Keeping Your Head

Horror is a gift that keeps on giving.  Not many horror fans are among my regular readers, but I like to keep a finger in the pie nevertheless.  Just earlier this month it was announced that Paramount has hired Lindsey Beers to direct a new big screen Sleepy Hollow.  It’s early days, of course, and the movie hasn’t been titled, let alone filmed.  Beers is just wrapping up a prequel for Pet Sematary (not yet titled) that I’ll be eager to see.  Women horror directors tend to bring refreshing angles to the genre—and why shouldn’t they?  Women writers were crucial in developing the Gothic genre that evolved into horror as we know it.  No matter what the Supreme Court says, they are just as important—probably more—than males.

I’ve been reading quite a lot about Sleepy Hollow over the past several months, which is how I came across the intelligence about this new movie.  It’s nice to know that the Hudson Valley is evergreen.  My visits there have offered brushes with the uncanny, but nothing explicit.  A weekend near the ice caves of Sam’s Point, geocaching in the woods outside Poughkeepsie, a visit to Sleepy Hollow itself to visit Irving’s grave and tip my hat to the Old Dutch Church.  With deep family roots in upstate New York, I’ve always thought it would be a great place to live.  Alas, not on an editor’s salary.  It’s been too long since I’ve given the area a visit.

John Quidor, The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane, via Wikimedia Commons

There have been many takes on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”  Even in the silent era movies were made of it.  In retrospect, it seems odd that it took so long for Tim Burton to bring it back to the big screen.  There were some television movies, usually with plodding plots to draw the story out to commercial length.  Disney had early on devoted half a feature to it, as if the story couldn’t support its own weight.  For better or worse, that film was probably the first introduction to the tale that many people had—the story itself was written for adults.  Of course, many written kids’ versions have come out since then.  The satirical original was meant for a somewhat sophisticated readership with a sense of humor.  The story lends itself to horror treatments, however, if they’re done well.  It may have been an early viewing of the Disney tale that set me moving in this direction.  I like to think I’ve kept my head over it, however.


Stand with Women

We like to think we’re the most advanced civilization in the world, but we allow the appointment of “justices” who still believe women are inferior to men.  Millions of women who’d been born into the modern world yesterday found themselves thrust back into medievalist thinking that now seems to reign in the Supreme Court.  Even Donald Trump, who is responsible, has expressed his doubts.  When will we acknowledge that women should have the same rights as men?  How long do we have to continue this inane struggle against religious amateurs who believe their reading of Scripture is the only correct one?  I was raised by a woman on her own.  Uneducated, with no practical job skills, she remained religious and very capably reared three sons.  She was far more capable than my father.

Democracy can be gamed, of course.  And the “angry white man” has become America’s new face to the world.  The petulant, selfish male who thinks everyone else is getting the benefits.  Even as Catholic-majority nations are declaring women’s rights, America is stepping backward in the Human Rights Index because certain senators refused to allow voting on legitimate candidates for the supreme court.  How they can go home and face their wives I do not know.  Of course, our laws do not apply to our lawmakers.  As revelations continually show, theirs is a world of “do as I say, not as I do.”  Is it so difficult to say it out loud?  Women are fully human and have an inherent claim to the same rights as men.  But then again, when have those blinded by religion ever seen clearly?

America, do you enjoy seeing your rights stripped away?  Do you enjoy justices who one day decide it’s our right to carry weapons in public and then next to say that women must remain home barefoot and pregnant?  Is this the mentality that now rules the gamed “supreme” court?  I’d like to exegete that word supreme and ask our “justices” just how deeply they’ve studied religion.  And that doesn’t mean just praying over your Bible.  The most difficult courses in the religion-philosophy curriculum are those dealing with ethics.  Days spent wrestling with the subtleties of how reason, law, and religion interact and teasing them apart to look at each with real understanding.  Or do we just vote along party lines like any beast in the herd?  It’s a shock to have been born in the sixties only to now find yourself living in the fifties with all their inherent hypocrisy.  I stand with women, not amateur theology masquerading as justice.


