Film Review: The Kybalion

The Kybalion, 2022 

Directed by Ronni Thomas, featuring Mitch Horowitz 

The Kybalion is a book published in 1908 in Chicago IL, written by attorney William Walter Atkinson under the alias “The 3 Initiates”. Its focus is on the “7 Principles of Egyptian Hermeticism” claimed to have been transmitted to the ancients by the mysterious figure Hermes Trismegistus (“Hermes, Thrice- Majestic”.)  To this day the book is a matter of much conjecture and infighting: online occult discussions and mudslinging forums regularly erupt with oppositional indignation between those who swear by it and those who consider it utter garbage.

In spite of this controversy, or maybe because of it, The Kybalion has remained a relatively popular read over the past century.  Disgraced comedian Roseann Barr once said that it “meant a lot” to her, and classic funnyman Sherman Helmsley claimed it as a life-changing tome of wisdom. (1)

Wisdom or foolishness, gnosis or grift, the book retains its place in the history of humanity’s striving for the ineffable.  (If you’d like to read it without being “soon parted” from your money, a free pdf is downloadable here.)

But enough background.

The Kybalion film, newly released this year, is the creation of director Ronni Thomas (The Midnight Archive) and occult historian Mitch Horowitz (Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Country).  IMDb describes it as a “surreal documentation” (2) and I elsewhere read it presented as an experimental documentary (sadly I can’t find that quote now that I’m trying to annotate.) In my estimation, the filmmakers do a much better job than the original book at presenting heady hermetic concepts to a contemporary audience.

Horowitz provides narration for the film, his voice illuminated by lush visuals of saturated colors, strobing diagrams and geometric patterns of light and viscous fluid ala 60s psych-rock projections. Montages of imagery- costumed figures in forest scenes, nude bodies, morphing fractals, kaleidoscopic spirals- are intercut with more straightforward interview segments with seven esoteric practitioners:  psychic Paula Roberts, alchemist Brian Cotnoir, medium Lauren Thibodeau, afterlife researcher Dr. Raymond Moody Jr., hypnotist Daniel Ryan, tarot reader Laetitia Barbier, and astrologer Micki Pallerano.


Voiceover: “the Universe is mental”


> Trunklike mask festooned with skeleton keys, 

Crowning just one of several symbolic figures 

Officiating an Alchemical Wedding. <


Through this engaging cut-up of exposition and visual allegory, The Kybalion explores the seven main concepts of Atkinson’s book: Mentalism, Correspondence, Vibration, Polarity, Rhythm, Cause and Effect, and Gender.  Within these strata, each of the guest experts offer commentary on their own practice as well as personal anecdotes related to their exploration of the supra-physical realms: Paula Roberts describes journeying to the moon astrally and there interacting with lunar beings who were not exactly happy with her visit; Daniel Ryan recounts glimpsing one of his past lives as a young woman in the 1800s, abandoned by her husband on the American frontier. Laetitia Barbier asserts, “Images have a power to heal us, and change us.”


“higher mind of the cosmos”


> Lens flare, flicker, time lapse of night sky <


Two segments in particular that I respond strongly to are “Correspondence “ with alchemist Brian Cotnoir and “Polarity” with Dr. Raymond Moody.  

In his interview, Cotnoir discusses talismans, dream work, the “ascent of the soul”, astral projection, and shapeshifting.  Through drawing and collage he interacts with subtle forces and influences. His approach is highly visual and centers physical production as a gateway to manifesting his intentions.  

Moody, who in 1975 coined the phrase “near death experience” (3), discusses Ionian poet Anacreon as a window through which to view the sacredness of opposites: Up and Down, Hot and Cold, Wet and Dry, True and False. He also posits a “3rd possibility”- the Unintelligible, which opens a welcome escape hatch from traditional binaries. His unique process of grief counseling draws on ancient mystery schools to lead students through sessions in which they often “meet” and converse with dead relatives in a dark, mirrored room. 


> string theory, 

universal consciousness <


“raising one’s vibration”


I feel it would be irresponsible of me to close without mentioning the Kybalion’s 7th and final principle: Gender.  As stated in the film, “Gender in this case doesn’t refer to sexual roles, but rather to the framework of creation.”  As is often the case in esoteric writings, Atkinson assigned gendered terminology to forces of Activity and Passivity, eg. the Male gives and the Female receives. In this dynamic,  Light is projective and thus male, while Darkness is receptive and thus female. 

If your brain chafes at this idea you’re not alone.  There are many opportunities to feel left out: from Taoism to the Abrahamic religions, the gender metaphor is fairly common throughout world spiritual traditions.  As someone who increasingly identifies as nonbinary, I myself grapple with this when for instance I recite the invocation of the Headless One (aka Bornless Rite, Liber Samekh, etc) with its line “Thou didst make the Female and the Male / Thou didst produce the seeds and the fruit…” (4) 

I haven’t yet conceived a satisfactory workaround to this, other than to sometimes alter the phrasing to say, “…Thou didst make the Female and the Male, and They who step Beyond…”

In the larger frame of things, I hope and expect that humankind is reaching an inflection point at which our conceptions of Ourselves and of the broader Universe evolve beyond the Binary codes imprinted upon us.

That said, I feel that the film does a pretty good job expanding on the idea that, in this context, “maleness” and “femaleness” refer to natural and cosmic processes, not to human sexuality.  It’s an imperfect fulcrum on which to balance, but ultimately necessary in remaining true to the source material.


> Shadows, campfire flickering in dark forest, arms entwined <


“Action, Causation, Reality Itself”


All in all The Kybalion is an engaging stylistic and conceptual amalgam that will undoubtedly turn new audiences on to the century old book and the ancient doctrines it presents. Personally, I find that when online gatekeepers try to ferret out source and fact above all other considerations, their drive is somewhat misguided and not a very interesting approach to take- we are, after all, talking about gods, spirits, and currents of energy!  But whether one sees Atkinson’s book as inspired or insipid, this new film succeeds at informing and entertaining. The narrative sequences in particular lend a carnivalesque atmosphere to the whole, calling to mind A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Kenneth Anger’s Rabbit Moon.  Each of the seven guest experts could easily deserve their own hour-long documentaries, and narrator Mitch Horowitz has too many stellar projects under his belt to name here.  In my opinion The Kybalion updates and outperforms its literary namesake, and is definitely worth the price of admission!

The Kybalion

2022 Random Media

Available on multiple 

streaming platforms and at


Jason Triefenbach is an artist, writer, and non-denominational minister with a garden and a lifelong interest in lurking around the Occult/ Paranormal shelves in bookstores worldwide. As Sun Duel he records and sometimes performs music with a variety of friends and loved ones.   



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