Call It Therapy

For many years, about all I ever pursued, research-wise, was ancient Near Eastern studies.  It’s still the reason people visit my Academia.edu page.   From the stats it’s clear that not many people are interested in the horror aspect of my work.  Still, I know what motivates me (most of the time).  I recently read a piece that features a brief interview with Peter Counter, discussing the therapeutic value of horror.  Since my interest in the genre has been rekindled (starting, not coincidentally, around 2005), I think I’ve known all along that horror is therapeutic.  The people I know who watch horror aren’t the kind many people picture—creepy troglodytes who don’t come out of their houses where the shades are always drawn.  No, they are normal folks, at least for academics.  They find the genre profound, for the most part.

The interview with Counter (in the Nova Scotia Advocate) makes clear that Counter uses horror therapeutically.  The first reason that he gives is that it’s honest.  I agree.  You see, I grew up with more than my fair share of phobias.  I could go into the reasons here, but I don’t know you well enough to trust you with them just yet.  In any case, I worried a lot about things that could go wrong, often involving everyday circumstances.  I didn’t think watching monster movies was a coping technique—I didn’t even know what a coping technique was.  I just knew that somehow those kinds of movies made me feel better.  I began reading gothic novels in my teens, even as I was becoming very religious.  I never saw a conflict between the two.

Now, as an adult, I feel that I have to explain this “unusual” interest to people who know me.  Now I can more clearly see the therapeutic value in such movies.  I can even see elements of it in movies that are classified otherwise.  I recently watched Groundhog Day (back around, well, Groundhog Day).  It had been many years since I’d viewed it, and the elements of horror in the film struck me.  Being trapped in the endless return, Phil Connors contemplates, and indeed commits suicide many different ways only to reawaken in the same scenario the next morning.  The look on Bill Murray’s face when he snaps the pencil before getting a couple hours sleep when he begins to realize what is happening says it all.  A similar realization same came clear on a recent rewatching of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Watch it with an open mind.  The interview with Counter makes the point that a pandemic like this is an opportunity.  Isolated, we can watch horror and we can learn to cope.


Religions and Horrors

My latest piece on The Golem has just appeared on Horror Homeroom.  It’s free—check it out.  In it I briefly discuss Jewish horror.  I mainly write about Christian horror because that’s my immediate context.  That’s not to say other religions don’t participate in the genre too.  While I worked for Routledge I acquired the book Buddhism Goes to the Movies, by Ronald Green.  Like the title suggests, it’s about movies focused on, or made by, Buddhists.  What sold me on the project was the chapter on horror films.  Much of what’s being called “J-Horror,” or Japanese Horror these days, occurs in a Buddhist or Shinto contexts.  I’m not expert enough in these traditions, however, to spot them with the detail that I do in my own native religion. 

All religious traditions have certain commonalities.  As I’ve frequently discussed on this blog, sex and death are two of them.  Given the powerful ideas that religion trades in, it seems natural that it would appear frequently in the horror genre.  It’s just that modern viewers tend to be somewhat divorced from religion and can’t see it.  Religion is that way—it fills the cracks.  How often do we pay attention to the caulking or grout?  We tend to focus on the tile or woodwork instead.  Religion holds thought systems together, including those of the horror genre.  I just discussed no-go subjects yesterday, but even science shows religion in some of the cracks.  Learning to see it involves learning to shift your focus.

I blogged about The Golem just after I watched it, back in December.  The golem is an original Jewish monster, and Judaism is both a culture and a religion.  It’s difficult to tease them apart sometimes.  The same can be said of many traditions outside Christianity.  In fact, many cultures had no word for religion—the idea of a separate realm of life where you try to please the gods because what you do otherwise is inherently sinful.  (There’s probably a reason that capitalism grew in a Christian context.)  That means that horror particularly welcomes Christianity.  Many of the bases of fear are premised on a religion that, as culturally bound as it is, has always claimed that joining it is a choice.  If you can choose you can choose wrongly.  This is fertile ground for horror, especially when the consequences are eternal.   My Horror Homeroom piece takes a different approach than this, but religion and horror nevertheless find themselves together, often in the same room.


