Is everybody in? Then let the ceremony begin…Oliver Stone’s 1991 The Doors is the most brilliant depiction of the Dionysian aspects of Rock and Roll ever put to film. It is also possibly the first representation of Wicca in American popular culture.
Jim Morrison’s philosophy is made plain at the beginning, as his (well, Val Kilmer’s) voice is heard narrating a student-film made at UCLA. “Nature said that all Great Things must first wear a Terrifying and Monstrous Mask, in order to inscribe themselves on the Heart of Humanity. In seance, the Shaman leads a sensuous panic- acts like a mad-man- a professional hysteric. Have you ever seen God? Mandala?”
We first meet Morrison in Stone’s movie as a Nature-Boy Prince, striding through the developing Hippie scene in Venice Beach. As he courts Hippie Princess Meg Ryan by climbing trees (Romeo-like) to achieve her balcony, leading her out on adventures in the vagabond time of night, often lit by a powerful full moon (Morrison seems in the start of the film to appear whenever the moon comes out, as if in order to keep the night with Her)- she reads his poetry. “O children of the Night- who among you will run with the Hunt?”
She reads a bit more, than puts down the book. “What’s a Shaman?”
He explains: “It’s a Medicine Man- Indians- He gets sent on a peyote trance and he gets deeper and deeper- and he has a vision and the whole tribe is healed. All cultures had a version- the Greeks had Theater and Gods- The Indians think the first Shaman invented sex. He’s called ‘the One who Makes you Crazy’.”
The movie’s most amazing rendition of Morrison as the Shamanic/Dionysian God-King, leading reveler/devotees through a purifying Rock ritual of elation and heightened consciousness, is the sequence titled “San Francisco, 1968.” As the music for “Run With Me” comes up, Morrison surveys the huge field of Rockers whom he will help “break on through to the other side” with his music; a bonfire blazes, around which naked Hippie youths dance in bliss. On the stage, Morrison begins to take little skipping dance-steps, opening his arms and slowly twirling in small circles. In a vision, he starts to see Native American Shamans dancing with him. The stage-set behind Morrison is built to look like a Greek temple; with the stage lights on his face, Morrison appears transformed- deified. At the end of the song, he strides (in slim, tight leather pants) to the stage’s edge. “I am the Lizard-King; I can do anything.”
By the next concert sequence, “Miami, 1969,” the self-destruction has begun, as Morrison rants and stumbles through a drunken and drugged performance that veers more and more startlingly out of control- until suddenly Morrison has jumped off the stage and is leading a train of emotionally transported revelers in a giant weaving circle through the audience, all the while singing “Light My Fire.” The shot is astounding, as it was filmed backwards; in a circle (the camera following Val Kilmer, with a crowd snaking behind him, pushing through another crowd); in apparently a really long, unbroken take- the concentration that Mr. Kilmer needed to sustain is impressive.
But more than that- the sequence is incredible, because it depicts so powerfully the Dionysian Shaman, leading his devotees to the Enlightenment of ecstatic exhaustion. At the end, Morrison allows himself to be swept up by the crowd, being “surfed” above their heads with Zen-like contentment- the Dionysian God-Figure, symbolically devoured by his raving followers caught up in the glorious madness of their trance.
From the Wiccan viewpoint, the most interesting storyline is introduced at a press interview. Morrison, wearing shades and drinking, is cryptic and bored as the reporters ask him questions like, “What are your songs about, Mr. Morrison?” As the camera scans the room, it settles upon a striking woman, dressed in chic black, a large jade pendant about her neck. She smiles slightly as someone asks Morrison, “Is alcohol considered part of the Shaman’s [pronounced 'Shay-man's'] wisdom?”
This woman is journalist Patricia Kennealy (played by Kathleen Quinlan), and she is interesting (1) for being perhaps the first Wiccan to be portrayed in movies, and (2) for being the real-life Witch-Wife of Jim Morrison. (She is profiled in Wiccan Wisdom-Keepers, by Sally Griffyn, Weiser Books, 2002, talking about her relationship with Morrison.)
In the next scene, they have apparently been introduced; we see the large skylight windows that will identify Ms. Kennealy’s loft-apartment to us. Rain beats upon it, as “Riders on the Storm” throbs softly. The camera pans down, to find many burning candles, plus Ms. Kennealy and Mr. Morrison in the throes of intimate union. Regrettably, Jim is having a bit of trouble with his throes, so Patricia asks him if he wants some coke to “loosen him up”; “It happens to other guys, you know.”
Her taste in decor seems to run towards the odd and slightly antique. As she cuts the coke into lines, he scans a bookcase. He pulls out a volume. There is a brief camera-shot of medievalist occult diagrams. “How old is this?”
She looks up. “Fourteenth Century.” Allowing that someone is going to have a fourteenth century book lying around the apartment- Jim is fascinated. “Witchcraft!”
Patricia explains. “It was a Religion, you know- Witchcraft. Witches were Protectors of the Seasons, Goddesses of the Grain, and- when crossed- Destroyers.”
In perhaps the first depiction of Wicca in movies- can anyone think of a representation of Wicca earlier than 1991?- we find it described not even as “Wicca,” but as “Witchcraft.” We find Witches called “Protectors,” and “Goddesses,” associated with the Living World and the Cycles of Nature. Admittedly- as immense volumes of European folklore attest- when crossed, Witches could become Destroyers as well. (One would hope for this reason that Witches might develop a sense of Ethical Conduct, to protect ["protect!"] innocents from the Destroying Aspects of Witchcraft).
As they partake of the coke, Patricia asks in a very nonchalant manner: “Have you ever tried drinking blood? It works, you know, drinking it at the right time of the moon.” Then she continues about Witches.
