Alejandro Jodorowsky

The unthinkable spring

As one approaches Alejandro Jodorowsky, one must be ready to experience an expanded reality, where every gesture is charged with transcendental significance. We met for the first time in Milan at an exhibition in which we both participated.

I said, “Alejandro, how are you?” He replied, “I don’t know, let’s see.”

Immediately I recognized in his words the estrangement he learned from Alfred Korzybski. As we waited for the show to start, I asked him, “Would you give me a tarot reading?” He pulled out a deck and asked me to choose four cards

I did. His interpretation of them didn’t satisfy me. I started to explain to him that I thought they meant something different. “So you think you’re very smart? Shuffle the cards and pull out four cards one more time,” he said.

So I did. PUM, PUM, PUM, PUM. To our surprise, defying astronomical odds, the same exact four cards sat in front of us.

“Now, you read the tarot to me,” he said.

I thought to myself, How could I pretend to read the tarot to the world’s authority on the subject? “Please pull out just one card,” I said. He did, and took out the Hanging Man card. Not daring to reverse roles with the master, the only viable exit I had was to play dumb. Smirking, I interpreted his card upside down. “You are a balloon full of hot air who wants to go to the sky, but you are tied to the root of a tree.” He hit me on the head, shouting, “Don’t you know how to read? You are reading it upside down, you fool! Hahahahaha — this is a good relationship!” A few days later, I visited his house in Paris, where this interview took place.

Pedro Reyes: What advice might you give to those who wish to perform psychomagical acts?

ALEJANDRO JODOROWSKY: Well, one cannot start off from a point of ignorance. To perform psychomagical acts, one must understand what psychomagic is. One needs to read my books on all this. The first is called Psicomagie (Psychomagic) and the other La danza de la realidad (The Dance of Reality). Also, La trampa sagrada (The Sacred Trap). After reading those books, a person must learn an art. No one can perform psychomagic without being an artist. One must also have some concepts of psychoanalysis. If they don’t, of what use would it be to them? A bit of knowledge about psychogenealogy is also necessary. When one knows all that, the person can practice psychomagic without danger. But not before. One does not make acts of psychomagic just like that.

PR: There are some aspects of the method that I would like you to explain. For example, what is the purpose of planting a tree at the end of certain acts?

AJ: All psychomagic acts have to finish with something positive. The human being has a tendency to have pent-up rage. If you off-load this rage onto one of your archetypes — your mother, your father, teacher, grandmother, whatever — after doing so, there is an emptiness and also a sense of guilt, so then there is the need to anticipate the guilt and do something positive, for life and not death. Every act has to end with an offering. Planting a tree is cleansing. What is most dangerous is that if you don’t, nothing will change for you.

PR: And so the saying, “What goes around comes around,” or “What you give is for you, and what you don’t, you hold on to”?

AJ: The world is a unified package. We are based on awareness. The world is a product of consciousness. I call it divine awareness, which produces energy. Everything is consciousness, everything is energy, everything is love. They are all connected. What I give to the world, I give to myself. And if I don’t give something to the world — well, it is taken from me.

PR: You have said that when someone asks forgiveness from someone else, that they should also ask for something in exchange.

AJ: We are talking about forgiving, not about asking to be forgiven. Forgiveness, Christian forgiveness, doesn’t really function unless you say to the person, “This is what you did to me, and now I want something in exchange for what you’ve done.” For example, a woman brought her daughter to see me. The young woman was suffering horribly because of lesions in her throat that could not be cured. I asked about her father and she responded by saying that he had abused her sexually, forced her to swallow his sperm, and that this had caused the lesions in her esophagus. The young woman accused her mother of leaving her alone with the father by not letting her live with her. So the daughter asked her for a sports car as compensation. The mother said, “Okay, I’ll get you one, but a used one,” and the girl said no, she wanted a new one. The mother finally agreed, and the young woman’s throat was cured. It’s a small example — you have to pay for what you’ve done. I can’t just forgive you — I have to put a price on it.

