Originally published on September 23, 2009 this essay remains a very popular one. We have added considerable amount of new material to place in a social-psychological context suitable for current readers.
The Dark Knight and Our Deepest Fears
I recently  had the opportunity to see the much vaunted new Batman movie, The Dark Knight. For those of you who have not seen it, well, it lived up to the hype. It is well written, directed, acted, shot, and edited – not to mention long. However, in one respect, despite all of this, should you not see it, well, then you can still die happy. Without giving away any spoilers, the story is in many ways a concrete reflection of some of the deepest yearnings in the American, and I must say, the collective consciousness of the world. This is in part because the United States of America, (according to astrologers out there) being born under the sign of Cancer, is generally speaking, a nation of deep reflection – despite appearances to the contrary. The number of books in the self-help, psychology, religion, and occultism published annually attest to the nation’s near obsession with navel gazing.
However, the country is also moved by inner yearnings and unconscious impulses that appear to suddenly sweep into manifestation and then disappear. The speed with which popular memes and themes, products and personality, causes and catastrophes come and go, even before a typical marketing season is over is now commonplace. The “Wisdom of Solomon” so aptly stated as “this too shall pass” can also be seen here.
Through the entertainment industries tools of movies, television, steaming video on demand, we have come to believe and accept, that for the most part, America is ‘the land of opportunity’ or where the dreams of the psyche can come true – and not just on the ‘silver screen.’ However, along with dreams of health, happiness, progress, and spiritual awakening, there are also shadow figures, demons, and a host of anti-dreams, nightmares that are secretly and even publicly cultivated by individuals and groups, whose primary tool is the mass media as well. With this, we also include video games whose principle theme is murder and mayhem.
Given that America exports the majority of films, radio programs, and video games that it produces to the rest of the world, their content plays a significant role in becoming the stuff that fills and shapes the collective consciousness of the world we live in. I find it no surprise that there should be a news story this week of a many being murdered and decapitated as he slept on a Greyhound Bus trip. The murder was carrying the victims head to the front of the bus to taunt those who watched in horror outside. Is there a connection between this and the millions of minds watching mayhem unfold in Gotham City? Of course there is. At the end of the day, there is only one egregore or psychic environment (some would say mind, but that is not it) that engulfs our blue marble, and what we put into it shapes our collective reality – at least as far as such a thing as a collective reality can exist on the level of individual perception.
For us, that means that The Dark Knight is more than just a metaphor for the unlikely hero, but also a stage of psychic breakdown and reduction, wherein each of us is forced to address what really matters, what is true from that which is false. The hero who seeks to do the right thing for the wrong reasons (in the case of Bruce Wayne as Batman that is revenge for the murder of his parents when he was a child) meets the villain who does the wrong thing for the right reasons (the Joker, who brings anarchy into the world to show that people are for the most part constrained by self imposed rules, even Batman). This meeting of two opposites means that the average person, men and women who try to do the right thing for the right reasons, are caught in the middle of a fight in which they have little power to influence as long as they keep playing by the rules of conventional morality and ethics.
In some respects we can see Bruce Wayne/Batman as a tantric adept. He was after all trained in a Tibetan hermitage run by the League of Assassins with Ra’s al Ghul as his teacher, or a modern magus, capable of wielding tremendous power, shaping the world as he wills, and doing so behind the mask of Dianic Darkness. Like the gods, even Wayne/Batman has limits, but acts as if he had none. He is total confidence, focus, and victorious in that he allows nothing to deter him from his chosen goal, and pays whatever price it asks. He, as the Tibetan Buddhists say, brings his anger and rage into the path and uses them for something beneficial even at a cost to himself. Batman is the Wrathful Deity that knows its actions are right because they are right for the particular moment in which they are done, and not for another. He is the gargoyle that sits like a guardian above Gotham City, looking to frighten the wrongdoers, but it is too late. The enemy is not at the gates, they have already entered the city.
