Esoteric Symbolism & Memes: Strategies of Control

From New Dawn Special Issue Vol 12 No 3 (June 2018)

The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.
– Benjamin Disraeli

We like to believe we are rational, in control of our lives and making our own decisions. We pride ourselves on our independence and take offence if someone suggests we are being irrational or that our decisions are somehow influenced by someone else. Sadly, free will is not as credible an idea as it first seems. Years of psychological research reveals the immense influence of genetics, culture and the environment on how we behave. While we may justify our decisions by supposedly rational reasoning, these are usually always the result of our emotions responding to unconscious factors.

Meme Theory

The best way to understand this mechanism of control is via meme theory. A meme, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is an “idea, behaviour, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The concept was first proposed by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. While we may disagree with Dawkins’ extreme materialism and reductionist Darwinism, his understanding of memes is a great model to explain how symbols, ideas and images can be used to manipulate behaviour. 

Just as the mechanism of physical evolution works via the gene desiring to reproduce at all costs, within the world of the unconscious the meme reproduces by moving from mind to mind. While genes reproduce by the paroxysm of pleasure, the meme uses whatever primal emotional hook it can latch onto – more often than not this is lust, aggression, violence or fear. 

There are ‘positive’ memes, but sadly the baser human emotions work better to pass on a given idea or system of ideas (a memeplex). Nightmares, urban legends and tales of ghosts, ghouls and murderers pass from generation to generation with ease. In recent times it is easy to locate memes within urban legends about escaped killers, murderers or supernatural monsters of the night. For example, the ‘Tall Man’ or ‘Slender Man’ began as an Internet meme created by Eric Knudson in 2009. It triggered a flood of Internet fiction and YouTube movies about a strange character with a blank and featureless face wearing a black suit who hunts children. Unfortunately, this meme became all too real when in Wisconsin in 2014 two twelve-year-old girls lured another to a secluded place and stabbed her 19 times to impress the ‘Slender Man’.

Semiotics and Meme Theory

Semiotics is the study of how symbols and signs are used to create meaning. When combined with meme theory we can come to an understanding of how symbols, signs, images, pieces of music and related factors can be used to anchor complex ideas and manipulate individuals, groups and even whole populations on an unconscious level.

In National Socialist Germany, soldiers carry banners with their borrowed symbol of power: the Swastika.

Let’s examine some examples. The most obvious is the Swastika. Originally an Indo-European symbol for luck – the whirling spirals of the sun have a long and veritable history as perhaps the most sacred of esoteric symbols – it was taken by the National Socialists and transformed into a symbol of German ascendancy. While it is still found today throughout India, Tibet and many other countries, it triggers a shiver down the spine of most Westerners. The use of it by Nazism was deliberate. They attempted to harness the whole ‘memetic’ heritage of the image and bring it under the command of a new vision of Aryanism as promoted by Germany. The use of the symbol was highly successful as it evoked, on an unconscious level, a wide range of associations from race theory to total obedience to the state, without any forethought. Emotions were swayed, and the German population reacted unconsciously to the Swastika, backed up with complex ritualised parades and rallies, iconography and uniforms. The Germans felt they were rationally choosing a leader who would take them out of the post-First World War depression era when there was nothing rational about it at all.

Winston Churchill makes the V for Victory sign. 

Another example is Winston Churchill’s use of the V for Victory sign. There is evidence the occultist and spy Aleister Crowley took what was a Greco-Roman sign for victory and, during his work for Britain’s MI5, recommended the sign to Churchill as a foil against the use of the Swastika by Hitler. It was also remarkably successful, even expressed in music using a form of Morse code as a call to arms throughout the war. Once again, the symbol triggered a whole population to react unconsciously and rally to fight.

There are many other examples such as the symbol of the cross which has transformed from the sacred tree to the Ankh of Egypt to the crucifix of Christianity. Each culture adapted and used the image in its own way. Sadly, with Christianity, it came to be used as a symbol of the forced conversion of other cultures. As Emperor Constantine said, “in hoc signo vinces” – in this sign you will conquer. Of course, the debate continues regarding the Sixties peace sign. While it was composed of the letters N and D for nuclear disarmament, others claim it is a broken crucifix. The history of the cross would take a whole book to explore as would the Swastika. Both are complex symbols with long histories and innumerable variations.

Cinematic Motifs

Cinema uses symbols, signs and images to create unconscious reactions. Early German Expressionist cinema, for example ‘Nosferatu’ made in 1922, uses strange angles, manipulation of shadows and occult symbols, to evoke a sense of fear. Albion Grau designed the sets for this film at Prana Studios (Prana is the Hindu term for life force) and was also a leading member of Fraternatis Saturni, a significant occult order of the period. We see the same trend in the psychedelic films of the Sixties where images, symbols and signs are used to unconsciously transmit a message. In 1973, ‘The Holy Mountain’ by Alejandro Jodorowsky took Cannes by storm with its surreal journey through the planets based on the esotericism of Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff.