With respect to asking forgiveness, it’s the same. I ask for your forgiveness, but I’ll say to you, “How would you assess what I’ve done to you? What would you ask for in exchange? Just ask.” There are people who ask for nothing in exchange! But you have to give them the opportunity to ask you. I was taking care of a child, a boy of six years, who was urinating behind an armchair. I told him I wasn’t mad at him, but that he simply could not do that again. I gave him three strong whacks with my belt. It left three red marks, and he cried and cried and never did it again. At that time, I wasn’t familiar with psychomagic — what I should have done was put a chamber pot behind the armchair and said to him, “Next time, use this when you want to go behind the chair.” Problem resolved! But I didn’t know how to do that. Years later, when he was fifteen or sixteen, he remembered the event, and the rage he had kept inside all these years. I got up and said to him, “Whack me three times, hard, so that it leaves three red marks,” and that was the price I paid so that he might forgive me.

PR: Have you ever applied one of your methods of therapy outside of the basic family?

AJ: There is a group of Chilean poets who go by the name of Casagrande. After President Allende was assassinated in La Moneda, the presidential palace, these four young people hired two helicopters to drop three hundred thousand copies of poems — a snowstorm falling on the Palacio de La Moneda. A poet sat on each of the palace’s balconies, reciting verses. They were covering a bloodied place with poetry. It was a major success for them. They did it again in Guernica, and were going to do it in Sarajevo. Now they are planning to bombard Hiroshima with poems. Half of the poets are Chilean and the other half are from the countries where poem-rains have fallen. I think this may be an example of psychomagic applied socially. Changing memory into something poetic.

The first time I performed an act of social psychomagic, I didn’t know it was psychomagic. Nearly thirty years ago, when I was doing theater, I brought together a group of sixty people in a huge space in the Gare Saint-Lazare train station, the largest station in France. In this space called the Salle des Pas Perdus — the lost steps — a group of us started out in one corner and then began crossing the area, step by step, in slow-motion. We took two hours to do it! In a space where everyone is exhausted and running. Between these out-of-breath people running about, this group of sixty subjects were crossing the space slowly, at a different tempo. Back then I thought we were making a spectacle for the people that were rushing around watching us, but now I realize that it was a psychomagical act for the sixty people who were doing it, to make us aware of what we didn’t have — we weren’t pressured by life.

PR: You mentioned memory, changing memory.

AJ: You can add details to memory, you can color it. Memory is images or a film, impressions that you save and that you relive in the present. That idea came to me when I was watching old black and white films that were later colorized, changing them. You can do the same with memory. I was in a hotel in Montreal suffering terribly for six months. I was traveling with Marcel Marceau, and they wouldn’t give me a visa to the United States, and I had to remain there. Even after I left, my memory of the hotel was horrible. The walls were ugly, the bed was awful, the washstand made terrible sounds. There were pizza ads on the walls. I began to change the light-boxes into angels, into rainbows, fireworks. I changed the color of the walls and made the washstand sing in a beautiful operatic voice. I put silk sheets on my bed and filled the room with the smell of perfume. I did all of this in my mind, and I converted the disagreeable space into an agreeable one. The second thing I did is very important: I invented a solitary child, Tocopilla, who had no friends until he was nine years old. I put myself into these recollections, telling this boy that he wasn’t alone, that I had always been with him. I visited all the places in my memory, and I placed myself in them. He was a child that I always was with, for the voyage.

PR: What are imagination exercises, are they meditations?

AJ: I don’t meditate anymore. I did it for five years — five years without moving. [Imitates a lotus position] Now I practice contemplation. Contemplation is not keeping the body still like a corpse. When you contemplate, you continue to do what you’re doing, you are in the same state as when you are meditating, but with an empty mind and a concentration. You can do what you want to do or are able to, according to your talent. You can work in a timely manner and freely, without feeling burdened. You begin to feel the full structure. You look toward the sky and into the street and sense the entire planet, and that takes away the sensation of feeling like you are drowning.