February Festivities

One of the more commonly overlooked holiday complexes comes around Groundhog Day.  It may seem strange to be thinking about spring right now, but it’s on everyone’s mind.  (In this hemisphere anyway.)  When seasons actually begin is a matter of perspective, and that’s not just a north-south hemisphere divide.  With our scientific outlook, we take the path of equinoxes and solstices.  If you look closely, however, there is a set of seasonal holidays that falls midway between them, dividing the year into eight spokes.  These cross-quarter days were recognized in some cultures as the early inklings of a new season beginning.  If Halloween (Samhain) marks the start of winter, this holiday, Imbolc, is the beginning of spring.  The day had many associations, one of which was watching a groundhog (or other animal) to see if the weather would begin changing sooner or later.  Spring itself is inevitable.

The popularity of Groundhog Day owes quite a bit to the movie of that name.  The film is more complex than its classification as a comedy might suggest.  Although the day itself does deal with the cyclical nature of, well, nature, repetition isn’t an inherent theme in the holiday.  Neither is it part of the related Christian celebration of Candlemas.  Indeed, I tend to think Groundhog Day has the makings of a horror story.  Being stuck in time could represent a terrible fate for many.  Interestingly, Phil Conners (Bill Murray), after having been stuck in this same day for a considerable amount of time, suggests to Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) that he might be a god.  He is immortal and he knows everything that is to be known in Punxsutawney.  He can predict things before they happen (of course, he has become Punxsutawney Phil, in a manner of speaking).

A philosophically rich movie, the story has appealed to adherents of several religions.  That, in itself, is amazing.  The endless repetition could represent samsara to those of south and east Asian religious inclination.  The learning to be kind, and even forgiveness aspects, appeal to those who want to find a Christian message in it.  Not bad for a holiday nobody gets off of work, and which frequently falls in the middle of the week.  The holiday complex of Imbolc, Candlemas, and Groundhog Day represents what had once been a more prominent season than we currently recognize.  Revivals of the more ancient celebrations have begun to appear, but the endless repetition so valued by capitalistic systems has nearly captured us all.


Feelings of Horror

One thing that’s become clear to horror fans (or those of us who try to analyze it, anyway) is that more and more pundits are asking serious questions about its appeal and its utility.  A particularly interesting piece on Bloody Disgusting (and that title isn’t representative of the site) explores how horror is often about probing grief, loss, and mourning.  People who immediately associate horror with slashers and blood and gore probably became aware of the genre in the 1980s.  In the post-slasher era (and even during it) many thoughtful films have dealt with the primary areas associated with pastoral care: mourning, grief, and loss are the bread and vegan butter of ministerial work.  These are elements all people have to face, and some horror is remarkably adept at helping viewers do so.

We all die.  Horror has never been shy about that fact.  When the dead do come back it’s seldom good.  Given the permanence of the situation, it seems reasonable to think about it in advance.  Shallower topics are good too—life without fun is hardly worth the effort.  Horror, however, reminds us that the bill remains due at the end.  One of the main points of Holy Horror is that people tend to find their meaning through pop culture.  (It can also be through more classical means as well, but the point remains the same.)  We watch movies for more than entertainment.  Movies other than horror deal with loss, mourning, and grief, of course.  But as Stephen King once noted, this genre forces the reluctant to look.  What seems to be under-appreciated is how sympathetic it is to the human condition.

Apart from a few colleagues who work in this same nexus of religion and horror, I know few fans of the genre.  Most people I know shy away from it.  For me, it seems to be a brutally honest genre.  There are speculative elements in much of horror—those are the elements that make the films fun to watch, in my opinion.  Speculative is often synonymous with supernatural, or spiritual.  Spirituality is often coded as a positive.  Life throws a lot of loss and grieving our way.  A genre that brings these things together can’t be all bad.  Some of the more recent transcendent horror can be downright profound in its probing.  The editorial by Marcus Shorter doesn’t take the step of addressing the pastoral aspects of the genre, but they are plainly there.  And they can offer solace that all people can use.


Comedic Horror

Spoofs can be a great way of preventing us from taking ourselves too seriously.  Extra Ordinary is a film I’d completely missed until my wife made a gift of it.  We weren’t quite sure if it was a horror film or a comedy, and genres aren’t always helpful here.  I would call it a spoof on possession movies, something of particular interest after writing Nightmares with the Bible.  Apart from being a bit of much-needed silliness after a terribly serious year, it’s also a demonstration of how genre can be helpful in knowing how to interpret what we see.  Not knowing anything about the film, it begins with the statement that it’s based on a true story.  There’s an interesting history behind that phrase, but when it comes with a spoof it only adds to the fun.

