The person sitting across the table inside a crowded, Burbank restaurant wants to keep his identity a secret. Anonymity is part of the project that will unfold Friday night at a to-be-announced location in Highland Park. The Invocation, as it's called, is a collective of individuals from a wide range of backgrounds who will appear in front of a public audience for the first time. "Normally, our work is for ourselves," says the Anonymous Man.
The reasons for the shrouded identity are, at least in part, artistic in nature. "I don't like to do these things for money or for fame, just trying to let the work stand on its own," he says. The Anonymous Man tries to explain the concept of Friday night's event without giving away too many details. There are no spoilers here.
"I think that it's fair to say that we're not exactly what we seem to be," he says. "That's part of the point."
How do you explain something that has yet to occur when the details remain a mystery to outsiders? A recent press release calls The Invocation a "secret society" that is popping above-ground just this once. There is mention that the society studies the "Trickster Coyote," a mythical figure, who is at the center of the event. The night itself is a social gathering and performance, where the audience is invited to participate. There will be lectures, including one from Maja D'Aoust, the White Witch of L.A., and music. "Profane ritual" and "trance-like states" are part of the package, according to our sources. The nature of the event is intended to be fairly intense, enough so where people with health issues, such as heart conditions, are discouraged from attending.
During our interview, the Anonymous Man makes reference to the idea of tricksters. "The trickster is this person who lives on the edge of ideas," he says. The performer talks about "joints," the points where ideas connect or phases of life begin to transition. "It's where everything is the most vulnerable," he says.
Transitional periods appear to be part of the event. The invite notes that it will involve a "hypnagogic state," in other words, the period when you're not awake, but not fully asleep. It's the juncture where lucid dreams might occur.
The Invocation is concerned with gray areas. The Anonymous Man mentions that he's interested in the "space between" those artists whose work reflects spiritual ideas and those whose lives have been shaped by it. He is concerned with notions about performance. What makes an experience theatrical?
"I'm not a fan of the traditional theater play," he says. "I think a much more interesting performance is a seance." He talks about the relationship between the medium and the onlookers, how that might change depending on what a person believes to be true, how the audience is "100% invested in the performance as participants and not as a witness."
We talk about the mystical moments of slumber parties, time spent spinning in front of a mirror chanting "Bloody Mary" or watching the planchette glide across the ouija board. "If you do not believe in Bloody Mary or Ouija Boards, is that theater?" he asks.
This is part of what The Invocation attempts to explore on Friday night. The event, no matter how it unfolds, is a performance. "I think that anytime people get together and express themselves, whether it's for themselves or for an audience, is a performance," he says. "This one just happens to have guests."
Sitting with us is Matt Blitz. He's the head of Obscura Society L.A. That's a branch of the online guidebook Atlas Obscura that heads out on adventures across Los Angeles. It's also the group that's sponsoring The Invocation's event.
Obscura Society L.A. looks beyond the common perceptions of the city in which it is based. "Los Angeles always gets this reputation for being superficial," says Blitz. "What we're trying to look for is beneath that, the history of Los Angeles that is not normally talked about or shown or the personality of Los Angeles that isn't something outwardly there."
He adds, "I guess that's why we appreciate The Invocation and why we wanted to work with them."
As Blitz talks about the field trips that his group organizes, more about The Invocation becomes clear. Obscura Society L.A. has visited Devil's Gate and JPL, a trip into the world of famed scientist Jack Parsons and his connection to the occult. They have investigated the Aetherius Society and Templo Santa Muerte. Not all of their events explore belief systems, but it is a topic of interest to the curious local travelers.
"I think what we really appreciate in terms of that is how everyone finds an identity," says Blitz. "Everyone is an individual and they all go searching for something that makes them feel whole. That manifests in many different ways for many different people."
In Los Angeles, there's a search for the sacred, for finding something greater than the tangible world surrounding us, that often translates into belief systems that fall outside of the mainstream. The Anonymous Man mentions how this flourished in the city's "Golden Age," the middle of the 20th century, as the entertainment and aerospace industries boomed and Los Angeles expanded with a new wave of residents, including people whose big ideas pushed convention.
The Invocation, however, is not looking back on a long-gone era. The Anonymous Man is quick to clarify that. They are also not planning a religious gathering. "I think our group's work is about recreating religious structures in secular ways," he says.
The nonreligious aspect is an important element of The Invocation. "As someone creating secular work, I look towards religious structures because when you become a secular person-- whether it's an atheist or just someone who doesn't participate in religion, which are two different ideas-- you're throwing away so much that is maybe hardwired into our existence because you don't like that it's tied to this other thing," he later adds.
"We've been humans living with religion for so long, to throw out that idea, to throw out the idea of transcendence or trance-like states just because you don't like that it's tied to a particular system or god, is maybe the wrong idea," says the Anonymous Man. "That's where I think that exploring those structures from a secular perspective is maybe easier to process in some ways and to me, more interesting."