BEYOND KING PAIMON: BEHEADING IN “HEREDITARY” MEETS THE HEADLESS WAY
BOOK I of THE DISGRACED MARTYR TRILOGY is available for pre-order on Amazon.com at the low price of $4.99! Spend that money now so you can dive into the first installment in the most violent and disturbing cyberpunk/horror trilogy to come along in years when it releases on May 19th, and in the meantime, check out the Goodreads reviews to whet your appetite for what’s to come.
I’ll level with you, readers. I left my theater viewing of Hereditary last year fully intending to give you a badass essay on the subject—but I also left my theater viewing of Hereditary, well, a little bothered. Sometimes synchronicity is fun and sometimes it’s a little shocking, a little challenging. I don’t want to go into why because trying to weave some kind of personal angle into this essay has been what’s holding it up, I realize now. But I will say that the theme of beheading—what it meant to me symbolically and how it impacted my life personally—had been on my mind for about five or six months before I sat down in that theater more or less completely blind to what was about to unfold.
There are loads of spoilers in this essay, so be forewarned—and also understand that, because the symbolism of beheading is our real focus here, rather than an analysis of the plot of Hereditary, there’s a large amount of background on the subject of the symbol (and its magickal applications for practicing occultist) before we dive too deeply into the use and meaning of the symbol in the plot. I’ve written this essay assuming that the reader has already viewed Hereditary and either was intrigued by the esoteric symbolism, or has an esoteric background of some kind themselves and might even be a little pissed off by its casual use. I’ll admit, every time I read an interview with the film’s talented writer, where Ari Aster just sort of shrugs and goes “lol I dunno the devil was played out and King Paimon seemed cool,” I cringe in physical pain. But when I left that theater, I was challenged in more ways than one, because I had a very palpable sense that I and all the audience members—and perhaps the script’s writer—had all been used as means to a demon’s ends: even if that end is simply spiritual liberation.
Yes, I know. I sound like a soccer mom trying to describe why Monster Energy Drink cans are proof that the company is in league with Satan. But the magicians among us understand that first and foremost, ritual magick involves work with energy—usually emotional energy—in the form of a sigil, which is generally best described as any kind of work of art created with specific magickal intent. In Dr. Kirby Surprise’s magnificent Synchronicity: The Art of Choice, Coincidence, And Unlocking Your Mind, he describes very clearly that synchronicity—and ritual magick—operates based on “emotional valence”. I think of emotions as operating in an additional dimension—that is, an additional direction, not some pseudo-magickal ‘plane’ or something suspended out in nowhere. Just as length, height, width, and time are all dimensions, perception (or consciousness, if you’d rather) is arguably the next measurable (semi-measurable) dimension; then it would follow that emotions would be, if not a dimension of their own, various “directions” within that dimension. Dr. Surprise has his own way of describing synchronicity.
Synchronicity as a phenomenon has been referred to since long before Jung, though not in so many words. In The Goetia aka Key of Solomon, Aleister Crowley writes of ceremonial magick:
Magical phenomena, however, come under a special sub-class [of phenomena dependent on brain-changes], since they are willed, and their cause is the series of “real” phenomena, called the operations of ceremonial Magic.
These consist of
The circle, square, triangle, vessels, lamps, robes, implements, etc.
As under (1)
The combination of all these and reflection on their significance
These unusual impressions (1-5) produce unusual brain-changes; hence their summary (6) is of an unusual kind. Its projection back into the apparently phenomenal world is therefore unusual.
Herein then consists the reality of the operations and effects of ceremonial magic, and I conceive that the apology is ample, as far as the “effects” refer only to those phenomena which appear to the magician himself, the appearance of the spirit, his conversation, possible shocks from imprudence, and so on, even to ecstasy on the one hand, and death or madness on the other.
For those who got lost somewhere in that last paragraph, Crowley is effectively saying, “Look, sorry I can’t prove anything to you plebian normies. *snorts line of coke* You’re just going to have to try it yourself and see what happens.”