Pure Fear

At work we have the opportunity to say a little about ourselves on a shared document for our teams.  This is a fairly new thing, so people I’ve worked with for years have no reason to look at it.  A couple of new hires, however, have noted that I watch horror movies and this has led to some budding friendships.  Since we’re all remote workers it’s mostly a matter of a line or two in an email about whether I’ve seen this or that film.  One of those recommended was the Hulu original Pure.  It’s actually pretty good.  The idea is a bunch of teenage girls are brought to a retreat center for a purity ball with their fathers.  This kind of thing can get very creepy very fast, given the incestuous overtones for such a thing.  Not only is it a religious event, it’s based on the story of Lilith.

Collier’s Lilith

The pastor preaches his first sermon about Lilith, but the girls from cabin 4 sneak out at night to meet some guys.  (Their presence is explained at the end of the movie.)  That night the girls summon Lilith, whom the minister’s daughter says is a demon.  The summoning works.  Lilith begins to interfere with services as the girls are tempted by the guys who are hanging around.  At the end, Lilith “possesses” Shay (the lead girl) and frees them from being controlled by the men in their lives.  The message is a refreshing one, and Lilith ends of being, well, somewhat as Shay puts it, “One man’s demon is another’s angel.”  

Religion and horror make a good couple.  I’ve never seen a movie that features the story of Lilith before.  The thing is, she’s not the scary part of the movie.  The religious believers, the fathers who try to control their daughters rather than giving them support after listening to them, are.  Parenting is tough, no doubt about that.  None of us are born into life with all the answers.  We quite often find ourselves not knowing for sure what we should do.  I couldn’t imagine being a parent claiming to have the solutions for all problems.  I’m a guy who watches horror for a form of therapy!  What I do think, however, is that we can try to be reasonable, loyal, and supportive.  I learn as much from being a parent as I teach.  The same was true of being a professor.  Humility, along with a willingness to continue learning your entire life is the only way that makes sense to me.  Although not a major studio production, this was one of the scariest movies I’d seen in a long time.


Fight for Mom

The spring holidays come think and fast.  Depending on when you start spring we’ve got Valentine’s Day followed a month later by St. Pat’s.  On it’s roving schedule Easter hops along, with its precursor Mardi Gras.  There’s Earth Day, May Day, and Mother’s Day.  One thing they all have in common, apart from being holidays, is they’re not worthy enough to be days off work.  You have to wait for Memorial Day for that.  Today, in any case, is Mother’s Day.  We stop to think, as if we shouldn’t every day, about our mothers.  Women are pretty poorly represented in the holiday scheme, unless you’re Catholic (and even those aren’t days off).  Mother’s Day always comes on a Sunday so employers are eternally thankful.  A holiday with no consequences.  But should it be?

We’re only just beginning, after being “civilized” for five thousand years, to give women their due.  Only just beginning because capitalist systems are built on male fantasies of growing rich without the female humane element.  It’s not a system friendly to mothers unless we find a way to make people spend money.  Women remind us to look for cooperation and not just competition.  Working together we can make things better for everyone.  Men, left to their own devices, go to war.  Men take what they want and women act as our conscience.  Mothers sacrifice to keep us safe and alive.  Their self-denial resonates better with the Christianity suborned by men into a money-making venture.

It’s Mother’s Day.  It’s a day to put aside our acquisitive, war-like tendencies and think of someone else.  It’s a day to imagine what it might be like if we made a habit of good behaviors.  It’s like those grades they used to give in school for “deportment.”  It wasn’t all just about how well we learned our facts.  Mothers teach us what it means to set aside our own wants for the needs of another person.  Without that the human race simply wouldn’t survive.  Instead of politically stacked courts taking away women’s rights, today we recognize that without women none of us would be here.  The human experiment only succeeds when women are recognized for all that they contribute to life.  To civilization.  To society.  We may not have commodified it, so why not listen to our mothers’ wisdom?  Why not make it every day instead of just the second Sunday of May?  Don’t forget to thank your mother today.  Better yet, fight for her rights.


Sexist Instructions

The thing about cars is there’s so much that can go wrong.  And when it does it’s costly to fix it.  Yet, even when working from home, we need them.  We have two, both quite old in car years.  One is approaching twenty.  We bought it new—the first time we’d ever been able to achieve such a feat.  This was one of the new Beetles and it has had never-ending electronic issues.  Warning lights come on that seem to be a malfunction of the warning lights—if you ever wanted an existential situation that’s one right there.  How do you know if there’s something wrong with your engine or is it just something wrong with the warning light?  A worrisome one came on just as winter was settling in and we didn’t need to drive it much before inspection time and we let it sit a little too long.

