The Alchemist

White: The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky

Excerpt from the book, The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards
and interview by Jay Babcock in the summer of 2003.

Q: You are at work on an alarming number of projects for someone of any age. Where is all the energy coming from?

ALEXANDRO JODOROWSKY: Energy is coming because I will die very soon. I am old. I have so many things to do, so every day I get quicker, in order to do them! I don’t want to die without doing everything I wanted to do.

Q: You are known as a filmmaker, but for the last 25 years you have been writing comics, not making films . . .

Everything I could not do in movies, I make in comics and writing. I do comics because I think it’s an art form as big as movies or painting or poetry. The graphic novel is a fantastic thing for me. For four or five years every Sunday I drew a comics page, a complete story. But it was very basic. When I saw Moebius making the drawings, I stopped. And I never make any more. Moebius, Boucq, Bess, Juan Gimenez, Beltran — they’re geniuses. How can they draw like that? It is a miracle. When you see a painting by Travis Charest? He’s incredible . . . some kind of a monster!

Q: When you make films, you are present at every stage: scripting, designing, directing, editing and so on. But with comics, you write a script and give it to someone else.

No, it’s not like that. First, before I work with an artist on a series, I see his drawings. If I like his drawings, I can write for him. Because I admire this person! Then, I have a long conversation with him, to learn what he likes drawing, what he actually wants to do [in the series]. While he is speaking with me, I start to see him, his psychological profile . . . I make an invasion of his soul. An exploration. I go inside to find out who he is. What he is like. Then I discuss with him an idea for a story. He gives me a lot of ideas, and I say yes. Then I go up to the house and I write my story and then I convince him that I used everything he said to me. And he is happy because I am working with him. Not with his idea — I work with his feelings.

Q: So there is a constant collaboration with the artist?

Yes. Constant. With Boucq, for example, on Bouncer, I call him by telephone at the end of every day. I say, “What have you been drawing today? How did you feel doing that?” Sometimes he says, “In this scene, I feel this character cannot do that,” and we discuss. If he doesn’t like that, or he cannot do it, I make another scene, similar, where he feels good. I am fascinated with these stories. For me it is not a work to earn money only. It’s a creative thing, you know?

Q: Do you take risks in your work?

Yes . . . In The Metabarons, I always finish each book with an impossible crisis. They have a problem. The person has no testicle; he needs to make a son. How? Impossible. I wait . . . I wait . . . And then, slowly — thank you! — the solution came. It’s kind of a “mediumity,” a kind of inspiration. In one moment I have the idea. Then, when I start to write, everything comes! It’s like when you are a photographer, and you put the paper in the acid and slowly the photograph starts to develop. It’s exactly like that.

Q: Can you know that it’s going to happen?

I don’t suffer to write it. But when I need to write a new series, a new album, for three days I do nothing. The only thing I can do is to see movies, see television, read . . . Because I am as if paralyzed! Suddenly, [with relief] the idea comes. I say thank you, because I am grateful. I am really grateful because I received the idea. But I don’t construct the idea. I am not a constructor. I receive the idea.

Q: Where do you think it comes from?

The unconscious. It comes directly from the unconscious. I think the unconscious is a very, very enormous universe, no? And when you open the doors to the unconscious, you start to receive. Sometimes you see a terrible vision of yourself: desires you don’t want to have, ideas you detest, feelings that hurt you. When you open the door, you can see yourself in a very weird way, like a bad trip on LSD. You can have that. You have all the hell, and paradise, no? You need to have the courage to open the doors.

Q: And then you need to use what comes through the door, no matter how terrible or strange . . .

Yes! When I wrote Son of the Gun, I was writing very comfortable, then suddenly I said, “He has a tail like a cat. Impossible! That will change all my story, all my characters. What I can do!” And [my intuition says] “Trust me, he needs to be like that.”

Q: You are a tarot expert. Do you see a connection between comics and the tarot?
Sure, because the tarot is the language of the German, or of the American, or of the Spanish. It is an optical language. A person might not be a magician, but you can still read the tarot, and you can learn to develop your gaze. With the tarot, you have drawings and words together, and you can read it. You know, some people like to play chess; others play cards. I myself like to read the tarot. It’s fun for me to do. Every Wednesday I do the tarot for something like 20 to 30 people. I only answer to present problems. I don’t see the future. I don’t believe in the future! It’s an exercise for my mind, because it’s the furthest from rationality. It awakens the intuition.

And, when you work years to develop your gaze, then you can create all these things. It makes it easy to imagine the pages, a story, art, comics. Look at what I am writing in The Metabarons: a whole, enormous story! It’s unique. It surprises even me.

Q: In the late ’60s and ’70s, especially in the period around the release of The Holy Mountain, you spoke often in interviews about trying to lose your ego.

Yes. In the beginning, I hoped to lose my ego. But this is impossible. You cannot lose your ego. But you can tame your ego. But to lose your ego is a legend — it’s not true. Even Buddha had an ego!

Q: How did you go about taming it?

By suffering. Life is full of suffering. And joy. But when you take the lessons of the suffering, you start to realize that you are not the center of the world. You are onecenter, but not the center. Every one of us is a center of the universe. But the mistake is to think “I am the onlycenter.” And not the person around me. Also, you need to learn you have value. Not to be a person who says, “I am not the center, I am nothing. Nothing at all.” You need to diminish on one side, and on the other side you need to grow. That is the Work.

Then, you need to learn to see yourself with objectivity: As you see a tree, and you see a cat, you see yourself. Every night I caress my wife before sleeping. And then, I try to see myself. [Acting as if he is looking in a mirror] I say, “What is that? Who am I? Am I a body who has a spirit, or I am a spirit who has a body?” And then slowly I find myself saying, “I am a spirit who has a body.” And then I say, “What am I saying? I am the product of this body. I don’t love this body. I don’t like my belly, I don’t like my white hair.” But this awful thing, this old man, is creating so beautiful a spirit! This body is creating that! I need to honor this body.
Listen, for a lot of years I made a mistake. I thought to be humble was to hide yourself, to not show you have a value. But, to be humble is to recognize yourself. I am speaking as I am, in reality.

I am a national legend in Chile. I left before Allende; I returned after Pinochet. They published my books and invited me to the book convention. Because Chile is very closed — it’s like an island — when a Chilean goes out in the world and makes things, other Chileans are astonished; you become a legend. They lined the streets . . . little boys, they speak to me and demanded advice . . . and I gave them answers. In that moment, it is very difficult to not have an ego, you know?