Extra Ordinary follows the adventures of Rose Dooley, a driving instructor who was raised by a ghost-hunting father.  Blaming herself for her father’s death, she’s taken on an anodyne career that she feels is safer.  A particularly desperate widower whose daughter is targeted by a hapless Satanist, brings her back to her true calling.  Although there are some horror-comedy scenes (that’s an entire sub-genre often eschewed by horror fans who don’t like to laugh at themselves) the witty dialogue and crude jokes make it fun rather than anything to be worried about.  Possession occurs in a specific way to move the plot along—Rose has to have a partner (the widower Martin Martin) accept possession by the ghost in order to send it to the beyond.  Although there are clever takeoffs from The Exorcist, the idea of possession is much different.

What is evil?  The film asks the question directly (if comedically).  Although washed-up rock star Christian Winter has become a Satanist, the demon in the film is Astaroth, a later development from the pre-biblical goddess Astarte.  As discussed in Nightmares with the Bible (for which this film could’ve been profitably discussed), there’s a confusion among demons.  (Beelzebub is also mentioned by name.)  The element that ties them together with the human condition is clearly sex.  The frantic search for a virgin, and the communal shaming of unwed mothers makes that obvious.  Although deliberately campy, Extra Ordinary answers the question of evil by noting that it is a person using their powers (magical, in this case) for their own benefit rather than for the good of others.  There is a moral to it, after all.  And if we can’t laugh about the human condition once in a while, we deserve to be spoofed.


Pre-Soul

Streaming seems to be the way of the future.  I’m reluctant to trust corporations (does anyone remember Ultra Violet?) keeping content I’ve paid for, but the pandemic makes movie theaters scary places.  Some of the movies I’m eager to see aren’t even released on DVD or Blu-ray any longer, and your only choice, increasingly, is to subscribe to the death-by-a-thousand-cuts method of “buying” a subscription.  You’ve got to go where the content is.  All of this is a long way of saying I saw Disney/Pixar’s Soul very nearly on its release day.  It underscored a couple things for me.  One is that the idea of transmigration of souls is alive and well.  Second, and this is a point I make in Holy Horror, movies are often where people get their understanding of religious concepts.

In case, like me, you have to have movies pointed out to you by others more aware, Soul is about a jazz musician who dies the very day he gets his big break.  On his way into the great beyond, he tries to escape and ends up where souls are prepared for their embodiment on earth, “The Great Before.”  In order to make the leap, they must find their “spark”—the thing that makes them who they are.  Pixar may not be a theological seminary, but there are people who find meaning in many of their films, even to the point of  using them as coping mechanisms for real life.  When the internet didn’t exist and animated films required years of drawing or stop-motion animation to complete, people tended to go to religious/psychological professionals for such issues.  Now we have corporations.

The reason I find this of concern is that I have an idea of how content is created.  How those who come up with ideas have to pitch them to financial backers or publishers, and how those backers weight concepts in the scales of lucre.  In other words, money is frequently the deciding factor.  Those doing the pitching are seldom the same people with specialized training in the subject addressed, and yet they reach far larger viewerships than the classroom of such an expert does.  The financial implications are troublesome.  None of this is to suggest Soul is a flawed film.  I know many former seminary professors who’d quibble—or perhaps something stronger—with the way the afterlife/beforelife are presented here.  The movie itself is both fun and profound.  Don’t ask me, though.  I’m still trying to figure out this streaming thing.


Ghost Stories

Those of us who confess to watching horror are fond of noting that the Christmas season has long been associated with ghost stories.  Charles Dickens wasn’t the first to make use of the trope and certainly won’t be the last.  After reading about elevated horror movies, I decided to watch A Ghost Story (David Lowery, 2017).  Many wouldn’t classify the film as horror at all.  It is quiet, slow paced, and has no gore.  It is nevertheless a haunting film.  I suspect its poignancy comes from a situation we can all imagine and which many people face in life—being left alone after the death of a loved one.  The idea that the dead never really leave us can be both comforting and unnerving at the same time.  The film plays to those strengths.