The battery, naturally, died.  We have an old, seldom used battery jump-starter, which, in the cold of the garage, also died.  We’ve been trying to find time on the weekend when both my wife and I are free (rare) so that I can drive it a ways to try to recharge the battery, but with someone home who can rescue me if I get stuck.  So it was we came to buy a new jump-starter.  These new ones are the size of a cell phone on steroids—much smaller than the old kind.  Ours came from China, I’m guessing, and the instructions are sexist.  They imply that women can use this because it’s easy.  Part of the description reads “It can be used more than 30 times, giving you peace of mind, no matter where you are, if the battery runs out, you can start it without looking for women who are not smart at night in an empty parking lot, such as a college campus or forget you.”  I don’t know about you, but this sounds like the writer had a past he’s trying to deal with.

I was indeed once left stranded because of a dead car battery.  It’s a story I’m saving for my autobiography, if I ever write one, but let me assure you all the people responsible for that abandonment were men.  Men with a car that wouldn’t start while I sat in the middle of nowhere in the dark.  (This was before cell phones.)  I didn’t want to buy a sexist device.  Both men and women have batteries die and I’m always a little scared to jump-start a car.  At least now we can get the Beetle rolling again and drive toward a future where women are rightfully seen as equal to men.  And I hope that instruction writer has found some help, perhaps with therapy.


Thinking, Critically

A woman—I don’t know her name—photobombed a Russian newscast with a sign telling the Russian people that they’re being lied to.  Detained by police, her whereabouts are unknown.  I admire that woman.  She may pay with her life  in her effort to encourage what is dear to every teacher everywhere: critical thinking.  Many of the world’s problems are the result of the dearth of critical thinking.  There’s no other way to explain the election of Trump and his main squeeze Vlad.  Thick as thieves, the saying goes.  I recently gave a talk to a small group about publishing.  One of the points I was making is that critical thinking is essential in getting to the truth.  Compare sources, use reason, and never trust a snake-oil salesman.

People vote with their feelings rather than with their rational faculties.  Trump openly admires Hitler, as Putin does Stalin.  These should be signs of warning to those who think critically.  The Second World War wasn’t even a century ago and we’ve apparently forgotten all the lessons it should’ve taught us.  In high school we were shown examples of propaganda and told how to avoid it. Now we see it and can’t recognize it at all. Critical thinking is often frowned upon in modern society.  Being comfortable with the status quo is perhaps valued higher than social justice and the necessary work to get us to where it might happen.  It’s easier to hate than to think.  It’s easier to follow than to question what you’re following.  Education teaches us survival skills, and among them are the ability to think through a situation.  Authoritarianism is seldom—I’m tempted to say “never”—the way to a good result.

Perhaps the saddest irony of all is that those who run outlets like Fox News (and its Russian equivalents) are thinking critically of ways to get followers not to.  Realizing that critical thinking will lead to a more fair and equitable world, they decide to keep their positions of privilege by discouraging their followers from engaging with the basic comparison of sources and weighing of facts.  Instead, promoting “alternative facts” and emotionally outraged rhetoric, they are able to stir up crowds to try to take over the government.  Conspiracy theories are easier to believe if you don’t know how to check facts for yourself.  And the internet has made us all experts on everything.  Russia’s narrative about the war is far from the reality on the ground.  Objective observers have seen what is really happening.  One heroic woman in Russia said enough is enough.  In all likelihood nobody in the world will ever see her again.


In War’s Domain

Good for absolutely nothing, to borrow the wisdom of Edwin Starr, war has again marred Europe.  We could see it coming from afar because people keep electing autocrats and strong men always want to fight one another.  There should be international laws banning their election, but instead innocent people die because one man has to prove he’s bigger than another.  The evils of the Trump years will be with us for decades.  There’s nothing Christian about waging war.  Seems that some folks have forgotten their Sunday School.  Wasn’t the selfless, self-sacrificing carpenter from Nazareth known as the “prince of peace?”  Of course, Ukraine became Christian long before Russia did.  What deep-seated insecurity such “world leaders” have!

