The Holy Mountain, Tarot and Jodorowsky



There are few living in the world that know the tarot as profoundly and deeply as Alejandro Jodorowsky. And there are few films that are hypnotising as it is unsettling than his famed midnight movie: The Holy Mountain. Being Jodorowsky’s follow-up to the equally strange El Topo, The Holy Mountain is one that truly pronounces the Russian-Chilean-born director’s obsession with arcane and occult.

Through nothing other than bewildering, hyper surreal, dream-like sequences overtly laden with symbolism, numerology, juxtaposed esoteric imagery and bizarre depictions of spirituality- the film can be difficult to watch in its entirety. A sequence of tableaus so grotesquely beautiful and sadistically symmetrical they render you white-knuckled and fixated in bewilderment. Religious depictions are contrasted with some of the most deplorable scenes in cinema. The lack of dialogue only heightens the macabre vibration radiating from the screen. This is subversive cinema. The film is based on the books ‘Ascent of Mount Carmel’ by John of the Cross and ‘Mount Analogue’ by Rene Dumaul. The latter is an allegorical book that was never completed. ‘Mount Analogue’ is famous for its narrative that is completely nonsensical, but coded within it’s pages is a message entirely sensible. It follows a Christ-like figure-  one that mirrors the first card in the Tarot, 0 The Fool- who is on a mission to discover enlightenment, which supposedly waits at the top of the Holy Mountain.

It was through our research into the Tarot that we rediscovered this classic, counter cultural film, which is the perfect focus for your Halloween evening this year. This truly bizarre film did a lot for alternative cinema, and remains a definitive expression of the burgeoning hippie movement in the early seventies. J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum described the surrounding context of the film: ‘As the Vietnam war expanded and America’s “baby-boom” generation came of age, the underground was superseded by the “counterculture”- a youthful amalgam of radical politics, oriental (or occult) mysticism, “liberated” sexuality hallucinogenic drug, communal life-styles, and rock ‘n’ roll that was sufficiently widespread (and even organised) to see itself as a movement.’ It really is a trippy, psychedelic cinematic journey. Enhanced all the more by Jodorowsky not sleeping for a week under the supervision of a Zen master and a number of scenes created under the influence of psilocybin.

In fact, because they loved El Topo so dearly, it was George Harrison, John Lennon and Yoko Ono who encouraged the Beatles manager Allen Klein to produce the Holy Mountain for US audiences. George Harrison was even supposed to play the lead role in the film, but he eventually dropped the part after some arguments over nudity. Rest assured, regardless of whether you possess an interest in the occult, the Holy Mountain is a film that wholeheartedly lies in the world of Subcultural film. An interest in the alternate, in music, and in art is all that is needed to enjoy the bizarre boldness of this film.

We also find that the man behind the film is as interesting as the film itself. A man described by Peter Bradshaw as: ‘the countercultural magus, filmmaker and tarot fetishist’. Jodorowsky is someone who seems to live a life of constant fortunate twists of fate, synchronicities and parallels. One famed example of this, was when he recreated the entire Tarot de Marseille with the direct ancestor of the Camoin family who had manufactured the deck for generations. After the death of his father, Philippe Camoin was thrown into a deep depression and became a hermit of sorts; shutting himself away from the world. He started using the TV to communicate and answer pensive questions. He would think of something and push a random button on the remote, and whatever popped up on the TV was the answer to his question. After years of being holed away from society and ignoring his responsibilities to his lineage, he one day decided to ask ‘What should I do to continue the family tradition interrupted by the death of my father?’ He pushed a random button- and Jodorowsky appeared on the screen talking about his family’s Tarot. At this time, Jodorowsky was an expert on that specific version of the tarot, and used to give readings and teach people about the cards from a café in Paris. Completely moved by the event, Philippe reached out to Jodorowsky, and together they restored the Tarot to the original designs from when the Tarot de Marseille was first created. This was heavily controversial, as many meanings and symbologies of the cards were entirely flipped upside down in the restoration.

It is apparent that the more you research Jodorowsky, the more you realise that these events are not uncommon in his life. A life that is bordering on being just as surreal as his film, The Holy Mountain. Which brings us to our final thought for our Halloween post. That perhaps, rather than Jodorowsky living a uniquely magical life, or the Holy Mountain being a surreal vision of life, maybe it’s simply that life is magical, but only if you are open to it. Just as Jodorowsky is. So we leave you with the incentive to keep a look out for the twists of fate, synchronicities and parallels in your life too this winter, and let some magic in.