Making Evil Sexy
In The Dark Knight we also see a more disturbing reflection of our collective psyche, in that ever since Charles Manson appeared on the scene, the various media have begun to portray evil as sexy. This trend reached its full expression with Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, M.D., who was not only sadistic and vicious, but also genius. A raw attraction to such a character being so out of touch with reality is testimony to its underlying danger. Wherein like the guards of the infamous death camps of Nazi Germany or Khmer Rouge’s killing fields, serial killers to date have shown themselves in reality to be below average in intelligence, under performers with nothing special about themselves; they are distinguished only by the number of human beings they have murdered. With the Joker, we see evil taken to the next level, nearly supernatural in that he is a veritable incarnation, a force rather than an individual.
In fact, since the original writing of this essay in 2009 the Joker and his pathological partner described as “a whole lot of pretty and a whole lot of crazy” who wears torn fishnet stockings, ‘Daisy Duke’ short, with her hair done in infantilizing pigtails, topped off with platform lace-up red leather boots while using a baseball bat as her weapon of choice, she is the perfect embodiment of an adolescent violent pornographic fantasy.
Villains have gone from being either flat two-dimensional stereo-types (such as your average bad guy in an action film) or redeemable (think Darth Vader or Loki), to characters complex enough to be more interesting than the hero. The critical part being that they stay evil, they are designed to make evil appealing, and in doing so, is a serious misrepresentation of basic moral choices. They are in many ways the contemporary equivalent of the various crime films of the 1970s through early 2000s in which America’s fascination with organized crime, gangsters, and the mob is taken to level of near hero worship. That is, no matter how violent, cruel, sadistic, and destructive they were, nice clothes, pretty women, unlimited money, and some vague ‘code of honor’ was used to make it appear all right to be ‘in the life.’
But violence is the reality. With it we see the transformation of this violence in criminal activity to include not just a ‘code of honor’ but also pseudo-religious and outright religious and even occult expressions. One need only examine the expansion and internationalization of religious and occult doctrines as part of criminal organizations, primarily the drug trade. These are not the vaguely initiatic ‘naming’ rites of induction that are alluded to in the Mafia. Nor is it the charges of gun running, money laundering, conspiracy to commit murder, and a host of other charges that made headlines with Rajneesh’s community in Oregon or Claire Prophet’s compound in Montana. It is also a not the unsubstantiated claims of ritual abuse, kidnapping, and murder that were part and parcel of the “Satanic Panic” of the 1980s.
No, these groups can and rightly are designated as criminal and terrorist organizations and are increasingly internationalized. In his discussion of this topic David Metcalfe, Editor-in-Chief of Threshold: Journal of Interdisciplinary Consciousness Studies writes in an article appearing in the online publication Medium on May 25, 2018:
“A few years ago, Dr. Robert Bunker, 2015 Futurist in Residence at the FBI’s training facility in Quantico, Virginia released an anthology, Blood Sacrifices: Violent Non-State Actors & Dark Magico-Religious Activities — this is a must read for those in the contemporary ‘occult revival’ who misconstrue identity politics for spirituality — and even more so for those who recognize the incredible power that spiritual traditions hold for those who seriously pursue them.”
Metcalfe, himself an authority on the various aspects of the internationalization of the Mexican folk religion of Santa Muerte, further states:
“The views of professionals within the military, defense, intelligence and judicial branches of the government are often misrepresented in the media in regard to this topic. Through my own work on the Santa Muerte tradition, I can say that the publicly available official analysis of crimes associated with Santa Muerte are chilling — most of the information is closed off as it relates to active investigations, but what is public is incredibly disturbing and needs to be addressed and not ignored or obscured. This is not the mediated sub-culture that has become public in the United States we are talking about — this is the sanctification of death by individuals who are often already capable of extreme acts of violence and criminality.”
However, what may be most disturbing to many is their direct employment by leaders of these movements – in the 21st Century – of sorcerers using ritualized torture and murder to assist in their activities. Nor is it anything new as we have seen in the recent publication by Peter Mark Adams, The Game of Saturn (Scarlet Imprint, 2017).
“Finally, the pragmatic employment of the ‘clerical underworld,’ ritual specialists employed to anticipate events, defend interests and discomfort opponents, can be added to the rich mix [of religious and occult duties of some mid and low level clerics].”