The premise of the film is simple: the ghost of one of a couple finds his way home and tries to reconnect with his widow.  He ends up staying there until, many owners later, the house is demolished and a high-rise is built in its place.  It’s essentially a story from the point-of-view of the ghost.  There isn’t too much dialogue included, but one significant monologue comes when a party is being held.  One of the party goers, or perhaps the current owner of the house, explains that because of what we know of physics everything on our planet will eventually be destroyed.  His beer-fueled lament is that whatever we do is therefore in vain.  He brings God into the discussion.  The ghost listens intently, but seems to disagree with his conclusions.  For someone like me the introduction of religion into the story is a Venus fly-trap, since religion and horror can’t seem to keep away from each other.

Death is a dilemma, a point that I made in a recent Horror Homeroom article on Pet Sematary.  Horror, like religion demands that we confront it.  Science can only offer cold comfort regarding the cessation of life.  Religion (and horror) open the dialog into the unknown, the realm into which mere human instruments cannot reach.  Sad and reflective, A Ghost Story hits on an essential question in the nexus of religion and science.  If a spiritual world exists, there may be some survival even of the earth’s eventual heat death.  As time passes, the titular ghost continues to learn.  Life is a learning experience, and although many modern forms of religion join in the cultural denial of death, horror is always ready to remind us that confronting it may be the wisest course of action.  Ask the ghost.  He knows.


Monster Guides

Reluctantly, almost begrudgingly, society seems to be accepting horror as a genre of more than cheap thrills, blood, and gore.  From childhood I was drawn to the gateway figure of vampires, but I’ve never been a fan of blood and gore, and not even cheap thrills.  You see, I saw something profound in horror.  A longing.  Experts might call it abjection, but to me there was a spiritual component to it, and I watch these kinds of movies to capture those moments of transcendence.  Adam Charles Hart seems to be aware of the draw horror has.  Monstrous Forms: Moving Image Horror across Media still shows its origins as a dissertation, but it has an appreciation for horror that doesn’t feel the need to make excuses for it.  Exploring the body-focus of horror, it delves into television, gaming, and other applications of the genre.

I have to admit that I don’t understand the cultural fascination with what we used to call video games.  I know they’re tremendously popular and the rights for gaming bring in even more royalties than sold movie rights do.  I just don’t get it.  Still, Hart explores how horror has become a very popular element in the gaming community.  Not only that but on the internet many young people like watching videos of other people playing games.  I’m sorry, but I’m just not that meta.  If I want to get lost in other worlds I read a book.  Or watch a movie.  And this is where Hart’s book shines.  His read on horror films is fresh and compelling.

Recently I had a conversation (virtual, of course) with some colleagues about the horror genre.  The topic of horror games came up.  I had to sit that part out.  I commended Hart’s book though.  For me time is too valuable to immerse myself into worlds where options are limited by some programmer’s imagination.  Movies will take a couple hours of your time.  If well done they’ll remain in your head for hours or days, interacting with other thoughts and experiences, and perhaps even inspiring the viewer.  If horror isn’t your thing, I get that.  I do have to say that the genre as grown up, and as Hart points out toward the end of his study, academy recognition of a couple of horror films in 2017 bodes well for the future of a genre that seems more and more applicable every day.  And when horror comes to town we’re going to need some able guides.


Time for Golem

I don’t claim to understand how the film industry works.  My two books on horror and religion deal with interpreting the movies, not their native cinematic environment.  I say this because I limited my treatments in them to films with a theatrical release.  Mainly this was so that readers would have had easy access to them.  Some films, of course, never go to theaters and it seems that happened, in the United States, to the Israeli movie The Golem.  I saw a trailer for it last year and patiently waited for it to arrive.  I recently found it on an online streaming service and finally had a chance to watch it.  Golems, as original Jewish monsters, have shown up in a variety of popular media including The X-Files and Sleepy Hollow.  Film treatments have been rare, and this one makes for a fascinating monster movie.

What makes the golem so compelling is that it is an explicitly religious monster.  To create a golem (according to the film) the maker must use Kabbalah, Jewish mystical texts, to learn how to bring it to life.  Hanna (Hani Furstenberg), the female protagonist, is the only one in her seventeenth-century village willing to try.  The real hook, for me, is that the golem she creates is a little boy.  The role must’ve been fun to play.  Golems cannot speak, so there are no lines to learn.  Kirill Cernyakov nails the part with an ability to portray emotionless menace.  The problem with a golem, you see, is that it goes on rampages, killing even those it’s conjured to protect.  Since the movie is intended to be a retelling of the classic story (involving the golem of Prague), it doesn’t have too many surprises.  It is, however, a thoughtful movie.

