The Lantern Of Fear: Laterna Magica

Developed in the early 17th century the Laterna Magica, an early form of the slide projector, not only influenced the development of the Gothic Novel in significant ways, but had an impact on philosophical thought. Visitors of 18th century Laterna Magica shows took the “Phantasmagoria”, the ghostly effects created by the Laterna Magica, sometimes for real. In Germany the Laterna Magica was also called “Schreckenslaterne”. What if there is in some other plane of reality a “Lantern Of Fear” projecting supernatural phenomena into our world to put us into appropriate behavior?


If we look at the Laterna Magica as a model it might be a possibility how to understand some “real” supernatural phenomena. Some apparitions and phenomena are often reported in a way as if it were recordings from another dimension. And yes, if we read reports of sightings or close encounters it is like these people have seen kind of a video clip. Apparitions are often repetitive in a way.

Perhaps we are in the same situation like the early viewers of the laterna magica spectacles or people who witnessed the first projection of motion pictures who didn’t understand the mechanism. They didn’t understand what’s really going on.

The other way around the invention of the laterna magica and all its successors – in some way IMAX is the contemporary version of the laterna magica – makes not only use of a natural phenomenon – it could be in some way a human made imitation of a secret mechanism used in another plane of reality beyond our everyday world but affecting our world:

Jacques Valleé suspected that we are like viewers in a movie theatre and that there is somewhere a projector (It’s a bit like saying that we are the actors in the “Truman Show” where the poor protagonist is confronted with effects created behind the studio set he never could understand).

This projector generates some of the Ufo phenomena and more. Valleé also raised the most interesting question: if there is somewhere a projector showing us strange things we only can interpret as supernatural – who is the projectionist?

It would be good if we could meet some day in the future the projectionist who is behind this laterna magica.

Particularly if we look into the history of the laterna magica in the 17th and 18th century some very interesting questions come up:

If we think of a show or a contemporary movie we see it as entertainment but early reports of lantern projections indicate that they were intended to scare the audience. Wikipedia mentions one of its inventors, Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit scholar. „According to legend Kircher secretly used the lantern at night to project the image of Death on windows of apostates to scare them back into church“ (Wikipedia: Magic Lantern).

However, there is evidence that the Magic Lantern was used for all kind of subjects. Later there were traveling lanternists called “Savoyards“, and it certainly was a more sophisticated entertainment when the Lantern Shows inspired the dark romanticism with its Gothic Novels.

Nevertheless it’s interesting to come back to Kircher – why would an educated man want to scare his audience with some fake supernatural effects? „Scare them back into church“ means to do something to people to put them back to some proper behavior.

What about our projectionist safely hidden in a different plane of reality uses his „lantern of fear“ to scare us from time to time? We can only speculate what he wants us to do, but mostly it seems it’s always about our belief system.

Traditionally it is the Gods, who are the projectionists creating any kind of wonders to control men. But the magic lantern is in some ways similar to Prometheus’ fire. We stole what belongs to the Gods. In the long way from the Jesuits using the Laterna Magica to educate their audience to modern cinema we learned to become like the Gods showing deeply impressed spectators mindblowing effects like miracles and control their belief system.

However maybe the Gods are still there and control what we should see or what we not should see – even in the movies.

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