Or, to put it another way—the effects of ritual magick, or any magick, are measured in synchronicity, which is a subjective and personal phenomenon rather than a measurable, objective effect.
What does this have to do with King Paimon, and Hereditary? Well, it just so happens that this same Goetia is the source material whence Ari Aster pulled the King of the West, or at least, it’s the one which he’s referenced and which gets referenced in a lot of press clippings about the film. This becomes a very interesting point when you consider that the entire purpose of the film is to drive its characters ever closer to a climax in the form of a ritual to allow King Paimon to inhabit a male body, and that there is no denouement. The film simply ends, cold and black, as we are sitting at the height of emotional exhaustion and waiting for any kind of conclusion or satisfaction. And it ends right in the middle of the ritual, where things are at their height.
The reason why I was disturbed when walking out of Hereditary was not because of the beheading synchronicities, and the way the movie made me think about my own traumas and losses. The reason I was disturbed on leaving that movie because I—and an entire audience of people—had, much like the characters in the film, been nonconsensually forced into participating in a ritual in honor of King Paimon. And, as somebody who has venerated King Paimon since the time I became initiated into the occult in 2016, I have to admit that I was a little violated. Paradoxically, this is what makes it both a successful film and a successful ritual. Because the film itself was a ritual, of course—a hypersigil, if you absolutely insist, Grant Morrison—and therefore a magician must see in this film a kind of meta-intent. Much as I tend to analyze books and films on this blog with an eye toward several layers of interpretation, this ritual must be analyzed on multiple levels. All works of art—except, in the case of such rotten and nihilistic pieces like the plays of suicide victim Sarah Kane, or Kafka’s cockroach other self withering away as he did soon after—tend to ultimately be a hypersigil, ritual, what have you, and tend to indicate a desire for success on the part of the author or initiate. One feels that the film is a devotional, that Ari Aster is expressing his own crossroads story—how high trauma and high distress leads the initiate into the arms of the devil, who destroys the initiate’s former life while promising endless glory.
I’d say Ari Aster is pretty goddamn successful, and I say, good for him. Whether or not he comes out of the closet as an eloquent occultist in the future, we’ll have to see. For right now he’s playing coy, but as his upcoming Midsommar gets advertised with increasing fervor, I have to say—I hope that he really is a practicing, knowledgeable occultist. Because if he is just somebody fooling around with occult themes to make a quick buck, he is doing a very bad, bad thing, and doing it in complete ignorance. He’s very talented and has a very bright career ahead of him, but who knows what could happen when you’re filming love letters to King Paimon? It’s true King Paimon, of all Goetic demons, is safest to venerate and work with, being as he is a teacher, magician, and something of an alchemist, but it’s more important to consider the impact the mainstreaming of the occult may have on future generations. To my mind, such a thing is positive, but to conventional experience, this is arguably a sinister end to Aster’s film. Aster himself says in an interview, “I’m not superstitious, but I’m just paranoid enough to not want to actually invoke anything that shouldn’t exist.”
In my humble opinion, mistakes were made right there. You cannot use these motifs and fail to invoke these entities. Aster mentions in the same interview that although the film draws on these themes it evades showing anything in explicit detail, but in that case, the film itself becomes the ritual. All films are rituals. Hopefully Aster learns that someday.
All that aside, though: what about the beheading? Beheading is not a part of King Paimon’s background. You could make a vague argument based on the fact that depictions of King Paimon usually do depict him with a female head, but this is more likely to be due to the fact that he is derived from Mesopotamian goddess culture than it is due to any backstory of beheading. So where does beheading come into the symbolism of this movie, and why is it bothering me so much that I’ve written a whole ~8 page essay about it?
