Lodge 49’s Vision of the Magical Life
Lodge 49 is probably the most accurate portrayal of the occult on television.
The Lodge 49 season two finale has come and gone, and it was breathtaking. This show, about the members of an esoteric fraternal order in Long Beach, California, has such a sedate and otherworldly quality while still managing to be utterly real and relatable. Rarely in my admittedly unconventional life have I felt as though a show has spoken so directly to me, peering deep into my weird little soul and stoking the fires of my personal alembic.
Lodge 49 wins acclaim for its dreamily languid and unfolding plot and compelling characters, yet we never hear of it described as an occult themed show, which it most definitely is. This is most likely because of the emphasis of the weird over that of the showy and supernatural, but make no mistake, Lodge 49 captures the magical life beautifully. This is not the occult as wished for, this is the occult as it really is. In fact, I believe it is the most accurate occult show on television. This show is about people and relationships and finding the wonder that lies just beyond.
For several years now, we have been hearing about the meteoric rise of interest in the occult and witchcraft as people grasp to re-enchant a dark world. The rise in supernaturally themed media such as Strange Angel, Good Omens, Sabrina the Teenage Witch or American Gods both mirrors and supports this trend. In those shows, however, we see cosmic battles of good and evil being fought through fiery and dramatic magic. Big personalities like Aleister Crowley or compelling underdogs like Sabrina manipulate their trials through spells, sorcery and sometimes inherited power, suggesting that magicians are, in fact, a breed apart. But anyone who has ever spent any time around committed occultists and witches knows that everyday magic looks nothing like that. Lodge 49 is quiet, eccentric, and deeply authentic. I know more than my fair share of people who belong to occult orders, and they all feel as though this show was written just for them. Obviously, that is a rather selective demographic, so the show’s success should tell us something about both the exquisite storytelling of the creators and cast of Lodge 49 and the eternal pull of the magical quest. When it comes to portraying the genuine occult experience and the cultivation of an enchanted life, Lodge 49 is the real deal.
Blaise St. John is the member of Lodge 49 who travels the furthest down the alchemical rabbit hole and becomes most personally invested in the magnum opus, or The Great Work. I have known so many Blaises in my time. In fact, if I am honest, I see him in myself: the obsession, forgetting to bathe (also common among occultists), making cosmic sense out of every coincidence, seeing patterns in all things, not sleeping, and talking way too fast to glassy eyed friends who are mostly humoring your latest cascade of mystic revelations. The alchemist Blaise conveys the insane elation of one who is coming into grand alignment with something much bigger with the persistent certainty that it’s just within reach! That is the nature of the Great Work, and the pursuit of it can easily look like madness. Blaise has no superpowers, he is an intense hippie who lost his shop and has nowhere to live, and the quest of alchemy, spiritual perfection and the idea of the True Lodge is his imaginal world, keeping him alive.
Yet Blaise’s “Impossible Dream” is one that is shared, and his companions on the journey make all the difference. Most magical orders and even witches’ covens are generally made up of mostly normal yet slightly offbeat people who are just trying to get by in the world through unconventional means. Most seekers and initiates have regular sorts of jobs and careers. More than a few are economically marginal, but all could be described as intellectually curious with obsessive tendencies. Lodges comprise a motley collection of seriously quirky folks building relationships and seeking a taste of the ineffable. People who choose a life in magic open themselves up to the occasional chance that they might get a glimpse of the deep workings of the universe. The payoff? A chance to, as the innocent Fool, have a momentary encounter with the sublime, leaving you with a beautiful wide-eyed grin and changed.The reality of the magical life is less about cosmic battles and more about how we manage transformation.
I often wonder how this show got pitched. It’s about a Freemasonic style order, the Ancient and Benevolent Order of the Lynx, based on the principles of spiritual alchemy, neither of which is exactly the most accessible starting point for a narrative. Most people watching the show would likely on first glance compare the Lynx to a Freemasonic lodge or perhaps to another benevolent society such as the Moose, Lions, or Odd Fellows. Although fraternal orders and “friendly societies” have been fading from the American cultural landscape, they used to be part of the fabric of American communities, providing necessary support for their members and their families through economic hardship, illness, or death. These societies helped new immigrants find friends and jobs and provided financial care for widows and families in distress prior to the boom of the insurance industry. Many people, including some scholars, would not define Freemasonry as “occult” or “magical”. Certainly, most Freemasons would balk at that characterization, although Freemasonry does retain both the focus on allegory, symbolism, ritual, and personal enlightenment common to many explicitly occult orders. In fact, most magical orders today, and also many of the rituals of contemporary religious witchcraft, are based directly on Masonic rites. Yet Freemasonry, like other esoteric orders, thrives primarily on community, in this case created by the bonds of men who gather together to learn to become better men.