While not wanting to be drawn into open conflict yet again, the world has pretty much all sided with Ukraine.  It has the misfortune of being nestled next to a weary nation with a dictator who despises the west.  Who pulls down his pants and shows off his missiles when anyone starts to open their mouth.  Who isolates himself and his people in the name of self-aggrandizement.  We came close to that over here.  So close that it still makes me shiver.  We feel for the people of Ukraine.  They did nothing to provoke attack, and they probably knew other world leaders would keep their distance.  Putin, like Stalin, wants a USSR.  An empire to put the evil west in check.  Hadn’t we left that kind of thinking behind?  Hadn’t we grown up after World War Two?  Strong men learn nothing from history.  They look at it and see only a mirror reflecting only themselves.

Hitler annexed Poland.  Russia, which has more land than it knows what to do with, doesn’t need Ukraine to be part of it.  The good people of Russia are protesting, just like the women brave enough to march on Washington to protest the fascism America embraced for four years.  I’ve put off writing about this because it’s so difficult to do without dissolving into tears.  Beware of either bare-chested or chest-thumping politicians worldwide!  It’s time to end the era of the alpha male.  We need mothers to nurse us back to health.  They call it “Mother Russia” but what mother acts this way?  The women aren’t impressed, Vlad—they’re in the streets bravely protesting.  It’s International Women’s Day.  Let’s honor women. It’s time to let the women lead.  It’s time to put war behind us forever.

Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash

Others’ Weeping

I was first introduced, consciously at least, to la llorona via the movie, The Curse of la Llorona.  The film is part of The Conjuring universe, but just barely.  It was clear from the movie that the weeping woman (la llorona) wasn’t invented for the film.  I’ve never lived in, or even spent much time in, the southwest.  Even less in Latin American countries.  In my rather strange career path, the best source of such things to penetrate my own experience tended to be my students.  (Those who think professors do all the teaching have the equation backward.)  Since becoming more isolated as an editor, my interactions are often someone approaching me with an idea mostly formed, often fully formed, and few of them have to do with ghosts or folklore.  That’s why I found Domino Renee Perez’s book There Was a Woman: La Llorona from Folklore to Popular Culture such a treasure.

As an Anglo reader endowed of white privilege, it’s important to read books where I’m clearly the outsider.  Being a kind of historian, I was curious about the origins of the tale.  As a person living in the modern world I was also interested by its reception history.  This book contains many, many examples of the latter.  It will demand that the outsider reader accept unfamiliar names and cultural conventions.  It will, in some ways, force you to stand “south of the border” and face the suffering our nation has caused and continues to cause in the name of white supremacy and its adjunct, capitalism.  There are other ways to be in this world, but when money gets involved all bets are off.

There’s much to discuss in a packed book like this, but one aspect, near the end, caught my attention.  Briefly, if you don’t know the story, la llorona is a woman betrayed by her husband.  She drowns their two children and is condemned to wander the riverbanks for eternity crying as she searches for them.  Interestingly Perez makes the connection with Rachel in the Bible.  I’ve read the Good Book many times and yet I seem to have missed Matthew’s use of Jeremiah’s interpretation of Rachel’s story.  Joseph was kidnapped and sold to slavery by his brothers but Genesis focuses on the grief of Jacob.  Rachel doesn’t live to be reunited with her lost son like Jacob does.  Perez makes the point that the stories are quite different, but it showed me once again how much I have yet to learn.  We need to pay attention to those who experience life differently.


Sects and Violence

Important books often suffer because of poor distribution.  There are really only five publishers in English (“the big five”) that can reliably get their books into commercial bookstores.  I was reminded of this when reading the very important book Sex and Religion: Teachings and Taboos in the History of World Faiths, by Dag Øistein Endsjø.  The book is virtually unknown here in the States for a number of reasons.  It was originally written in Norwegian.  The author isn’t a household name.  The publisher who bought English rights is British.  It’s not comfortably priced.  None of this, however, gainsays its importance.  This book has much to teach us about hypocrisy and how religions codify prejudices, and, despite rhetoric, still value women less than they value men.  Religion is intimately connected to sex.  As I’ve written before, no religion ignores it completely.

