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Two Occult Experiences

Believe me, I wish I was about to describe two mystical experiences in my life. Instead, I’m going to talk about two films named “The Occult Experience.”

I watched them because of fuzzy memories of what I read in Isaac Bonewits papers. I knew Isaac had appeared in “The Occult Experience”; I also remembered reading a protest letter Isaac wrote (perhaps to members of the AADL) condemning “The Occult Experience.”

I wanted to know if this was another occurrence of Isaac being defamed in the media. I searched a bit, and found that there were two films named “The Occult Experience,” one released in 1970 and the other in 1985. Both are available on YouTube; I include the links below. Last night, I watched them, in what turned out to be a grand waste of three hours of my life.

The 1985 film isn’t bad, though as a Wiccan in 2014 I didn’t learn anything new. The film consists of several segments on different occult organizations in the US, England, and Australia. There are interviews with several major occult figures, including Margot Adler, Z Budapest, Michael Aquino, Janet Farrar, Alex Saunders, and HR Giger. Isaac can be seen for a few seconds, but it’s entirely in footage taken from Satanis; his name is not mentioned.

As a Wiccan, I’m not enthusiastic about including the Temple of Set (the current incarnation of the Church of Satan) next to Alexandrian Wicca, but I’ll acknowledge that ToS falls under the category of “occult.” The segment that bothered me the most was an exorcism ceremony conducted by a group of Australian Fundamentalist Christians with the goal of ridding people of the desire of any magical influences, including hypnotism and divination.

Deborah Lipp accurately described the 1970 film to me as a “lurid schlock documentary.” Every speaker in the film is badly over-dubbed, often putting words into their mouths; only Anton LaVey is allowed to speak for himself. The Church of Satan is probably the only group that would be happy with how they’re represented. Almost everyone else is described (or overdubbed) in evil or satanic terms, twisting the original intent of the practitioners.

I was particularly troubled by the opening segment, in which we see a Gardnerian ritual priestessed by Eleanor “Ray” Bone described as a form of wicked devil-worship by the narrator. Alexander and Maxine Saunders received less harsh treatment, though I cringed when I heard their ritual sword described as “thrice-cursed.” It’s obvious that this is the film that Isaac objected to.

Strangely, the only group that’s shown some measure of respect are the Candomblé of Brazil; they’re a Yoruban-derived tradition in the same style as Vodoun and Santeria. Apparently the production company had the fear of Egum put into them! I hadn’t know about the Candomblé before now, so I have to acknowledge that the film taught me something.

Both the Candomblé and the Saunders are shown in two different segments; perhaps they were the most cooperative. The film also lumps cryogenic freezing and pot-smoking into their definition of “occult.” Maybe in 1970 they were, but now it just seems silly.

It’s worth nothing that the only occult personalities who appear in both “The Occult Experience” films are Anton LaVey and Alex Saunders. It’s been three decades since the last of these films was made; I hope the Wiccan legacy won’t be defined by these two in the decades to come.

If you’d like to see these films for yourself:

Originally published at Argothald. You can comment here or there.