A Psychomagical Encounter

In life, as well as film, Chilean-born director Alejandro Jodorowsky is avant-garde

Although Chilean-born director Alejandro Jodorowsky is best known for his psychedelic, violent movies (El Topo, The Holy Mountain), he has also been, at one time or another during his 75 years on Earth, the mime protégé of Marcel Marceau, a surrealist performance artist, an esoteric comic-book author, and a tarot card reader. In life, as well as film, Jodorowsky is avant-garde. In a 1979 interview with Penthouse, the filmmaker spoke openly of demonstrating sexual positions with his wife for his curious, 7-year-old son, Axel. In his arguably most accessible movie, Santa Sangre, a circus family falls apart after a boy sees his mother's arms sliced off by his knife-thrower father and loses his mind. As an adult (played by then-20-year-old Axel Jodorowsky), the character is forced into a semi-incestuous relationship with his mother in which he acts as her "arms."

Jodorowsky appeared late last month at the California Institute for Integral Studies, but, somehow unsurprisingly, his lecture had absolutely nothing to do with film. Instead, it focused on "Psychomagic," described in the institute's literature as a healing practice developed by Jodorowsky that "uses the language of the subconscious to undo our deepest knots, phobias, fixations, and obsessions."

Inside the institute's Namaste Hall, chairs had been cleared away to fit a sellout crowd; Jodorowsky fans eagerly huddled together on the carpet. The Parisian-based filmmaker was jaunty and distinguished in a navy blue suit, no tie, and shocking white hair and beard. He cracked jokes and smiled warmly, belying his reputation as a reclusive eccentric. His eyes, accentuated by sweeping, Mephistophelean eyebrows, seemed to suggest derangement.

In front of a backdrop of Spanish tarot cards that he later used to give readings for audience members, Jodorowsky launched into a sparkling diatribe against Christianity and Buddhism. Both religions, he opined, are sadly lacking in joie de vivre.

"I am not guilty to be born," he declared. "I love to be born!"

Without much more of a preamble, he took questions to demonstrate the practice of psychomagic.

"I have a sister who died recently in El Salvador," said a young man in the audience. "She was the favorite of my father."

"Was your mother absent?" Jodorowsky asked. She was, the young man admitted. After more questioning, Jodorowsky determined that the young man was suffering from a lack of love from his family, and that to feel love, he must become his sister.

"You need to dress up as your sister -- as a woman," and then find a little boy who would serve as a psychological stand-in for himself as a child, Jodorowsky said. "Then you must take the little boy to Disneyland!"

There was much appreciative laughter.

Another young man raised his hand and said he had "250 dreams" that he felt compelled to "turn into reality," but he didn't know how. When pressed by Jodorowsky, the man described a typical dream, in which he found himself spinning in space, with stars all around him.

"You are an adult, but these are a child's dreams," Jodorowsky chided. The psychomagical cure for the dream conundrum, Jodorowsky said, also involved going to Disneyland. But the man must dress as a child and wear a Shirley Temple wig. "And your nose -- painted red!" he added as an afterthought.

Another man told Jodorowsky that his sister had a "strange illness" that caused her to fall asleep on her feet three days before her period began.

"Your sister cannot realize herself as a woman," Jodorowsky theorized.

"That's actually true," the man said. "She felt that our parents didn't love her."

"She should make a self-portrait in her menstrual blood," said Jodorowsky.

A female audience member said she was tormented by the seemingly paradoxical desires of making art and making money.

"Money is male. Money is phallic," said Jodorowsky. "You need to discover your kind of money. The good kind of money. ... The good money is creativity!"

The filmmaker recommended that the woman insert "seven pieces of gold" into her vagina while painting.

These psychomagical rituals, Jodorowsky told the delighted audience, came to him spontaneously. He believes practices like these can free people from their hang-ups. Some problems, however, require more workaday remedies.

"What should I do about my hemorrhoids?" asked an older woman from the back of the room.

"You must use green clay powder!" Jodorowsky announced. "That's what I use." He leaned forward to better hear something being shouted at him from the front row, then added helpfully, "You can get it at Rainbow [Grocery]." (Lessley Anderson)

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