Endsjø offers here a reasoned, logical, and religiously expert analysis of several aspects of human (and to a degree, animal) sexuality.  Contrary to much monotheistic teaching, sex is often treated as a good thing—within limits—in world religions.  Of course, that allows monotheists to step in and claim all others are pagans and debased, a tactic as old as the Good Book itself.  Religions’ real enemy, it seems, is education.  We should be open to compare what others believe—the wisdom their elders have passed down, just like the disciples.  And we should be honest about the fact that we change the rules to suit our situation.  One of the starkest examples of this Endsjø points out is that the Bible is much more stridently against divorce (which evangelicals now freely use) than homosexuality.  But guess which is the political issue?

Religions change, no matter what any true believer says.  We adapt to all kinds of new situations and new information, except when it comes to sexual behaviors we don’t like.  Even though most religions prohibit murder, the punishment for sexual offenses is frequently more stringent.  In other words, as Endsjø points out, religions care less for human life than for their own sexual prejudices.  The fact is just about all monotheistic religions have a male god and favor males over  the other half of the human race.  It even seems likely that Muslim over-reactions to homosexuality arose from copying evangelical Christians in the west.  This is an important book and if religious leaders of all stripes read and comprehend it, we would find ourselves in a much more human, and humane, world.


Read Red

Fairy tales can be pretty gnarly.  I recently picked up a new translation of Grimm but I haven’t read it yet.  For some time I’d been aware of Christina Henry’s The Girl in Red.  As soon as I discovered it I wanted to read it.  The BISAC code says it’s science fiction but I’d call it horror.  More than that, I’d say it is the most tense book I’ve read in years.  Henry knows how to keep readers on edge.  Yes, it’s a take off from Little Red Riding Hood, but in a way that I wasn’t anticipating.  Red is a strong, believable protagonist who finds herself in a pandemic-ravaged world (imagined before Covid-19) where she has to get to her isolated grandmother’s house.  Everything between will surprise, scare, and stun.

The writing carries you along.  A government with secrets, the ever-present threat of roving groups of bandits and militias who are always on the lookout for girls, and the uncertainty of how this will all end make for a powerful tale of what people are capable of.  And not necessarily for good.  Making Red “disabled,” and black, Henry has given us a protagonist we need.  And it’s always a delight when a character finds that watching horror movies has been good training for a world where order has broken down into a Trumpian anarchy.  Scary and witty, the story has so much to like it’s difficult to know where to start beyond the recommendation to read it.

Those who analyze literature sometimes say that the great story-lines have already been taken and that the best modern writers can do is to adapt them.  There may be an element of truth to that, but even if there isn’t the clever retelling of old tales can be quite enjoyable.  This isn’t so much a retelling as a reimagining.  It’s also a poignant reminder that when things start to break down—or even in the status quo—women are put at risk.  Men too quickly resort to guns and violence.  As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Red is capable of surviving in this world, even when at a disadvantage.  There’s also no overcoming of the military.  It’s too well established and too heavily armed.  Red’s run-ins with them allow her to impress those who assume white male superiority.  In that way this is a parable within a fairy tale in a modern guise.  I’ll be reading more of Christina Henry’s books.


Devils and Witches

If you’re a regular reader (thank you!) you know that I’m currently under contract to write the Devil’s Advocates series volume on The Wicker Man.  As an editor myself I’m aware that academic series, often unlike fictional series books, tend to vary quite a bit from one another.  I want to try to get my submission close to the goal, however, so I’ve been reading volumes by other authors.  You may also know that The Wicker Man is part of an “unholy trinity” of early British folk-horror, with the other films being Witchfinder General and The Blood on Satan’s Claw.  Of the three my least favorite is Witchfinder General, so I’ve put off reading the particular volume on that film by Ian Cooper.  That has nothing to say about the author, but rather a lot to say about the base film.

The book is quite good.  Cooper is clearly aware of the controversy surrounding the movie and he points out some of the difficulties with it as well as what it does well.  His treatment is quite insightful.  The movie is violent and it’s an representation of the historical violence we thought we outgrew.  Matthew Hopkins was an historical “witch hunter” who was, in reality a serial killer,  mostly of women.  Fearing witches, while getting paid to find them, he was responsible for over 200 deaths.  As Cooper makes clear, the film lingers a bit too long on the abject nature of many of the tortures, not allowing us to look away.  For this reason many critics found the film distasteful.  I personally found it hard to watch.  Education isn’t always easy.