In many ways the Lynx have much more in common with overtly occult orders like the historically influential Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn than with the Freemasons. Importantly, like the Golden Dawn, the Lynx admits both men and women on an equal basis. The Golden Dawn was also the first magical order to create a practical curriculum of magic and the occult arts, including tarot, Kabballah, and alchemy. Lodge 49 and the Order of the Lynx are stepped in the lore and imagery of western occultism. In fact, creator Jim Gavin and his writing team have taken exceptional care with the esoteric detailing of the show, which satisfies the pickiest of modern occultists — which would be most of them. The central metaphor of spiritual development in the Order of the Lynx appears to be speculative alchemy, which is not about the actual creation of gold from lesser metals, but is a metaphor for the refinement of the soul. The end goal of alchemy is the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone, which can bestow a number of gifts ranging anywhere from eternal life to reunion with the Godhead. The complicated processes of alchemy, wrapped in the arcane and complicated language of strange metallurgy, refer to various stages of purifying the soul. The sashes of the Lynx have badges created from actual alchemical manuscripts, alchemical emblems grace the walls of the Lodge, and Blaise refers to actual historical alchemical source texts. One wonders what might feature in their rituals of initiation and advancement through the grades.
The tropes and visual atmosphere of the show replicate the world of actual esoteric practitioners. It shows the ways in which they frame their life experiences while working to blur the boundaries of the quotidian and some undefined spiritual dimension. This is exemplified by the legendary founder of the Lynx, Harwood Fritz Merrill. Merrill is the perfect composite founder of a magical order, satisfying the long-standing tradition of larger than life personalities who provide ever present inspiration for seekers. Merrill is a clever mash up of actual historical occultists. According to the AMC website for Lodge 49, Merrill was a soldier with no formal education who, like most esotericists of the nineteenth century, saw Egypt as the font of all occult knowledge, and he spent most of his days immersed in esoteric Egyptological research. He shared a Scottish lineage with Samuel “Mac Gregor” Mathers, one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, and he was also an eccentric polymath like the nineteenth century spiritual philosopher Rudolph Steiner. And was Merrill’s enlistment with the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders a little love note to Aleister Crowley and Thelema, or am I merely imagining hidden references? And of course, Merrill loved alchemy and believed in its potential to aid in the pursuit of enlightenment.
Other sensual touches in the show support esoteric aesthetics and ambiance. Tarot cards pop up as occasional visual elements, and AMC explicitly created tarot cards for some of the major characters on Instagram. Unsurprisingly, Dud is the Fool. The mental health rest home Luidbrium, where Blaise meets fellow Lynx member and famous author L. Marvin Metz, displays a painting by the pioneering spiritualist artist Hilma af Klint. While the posse was in Mexico, Clara gives a shout out to witchy Surrealist Remedios Varo. The whole atmosphere is sustained by an exceptionally dreamy and expertly chosen soundtrack that reinforces key themes of the show. Like a fractal, images, recurring themes, motifs, and sounds all build on each other in a way that reproduces the internally recursive experience of occult perspective.
In fact, the show teaches the viewer how to see life through a magical lens. The signs and symbols are all there. If you see a coincidence or recurring pattern or motif, it was likely quite deliberately embedded. For instance, it was probably immediately clear to any practicing occultist that each season corresponds to an element. The first was Water, the second was Fire, which hopefully assures us four seasons of Lodge 49. That season two corresponded to the element of fire was a driving theme of some of the most important action in the season, yet the symbolism was perhaps most effective when it flew a bit under the radar, waiting to be discovered. For example, Genevieve the Muse speaks only in French, but indeed, all of her words when translated are fiery portents revealing her true motivation (“I’m going to set you all on fire”). She openly foreshadows the fire she sets to the tapestry that allows Ernie to escape with the scrolls, yet probably very few viewers caught that. However, any hidden signs don’t appear to be pointing to an overriding universal conspiracy; they are there to help the viewer develop a wider awareness of the way that all things are connected, layered, and rich. This show is designed for immersion and for revelation.
What Lodge 49 accomplishes is a glimpse into the inner world and experience of the modern occultist, where magic is not about power but about cultivating a different way of seeing. To quote the 17th century scientist and scholar Athanasius Kircher, of whom Harwood Fritz Merrill was a fan, “The world is bound with secret knots.’’ To choose a magical life is to recognize the interconnectedness of all things, to learn how to access the deep structures of reality, and how to navigate your place within it. Sure, witches really do have fancy wands, and magical orders do occasionally have their members undergo slightly spooky rites that are designed to change consciousness and to produce divine rapture. But on a daily basis, magic is about recognizing when you are having an encounter with a moment of fate and allowing yourself to fall backward through that open door.