Write-ups on it call it “the Jewish Frankenstein,” but scholars who research Frankenstein often go the other way, seeing Frankenstein’s monster as a form of golem.  The basic idea is taking something inert and bringing it to life.  Afterward the creator is unable to control it.  It’s too bad that The Golem didn’t get a wide theatrical release.  I’ve seen far worse horror films that did.  Perhaps the focus on religion was too blatant?  One of the points I make in Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible is that religion and horror belong together.  Some Jewish viewers will undoubtedly spot inaccuracies (even this goy did) but the movie isn’t a religious text.  It is an appropriate rebuff to Trumpian “politics” and even features a plague.  It is a movie for our time.


No Dolls Required

Moving is a never-ending process.  We’ve had some new neighbors move in next door over the past couple of weeks.  Seeing their boxes reminded me that we have many we still haven’t unpacked and sorted after over two years.  (That’s what attics are for.)  One of the novelties I found while doing so recently was one of those bookstore impulse buys at the checkout counter, “Voodoo Lou’s Office Voodoo Kit.”  This was actually a joke gift given to my wife some years ago.  In all probability it was me that insisted we not throw it out.  Perhaps I was saving it as an object lesson.  One of the religions I very briefly discuss in Nightmares with the Bible is Vodun.  This African diasporan religion is frequently demonized as “voodoo” because of its supernatural beliefs.

Many religions, of course, harbor supernatural beliefs.  The ballots are still being counted on whether such things exist because we can never wrestle them into the laboratory to measure them with instruments designed for physical applications only.  Vodun isn’t the source of evil perpetrated by the cheap (and often exploited by horror) “voodoo doll” narratives.  It is a complex blend of traditional African religions brought into forceful contact with Roman Catholicism.  We shouldn’t treat it as exotic, nor should it be a codeword for evil.  Like most religions vodun is an attempt to navigate the world of the gods and spirits that people everywhere believe in, even if they can’t be quantified.  The religion was mysterious when first noticed by travelers from the United States and it quickly became fodder for horror films.

We tend to judge religions just because they’re different.  One of the more insidious aspects of global religions is that they create the illusion among their believers that they are the “only true religion.”  Those who study religion professionally know that all religions are “syncretistic.”  There is no such thing as a “pure” form of any religion.  Just try getting a Calvinist and Catholic to come to a common understanding of what Christianity is.  Both want to claim their version as the true one.  Religions, however, have developed as ways for people to cope with the world as they’ve experienced it.  Just because fewer people believe one way we can’t assume their religion is inferior.  Vodun, in which I’m no expert, is far more complex and sophisticated as might be suggested by and impulse buy for frustrated office workers.  Still, it works as an object lesson.


Arrival

Excitement that comes during the work week gets sublimated.  Work, you see, is like a huge ship chugging ahead at about 30 knots.  It takes some time to stop, or even change direction.  So on Thursday, while I was still at my desk, Nightmares with the Bible arrived.  Since all work—even salaried—is measured by the clock by HR,  I couldn’t take off time to enjoy the birth.  I opened the box, cursorily flipped through a copy, and got back to the task for which I’m paid.  After work it’s time for supper and I can’t stay awake much beyond seven or eight, which meant I neglected my baby.  Friday was another work day, and although I wanted to do all the things marketers tell you to do, I had other duties.

So now it’s Saturday and I can officially say Nightmares have been released.  I have a discount code flyer, about which nobody has yet emailed me, but the offer still stands.  You can get a discounted (but still expensive) copy by following the instructions below.  Feel free to share with your rich friends.  Better yet, have your library order a copy.  I’m hoping for a paperback on this one, but that’ll be a couple years and I know paperbacks seldom outsell hardcovers, even expensive ones.  Raising a child can be a costly venture, no?  Adding another book meant that my display copies had to move out of their cubby-hole onto a bookshelf.  Hopefully, if things go well, there will be more siblings.  Perhaps better priced.