One thing which I find very interesting is that, around the time of the film’s theatrical release—partly as a reflex relating to how beheading synchronicities piled up in my life at the time—I had come back venerating Lord Ganesha, who, like King Paimon, is a Lord of Hosts, dealing strongly in wisdom and, specifically, scribes. As I am a writer, I find no finer expression pre-existing expression of the pristine godhead; and as, in the past, Lord Ganesha had entered my life in small ways, I had decided in that half-impulsive way of synchronistic intuition to begin venerating him in earnest. I purchased a small statue and an incense burner with a small rendering of Ganesh upon it. I then began, once a month, to offer him sweets and flowers.
Just after getting these statues, I sat down in the theater to watch Hereditary. There was much anticipation. I knew nothing of the film other than the very ambiguous trailer, and a lot of buzz about how everybody I knew wanted to see it. Intrigued, I went to see it in a fairly packed theater, and I felt the Lord Ganesha speak within my heart. “Pay close attention,” he said. “There is something in this film I want you to see.”
Boy howdy, but when a message like that comes through that clearly does it ever end up being right. The event on which the film turns, the accidental beheading of the child Charlie who we will later learn was the (failed) incarnation of King Paimon, shocked and sickened the whole theater, myself included. And I am no bleeding heart, no simpering fool who shies from horror. A nauseous atmosphere settled upon the entire theater and my mind began to race.
For those Westerners who are unaware, beheading is integral to the story of Lord Ganesha. There are many sources and a few variants, but the long and short of it is that the Lord is the son of Pavarti, or the mother of the universe, and Shiva, the Destroyer, supreme being and/or highly venerated counterpart of the “real” divine being of the goddess, depending upon the sect you’re asking. The story goes that Shiva cut off Ganesha’s head after Pavarti created the boy, and when his wife objected, Shiva replaced the missing head with the head of an elephant.
For some time after seeing Hereditary, I remained plagued by beheading symbolism, and I understood that I was meant to investigate this symbol which so impacted me before I could fully integrate it into my sense of self—and, of course, before I could even think about writing this essay. Part of the problem is that when you go to research beheading in any mystical or esoteric text, you get a lot of fairly obvious stuff, like this, from Taschen’s Book of Symbols:
The powerful magic contained in the head is evidenced by the worldwide practices of headhunting and beheading. Believed to contain the spirit and power of an individual, the head’s removal and ritual use captured this power, which accrued to the captor, his community, the land and the power of the gods. A variation on this motif is contained in the Greek myth of Perseus and the gorgon Medusa, the terrible power of whose decapitated head passed to Perseus, and then in smaller, emblematic form to Athena, and whose blood gave birth to the Muses. Likewise, modern psychotherapists who work with “soul stuff” are referred to as headshrinkers. Endemic among Celtic peoples, headhunting and ritual beheading were part of a larger “cult of the head” including the use of skulls as sacred drinking vessels, the Grail being one such transmogrified ritual cup.
Round in shape, the head is a vessel of transformation and wholeness, akin to the alchemical “alembic,” a microcosm of the spherical universe, both alpha and omega[…]The head also symbolizes both the seeds of new, and of immortal, life.
–Taschen, The Book of Symbols, pg 340
Which, that’s all interesting and valid, but it’s not really an explanation so much as a series of free associations. Then Jung gives you a bunch of stuff like this, from an interpretation of an Albertus Magnus treatise, which never settled right with me, either:
The caput mortuum or caput corvi is the head of the black Osiris or Ethipoian, and also of the Moor in the Chymical Wedding. The head was boiled in a pot and the broth poured into a golden ball. This gives us the connection with the “golden head of the Greek alchemy, discussed earlier. The Moor in the Chymical Wedding is probably identical with the black executioner mentioned there, who decapitates the royal personages. In the end his own head is struck off. In the further course of events a black bird is beheaded. Beheading is significant symbolically as the separation of the “understanding” from the “great suffering and grief” which nature inflicts on the soul. It is an emancipation of the “cogitation” which is situated in the head, a freeing of the soul from the “trammels of nature.” Its purpose is to bring about, as in Dorn, a unio mentalis “in the overcoming of the body.”
