicits a violent rejoinder from the elements and awakens the High Priest (Magus) dressed in a lavishly coloured ceremonial robe. Wielding a glass wand, he anoints a statue of Horus then sits in an Egyptian throne adorned with the winged sun disk. After performing a blood ritual he bathes and at this moment Lilith, the lunar opposite of solar Isis, rises from the sarcophagus. She is filmed in the traditional colours of blue and grey that Crowley associated with her. No longer in Egypt, Lilith is filmed climbing the stairs of a solar temple in Germany’s Black Forest region – images of her walking in the day are inter-spliced with six priests carrying torches. To mark the transitions between day and night, light and dark, Anger incorporates a vertical “wipe” technique.
The second Magus (played by Anger) descends a staircase to perform the sacred ritual invoking Lucifer. The Magus enters the Magick circle inscribed with the names of Crowley’s pantheon: Lucifer, Nuit, Hadit, Ra Hoor Khuit, Chaos, Babalon, and Lilith. The priest immediately banishes Chaos prior to the consecrated ritual and begins to walk around the inside of the circle. Quickly his speed builds to frantic and frenetic pace, and in an instant he transcends the circle, beyond time and space. As the Magus whirls at a lightening pace inside the circle celestial psychedelic lights, or stars, rain down upon him. The Magus then raises his arms and fiery intense red explosions occur, molten lava spews from a maelstrom of volcanic activity. The divine world opens, releasing its primeval, transfiguring force upon the mortal realm as Lucifer appears in the person of the god, who turns and in “extreme close-up his curls coruscate with red sun-glow, as his eyes look directly in the camera and out at us.”(5)
The arrival of Lucifer is tied to the manifestation of Horus in the form of a glowing, orange flying saucer set against an intense blue sky with ancient Egyptian ruins in the foreground of the low-angle shot. A flying saucer is certainly the form that the ancient winged god Horus would take in a scientifically advanced historical age – the technological manifestation of the falcon-god heralding the New Aeon. The final shot of the film is of two immense Egyptian colossi. The gods and goddesses have completed their task, the elements now harmoniously commingle, and the world is momentarily at rest. Anger explains that the extended duration of the last shot is necessary, for in between the two colossi there is a fire burning, the flames of which rise slowly as the film comes to an end – Anger’s original Lucifer Rising script set ablaze.
The film perfects Anger’s use of myth, ceremony, and ritual. It is possible to compare Lucifer Rising with Scorpio Rising (1963), but it is better compared to Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954). However, it must be noted that with Lucifer Rising, although retaining the occult religious themes, Anger departs from psychoanalysis and moves in the direction of metaphysics:
Anger leaps across centuries and millennia, condenses time and space in this film, composing not only a mythological story, but a portrait of a [metaphysical] force that has pervaded all of human history.(6)
In short, Lucifer Rising is concerned with reality and the structure thereof (metaphysics), along with the manner in which that structural reality, rooted in a systematic understanding of Magick, directly and indirectly influences the lives of the inhabitants of the universe (ontology).
Grounding the spiritual and historical paradigm shift in world-view is Crowley’s occult understanding of Magick, which for Anger, is the “sound [metaphysical] structure on which to build a world-view.”(7) Here the understanding of Horus in relation to the metaphysical structure of the universe is crucial. For Horus is the cosmological force that brings order to primordial Chaos, and he alone has the power to reconcile the opposing forces of the universe, the “irreconcilables” such as light and dark, life and death. As the myth goes Horus did not exact revenge against Seth for murdering his father Osiris, because Horus demonstrated celestial wisdom in understanding that evil is not a force to be eradicated, but rather mastered and balanced in the twin polarities of “good” and “evil.” The presence of Horus overcomes any view that embraces irreconcilable metaphysical antinomies.
Reflecting on Lucifer Rising Anger states the following: “I’m showing actual ceremonies in the film; what is performed in front of the camera won’t be a re-enactment and the purpose will be to make Lucifer rise.”(8) Taking Anger at his word, this explanation of the film’s content sheds crucial light on the possibility that his filmic images and characters no longer, in terms of symbol and metaphor, point beyond themselves to a realm of “conceptual” meaning. Based on Anger’s claim, it is possible to state that Lucifer Rising outstrips any reading of a strict semiotic nature because it subverts the traditional understanding of cinematic symbols. “Rather than personifications as in Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, Lucifer’s characters [instantiate] actual deities wielding their power in authentic Egyptian locations.”(9) When participating in the film as “spectators,” we are actually in the presence of Lucifer and not his cinematic re-presentation.
Although the finished film ultimately testifies to Anger’s cinematic genius, its production was apparently cursed. There were problems with actors. Mick Jagger, originally cast as Lucifer, backed out and the role eventually went to Leslie Huggins. Anger’s original Lucifer Rising footage was stolen from the trunk of his car in San Francisco in 1967. A rift between Anger and guitarist Jimmy Page forced Anger to enlist Bobby Beausoleil to compose the soundtrack, who at the time was imprisoned for his involvement with the Charles Manson murders. Beausoleil composed the music while in prison, and his score captures perfectly the mysterious and ritualistic tone of the film.
Cinema holds the potential to “invoke primal forces, perhaps even demons,” and those demons, once released, affect both those working on the film’s production and, “through a series of occult circuits connecting physical with spiritual dimensions of existence, the film’s audience.”(10) The cinematic experience of Anger’s film, Lucifer Rising, although revelatory and transformative, perhaps even emancipatory, is not without the very real threat of danger.
1. Alice L. Hutchison, Kenneth Anger: Demonic Visionary (Black Dog Publishing: London, 2004), p 92.
2. Dennis Conroy, “Kustom Kenneth Kommando,” Release Print: Magazine of the Film Arts Society, November/December, 2000, p. 24.
3. Robert Haller quoted in DVD booklet, The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume Two, Fantoma, 2007, p. 35.
4. Mikita Brottman, Moonchild: The Films of Kenneth Anger, edited by Jack Hunter (Creation Books: London, 2002), p. 8.
5. Anna Powell, “The Occult: A Torch for Lucifer” in Brottman, Moonchild, p. 97.
6. Robert Haller, Kenneth Anger: A Monograph (Film in the Cities/Walker Art Center: Minneapolis, 1980), p. 9.
7. Powell, “The Occult,” p. 102.
8. Anger quoted in Haller, Kenneth Anger, p. 8.
9. Hutchins, Kenneth Anger, p. 180.
10. Brottman, Moonchild, pp. 5–6.
Lucifer Rising (1966-1981 USA 28 Minutes) The Films of Kenneth Anger: Volume Two (DVD), Fantoma, 2007.
Prod: Anita Pallenberg Dir: Kenneth Anger Scr: Kenneth Anger Photo: Kenneth Anger Ed: Kenneth Anger Prod Des: Kenneth Anger Mus: Bobby Beausoleil and the Freedom Orchestra (originally Jimmy Page).
Cast: Miriam Gibril (Isis); Donald Cammell (Osiris); Haydn Couts (Adept/Magus I); Kenneth Anger (Adept/Magis II); Sir Francis Rose (Chaos); Marianne Faithful (Lilith); Leslie Huggins (Lucifer).