A Reassessment of Asherah was published by a European academic press and put at the incredibly high price of $78 back in 1993.  Gorgias Press reissued it, with additional material, but made it even more expensive.  I can’t even afford to buy a copy.  Weathering the Psalms was only $22, but wasn’t a gripping topic for many.  Cascade Books, at least, know how to price things.  Holy Horror, at the shockingly high $45 for a paperback (McFarland), languished.  It missed its Halloween release and no reviews have appeared.  “Nightmares” might well capture my sense of the price for my second missed Halloween release.  There are other books in the works.  If any of them get completed I’ll be seeking an agent to try to bring the prices down.  Until then, Nightmares will be the final word.  It’s out there now, for those brave enough to engage with it.


Nightmares Awake!

According to Amazon, Nightmares with the Bible has now been published.  Authors are seldom the first to see copies of their own books, strangely enough.  I probably won’t have any physical copies for a couple of weeks yet.  Until then I’ll wait like an expectant mother.  I don’t actually read my own books after they’re published.  Like some other writers I know, I’m terrified of finding mistakes.  And the older I get the less certain I am about anything.  I’m not even sure if it’s officially published yet or not.  I choose to trust Amazon’s opinion on that.

Right now I’m caught up between four or five other book projects, each a good bit along.  Since writing is often a mood-based thing, what I do in the sleepy hours of pre-dawn is what I feel like writing on any given day.  Unless you have a book contract in hand, that’s not, I suppose, that unusual.  I’m trying to guess what might most get the attention of an agent.  Both Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible were written for general readers.  I don’t have the name-recognition to command any kind of attention (or affordable prices), so I need to find a topic that’ll do the work for me.  I personally find religion and horror a fascinating subject.  Many other academics do as well, but general readers not so much.  It’ll feel more like reality when I have a copy I can have and hold.  I still haven’t reconciled myself with ebooks.

What usually makes me stick with a project for the dash toward the finish line is a book getting close enough to see the ribbon ahead.  I write incessantly, so I have a backlog from which to draw.  I know my tastes are odd, which means it’s a challenge to get others onboard with my likes.  I know horror fans love to read about movies.  I suspect most of them don’t care much about the religious aspect of what they’re seeing.  That’s why I write about it.  People get information about religion from popular media.  Even if they deny their interest, writers and directors will slip it in regardless.  I’m just calling them like I see them.  The nice thing about movies is you can have instant replay.  And with a fair number of us now publishing books in this niche, hopefully conversation will follow.  Until then, I’ll just be waiting here until my first copy arrives.


Documented Error

Back in September I wrote a post on documentaries.  One of those I’d watched was Hostage to the Devil, on the life of Malachi Martin.  Curious, I began looking for biographical information, only to find conflicting reports.  Robert Blair Kaiser, a journalist, was interviewed in the documentary and he claims that Martin is not to be trusted.  Given that Martin had academic credentials and academic publications, it’s clear that something is up here.  So I decided to read Kaiser’s Clerical Error.  As an award-winning journalist, Kaiser had written a book on Vatican II that sold fairly well, establishing his own credibility.  Clerical Error is a book, in large part, that was intended to discredit Malachi Martin because Martin had an affair with Kaiser’s wife.  That spices things up a bit.  (And explains the cover photo.)

It’s an odd book, overall.  Kaiser begins by describing how he became a Jesuit.  Autobiographical works are generally most interesting during the early years, and Kaiser does a good job illustrating how he was naive and probably joined the Jesuits out of fear of sexuality.  Some of the disciplines (including self-flagellation) are difficult to reconcile with the twentieth century (when they took place) but demonstrate the command religion can have over life.  Confronting church politics, he decided to become a journalist instead of a priest.  When he was assigned to Vatican II a couple things happen—his book gets lost in the weeds, and, he meets Malachi Martin (spelled Malachy throughout).  At first taken with Martin, the two became friends.  Martin helped him access places in the Vatican that would’ve otherwise been blocked to him, as a layman, even if a former Jesuit.

Then the tale becomes sordid.  According to Kaiser, Martin, still a Jesuit priest, began an affair with his wife.  The final third of the book has the draw of a soap opera as Kaiser tries to confirm what he suspects.  Overworked, he checked into a mental health facility, and this fact gave his detractors the grounds for claiming that Kaiser was mentally unbalanced and that Martin was really as he presented himself—a Jesuit priest, academic, and exorcist.  According to this book, which never made a large splash, the evidence is clear.  And the ability of the church to cover up scandals is legendary.  The most damaging parts, in my purposes for reading the book, are the allegations that Martin was a pathological liar.  (Why do we have so many of these?)  If true, nothing he wrote can really be trusted.  This is the very reason that of late I’ve been obsessed with the idea that lies are a clear sign of the one the Bible calls “the father of lies.”


