*MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE*
From flickering candles and white gossamer fabric, to an anticlimactic seance scene, to one of the most grand demonic rituals ever put to film, "Hereditary" is an iconic occult horror which, surprisingly, contains a lot of accurate theoretical magical beliefs.
Although not revealed until the end, throughout the movie the story quietly hints toward the idea that a demonolatrous cult is controlling the lives of the main characters, leading them toward the completion of an evil ritual.
Today we will explore the magical theory and history within “Hereditary.”
The movie, from very early on, hints at a demonic occult underpinning. We begin our story by witnessing a funeral where the deceased's daughter Annie (played by Toni Collette) mentions her mother's "private rituals." Around her and her mother's necks hang a well-known goetic symbol: the seal of the demon Paimon, "one of the Four Kings of Hell" in classic demonology.
Demonolatry is a practice within certain niche magical groups of raising demons up to the level of gods and worshipping them as such. It is a taboo practice within magic, and very much a minority; the classical methods of demonic magic almost singularly work through a High God, typically Abrahamic, in order to command and subdue the demonic legions. In demonolatry, the opposite is true: the demons become the "High Gods", and are revered as such. It is generally believed that this practice is counter to the true practices of demonic magic which produce viable results, yet demonolators disagree.
The main methods of summoning the demon Paimon in “Hereditary” consist mainly of lighting candles, focusing on a triangle carved or constructed out of wood, the inscribing of invocational words of power, and the sacrificing of humans for the demon to manifest.
Although the methods of conjuring a spirit in “Hereditary” are inspired by actual historical depictions of summoning powerful spirits, they are equally fictitious. The simple words "three will come before him" from Paimon’s description in “the Goetia” has been creatively interpreted as "three people will be sacrificed before he manifests" in the film. The goal in the movie is to allow Paimon to manifest on earth by possessing a human body, similar to the idea in “Rosemary's Baby,” and paralleling the story of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is simply one example of a powerful spirit made manifest in human form, other well-known examples would be Heracles and Dionysus. The idea of a divine or elemental spirit living on earth as a mortal human has held much cross-cultural belief. Modern hermetic magicians have theorized that it is possible for a human soul to become displaced, often in a near-death experiences, and for a spirit to move in and take over. This has been seen as perhaps the true inspiration behind the myth of the changeling.
Although real magicians frequently use a triangle of manifestation, words of power, and candles, these are not the means by which spirits are summoned. The true power of magical conjuration is kabalistic—meaning the reason the spirits are controlled is because they are under the authority of the Divine, the highest source of God. It is often taught in occult circles that, without this predominant connection to the divine, a spirit, angel, or demon will not be successfully summoned, or otherwise disobey greatly and cause much havoc. Demonolatry, contrarily, holds the idea that if a demon is served well, sacrificed to, or "cozied up” to, it will take a liking to the magician and out of sympathy give the magician what they want. This is refuted by most classical grimoires and most modern day magicians. Often the two types of practitioners are distinguished: a "magician" works kabalistically or through the Divine, someone who does not operate this way is often denounced as a "sorcerer." Most practitioners of grimoire magic sacrifice little or nothing to any demon, and signing a contract or making a pact is seen as something which has negative repercussions in this life and many lives to come until the debt is repaid. Many hermetic schools of magic believe that many spirits, in their respective otherworldly realms, keep human souls in servitude until their debts are paid off. Although modern magicians tend to hold these speculations and opposition to pacts with spirits, there are actually historical examples of grimoires which do precisely the opposite...
"The Grand Grimoire" instructs the sorcerer in making a classic "pact with the devil," ie signing a contract with a spirit called Lucifuge Rofocale. His name means "The one who flees the light," a perfect kabalistic example of a fallen angel/demon/spirit of malkuth fallen from kether; a spirit who once held great holiness and might and who has fallen to a simple and more earthly state of existence. This is interesting as a theory of the nature of the Goetic demons, once Gods, who have now fallen to the state of lesser spirits hardly remembered, yet still holding a store of power. In "The Grand Grimoire" the sorcerer is told to make numerous sacrifices of animals, summon Lucifuge, and then sign the contract he presents in order to be in servitude to him in exchange for a great blessing of success in life.
Toward the end of "Hereditary" the main, innocent characters are tricked into invoking the demon Paimon into their house. The sorceress who gave Annie the charm states clearly that the whole family needs to be in the house when the incantation is read. We can surmise that the words scrawled across the house's walls by the sorceress grandmother form the house effectively into a vessel (similar to a magic triangle) for the spirit to manifest in. This is hinted at by the fact that Charlie's (played by Milly Shapiro) attic bedroom forms a sharp triangle, as does the roof of her treehouse.
The mother within the family, Annie, acts as a medium briefly for Charlie. Mediums have been used in ceremonial magic since ancient times, and modern magicians often employ psychics to receive communication from spirits. A famous example is the Enochian magic by John Dee and Edward Kelley.
After this invocation the story takes a turn for the worst. Blue, flashing light follows Peter, (played by Alex Wolff) the body chosen for Paimon. Fear and strange visions overwhelm him. Mistrust and discord plagues the family. It all ends in the grand manifestation of Paimon within a magic triangle: the treehouse. Another magic triangle is formed by the three corpses arranged ceremonially by the demonolatrous cult.
There is one theory that Paimon, having travelled from the East and riding a camel, and being effeminate in appearance, actually began as a Middle Eastern pagan Goddess. Another claim by Poke Runyon, the famous Goetic magician, is that the name "Paimon" translates to "a tinkling sound" hinting at the origin of Paimon being the diminutive Christianized form of Isis herself, echoing her tinkling sistrum. Although these hypotheses are unproven, there is a possibility. At the end of Hereditary we can hear "a tinkling sound" incorporated into the score.
In the end the most surface-level interpretation is that the demonolators win and successfully incarnate a demonic spirit in the mortal world. Utilizing heinous methods the sorcerers achieve their goals of sacrificing a family to bring about their desires of success, money, and "good familiars."
"Hereditary" has achieved much critical acclaim for its craftsmanship and mastery of a sense of dread and evil. But what can we take from this as people interested in world spirituality and religious mythology? Many who watch this film will call the sorcerers "witches" for lack of a better term. Many who hear that there are real ceremonial magicians and practitioners of grimoire magic will assume that the occult is a place of violence, evil, and crime. Such has been the case for many decades. Yet many people also will investigate their spiritual curiosities and learn that magical people are predominantly devoutly spiritual and religious, and seek to do good for mankind. They will also inevitably realize that the magic shown in their favorite horror films is fictitious at its very core, however inspired by actual historical beliefs they may be. These movies act as a spotlight which directs attention toward the other worlds and planes of being, and when people fear, they often question. And that is all for good.
This is a part of my larger series on Magic in the Movies, another such article in the series will appear in Witch Way Magazine this October.