PR: A little like sensing the age of the universe?

AJ: Which has no beginning or end, not having an age. You speak of something that they have said to you. They have told you that the universe began millions of years ago. Science guides the imagination to the future. I don’t believe in the Big Bang, what I believe in is a fairy tale and nothing more. I will say to you that the universe didn’t have a beginning, nor will it have an end, it is just infinite. That’s better.

PR: This is a silly question, but coming back to the koan that says “life never begins and never ends,” where do we place death?

AJ: It is ego that bespeaks death. But from the viewpoint of humanity, death is just a transformation, a change of matter. I’m not particularly looking forward to it, but what else can you do? There really aren’t any options. One thinks about death constantly because there are moments that you have to live with it, and you know that everything could be over in three seconds. And knowing that, your life changes. One exercise that I do is to think, and later look at myself while I’m thinking. I’m the one who thinks of the one who sees that one thinking. But who sees the one who thinks the one that sees that one who is thinking? Eventually the moment arrives where you are on the verge of… vacuity. You acknowledge that the one who is ultimately thinking is death. The vacuity is thinking. And afterward, you conform yourself. If someone close to you dies, in that moment you suffer. I suffered for my son — I lost a twenty-four-year old son. But he didn’t suffer, the dead don’t suffer. What you call death becomes another thing, another matter. In the moment when everything is over, you will suffer nothing.

PR: About these transformations: in each encounter we have, there is a part of us that continues living in the other, and in the same way we are inhabited by an endless number of people. Those individuals come to life when we think of them, in most cases involuntarily.

AJ: Yes. The other is a disguise of yours, and you are a disguise of theirs. There is no difference. The other is absolutely you. It is the same consciousness — everything is consciousness. The material world is a byproduct of a larger consciousness. You acquire consciousness or lose it. There are people that awaken your consciousness and people that close it, that steal it from you. There are people that submerge you in what is called a nest of wasps. But the other does not exist, right? It is the ego of the other.

PR: Take dreams — it amazes me the precision with which one can reconstruct a person in their unconsciousness or, on the other hand, dream about someone who is a combination of various people, who does not exist in the waking hours, but is totally familiar.

AJ: Often people say, “I dreamed of you.” Some sorcerers have said to me, “I’ll visit you in your dreams.” It is a trick, because when you awaken a knowledge, a degree of consciousness, that degree of consciousness takes your form — you appear as though you are within the other, but it isn’t you. You are going to sense that the other visits you in your dreams, but it’s not true, there is a transmission of consciousness. Consciousness is universal — it makes yours and it dissolves into a thousand forms.

PR: Could you talk a bit about the notion of the Inner God?

AJ: Among what is called the initiated and the great mystics, is the heart — that is, the metaphor for the core. The vital center where we are receiving at all times the universe’s consciousness. The work of the mystic or the initiated is equal to that of a miner, who digs away at a well until finding the treasure in the ground — he works and works until he becomes confident about that heart, that core of life, and says, “I surrender to my fountainhead.” Then when we speak of God or, if you prefer, the Inner God, we speak of the unthinkable. We don’t speak of a God that is associated with a religion. It is the unthinkable spring that is making us speak at this moment.

PR: Like being inflamed?

AJ: To inflame makes one think of fire. One cannot give such defined attributes to the center. It is immaterial. It is beneath energy. It is unthinkable and immaterial… In the study made by Castaneda about those who founded Nagualism, he remained caught up with energy, thinking how to build up energy, give energy. There he stayed. But the essence of the universe is not energy but consciousness, which is absolutely impalpable. Neither being nor not being, static nor dynamic.

PR: And Reich?

AJ: What happens is that in the development of consciousness, one falls into a series of traps. Wilhelm Reich remained in the trap of energy, the orgone, the sexual energy. With Reich, psychoanalysis became collective and political, it was interesting. His advance was in making a psychoanalysis that was applied to society. But he remained imprisoned by the idea of energy.

PR: Now I’d like to ask you more prosaic questions.