–Jung, C.G. Mysterium Coniunctionis, pg 513
Again, sure, that’s great. But there seemed to me something within the symbolism of beheading which was a vital pointer—a profound meditative symbol—which was going undescribed in any text which I could find. Jung’s student, Marie-Louise von Franz, writes often of headlessness as a symptom of being “possessed by an archetype”, which is something Jung also refers to. ‘Losing one’s head’ is cited as the primary reason for this association, I think, but it just didn’t sit right with me. There is also the notion of having one’s ‘head in the clouds’, which is drawn on, again by Jungians, as a symbol of the severing of mind and body, or psychic and physical. This was the closest I was able to come to anything rightish, but it was still wrong.
And then, maybe a month later while on a trip out of town and finding myself bored in a hotel bathtub, trying to relax my muscles, I discovered a strange subreddit which was right up my alley—/r/dimensionaljumping, defunct by the time I came across it. Still available, however, was its recommended reading list. So far as I can see, this subreddit caused three things:
- It began a series of owl synchronicities which continues to this day and has already included 3 live owl sightings—this is after living 27 years only seeing live owls in Renaissance Faire bird of prey shows.
- It introduced me to Dr. Kirby Surprise’s book, Synchronicity.
- Most vitally, it introduced me to Douglas Harding, and what he called “The Headless Way”
It’s worth noting offhandedly that Kirby Surprise’s book only reinforced the owl phenomenon (which makes sense, as I discovered it through that subreddit—nonetheless, causal or correlative explanation does not degrade the synchronistic significance). And it’s also worth noting, as I work on this essay, that when I ordered Dr. Surprise’s book, I also finally got off my duff about ordering The Three Magical Books of Solomon. No reason why—I just figured it was finally time.
Then, in the course of reading Dr. Surprise’s book, what should I find? Pages 53-57, in a story too long to transcribe, describes a series of synchronicities involving Dr. Surprise’s own inherited copy of The Key of Solomon. He even listed the reference to the book in his index. Obviously, I felt I had made the right move by ordering Crowley’s translation when I did!
Surprise’s book has proven, since my reading, crucial in my personal development of straightforward and powerful approaches toward producing synchronistic/magickal effects in my life, and to interacting with, amplifying or downplaying those events as necessary. I’d strongly recommend it to anyone, especially those who are new to magick and the occult. In fact, the sooner you read it in your magickal career, the better. I personally believe that some of the best—at least, the most “universal”—means of consciousness mapping are the clean-cut “scientific” models. At the very least, a semi-secular model. Sprinkle your guides, patrons, demons, angels, gods and goddesses into your worldview once you’ve built a solid foundation which helps you remember that you’re the one in charge—invite them in as your assistants only once you’ve come to understand that it is you, not they, who represents the purest connection to the godhead.
Yes, “the godhead”. Interesting how we keep coming back to that head symbolism, whether we like it or not. Though Dr. Surprise’s book was and remains fascinating for me, by far the best key to unlocking not only synchronicity but my own mind—and the meaning of beheading in Hereditary—has been D.E. Harding’s Headless Way.
Also discovered through that same subreddit, the Headless Way spoke to me immediately. While I believe each individual human being’s divine consciousness expansion is triggered and molded by different sets of factors, meaning there is no one “true” path to righteousness, on reading about the Headless Way I understood immediately the urge to claim that one had found the one “right way” to do a thing. In this case, the thing in question is a kind of spiritual recalibration. The premise behind the set of freely-provided meditation exercises available online at http://www.headless.org/ is very simple: much as I try to explain this by saying how “I” am different from “me” , how consciousness is different from ego, the Headless Way demonstrates these differences in a series of interactive experiments. When meditated upon, these exercises produce as close to a psychedelic trip as I’ve ever had without drugs. I also personally find—though, as ever, this may not be true for you—that when I meditate upon my own headless nature (you might prefer to call it a Buddha nature), I become far calmer and far more magickally potent than I do with other magickal techniques. The Headless Way allows me to connect the Earth more clearly to my memory palace, which I discussed briefly in “So You’ve Finally Remembered You’ve Always Been A Magician”, and it allows me to perceive with greater ease the closeness of my invisible helpers.