There’s quite a bit of film history in the book.  Cooper does a great job placing the movie in its cinematic context.  Like The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General is sometimes said not to be a horror film.  Indeed, there’s nothing supernatural about it.  Still, it fits the bill for many of those in-between movies that cross over into horror.  In this case it’s due to the violence.  For me, monsters are preferable to human monstrosity.  They’re easier to walk away from.  Although the witch hunts ended centuries ago, violence against women has remained.  Whether it’s legislative or physical or economic, women deserve better treatment than they’re offered by the male establishment.  Movies, and books about movies, like this one may be difficult to watch/read, but they carry important reminders that power continues to corrupt and it must be challenged and changed when it reverts to the mentality of Matthew Hopkins.  His spiritual kin, unfortunately, continue to thrive. 


Listening to History

One thing fascists around the world are attempting to do is rewrite history.  Inevitably white, they want to paint themselves as good and superior.  Actual history, however, shows just how destructive and cruel “civilization” has been, particularly to original inhabitants of colonized nations.  Over the past several months I’ve been reading about indigenous peoples.  We’ve been led to believe they were unfortunately wiped out, that they no longer really exist, or that our governments treat them fairly to make up for past injustices.  Such myths must be dispelled and we need to hear from those who’ve lived their experiences.  Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Nugi Garimara, or Doris Pilkington, is the record of one such remarkable experience.  Although made into a film in Australia, it’s a story with which I was unfamiliar.

Garimara is the daughter of an indigenous aboriginal woman who experienced life under the “civilizing” of West Australia.  Molly, the author’s mother, and two of her sisters—Daisy and Gracie—were separated from their family at the ages of 14, 11, and 8, respectively.  They were sent 1600 kilometers—very nearly 1000 miles—away to a school that was run as if the government believed Jane Eyre was an instruction manual.  Although they knew that runaways, who were always caught, were shaved, whipped, and put in an on-campus jail on bread and water, Molly decided to escape with her sisters.  Over nine weeks they managed to avoid the trackers and walk the 1000 miles home.  This all took place in 1931.  Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is an engrossing book that should be widely read.

Many questions remain.  Since the story is written from the memories of an aging Molly, there are gaps.  After making it home Gracie was “captured” and sent back to the school.  Molly was eventually tracked down and also returned, but she again escaped and followed the same route back home.  The authorities, implacable, believed that whites knew the best way to handle indigenous peoples, calling the department responsible “the Protector of Aborigines.”  We need to listen to the voices of those whose land was stolen.  We need to ask them how to make current circumstances more just and fair.  Yes, the indigenous lifestyle clashes with capitalism.  We’re becoming aware that their lifestyles tends to be healthier and more fulfilling, and yet we persist.  We are, it seems, living through the slow crumble of the capitalistic system.  When it all comes down we would be wise to learn from those who know alternative ways of being in the world and can find their way home in hopeless circumstances.


New Monster

The Babadook is a horror film about loneliness.  Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, it has an arthouse cinema feel to it.  I missed it when it came out in 2014—it didn’t receive major billing and publicity in the United States—but it gained critical acclaim as intelligent horror.  It follows the small family of Amelia and her son Samuel, who has special needs.  I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers here because I think you should see it if you haven’t already.  Amelia’s husband died in a car crash taking her to the hospital to have their first child.  That haunting tragedy drives the film.  And when you throw a monster called the Babadook into the mix, loneliness and sleeplessness make the dark something to fear again.

With wonderful acting, the story of childhood monsters highlights the continuing plight of single mothers.  How are you supposed to survive when you have a child that requires constant supervision and yet you need to make ends meet?  And if sleeplessness begins to distort your sense of reality all kinds of things seem possible.  

Hollywood hasn’t been a friendly place for female directors.  This film was shot in Australia.  I’m not sure that sexual parity is better there, but this movie is a great example of what can happen when a woman shows what horror means to her.  Not too many horror movies have female directors, yet.  It seems to me that women have many things to fear and have much to show us about what horror can be.  It seems to me that loneliness, although often part of horror, isn’t often the focus.  We would rather look away than to see it because it’s too painful.  Horror compels us to look at what we’d rather not see.

Aside from all of this, the film gives us a new monster.  The Babadook was invented for this film and although we don’t have to worry about whether it’s real or not, the issues it brings to the fore certainly are.  There is darkness inside people.  Even those of us who try to do what is right struggle against it.  Often it takes quite a lot even to admit as much.  This movie lets the dark out and finds a new narrative path through which it might flow.  Although a box office success—earning more than it cost—The Babadook is still little known.  It should be discussed more because intelligent horror has some important lessons to teach us.