Dreams and Nightmares

Since posting just a few days back about the cover of Nightmares with the Bible it has now been posted on the Rowman & Littlefield website (more on that in a moment).  I’m pleased with the cover because it includes a photo I took.  It’s a little blurry, but that adds to the effect.  In the days before my commuting began, I could easily stay awake until regular hours and one autumn weekend we arrived home to find the spooky house next door all lit up, under a full moon.  I appreciated the eerie look of the situation and snapped this photo, which I’ve used a few times on this blog.  I’m not sure the house next door was haunted, but it sure looked like it.  More to the point, it reminds me of the poster for The Exorcist.  It has always been a dream of mine to have one of my photos appear on a book cover.

I also received the happy news that the book is with the printers.  That means it will soon be available.  It will be expensive, but I should be receiving a discount code that I will be glad to share.  “Library pricing” is something publishers unfortunately have to do to make books pay themselves off.  In the past several years so many books have been appearing that the bottom has fallen out of the academic library market.  Too much supply, to put it in capitalist terms.  Many publishers, however, will give discounts to individuals who want to buy a copy.  All you have to do is ask the author.  (I don’t have the discount code yet, but I will be glad to share it once I’ve received it.)

Nightmares with the Bible is being published by Fortress Academic.  A few years ago Fortress Press partnered with Lexington Books to handle their library market books, including those in the series Horror and Scripture, in which Nightmares appears.  Lexington Books is an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield.  It’s sometimes difficult to keep track of publishing houses since there has been a lot of consolidation over the centuries, accelerating in recent years.  Publishers don’t sell as many individual books as they used to and with Amazon’s arrival a new shift in the market took place.  It tends to favor trade publishers over academic ones.  In any case, that means even books written for trade readerships, like Nightmares, are priced for libraries.  If you have access to an academic library please recommend they buy a copy.  If the book succeeds in that venue a case can be made for a paperback edition.  In the meantime, the book should be, barring an apocalypse, out on schedule.


October Reflections

The people are dressed in their finest.  The best food and drink available are spread on white tablecloths while rats scurry underfoot.  The feasters invite Lucy to join them.  “It’s the last supper,” they say, hoisting a glass, knowing that they will soon die of the plague.  This is one of the most powerful scenes in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre.  It’s October and we’re in the midst of a plague.  The wealthy retain their fortunes while the poor die in the streets.  Do I really need to explain why someone so focused on religion and social justice finds horror films as able conversation partners?  My two books that relate to the topics don’t come outright and say it, but there are spiritual lessons to be learned here.

Genre is a convenient, perhaps even necessary, means of making sense of the vast creative output of humankind.  We write fiction, poems, and songs.  We film movies.  We produce these forms of entertainment at a stunning rate, especially when we consider the large number of pieces made that never find official publication.  Genre helps us sort through—this is like that, etc.  Still, some of my favorite pieces of literature, and movies, don’t really fit into neat genre divisions.  Take Herzog’s Nosferatu.  There are definitely horror elements here, but it is also an art film.  Some scenes, like that described above, are suffused with religious meaning.  When circumstances align correctly we can see it and say, “ah, now I understand.”  That was what came to me recently.  I haven’t seen the movie for years, but circumstances with Covid-19 brought it to mind.

October is a month of poetry and transitions.  We turned the furnace on only to find ourselves in the midst of a string of days reaching near 70.  The cerulean sky which looks so different this time of year suddenly disappeared with nearly a week of heavy cloud cover.  There’s beauty in the daytime and monsters in the night.  Outside lurks a plague.  Lacking the willpower to overcome it, people are growing weary of the restrictions.  We’re not used to being locked up.  The thing about the last supper is that life goes on even after it’s over.  Changed, yes, but October is all about change.  We’re anxious, wondering if it was indeed a vampire that bit us.  Meanwhile the leaves continue their journey from green to yellow, orange, and red, their litter becoming the food for next year’s growth.  Yes, there are spiritual lessons here.