The best way to understand what the Headless Way is saying is to do some of the exercises, but the sparknotes version is a little like Descartes on mescaline. By close observation, the practitioner is led to realize that everyone else has a head, and he doesn’t. To a mundane person not well-versed in magickal practices, this might sound nonsensical, solipsistic, or even psychotic. However, this essay wasn’t written for that sort of person. This essay was written for you, the divine manifestation of the godhead in a human body, and the godhead part wants the human to remember by any means necessary. The symbol of personal headlessness in a headed world is key. Reality is a fabric which spills out from my neck and across all space and time, and for the low, low price of taking some time to read and do a few free exercises, it may just be that you have the mindset to experience this, too.
Why did the Headless Way speak to me so? Well, aside from the mounting headlessness synchronicities and the mystery of beheading as a symbol, I understood the Headless Way because I recognized it. One of the most powerful exercises the website describes involves looking in a mirror and coming to the same conclusions I did during my 2016 awakening experience into the occult, wherein, while peaking on lysergic acid, I meditated into my bathroom mirror for awhile and eventually realized what had been patently obvious all along: that I was not the person in the mirror, because she was just the person I was watching. Really, I was divine expanse. This was not my first encounter with the godhead in this form—that is to say, within myself—but it was the most powerful, and the most “staying”.
But one aspect of this encounter was not “staying”, which is something many of us who have had revelations while on LSD or any other psychedelic tend to understand. Much like a dream, there are things about the peak of a trip you are doomed to forget, because you will have so many other revelations to consider the next day—and, at any rate, it can be sometimes difficult to retain the feeling knowledge as you do the intellectual knowledge. I have written about this before on this site: there is a vast difference between an intellectual knowingness, and a feeling knowingness. When your feelings understand a subject, it fully “clicks”; at least, when your intellect grasps a subject there tends to be a feeling-response, like an imprint of emotion as a result of that understanding. And it is much harder to forget a feeling-sense when that sense is attained while sober(ish).
The staying aspect of the encounter was the very obvious realization that I had no face, which was how I could tell myself apart from me. However, amid many other things, this slipped away for a few years and was not reclaimed until, maybe only a month or two after seeing Hereditary in theaters, I learned of the Headless Way. Then, though I had never fully lost the feeling-sense of my revelation with the mirror (it was not an event of an emotional valence which could be forgotten), I felt myself thrust back to the moment of my awakening, and even now I feel myself thrust back to that moment as I contemplate my own headlessness.
And that’s all great, you say.
But what about Hereditary!?
WHAT YOU CAME HERE FOR: A SHORT ANALYSIS OF HEREDITARY
The reason why an analysis of Hereditary is bound to be short is because, really, we’ve just analyzed it—at least, I’ve given you literally all you need to analyze it. I’ve touched a little on King Paimon and hopefully now you see that headlessness is a state which inhabits us when we encounter naked divinity, or when we are about to encounter it. But if you really want me to redundantly cycle over other symbolic aspects of the film (for instance, we already touched on the symbolism of grandmothers in the Snow Queen essay), then read on—but promise to buy a copy of The Hierophant’s Daughter for my troubles, horror fan.
From an alchemical perspective, it would seem on first glance that the alchemical operation being undertaken by Hereditary is that of the nigredo, but I would actually argue it is an entire alchemical operation sealed within the alembic of the film. How do we know this? Well, for starters, it opens with a funeral—so, yes, we are plopped into the middle of the nigredo, and as our protagonist (most sympathetic mother in horror movie history?) Annie Graham eulogizes the family’s matriarch, Ellen Leigh.