Adams goes on to point out something we too often forget: that magic is a direct reflection of the society in which it is practiced. Modern occultism is very much about self-development and utopian ideals. This is a result of the luxury and wealth afforded its practitioners, they live in relative safety.
Adams quotes one of his sources who state:
“Techniques of dark shamanism may become entwined with the exercise of political power…even at the regional of state level.”
“We saw how the elite of Bologna and Modena united to defend their clerics, who were openly engaged in the practices of demonic magic. This strongly suggests that these ritual specialists were fully integrated into the life of their respective communities and regions. Routinely called upon to provide their services, they developed their expertise in the first place because there was a ready market for their skills. We find the contemporary author of The Book of Abramelin describing the various occasions on which he was called upon to provide magical services to nobles… Any professional sorcerer would need to have been, to some extent, a trusted insider; someone sharing strong bonds of mutual interest with the elites he served; perhaps enjoying a position, income and protection at the behest of the ruling family.”
As I have previously stated, it is naïve to think that with time, these same ruling families who would inter-marry, found and expand what has become the international banking system, commerce, and royal lines would co-exist in perfect harmony with all of its member parts forming a unified front. A simple study of any dictatorship reveals the role of competing oligarchs in every political structure. Yet, it is equally naïve to think that they kept sorcerers around for generations because without it producing some objective results they felt they could trust and believe in. So, why is it that some occultists will recognize that baby murdering debauched demon worshipers existed at the center of some of the most important political decisions of human history 500 years ago, and yet most think that they no longer exist today? Just because it is a theory, it doesn’t mean the conspiracy may not be real.
Media as Creator of the Modern Thought Form Come to Life
What does this have to do with Batman? In some ways, everything as we are presented with the question of art in some way imitating reality, and reality being influenced by art.
On one level, with Batman we see the moral good taken to the extreme, an extreme out of touch with earlier expressions of good as an individual expression within the collective integrity of society. It is no surprise that after two generations of castrating the Western male and advocating for the mommy state of cradle to grave safety from ourselves as well as every possible imagined danger, the hero du jour in a collapsing metrosexual, self-indulgent, media zombied culture would be a man of pure force. Pure in that it is single focused; pure because it acts knowing what it right and what needs to be done without asking for mommy’s permission, and yet, must wear a mask to protect his true identity because the very sheep he seeks to save will suddenly become the hyenas that scavenge for his wounded bones given the opportunity. Batman is the cry for a savior, another messianic mythology for the Twenty-First Century.
Now, ten years after this essay was first written we see the same cry amplified in the success of the various Marvel movies focusing on the characters who comprise ‘The Avengers’. Now it is a team of heroes, a veritable pantheon – complete with gods such as Thor and Loki, and god-like beings made so by the power of human brilliance and technology.
The questions here are simple as well: what is the power of human thought beyond the brain of the thinker? What is the power of thought extended through various media? To answer these we need only look to modern advertising – it exists because it works. But how? What is the power of repeated exposure to an idea or image?
In his strange and peculiar autobiography, Alvin Schwartz, the writer for the comic book superhero “Superman in the 1930s and 1940s, stated in a presentation entitled, “The Real Secret of Superman’s Identity” that “Superman acquired a kind of reality that controlled his writers and editors without their realizing it.” Now, this is important regardless of our belief of Schwartz’s claims of Superman actually taking on some kind of physical form because we are talking about an idea taking on such strength in the lives of those immersed in it that it unconsciously directs their decisions in relationship to it. In previous essays we have referred to this as an egregore, or collective or communal mindset that influences and can even control, the daily lives of its members.
Since the publication of Schwartz’s autobiography An Unlikely Prophet: A Metaphysical Memoir of the Legendary Writer of Superman and Batman in 1997 (under a different title), and its follow-up book, A Gathering of Selves: The Spiritual Journey of the Legendary Writer of Superman and Batman dissecting the relationship between comic books heroes and their counterparts in the classical pantheons has become a cottage industry and academic staple. What is often ignored however, is a discussion of the impact these images have on our self-image, and therefore, on life itself.