“They used to dance in the forest naked. See, I think that’s what offended the Puritans and led to the Burnings; they were a sexual threat to the male order. Like the Bacchae- five days a year for Dionysos they used to wander the hills of ancient Greece- the first Witches- Wild Women!- fucking, eating animals raw, looking for Dionysos, to- tear him- to- pieces!”
While she has been describing the Bacchae, Jim (smiling playfully, seemingly enjoying the fantasy) has begun hiding behind her oddly antique furniture, dashing from one hiding place to another, as she begins to stalk him down, a mad Priestess intent upon possessing the Vine-God.
In the next scene, Jim and Patricia are making a blood pact of sorts, by slicing each other’s wrist with a blade and dripping the blood into a chalice. “Art is the Rose of Mysterious Union, symbol of Potency,” Patricia intones solemnly. They each drink from the bloody chalice- and as the jubilant music up-rises, they dance in increasing ecstasy and freedom. As the score loudly celebrates, the camera retires to its previous overhead angle, as we watch Jim achieve powerful climax with Patricia.
In an efficient and concise manner, the script for The Doors manages to present a revisionist definition of ”Witch” in one scene- as women free enough to dance naked in the woods, as a sexual threat to the Puritanical male order, in addition to being protectors of the seasons and goddesses of the grain. It compares them to the Bacchae of Greece- the “first Witches,” the script says.
The Doors script redefines “Witchcraft” in popular culture, freeing it from the centuries old stigma of “Devil-Worshipping Plotter of Evil.” Consider how differently Witches are described in The Doors, with how they (we) are portrayed, say, in Rosemary’s Baby.
In the midst of the “Run With Me” sequence, there is a cut-away to a beautifully composed shot. The large skylight windows tell us that we are in Patricia’s loft. There are again many candles, arranged in a circle. Patricia and Jim stand inside the circle. A dignified woman hoists a large sword into the air, its blade glinting back the light momentarily.
“By Right Line- by Running Line- by the Crooked and the Straight- I summon, stir, and call You up. By Wood and Stone- by Wind and Fire- by Land and Water- I bring You in.”
In the next shot, we see that Patricia and Jim are Handfasted, a ribbon wrapping their hands together. The “Wicca Priestess” (this is how she is billed in the credits) is (again) cutting their wrists and collecting the blood in a chalice (I don’t get all the blood-letting in this movie, which is otherwise something I have never encountered in Wicca or Neo-Paganism, for that matter).
As she Binds their Troth (and opens their veins), the Priestess briefly explains the precepts of Wicca (presumably for Morrison’s benefit, as he appears to marrying “into the Faith,” although certainly the point is to educate the audience so that they will understand what is happening).
“We worship the Ancient Forces of Nature- the Great Mother and the Triple Goddess- and the Horned One, God of the Hunt. Death does not part- only lack of Love. This Vow is forever in the Goddess’s sight.”
This really brief scene performs a useful PR presentation of Wicca. We (quickly) see the Circle empowered, as the Wicca Priestess invokes the Powers of wood and stone, wind and fire, land and water. We see a Handfasting performed, while Wiccans are called Worshippers of Nature, as well as various Manifestations of Deity.
In a really nifty bit of casting, Patricia Kennealy herself played the “Wicca Priestess” who officiates the Handfasting (it must have been very bizarre for her, to play against an actress playing a younger version of her, with an actor playing a younger version of her Handfasted-Husband, Jim Morrison, recreating a private scene from more than twenty years earlier). She is very impressive, however, centered and balanced, prideful and poised- a credit to the Gods and the Craft, with an assured performance as perhaps the first ”Wiccan Priestess” to appear on-film.
Wicca fades from the screen as Morrison’s drinking and drug-use become more and more extreme. In a shot, however, that opens upon a moonstone pendant dangling between her breasts (a reminder of her Witch-hood), Patricia tells Jim that she is pregnant. He wants her to have an abortion. She tells him that their child could be a “genius- a Goddess or a God!” When she reminds him that their Vows were “forever in the Goddess’s sight,” he explains gently about their Handfasting: “I was stoned- it seemed like it would be fun at the time.”
Wiccans appear as assured, dignified women in Oliver Stone’s The Doors. Patricia is seen as a dedicated journalist; in one scene she deflates Jim by revealing that- as any objective, conscientious reporter would- she has investigated his back-story (puncturing his self-created illusion of “Jim Morrison”). Played by an actress who is strikingly attractive, rather than “pretty” or “lovely,” Patricia impresses one as assertive and aggressive (she actually comes across as the dominant partner in her relationship with Jim).
Wicca is portrayed as an Empowerment for women, and described in positive terms. It is seen as Freeing and Liberating- appealing to the 60s Counterculture. We learn that Wicca is closely associated with Nature, as well as with various Pagan Deities. It is a way to tap into an Archetypal way of thinking; the movie hints at one of what I find to be Wicca’s most remarkable qualities: its great capacity for self-Actualization.
Wicca also appears to be very preoccupied with slitting wrists and letting blood, something I could do without (someone watching this movie, who was previously unfamiliar with Wicca, would assume that blood-letting must be a regular feature). At the same time, the Wiccans seen in the film appear very dedicated, as they go about the dignified ceremony of their rituals. The main Wiccan character ends the movie literally becoming the Great Mother by embracing maternity.
The Doors I find to be a respectable introduction to Wicca in American movies. For all that Wicca must have been very strange and alien to a majority of people at the time, the film is respectful. Except for the blood-letting thing, the movie could serve as a useful and reasonably informative way to present Wicca to anyone unfamiliar with it.
It is currently available at Hulu.com.
In 1991, Wicca was not yet much in the public consciousness. However, five years later, Wicca would “come out” in dramatic fashion- through a teen flick called The Craft.
We will see here a version of Wicca not quite as scrupulous as The Doors.