In the end, we will find Hereditary is just another devil-bridegroom fairy tale. There is a longstanding tradition of fairy tales which follow the pattern favored by Hereditary, but such tales are no longer very common. My personal favorite, and an influence on my own Disgraced Martyr Trilogy, is a variant called “The Girl With Silver Hands,” but the truth is there are hundreds of variations of children being promised to the devil or fighting to escape the devil’s clutches. Marie-Louise von Franz recounts one such tale and, in analyzing it, says this:
The beginning of this story is a common one. A king who is in difficulties, knowingly or without knowing what he is doing, promises the Devil the child born in his absence. Then it is the child’s task—the girl’s or the boy’s—to free itself from the grip of evil. The king, or in other stories the merchant who has lost everything, is in some kind of trouble when he does this.
If we compare this with personal psychology and do not for the moment take it on an archetypal level as we should do, it can be easily illustrated—by the way parents sell their children to their own unsolved problems. We saw this in the case I mentioned before, where the mother, instead of having it out with her own destructive animus, kept the animus at bay with a Bible; therefore her daughter had to cope with the problem of the dark man. This daughter ran completely wild. She had several illegitimate children, she had abortions and other unpleasant experiences of evil, and she landed in analysis a complete physical an psychological wreck. That was what the black man did through this mother who should her daughter to him, so to speak, for she, by trickery, got rid of him through the Bible.
[…After mentioning the savior role of the Devil’s daughter in her chosen tale…]
The Devil’s daughter is a parallel to other feminine figures who sometimes live with the Devil. He does not live in a celibate state, except in the dogmatic view. In folklore he always has a female with him, generally his own grandmother. The word grandmother does not imply kinship, however, but means that he lives with the Great Mother. In the fairy-tale world he actually lives in marital relationship with her, as you can learn from the fairy tale “The Three Golden Hairs of the Devil,” where he goes to bed with the grandmother and in the night she pulls out three golden hairs from the Devil’s head to give to the hero hidden under her skirt.
–von Franz, Marie-Louise, The Shadow And Evil in Fairy Tales, pg 315-317
So right there—along with some very Hereditary-esque perceptions about the way family dysfunction sells our children to any number of devils—we have Ellen in the role of the “great mother”, making her absence in death that much more appropriate—especially when we consider that King Paimon was likely derived from at least one Mesopotamian interpretation of the goddess. Ellen is a Saturnine aspect, the lead which casts a black shadow across the entire operation. Of course, we will see her—part of her, anyway. For now we go on and learn more about the Graham family; while Anne, obviously depressed, seals herself upstairs making a dollhouse replica of her own home, her children Peter and Charlie are not receiving the attention they require. We see Charlie collect a dead bird and sever its head in what is both foreshadowing and perhaps synchronistically linked primitive magick. (Full disclosure, I have had no fewer than 3 birds throw themselves into the windows of my house since seeing the film—thankfully all have lived.) We also learn that Charlie is allergic to peanuts, which comes back into play when, as a result of eating cake at a party her mother forced her brother to take her to, the girl has a terrible allergic reaction. Forced to rush her to the hospital, her brother accidentally decapitates her when she leans her head out the window in desperate search for air.
Here is our albedo, though it does not seem like it. This is the coming together of the male and female, as best we will receive it in the film. While the albedo is traditionally depicted as union with a king and a queen of the sexual variety—at least, there is generally implied sexuality, for their union is often a bed or a bath—the union here is noxious and violent. There are some alchemical sequences Jung describes which places the albedo in a coffin, however, rather than a bed or a tub, and this is therefore the better representation of Hereditary’s albedo. It is still a kind of union of opposites—there is still a girl and a boy involved, and in fact we will later learn that this operation liberated the spirit of King Paimon to allow him/it (she? Don’t want to assume a Goetic demon’s gender, I guess…) to inhabit its preferred host, a male body. But, rather than pure creation, the white and the red comes together to result in only further destruction and absolute horror. Peter brings the headless body home in a daze and allows his mother to discover it in the morning while, on the highway, ants feast on the flesh of the head in a grotesque image we are forced to see at least once more during the film.