AJ: Ask me whatever you wish to. I am having fun.

PR: I would like it if we could talk about money, how you came to consider money a divine energy.

AJ: Actually, all spiritual people on the planet are thinking about money, because one of the essential things that is necessary to heal is the current concept we have of money. Money is a sickness of our society. How do you look at money? Before, it used to have a tangible value, related to salt or gold. But now there’s nothing. What lies behind money is the trust that the money you own has a certain value. If the rest of the world loses its trust in the United States, the economy will fall. We are working with an abstract entity — we are going to have to arrive at the conclusion that money is consciousness. Today, money is not for sharing — to the contrary. Industry, thinking egotistically and selfishly, is putting the planet in danger. The same is true with science. For lack of consciousness, the world could come to an end. The amassed enormous fortunes are a stupidity when entire countries are starving to death. There is no reason for it. It is stupid that the United States is the exploiter of the rest of the Americas, when it is part of them. If all the Mexicans disappeared overnight, it would be a catastrophe for the United States. To keep people in a depressed state and poor is a lack of consciousness and nothing more.

PR: The objective of a business is to generate profit. All the factors involved in our current economy are subordinated to that objective, that one single idea.

AJ: A group of businessmen invited me to visit their factory, a steel factory. They had read my books and wanted me to explain to them why women didn’t want to work at their plant, which employed eight hundred men and three women. The reasons were simple, but difficult for them to accept. Women didn’t want to work there because they were paid less than the men. What’s more, the working environment was not very welcoming to them. Women are different than men, they have their menstrual cycles that make certain times difficult for them. They have other preferences, they are more delicate. Why don’t they think about women when making factories?And so little by little, women become cashiers at the supermarket. This is a lack of consciousness.

When the Pope died, there wasn’t a single woman in the ceremony to choose the new one. There were three hundred priests and not a single woman. How can that be possible? What is the role of women in our society? There is a God. Where is the Goddess? It is inconceivable, we have two thousand years of a God (father) without a Goddess (mother).

PR: It would seem more natural if there were a papal family.

AJ: For sure — the Pope, the Popess, and their children. The Holy Family. The Catholic world ought to be led by a Holy Family, or rather, by a man and a woman, even though he might be gay and she a lesbian. What would it matter? A man and a woman.

Now, let’s look at architecture. The architects today are window thieves. Why have they stolen windows? Because those crappy architects think that pollution is normal, and so they take the windows out and put in air conditioning instead, separating us from the environment. That is not a solution. If the pollution were to end, no one would want to live in those awful buildings without windows. Air conditioning is negating air. We accept as normal to live in a poisonous world, and we make things poison resistant. A cathedral lasts because each stone was constructed with love, but architecture today is not constructed with love — it is an industrial thing and is condemned to collapse. The jets come down from above and it collapses. The thing with September 11 needs to be understood clearly. It was a terrorist attack on the United States, but it was also an attack on architecture, on badly made architecture. All architecture that is a product of tyranny is destined to collapse. The architecture of today is a product of tyranny because the architects are accomplices to the system. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been able to construct the towers. Where does the money come from? It is unconscious money. If the money has no consciousness, the architects don’t, either.

PR: Is it for its abstract quality that money can have consciousness in the hands of one person and not in the hands of another?

AJ: If you are not conscious, money becomes a prison. Each one of us can make money. Currently there are experiments where people can seek out communities in which they can make their own money by barter and exchange. It is a dignified process to learn. Money is in crisis. We cannot continue like this. For example, petroleum is a crime — it is the oil of the earth that we are sucking dry. I often think it is causing the earthquakes. It is changing the ecosystem, changing the weather. If the oil is down there for a reason, we should stop extracting out of the ground. By doing so, we turn it into venom. We need a positive energy, but the unconscious industries are going to screw and screw us until the ground is sucked dry of petroleum. They are drilling in permissible areas and then later they will do so in prohibited areas, the forests, the national parks. Then they will go to the moon. They will screw the entire solar system.