Comic books, or graphic novels as they are now called, are no long something for the pre-pubescent audience. They are mass market publications aimed at young adult and adult males who have the disposable income to afford their somewhat hefty cover price. This also does not include the ‘collectables industry’ or more precisely, toys for an adult, which is a multi-billion dollar business. High priced statues of characters like Wonderwoman, Batman, Spiderman, and their villain counterparts, the Joker and his consort Harlequin take the place where religious icons would have once sat on the family mantle. Characters are discussed in relation to what is considered original textual references or those added on by later authors or even fans. Thus we have the use of religious terms ‘canonical’ and ‘non-canonical’ in reference to what is considered doctrine and heresy in these superhero worlds. Worlds aptly referred to as the DC, Marvel, or even Star Wars ‘universe’. Not only have the characters been elevated to a near divine status, they have their own god realms as well.
In many ways what we are seeing with the infiltration of entertainment industry mythologies into the mainstream is a near permanent infantilizing of a large swath of the American male population in fantasy universes of comprised primarily of magic, technology, violence and pseudo-porn.
Simultaneously we are seeing the same media tools, mental processes, and dramatic power of the imagination being used by terrorist and criminal movements to shape and control their self-image, identity, and the world in which they live. Whereas the ideal of Superman or Batman may by sheer force of repetition, come to have a life of its own on those who deal with it daily, those involved in narco-trafficking are actively seeking to incarnate their dark ideals to the same degree. It should be no surprise that young men also make up the greater part of the ‘audience’ of criminal death cults.
But officially designated ‘death cults’ and ancient criminal families are not the only one’s interested in psychic abilities. Despite all of the scientific claims to the contrary research in psychic phenomena chugs along in both unofficial and official circles. This research is not limited to the past. To Nazi dowsing experiments, Warsaw Pact psychotronics, CIA’s MK Ultra, or the Pentagon’s Remote Viewing project. No, we see this continuing across the globe on large and small scale programs, some of which include operative magic alongside parapsychology. As recent as the late 1990s and early 2000s (a report on the topic was prepared for the US Airforce in 2004) the Chinese government reported success at teleportation of objects using controlled and repeatable psychic means. Whether this is credible research or disinformation has yet to be revealed. What matters is that is even discussed at all among the highest levels of government.
This brings us back to an important question as to how this all ties together: is it possible that the common theme is the desire to either have control over one’s life, as well as to hide from its realities? That young men are increasingly disconnected from the world around them regardless of their social status? Retreat in the imagination is seen as one of the few options left to them? That governments as well as criminal and para-military groups (or ‘non-state actors as they are called) in sensing the limits of physical violence and psychological intimidation are willing to look into the paranormal for an additional edge on their competition?
Maybe we should look to the legendary poet Tagore for inspiration when we read,
‘Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers
but to be fearless facing them.
Let me not beg for stilling of my pain
but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield
but to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved
but for hope and patience to win my freedom.”
How does this relate to various obsessions with the recent mania of 2012 and related Apocalypticism you ask? Very simple. What will good people do when the world is perceived as being broken? When the system appears to no longer work as we believe it should or could? When corruption is thought to be everywhere and trust is a previous commodity? This is the secondary theme of The Dark Knight and one each of us will be forced to answer at some point in our lives, be it on some grand scale or on the smaller microcosm of our church, neighborhood, or borough politics. We will not be able to turn to a superhero to solve our problems, we will have to step up and solve them ourselves. We will not be able to pray to some Protector Deity, we will have to BE the Protector Deity and all that such a statement means.
To quote Count Keyserling, “Man is exactly as immortal as his ideal and exactly as real as the energy with which he serves it.” The Dark Knight trilogy grossed over $2.380 billion at the box office worldwide when they were released. That does not including the money spent on refreshments, gas, parking, or toys and collectibles made by China, Inc. and subsequent sale of DVDs and soundtracks (the mantra of the movie).
Over the last ten years zombies and other dystopian fantasies of the near future has become the staple of entertainment and psychic distraction for both the masses and those who consider themselves among the spiritually elite in the various magical, neo-pagan, and New Age movements alike. Given the amount of energy put into these visions of life, and their inherently sadomasochistic themes of alienation, chaos, fear, and hypocrisy it is time that we rethink our individual and collective ideals.