Local Hauntings

In my on-going research (as I think of it), I watched The Haunting in Connecticut.  I recently wrote about A Haunting in Connecticut, distinguished from the theatrical version by an indefinite article.  Both claim to be based on a true story and the story itself is disputed because it doesn’t fit into a materialist paradigm.  Ah, but that’s another can of worms.  Regarding the movie, it abandons the base story to add an entirely fictional subplot that drives the horror.  Or so the writers and director think.  The tale ends up jumbled and the confusion it generates is not the kind borne of intelligent planning.  The Campbell family, struggling to pay the bills against a case of childhood cancer is real horror.  In our healthcare system that is a true story.

According to the diegesis of the movie, Matt Campbell can see the dead because he’s close to death.  In case you don’t know the story—the family has to move to be closer to the hospital where Matt is receiving his treatment.  Once ensconced in their new house they learn it used to be a funeral home and hauntings ensue.  The writer of the original book claims to have made much of it up, while interviews with witnesses make the claim that much of it actually happened.  Matt ends up in a mental hospital.  In the movie a subplot of necromancy and a young boy medium are added.  Souls whose bodies have been bound are trapped in the house until Matt figures out how to break the spell with the help of the medium’s ghost.  Instead of Ed and Lorraine Warren investigating, a local minister is added.  Also suffering from cancer, he figures it out too, but too late to help the Campbell family.

In Holy Horror and Nightmares with the Bible I do not treat made-for-television movies.  A large part of the reason is that they often lack the cultural impact of a theatrical release.  (Although Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead may have reached a point of familiarity with numbers to rival big screen efforts.)  In the case of the cinematic treatment of the Snedeker (“Campbell”) family, however, the television treatment might well have been scarier than the big-budget studio effort.  Whether fictionalized or not, the Discovery Channel show stays closer to the book (In a Dark Place, by Ray Garton).  Using the Usher-like ending of destroying the house doesn’t seem to offer any release in the big-screen version.  Sometimes reality is scarier than the tales we tell after dark.

Witches or Prophets?

Some things never change. My daughter’s English class has finished its Shakespeare unit and this year’s selection was MacBeth. I recall the play from my own high school days, perhaps one of the hidden attractors that eventually drew me to Scotland. Shakespeare’s use of Holinshed’s Chronicles, however, was news to me. Raphael Holinshed was a 16th century chronicler of world history and his work gave Shakespeare the outline of MacBeth. The passage from Holinshed that stood out, concerning the witches, reads: “But afterwards the common opinion was, that these women were either the weird sisters, that is (as ye would say) the goddesses of destinie, or else some nymphs or feiries, indued with knowledge of prophesie by their necromanticall science, bicause euerie thing came to passe as they had spoken” (page 269 of volume 5, Scotland).

Being in the midst of courses on both prophecy and mythology, this passage ties a number of popular concepts together. Clearly the clairvoyance of magical females is simply accepted, and the easy association with classical characters such as the Fates or nymphs is evident. This is a world of mythical literalism. The weird sisters are able to predict the future with their necromancy. In a more nuanced view of prophecy, the concept actually incorporates effective speaking rather than future predicting. If a prophet speaks the words of Yahweh, in the Bible, then those words must of necessity transpire. When the stated events take place, it looks like prediction. Here Holinshed suggests the source of such knowledge for the women was more suspect.

Few of the biblical prophets are female. It is almost as if clandestine knowledge possessed by a woman marked her as a necromancer while a man might legitimately wield esoteric knowledge. This double standard no doubt applied in biblical times, and has lasted in various forms to the present day. The male establishment fears the knowledgeable female. Privilege takes many forms, all of them greedy. In my case I must gladly acknowledge that I would not have learned of Holinshed’s Chronicles if it weren’t for my daughter, and I am pleased for the opportunity to expand my esoteric knowledge.