“The Occult Experience” of 1985
A friend pointed me to the Vimeo page where you can see The Occult Experience (95 min.), an Australian television documentary from 1985, researched and co-produced by Nevill Drury, on witchcraftandprimitivepeopleandsatanismandexorcismandallkindsofspookystuff.
Watching it was hard, because I kept turning away after encountering such portentous statements as “The search for supernatural powers continues in spite of science and technology” or that people practice “ancient Celtic traditions of nature worship.”
No one unpacks these assertions at all. Rather, they are just delivered as though they were the Final Word.
At one point, the narrator intones, “How does it feel to be a witch in the computer age?” (At the time the documentary was made, I thought my KayPro II portable personal computer was cutting-edge.)
It has its historical interest. Hey, there’s Herman Slater doing ritual in a Manhattan street. Why? You won’t learn from the film!
And at about the 20-minute mark, Alex Sanders delivers version number 1,045 of the original “I was initiated by my grandmother” story, which has been imitated so many times.
Back then, boys and girls, to be a Craft leader you had to have some special story to tell about your magical heritage or you were nobody.
And look, there is Janet Farrar taking her clothes off while chatting with her late husband, Stewart. And the paintings of Rosaleen Norton—can’t have an Australian production without those. Drury would build his later academic career on them.
The whole film is thunderingly pretentious and yet basically content-free. You would not learn anything systematic here about the development of contemporary Paganism—which might be Satanic and which might be “primitive” and might involve “altered states of consciousness” (quick clip of Esalen), and is certainly spooky spooky or silly silly, depending on your perspective.
It make me wish that I could take those clips and arrange them into a meaningful narrative. Maybe some day someone will.