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Alan Moore's Hermeticism: Who Watches the Watchmen?

By Armando Gimenez ’22

With the rise of HBO’s new hit series “Watchmen”, we get the opportunity to look back on one of the most self-aware and greatest comics of human history. The original graphic novel was poignant political and spiritual commentary on humanity’s savage nature and the sacrifice those with knowledge bare.

Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” displays a reality were superheroes are government agents who act like pop stars but lack any sort of powers. There is only one superbeing, Dr. Manhattan, that has near god-like powers and sees the past, present and future at the same time, as though they are all occurring at one simultaneous moment. Moore takes a creative liberty with history and creates an alternate timeline for American history where the US uses his god-like power to win the Vietnam War and make Vietnam the fifty-first state of the U.S.A.

With Nixon still as America’s president, due to superheroes covering up the Watergate scandal, the world is at a standoff of mutual assured destruction. The series ends with Dr. Manhattan creating a giant squid monster that is teleported onto New York City, killing millions and traumatizing those who felt the shockwave of its power. This happens so every world power would unite out of fear of the monster instead of fighting each other. Although this genius saved humanity at the cost of millions, he sacrificed his own humanity and isolated himself from the world he sacrificed everything to save.

This is just one side of the story, with more complex characters that would impact the meaning in different ways. Although both cinematic adaptations of “Watchmen,” the 2009 film adaption and the new HBO series, are respectable works with incredible story telling, the most important thing around them is the man behind the art, Alan Moore.

Alan Moore, at first appearance, can seem like your run of the mill homeless man, but he is really the self-declared madman that thought he could end the war. Throughout most of his career in the comic industry, he follows his main philosophy of Hermetism, or Hermeticism. Hermeticism is trying to seek an understanding of the world through a combination of alchemy, astrology, and theurgy; theurgy is the goal of reaching spiritual perfection near to godliness.

Using this philosophy, Moore found his own unique understanding of the world. He concluded that reality was divided up into two parts: the material and immaterial. The material is exactly what it is, the material and physical things within our reality, but the immaterial is a little bit more complicated. In Moore’s perspective, the immaterial is the image that the brain conjures up due to the senses of the body. These two parts draw him to believe that a form of magic exists, where under extreme mental and spiritual training the brain can change the senses so our brain can warp reality.

Essentially, in layman’s terms, changing our physical reality to make it whatever our mind can envision. With this understanding of the universe, Moore foresaw the end of the world due to humanity reaching its peak of knowledge and collapsing into itself. He basically believed that humanity would accumulate so much knowledge that our minds would be unable to process a clear reality, making our bodies and mind self destruct.

He predicted this would occur in 2017. When this prediction was thankfully confirmed false, he released his magnum opus, “Jerusalem”. This novel was made to alter the reality of the world and make his prophecy true. Although Moore’s work has not distorted reality in the way he perceived, he did make a mark in the fact that we are the masters of our own reality and that those who are called insane may just be the only “sane” ones in an insane world. That was the philosophy of a mad genius, or “the truth of our universe denied by the masses”, either way Moore has produced, in the “Watchmen” series, a fictional space for important criticism of our contemporary American society.

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