When you sift through all of the strange symbolism manifesting itself in the culture you have to ask yourself two questions- what does it mean and who put it there? At this stage in the game, intentional symbolism in movies, videos, games, etc. isn't really very interesting to me, in and of itself.
What I'm interested is the more revealing unintentional stuff, as well as the overall patterns and where they might be leading. The symbolic Narrative, in other words. Only it's harder to divine since there is so much noise out there. Which of course is exactly why there is so much noise out there.
I was particularly interested in the quasi-Masonic symbolism in the new Sherlock Holmes movie because of the context- the plot of the story deals with the power-hungry Lord Blackwood, who uses occult symbolism to terrify and distract everyone while he achieves his goals with hard science, much like the old stage magicians. The villain uses the fear and superstition inspired by his trickery as part of the act. He hires shills to freak out over his alleged supernatural powers and intimidate those trying to investigate them.
Oh, how familiar that sounds today.
The writers obviously did their homework, and studied how important the techniques of stage magic were to the Spiritualist movement and the occult secret societies of the time. Houdini- a disillusioned believer- went on the rampage against the mediums when he discovered they'd been misleading him. It was his example that lesser talents and intellects have aspired to since.
It's important to note there's another dynamic in the Sherlock Holmes film that maybe the writers didn't pick up on- the villain (apparently based on Crowley) was trading off of superstitions inspired by the Spiritualist movement, of which Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle was a lifelong true believer of.
I was thinking of villainous Lord Blackwood when watching the latest Jay-Z video. There's been some talk about the occult symbolism of it, but it seemed more goth than occult to me. I guess 'occult' means whatever people want it to these days. But I actually think the video is pretty impressive - everything except for Jay-Z himself, that is. He's by far the least interesting element of it- I was more interested in the ninja girl and the flaming basketballs than the same old rhymes about his money and his testicles.
But he's obviously a very smart guy- and has built a long-running career in a genre that has a brutal revolving-door policy when it comes to 'talent'. So, what do I think Jay-Z is up to with all of his pseudo-Masonic provocations? He tells you up front in the video - money (which itself is a kind of sorcery, especially these days).
He's generating controversy and controversy equals publicity, and publicity pays the bills in the current pop environment. The old 'occult provocation' bit is a sure-fire moneymaker if you handle it right, and just like Blackwood with his hysterical shills, Jay-Z uses the excitable drama queens on YouTube with their video "exposés" to keep the racket running. He's not worried about being "exposed"- he's depending on it. That's part of the game. Every con needs a shill, and dupes always make for the best shills.
It's a symbiotic relationship- Jay-Z cultivates the villainous/sorcerous mystique (a technique first perfected by Aleister Crowley himself) and everyone can pretend they're afraid of his (and Rihanna's and Gaga's, etc) empty signifying and take our minds off of the real villains and conspirators that are running roughshod over the world every minute of every day. It's a kind of psychic homeopathy. Alice Cooper did it in the 70s, Ozzy Ozbourne did it in the 80s and Marilyn Manson in the 90s. Money in the bank, pardner.
I don't mean to make it sound entirely inert. A lot of the memes being tossed around out there are extremely toxic. Which is why I didn't post that odious Lady Gaga video- by doing so I would be acting as her accomplice (well, her handlers- I don't think that ditz has two thoughts to rub together about anything). The people pumping the kind of dehumanizing imagery we're seeing (particularly in the fashion world) don't care if it upsets people- on the contrary, it's exactly what they're after. It's the old Épater la bourgeoisie bit, but toying with psychic forces best left be.
What some researchers don't realize is that if someone is trying to screw with people's heads (which is what all of this really comes down to) then if you act as a conduit by passing along all of the bad juju they're trying to circulate, then you are an accomplice to that process. It's like someone claiming to fight violent pornography by "exposing" it and filling their blogs with thousands of examples of it. It just doesn't work that way. On the contrary- people end up immersed in all of that unwholesomeness, which they'd likely ignore if it wasn't constantly being sensationalized. It's a kind of occult honey trap.
In addition, there is the danger of glamorizing the "glamour" and inspiring even more pernicious variants in the future. The Fundamentalist drama queens who demonized harmless 70s hard rock bands with their Satanic scare stories are the real godfathers of the Satanic metal that began to manifest itself in the 80s. I saw it happening. People would look at the nonsense Texe Marrs or Bob Larson put out there about Rock and accept it as a blueprint, not a warning. So Pastor Billy Bob thinks AC/DC is Satanic? Here, suck on Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. See how they taste.
I'll admit that what is generally considered to be 'occult' isn't really my beat. There are two basic streams in the esoteric world- the Cosmic (think sci-fi movies) and the Chthonic (think horror flix), and I think you all know where my heart lies. What's more, I'm not sure if there is such a thing as an 'occult' anymore. Occult means 'hidden', and none of it is hidden these days. It's all over the frickin' place now.
Now, I bring this up because I've been nursing a bit of a crisis when it comes to the Narrative. I'd assumed for many years that all of the symbolism we see out there is intentional and all pointed to some grand design. But the more symbolism I saw out there, the more problematic the question of intent became.
On the silly side of the street, we have Jay-Z in your face with whatever cobbled-together, Nuwaubian Illuminati fooforah he's trying to put across. Others are so blatant with their own version of it that it's really not much of a mystery what they're up to. Eyes-in-triangles and checkerboards and 666s and the Ouroboros are so common these days my Boston Terrier can pick them out. While yawning.
Generally speaking, artists looking to express esoteric symbolism or concepts in symbol are usually pretty open about it. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison are all too happy to chat about what they're up to in their writing. Back in the 60s, the normally reclusive Stanley Kubrick spoke at length about the mystical concepts he was trying to put across in 2001. Painters like Mark Ryden will go on at length about Alchemical symbolism or whatever else they're putting in their work. Tool, David Bowie and Jimmy Page's immersion in ritual magic is well known and they and others are usually open to discussing it.
Given that NASA is now calling rockets OSIRIS-REX, even Hoagland's worst detractors have to admit he's been spot on on the ritual aspects of the space program. Given all of the Solar symbolism that's suddenly everywhere in the supermarket (and Wal*Mart), it's probably not too much of a stretch to assume it's part of some unspoken agenda. And so on.
The point I'm trying to make here is that it's usually not hard to figure out when symbolism is intentional. But it's a classic beginner's mistake to assume that it all is. Because what is unintentional can often be far more interesting and useful.
And where my head is at (and where it's going) is the twilight crossroads of the conscious and unconscious worlds of symbol. Because symbolism I once thought was intentional I now believe is anything but (The 40 Year Old Virgin, for instance). And intentional-unintentional is just another way of saying conscious-unconscious.
And where the twain shall meet just might be the key to the Kingdom.