from Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
Page 107-110, chapter 52
At Rio Gallegos I stayed in a cheap hotel, painted a poisonous green, that catered for migrants from Chiloé. The men played dominoes late into the night. When I asked about the revolution of 1920, their answers were mumbled and vague; they had a more recent revolution to think about. Then I asked about the sect of male witches known on Chiloé as the Brujeria. From what little I knew, I felt it might explain their behaviour in 1920.
‘The Brujeria,’ they smiled, ‘that’s only a story.’ But one old man went cold and silent at the mention of the word.
The Sect of the Brujeria exists for the purpose of hurting ordinary people. No one knows the exact whereabouts of its headquarters. But there are at least two branches of its Central Committee, one in Buenos Aires the other in Santiago de Chile. It is not certain which of these is the senior or if both are beholden to Superior Authority. Regional committees are scattered through the provinces and take their orders, without question, from above. Junior members are kept in ignorance of the names of the higher functionaries.
On Chiloé the Committee is known as the Council of the Cave. The cave lies somewhere in the forests south of Quincavi, somewhere below ground. Any visitor to it suffers thereafter from temporary amnesia. If he happens to be literate, he loses his hands and the ability to write.
Novices of the Sect must submit to a six-year course of indoctrination. Since the full syllabus it known only to the Central Committee, the island schools have a tentative character. When an instructor thinks his pupil is ready for admission, the Council of the Cave assembles and puts him through a sequence of tests.
The candidate must submerge himself for forty days and forty nights under a waterfall of the Thraiguén River, to wash off the effects of his Christian baptism. (During this time he is allowed a little toast.) Next, he must catch, without fumbling, a skull, which the instructor throws from the crown of a tricorn hat. He must kill his best friend to show he has wiped out all trace of sentiment. He must sign a document with blood from his own veins. And he must disinter a recently buried male Christian corpse and flay the skin from the breast. Once this is cured and dried, he sews it into a ‘thieves’ waistcoat.’ The human grease remaining in the skin gives off a soft phosphorescence, which lights the member’s nocturnal expeditions.
[[[[[[[[[Image from Swamp Thing, the Alan Moore years.]]]]]]]]]
Suspiria is the first of a trilogy about “The Three Mothers,” a trio of witch sisters who each have taken over a great house in different parts of the world. The Mother of Sighs, the oldest sister, has a dance academy in Germany.
Now, these are old-school fairy-tale witches, not to be confused with crystal-rubbing Wiccans of today. Their aim is to corrupt, to do evil, and to confuse and manipulate. And murder, of course. Otherwise, what would Argento do with all of that Da-Glo red blood?
Jessica Harper, whom you may remember from Shock Treatment, plays American dancer Suzy, who has traveled all the way to Freiburg, Germany to be part of this prestigious academy. Very soon, she sees that something strange is going on, and the more she learns, the more bizarre and frightening the story gets.
Soon, the witch and her coven decide she is too damned nosy for her own good. It gets bad. As in Rosemary’s Baby, she finds no one believes her, and the witches are trying to control her, and everybody seems in on it — or dead.
Argento’s use of color is fascinating to me. The whole set is so decorative and vibrant, and the horror scenes are brightly-lit with red and green colored lights. The air of the place is mystery and menace, and even when the horrible deaths occur, it is disturbing in large part because of the incongruity with the setting, not to mention the casual way the Academy covers them up.
Argento’s “Three Mothers” trilogy — like Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” and Luhrman’s “Red Curtain Trilogy,” is not precisely a linear collection of sequels. This movie features the first mother, Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs. The second, in Inferno, is Mater Tenebrarum, Mother of Darkness. The third, Mater Lachrymarum, is, of course, Mother of Tears. The making of the trilogy spans 30 years (“The Apartment Trilogy” took 11 years, Luhrman’s trilogy spanned 9 years).
The meta-tale of the three titular witches* is fascinating. They interweave, and by the end quit a vivid history is uncovered.
*Titular Witches coming to the Vagasil Amphitheater tonight!
Suspiria (1977), directed by Dario Argento and co-written by Argento and Daria Nicolodi, starring Jessica Harper, Alida Valli, Udo Kier and Joan Bennett. Suspiria is the first of the trilogy Argento refers to as “The Three Mothers”, followed by Inferno and The Mother of Tears.
Mater Suspiria: Mother of Sighs