The Pantheon Bar
AlejandroJodorowsky’s film The Holy Mountain follows the journey of a Christ-like character known only as ‘The Thief’ as he comes under the tutelage of a Master Alchemist. His goal is to achieve a spiritual transmutation, or enlightenment, by seeking out the Holy Mountain. The Thief is accompanied by seven companions who travel with him through a series of spiritual revelations. Towards the end of the film, the group comes to a place called Lotus Island. There they are approached by a host who offers congratulations on a successful journey and invites them to join him at The Pantheon Bar where a raucous party is underway. The Host explains that this is where the spiritual masters gather to celebrate their achievements. The group is given a sampling of the party’s attendants.
The group is first brought to an orator, who explains that enlightenment resides in his speech. He claims that his poems may manifest flowers and the bees would then come to suckle at his living poetry. But when the orator stretches out his hand, he is able only to conjure a swarm of flies.
The group is then brought to a man who explains that all spiritual imagery should be interpreted as metaphorical for hallucinogenic experiences. A nervous looking boy stands to the man’s side, holding tray of pill bottles. The man then attempts to demonstrate his claim by forcing the boy to swallow the contents of one bottle. The shot changes as the boy begins to choke and scream.
The group is then brought to an archetypal strongman who claims that he has already conquered by the Holy Mountain by moving through it horizontally. When asked if he can ascend it vertically as well, he says no, but that the ascent is irrelevant. He goes on touting that what really matters is the ability to move through the Mountain.
The group is convinced by none of this and quickly departs. Outside the Pantheon Bar, the host makes one last desperate attempt to convince the group to return, promising them awards and fame, but the group does not look back.
While the three attendants represent different kinds of misguidance, it should be noted that none of them represent a specific discipline in itself. Rather, they represent errors that can occur in any tradition.
The criticisms against gilded speech are many. What appears complex is used to cover what is simple, what appears mystic is used to cover what is dull. All these criticisms can be valid, but they are mostly exoteric, that is, they are used to describe what goes on beyond the self. Since the search for the Holy Mountain is to be understood as an inner journey, the criticism needs to made internally. The orator claims that his words can create roses. He does not offer a complex reason for why this so, nor does he make his proclamation in ornate terms, nor does he demand any sign of submission from the group. However, he fails to demonstrate the one power that he claims to possess.
It is immensely difficult to explain fully why we do the things we do, particularly when careful self-observation (or the blunt observations of others) so frequently reveals inconsistencies and double-standards. And yet, coming into contact with these discrepancies rarely leads to the collapse of our whole worldview. There is some internal process working it all out, making corrections in some cases, making peace with inevitabilities in others, but always searching for a way of moving on. It’s just not always expressible. We aid ourselves by borrowing the philosophies and techniques of others. But as Gottfried Leibniz pointed out, “Every doctrine is true in what it asserts but false in, or because of, what it excludes.” The current political mess is a demonstration of this. Everyone is good at criticizing the orator in front of them, but poor at considering the possibility that they themselves might be the orator to someone else. Correcting this requires no deep level of knowledge. It just takes the courage to look inside and ask if our intentions and actions are really matching up.
The contemporary psychedelic movement is going through something like a dress-rehearsal right now. It’s aiming for the center stage, but its not there yet. It is currently leveraging itself as a treatment for issues like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The last one is a particularly important toehold for winning over typically conservative skeptics because of its relevance to veteran’s issues. Cannabis oil has also shown an immense amount of power as a medical treatment. The resistance to this kind of research is present, but fairly inert—unable to launch any kind of counteroffensive. But the claim that a society more open with the use of psychedelic drugs will be more peaceable is another matter.
The Holy Mountain was released in 1973. It was clear by that point that the lofty goals of the ‘60’s psychedelic movement were not coming to fruition. The psychedelist is representative of that movement’s fallout. His speech his mumbled and his points are unconvincing. He represents the burnout, a caricature with which we all have some idea of and therefore need not harp on. But he may now be complimented with another side of the issue, the psychedelics enthusiast who does not seem to gain anything from the experience. This is the odd catch-22 that the current movement faces, that while the original psychedelic culture was stamped out for threatening to overturn the establishment, it is now being given a second chance under the condition that it behaves in a more business-like manner. Psychedelics are being asked to present themselves as another product amongst products. The early proponents of the psychedelic movement proclaimed that young people who had positive experiences with these drugs would have no interest in participating in the present social system. That has been demonstrated to be untrue. There are absolutely people out there who have taken immense amounts of psychedelics and then gone onto become police officers, corporate lawyers, and IRS agents. It’s in some ways ironic, the final group to be blown out of their comfort zone by psychedelics would be the psychedelists themselves.
This is not to discourage anyone curious about psychedelics from experimenting with them. But it is to point out that since the effects vary from person to person, those potentialities of a trip (be they a long-lasting set of benefits, a miserable experience, or a temporary set of hallucinations) must exist independent of the substances themselves. The drug can only activate what is already present in the mind. Therefore, they may be a part of the journey, but cannot be considered as the sum of the journey.
A bit similar to the shortcomings of the psychedelic movement are those of what we might called faux-spiritual super-athletes. The errors are similar, namely in thinking that demonstratable experiences must automatically correspond to inner development. It’s a point that both Anton LaVey and Jesus appear to agree on. LaVey’s Satanic Bible speaks of disregard for those who exalt in their own ability to fold themselves ‘like pretzels’ while Jesus rebukes those who love to be seen with pained faces in times of fasting. But like the burnout, this critique has also made itself succinctly known in popular culture. This ‘King of the Hill’ clip should make it all clear:
There is another facet to the shortcomings of the strongmen, that of his frenzied dash from point to point along the base of the mountain. The strongman is able to triumph at every starting point, but follows no single path into its ascent. Worse than merely walking away because the path seems difficult, he instead deludes himself into thinking he blazing a trail of victory after victory. Such an attitude is the opposite of nearly every spiritual discipline. It is not the body that is enhanced by the discipline, but the discipline that is enhanced by the service of the body. This may sound complex, but it is not. It simply means that higher pursuits usually demand a personal sacrifice from the people involved for the sake of greater spirit, and that the measure of the sacrifice increases with the veneration of the pursuit. We would be put off by highly decorated general badmouthing the citizens of his country, or a medical doctor revealing lewd details about a patient, or a famous artist announcing that nothing is greater than the pursuit of money. Even if all three are adept in their given fields, additional expectations are made for their characters. The highest regarded practitioners of any discipline are celebrated for living a life dedicated to the exemplification of virtuous principles, not just the accomplishment of certain tasks.
None of the three attendants represent a tradition in itself. None require an extensive experience with different thought systems, writings, or podcasts in order to be understood. As a method of self-study, none seeks to pit ism against ism.