As Ellen, the great mother, has already found union with King Paimon in the form of death, the role of ‘sympathetic female in the house of the devil’ goes to Anne. For her part, Anne is also sold into this bill of limitless horrors, for her sleepwalking problem has brought her to the point of nearly killing her children, and we will discover this only close to the end of the film. But from the point of Charlie’s death until the final climactic ritual, the movie is one big, long, nasty xanthosis, which is never anybody’s favorite alchemical step. Here is where the impurities are removed, but as the impurities are removed one of course must experience them. Ugly secrets come to life and madness becomes fully apparent. While, outside the family, Anne seeks a friend in a woman who will turn out to be part of late Ellen’s King Paimon cult, things fall apart in the Graham house until a series of horrible revelations reveal that young Charlie was given to King Paimon as a vessel before her birth, but said vessel ended up female, and therefore unsuitable to the demon. Things wrap up and we learn from much foreshadowing that Ellen’s cult friends are preparing a ritual to transfer the spirit of King Paimon into the body of Peter—but not before some absolutely crazy shit happens, involving grandma Ellen’s headless corpse running around the house and Anne, completely insane and possessed by the demon at this point, saws off her own head while we—and her son—watch in horror.
So, headlessness in this context? While it’s horrible to watch, it is ultimately very positive. Maybe I’m strange but I found the ritual scene at the end to be somehow tranquil, which was perhaps its intent after a period of such intensity. But the pair of headless women genuflecting before Charlie’s severed head—placed upon a King Paimon idol which, if I recall the scene correctly, is yellow, the color of xanthosis—struck me even before I understood the symbol of beheading as a very powerful image. As the abbreviated rubedo comes upon us—the final and most important step in the four-part alchemical sequence, which is commonly marked by the appearance or rebirth of a king—and Peter succumbs to King Paimon, we are left in silence, without explanation or catharsis.
I submit to you that the catharsis comes in contemplation of that headless state. If birds are symbols for souls, as Jung and his colleagues often write, it is safe to say that Charlie’s beheading of the bird indicates her soul’s (Paimon’s) desire for liberation and enlightenment. Then, as seances go bad and things escalate, we learn the grandmother, already with King Paimon in death, has been beheaded, too—perhaps posthumously by the cult—in what seems to me a very clear symbol of close contact with the most challenging aspects of the divine. By forcing ourselves to endure the sometimes repugnant alchemical procedures required to transmute even the most base lead into gold, we open ourselves to a state of divine headlessness. Maybe this is ultra-flippant to say, but in all fairness, Anne looks like she’s having an absolute blast sawing her head off. Remember, everything is relative, even horror. While Peter is running around the house being chased by the dead bodies of his relatives and generally having his worst day ever, Anne has been claimed by King Paimon and has fully submitted to her most evil and debased self—the self which would be enlisted into the army of a devil, and which would genuflect before his earthly image.
One last word: when I was 20 or so, still a novice to psychedelics and the paranormal, I read Daniel Pinchbeck’s interesting entheogenic starter guide, Breaking Open The Head. In it, he explains that the unusual title is derived from a term South American shaman use to describe enlightenment. In the culture Pinchbeck studied, when a young person has a visionary experience or comes away from ayahuasca knowing more about the universe, their saying is that the young person has “broken open his head”. And, for those of us who were able to watch Hereditary and get something more out of it than a vague sense of nausea, this seems a perfect description.
M.F. Sullivan is the author of DELILAH, MY WOMAN and THE LIGHTNING STENOGRAPHY DEVICE in addition to the forthcoming DISGRACED MARTYR TRILOGY. Be sure to preorder your copy of Book I on Amazon.com now and follow the blog for more trilogy updates, more essays, and more ads for all of the above!