While esoteric themes can be used to create a good ghost, horror or surreal film, they can just as easily be used to manipulate the viewer’s opinion. There are works which are clear propaganda. Such works are far less dangerous than the more subtle forms of cultural manipulation because they are so obvious the filter of the conscious mind tends to ignore their message. A range of motifs in modern cinema appear on a regular basis. Now if these are considered as ‘signs’ representing a deeper meaning, which those behind the movie studios wish to imprint on the collective unconscious, then we can begin to decode how the power elite is manipulating the populace at large.

The development of the zombie film began with the ‘White Zombie’ in 1932 and was followed by a trickle of films until the literal explosion of these films and TV shows today. The motif of the small threatened population trying to fight off an infected menace (read foreign) as the world self-destructs and falls into mayhem. Unconsciously, the call is for law and order and more government to avoid such a catastrophe. As the films become more violent, brutal and confronting they bring in fears of unknown plagues and uncontrollable viruses that can only be contained by tighter controls on immigration and bigger government. Wherever you stand on the immigration debate, this unconscious manipulation of the fears of the populace is obvious.

Reality TV – Life as a Simulation

The craze that’s taken over most programming on television is so-called Reality TV. This ranges from the tawdry ‘Big Brother’ to music and cooking shows and even couples fighting to be the best designers of a home in ‘The Block’. In such programs we live our lives vicariously through the characters on screen – they do the things we would never think of doing and we therefore transfer our emotions onto them. They cook, make music and design so much better than us. We seek to be a little like them through imitation. We can watch ‘MasterChef’, get the recipes online, become better consumers at home and bring a little bit of glamour to the tea table. Such programs as ‘Big Brother’ offers the right combination of nudity, sex, emotional cruelty and interpersonal friction to keep viewers hooked. 

Through such shows we forget our own lives and our own journeys. Instead of facing ourselves, and what is happening in the world, we are reduced to passive consumers. Retail companies pay for their products to be placed in the shows, for us to buy and possess to mimic the characters. Of course, we cannot be like them – they are artificial simulations created by TV producers – but we continue to watch, consume and mould ourselves into role models that are nothing but shadows and marketing ploys.

The Cult of Celebrity

Celebrity is another example of the simulacrum, the image or representation of someone or something. These individuals are made to seem real but are actually artificially moulded by the media and publicity companies. They are memes in the flesh and cannot be seen as real but as representing that what is behind them. When we experience a celebrity we are experiencing a simulacrum, a walking simulation or holographic meme created to trigger certain responses from those they interact with. In many ways celebrities are caricatures – they are not people but carefully engineered memeplexes created by publicity companies to manipulate and trigger specific reactions on an unconscious level. This may seem harsh but unless we see them this way we cannot see through them and begin to appreciate just how conditioned we are and the way in which symbols and signs are used to mould and create what we perceive to be reality.

Diversionary Memetics 

A second level technique known as ‘Diversionary Memetics’ captures those who do start to ask the important questions, but it leads them to dead ends. 

Many thinking people spend large amounts of time running around investigating ‘micro conspiracies’, government corruption, information spread on the Internet, etc. The original source of many diversionary memes are often obscure. They are engineered to spread like wildfire, the Internet being a particularly effective way to quickly proliferate a meme designed to get us angry and wanting to do ‘something’. Of course most people simply spread the meme to other people, and ultimately feel quite disempowered when they realise nothing really changes. The memes (political, economic & social problems) keep coming at us in a never-ending stream.

Studying and exposing all the small conspiracies is certainly an important service but unless we look behind the scenes to decode the overall system of control, then real change becomes impossible. We never see the big picture.

What we need to appreciate is that the world is controlled by memes. The media and the entertainment industry reinforce the values that those at the top want us to hold. We are passive consumers who, on the whole, do not question – we believe what we are told. 


For practical purposes, too, it is very important to recognise the instruments of the occult war, namely the means employed by the secret forces of global subversion to conceal their action, prevent their opponents’ action, and continue to exercise their influence.
– Julius Evola

There is no doubt symbols and signs are used to create systems of control. Our reality is manipulated by encoded images with the help of celebrities who are more representational than real. Political Correctness defines our thinking by manipulating how we speak because the language of a people reflects their soul. When we are more concerned with the language of technology and social networking than personal communication, we have a real problem. When we cannot speak our mind because someone, somewhere may be offended, then self-censorship limits our ability to think beyond certain predefined boundaries.

Chaos and upheavals are changing the world at a rapid pace, but we are dancing, singing and partying. Unless we come to see our chains we cannot set ourselves free. The first step in this process is decoding the layers of symbolism, programming, memes and brainwashing that are conditioning us every minute of every day. We believe we are free agents and can think for ourselves. But look at the media, television, films, entertainment (not to mention computer games), and you can begin to appreciate how our beliefs about ourselves, who we are and our role in the world, are totally artificial, totally conditioned, and represent what the power elite want us to think. It is time to take the Red Pill.

This article was published in New Dawn Special Issue Vol 12 No 3.
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About the Author

Robert Black has a long standing interest in Traditionalism, Esotericism, Occultism, Alternative Politics, Shamanism and the Perennial Wisdom. He regularly reviews books for New Dawn magazine and has contributed numerous articles over the years.

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