Druid Redux

I know I’ve talked about this book before.  I had cause to learn about the Druids again, and Peter Berresford Ellis’ book was handy.  I’m pretty sure I have Stuart Piggot’s book somewhere, but I haven’t seen it since the move, so I turned to Ellis again.  The first time I read him I was commuting and couldn’t take notes.  (My specialized form of research has its limitations.)  This time it took several days’ more reading, and doing so with more active engagement.  One thing that really stood out to me this time was the Indo-European connection.  Druids, according to Ellis, were essentially Brahmins—the intellectual class in a stratified society.  Having derived from a common ancestor, the two societies diverged with Brahmins surviving in India and Druids going extinct with the somewhat genocidal treatment of various other groups against the Celts.

Druids were egalitarian as far as the sexes went.  This is one of those examples where Christianity’s masculinist orientation furthered a trend that led to women being treated as inferior.  Evidence points to early female Druids, and even female political leadership among the Celts.  As the male godhead took over the remaining influence of women eventually evaporated.  The Druids, you see, were extremely focused on learning the truth.  Their pre-Christian judicial system was oriented toward fairness and finding out what really happened.  In other words, ethically they required no conversion.  That was a matter of theology, and theology often brings its own set of issues.  

The Romans, who’d had a long and protracted war against the Celts, drove them to the fringes of their empire.  Britain (and Brittany in France) were far enough removed from the base of power in Rome that the Celts survived in the edges of the islands: Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Ireland.  As a distinctive culture, Celts have been in fashion for some time now, but that’s a new development, historically speaking.  Ellis’ book explores this angle quite a bit since understanding the Celts is essential to comprehending who the Druids were.  The lack of native written accounts (Druids forbade writing their wisdom, passing it on by memorization over the centuries) hampers our ability to have a coherent history.  Ellis, however, seems to have reconstructed well.  Modern Druid revivals necessarily contain speculative elements, and historically the Druids wouldn’t have been perfect either—nobody is.  They do seem to have had a reasonable and just society for the most part, something we’ve managed to lose, along with much of their wisdom.


The Price of Monotheism

Before Christianity (I’m not convinced by Marija Gimbutas’ matriarchy hypothesis, as much as I like it) many cultures recognized mother goddesses.  No disrespect to Gimbutas, but our knowledge of early culture, particularly pre-literate varieties, is sketchy.  There is evidence and we build cases, but we only see part of the picture.  One thing we clearly see is they venerated women.  Early people recognized the divine power in females.  Women gave life and nurture in an otherwise hard and uncertain world.  The earliest art, as far as we can reconstruct, is representation of women.  While we can’t know it, it’s reasonably inferred that such artworks are goddesses.  We do know that by the time the earliest religions appear in writing goddesses were as fully present as gods.  The two “halves” (at the risk of being accused of being a binaryist) of the human experience were fundamental.

Patriarchy casts a ominous hue over the monotheistic enterprise.  In a world where only one deity reigns, it must be thought of as gendered.  This is the human condition, right Xenophanes?  While it didn’t take monotheism to move society in that direction—that seems to be the fault of testosterone—over time male gods dominated.  We’ve been stuck in that world ever since.  I was reminded of this while reading about Danu, the Celtic “earth goddess.”  Danu gave her name to the Danube River, in the Celtic homeland.  She was venerated as the mother of the gods and the mother, in a sense, of us all. 

The point is that Danu wasn’t unique.  Many cultures had similar figures.  Although monotheism didn’t start the decline of mother goddesses, it pretty much spelled their end.  Human religious imagination can only go so far, and gods will always reflect what we think about ourselves.  Monotheistic religions all present themselves as revealed, which is to say they seem to be aware that logic regarding their claims breaks down at some point and then they can invoke the mystery of limited human minds in a landscape with divine knowledge which the cognoscenti claim they alone possess.  Over time these religions inevitably become masculine in orientation.  They may declare their god sexless, but males will always benefit from the legislation.  Claims about the goddess will be branded heresy and offensive to the sexless male true god.  Analysts of religion, generally male, used to claim that, of course monotheism is superior.  This system must be protected with laws and theology.  Others secretly know there is a better way, equally revealed.