PR: What is the connection between gold and shit, which I still don’t understand?

AJ: Shit is considered to be the vilest product produced, but I don’t consider it as such. In alchemy, cadavers are the vilest products. Nigredo is decomposition. And it is by working with the vile product that one produces the philosophic cornerstone that converts all metals into gold. The human being, the ego, is the first subject, the excrement. Working one’s ego, you refine yourself and you arrive at a Christ-like state. But excrement is fertilizer, and you need to know how to use it. Because of our lack of consciousness, we shit everywhere. We are animals that crap all over, and we are contaminating the world. There still isn’t a channel for guiding the excrement to special places, where it could be processed and converted into the source of richness it is. I have always thought that excrement is a subject that has been erased from theology. Because if I accept religion and I accept that God incarnated in Buddha, in Christ, in the Virgin Mary, and in the apostles and in Mohammed — well, all these people shat and pissed. I have calculated that Christ defecated some thirty tons. So there are thirty tons of holy matter in the world. If Israel is a holy land, it is because there are thirty million heaps of it there, from the Virgin Mary, Christ, and the apostles. We ought to respect excrement. If God shits, he shits wonders.

PR: Proctomancy! Are you serious?

AJ: [Laughs] It is like an artistic creation. There are no two fingerprints alike, no anus the same as another. Our individuality is in our assholes — the wrinkles of your anus are not like mine or those of Mother Teresa. So yes, you could take it seriously.

PR: Why is it that scatology has those two meanings, one linked to death and the other related to excrement?

AJ: The key might be — when speaking of the end of the world — in the gospels, in Revelations. It speaks of the end of the world and the birth of a new one. The apocalypse is not the destruction of the world, it is instead the destruction of all the mistakes of the world to arrive in the celestial Jerusalem, where the new world will be. Excrement is the same. The conclusion of this idea is that all your beautiful things, your thoughts, end up as excrement, but when it ends up in the ground, it is a fertilizer, from which life arises. Each time you shit, you make an apocalypse.

PR: A little like the scarab beetle in Egypt that pushes a ball of shit that is the sun being moved across the celestial dome, right?

AJ: Right, because there are larva in the excrement. The Egyptians say the universe is the excrement of God, and we are the larva in that excrement. But it depends how you look at it. It is joyous to take a poo. If you sit in water, make a big effort, the crap is cut into little piles and you are happy. You can measure happiness this way — just by making a small effort, the excrement squirts out and you resist the temptation to close the hole and stop it, and by its own force it falls. You look in the water and you see a large pile and you’re happy. Thus, one can speak of the divine unity, the same pile! [Laughs] But I’m not a coprophile, it is you who brought up the subject…

PR: It’s important to talk about! If we don’t, we’ll never resolve it. It would be easy to continue soiling the planet with our lack of consciousness.

AJ: No one has posed this theme to me. Okay, one more question.

PR: I have been intrigued by a phrase of John Cage: “Don’t attempt to change the world, you’ll only make it worse.”

AJ: I do understand, but one has to bear in mind that existence is like an advancing river. When people want to change the world, they want to change one thing for another. It results in the fiasco of revolutions — failure of the Russian Revolution, the tyranny of the Czars passed onto Stalin. The failure of the Mexican, Cuban, and French revolutions. All the revolutions failed because they only changed power from one hand to another. There is the need to think about mutation. For me, the butterfly is the best example. One thing is not changed for another — instead it undergoes a metamorphosis. When you want to change the world, you attack it, but you cannot change it because you’re bound to damage it. What you can do is work to mutate it. For example — the Catholic Church has many errors, but instead of attacking it, which would be a waste of time, I wrote a book entitled Los evangelios para sanar (The Gospels for Healing), where I showed the marvels of the gospels. I had to change the interpretation of the holy texts. I didn’t change one religion for another, I mutated the interpretation. This is true of society, also. There’s no need to attack a society or try to exchange one society for another. Instead, study it, try to produce a new energy, a new consciousness, a new form of relationship.