Alejandro Jodorowsky is an artist who has worked with many media over the years, but is perhaps best known for his films such as El Topo and The Holy Mountain. He is also an author of numerous books, many of them spiritual in nature. He has been called a “psychomagician” who often utilizes a Tarot deck to counsel people and provide them with magical solutions to problems or challenges they face in life.
In 1989, a short book was published called La Tricherie sacrée: Entretiens avec Gilles Farcet featuring a dialogue between Jodorowsky and French writer Gilles Farcet. Then, in 2004, an expanded edition was published with a new dialogue between Farcet and Jodorowsky as well as a series of testimonials from people whose lives had been affected by their encounters with Jodorowsky. In 2016, the publishing house Inner Traditions published a new translation of the expanded edition entitled Sacred Trickery and the Way of Kindness: The Radical Wisdom of Jodo.
Sacred Trickery and the Way of Kindness is an excellent introduction to the personage of Alejandro Jodorowsky, or “Jodo” as the subtitle of the book refers to him, which is what his friends call him. The narrative provides an account of his life, insight into his views on the world, and because this is the transcription of recorded interviews the reader can get a good sense of his personality. This last piece of information is critical because Jodo’s personality is key to the way he impacts those who encounter him. One feels touched even just by reading his words. Perhaps a good description for this impact is initiatory, a term that comes up frequently. In fact, the concept of spiritual initiation is one of the primary themes/goals/purposes of Jodo’s life.
The first part of the book is the 1989 dialogue entitled “Sacred Trickery,” dealing mainly with an overview of Jodo’s life from childhood until the time of the interview. He was sixty years old at the time. He describes growing up in Chile in the home of his staunchly atheist father. In spite of his father being a fanatical nonbeliever, Jodo found himself upon a deeply spiritual path, but not as part of any specific spiritual tradition. Much of his spirituality was connected to his artistic expression, which included puppetry, poetry, theater, and mime.
Jodo moved to France to work under the great mime artist Marcel Marceau, and in some ways France has been his home ever since, although he lived in other places throughout his life, including Mexico where his most famous films were produced. Throughout this first dialogue he describes encounters with spiritual figures such as Zen roshi Ejo Takata, the Mexican sorceress and healer Pachita, and the well-known mystical author Carlos Castaneda. He recounts the making of his films and his failure to create a film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel Dune. He also discusses his work as an author of bande dessinée (graphic novels) and as a practitioner of tarot.
The second dialogue, entitled “The Path of Goodness,” was recorded fifteen years later in 2003. It is shorter than the first and more philosophical, touching upon some of the subjects previously discussed but adding new insights. Jodo makes more definitive statements about his views. For instance, when asked how he feels about growing old in a country that is not where he was born, he states:
“If age is relative then so is nationality. What is my nationality? Inside myself I have no nationality, I swear! Not to say that I dislike Chile, where I was born; but I do not feel any patriotic roots apart from my belonging on this planet. Along these same lines, at the moment that I am speaking to you, I have no sex; I am androgynous…My investigations of primitive tribes have shown me that we are ourselves primitive, stuck in a masculine way of thinking. In terms of thought we are still troglodytes, psychological barbarians! That is why it is essential to develop an androgynous way of thinking within oneself.”
Later he goes on to state:
“Yes, I have children and grandchildren, but I do not feel that I am restricted to one family—my children, my grandchildren. To go along with the flow of the moment is to go along with the planet, with all other humans. I am not concerned only with certain persons who are linked to me genetically, but with the whole, because this whole is in me. And from this point of view, my main enemy today is petroleum.”
As Jodo suggests, he is going along with a certain flow, which appears to align well with the post-modern, post-cultural trajectory of society today. His brief mention of petroleum as an enemy and something to be opposed seems odd if only because he otherwise seems to trust the flow of human history and accept the path where human life is heading. His description of his own relationship to humanity is simultaneously connected in an abstract way and detached from any specific identity.
There is a spiritual tension created from this seemingly contradictory state of existence that Jodo embodies. He draws upon traditions in his art and work as a spiritual/magical counselor, but seems uncommitted to any one tradition and prepared to abandon them if the need arises. It is an unsettling position, in particular for those of us who hold pantheistic views and are attempting to salvage some understanding of the consciousness of our ancestors.
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Jodorowski is tapped into some fundamental truth about the universe. In Sacred Trickery and the Way of Kindness, this is evidenced through the testimonials in the third part, which include brief interviews with a rock journalist, an X-rated film actress, a bande dessinée artist, and a spiritual master, all of whom were acquainted with Jodo. Additionally, as mentioned previously, there is just something magical in simply reading Jodo’s words and being exposed to his personality. Readers of this book will find themselves becoming more mindful of their own spiritual condition and be better able to contemplate their emotions and state of mind. Undoubtedly, many who read Sacred Trickery and the Way of Kindness will be interested in further exploring the work of Alejandro Jodorowski.