Mad Dog

Like those who write long books, those who write very many books ask for some level of commitment from their fans.  I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing I had more time to read.  I tend to be driven to Stephen King’s novels by the movies made around them, and there’s nothing wrong with that I suppose.  I decided I wanted to read Cujo some years back when I was on a werewolf kick.  I knew it wasn’t a werewolf story, yet as one who suffers from cynophobia even a large household pet will do.  I didn’t know the story in advance, and I had no idea how it ended.  It’s good to read novels like that sometimes.

I took it with me to San Diego and read most of it on the plane, finishing it somewhere over the mountain west.  It is a bleak story, one of King’s more drawn-out and wrenching tales.  It’s made more so by the fact that it could happen, at least in the main storyline.  Or could have happened.  Maybe I waited too long to read it, but I kept thinking as I was going through—today we have cell phones.  A large part of this story unfolds because of Donna Trenton’s inability to contact anyone while a rabid dog keeps her trapped in her car during a record-breaking heat wave in Maine.  I suspect it’s kind of a story about redemption, but I really need some time to think about it before rushing to such conclusions.  There’s not much you can really consider religious in this particular tale, and perhaps it’s because Cujo is a very natural kind of monster.

I saw my first rabid dog when I was maybe five.  My brothers and I reported a dog acting strange to our mother, after which she kept us in the house.  That wasn’t the origin, I don’t think, of my cynophobia.  Two of my brothers were bitten by a family dog when I was little, and I was once chased by a dog about as big as I was, certain that it was going to eat me.  At the same time, we had dogs as pets, and apart from the one that liked to bite, they never gave cause for fear.  Cujo tapped into those memories and made me reflect on what it means to befriend wolves.  It won’t be my favorite King novel, but it did help to pass the time from coast to coast.


Wolves Again

Although I don’t read movie reviews until after I’ve seen a film, I have a confession to make. With rumors swirling of The Conjuring 3, and since a chapter of Nightmares with the Bible will involve The Conjuring, I was a little curious what it might be about. Word on the street—and by “street” I mean “internet”—is that it will feature the case of Ed and Lorraine Warren that’s presented in Werewolf. Co-written by William Ramsey (the victim) and Robert David Chase, the book describes the strange malady of Ramsey, who never actually changed into a wolf, but for inexplicable reasons (at the time) thought himself a wolf and took on a wolfish look as he attacked people. The reports suggest he had preternatural strength at such times.

Since most of the Warrens’ books are concerned with demons, it should come as no surprise that in this case that was the diagnosis as well. With no real reason given, once upon a childhood evening Ramsey was possessed and occasionally broke out into violent fits. He landed in a psychiatric hospital a couple of times, but was eventually released. Noticed by the Warrens on one of their trips to England, Ramsey was invited to come stateside for an exorcism. According to the book, the rite was successful at least up until the time of publication. That’s the thing about demons—you can’t always tell for sure when they’re gone.

It’s pretty obvious why such a story line would appeal for a horror flick. You’ve got a werewolf, an unnamed demon, and an exorcism—there’s a lot to work with here. Weird things happen in the world, and there’s not too much to strain the credulity in this case. It would seem possible that a mental illness could cause much of what’s described as plaguing Ramsey, though. Its episodic nature is strange, I suppose, and the Warrens had a reputation for spotting demons. I did miss the conventional elements of the exorcism, however. No demon forced to give its name, no levitating and no head-spinning. Not even a bona fide bodily transformation. They’ll be able to fix that in Hollywood, I’m sure. Credulous or not, there will always be people like me who feel compelled to read such books. And since there’s no final arbiter but opinion in cases of the supernatural, that can leave you wondering.


Twice Bitten

I should be aware of what happens next. I’ve seen it in movies often enough. Man gets bitten by a wolf, and he turns into a werewolf at the full moon. That gives me two days. And it wasn’t a wolf, but a pit bull. I fear what I might become. You have to understand that after a long commute—they’re doing construction along a stretch of a major artery where my route passes—and having been awake since 3:30 (a.m.) when I get off the bus I’m not always thinking clearly. I’ve done some calculating and it turns out that apart from work, commute, and sleep (or at least trying to sleep) I’m left with three and a half hours per day to do my own stuff, like write these blog posts, eat breakfast and supper, and pay bills. So when I get off the bus for my short walk home, my main concern is getting across a busy street where New Jersey drivers routinely ignore the state law that they must stop for pedestrians in a cross walk. But last night the dogs were out.

The sidewalks in my town are narrow. Nine days out of ten I meet no one on my way home. There’s one guy with a tiny dog that’s feisty and it is amusing how the little guy—just a puppy—growls and barks its tiny barks and strains to get at me. Dog owners around here pull their dogs off the sidewalk to let walkers pass. It’s a friendly town that way. Last night the young woman was no match for the two pit bulls she was walking. The street was unusually busy since two guys had just walked past me, one, commenting on the dogs, said “I don’t take my beasts out any more.” The woman pulled the dogs off the walk and they barked and snapped and as I walked past one lunged and bit me. Tore a good pair of pants. The woman they owned was aghast and offered to pay. I didn’t want her to know how cheap my clothes were. Besides, I couldn’t hear her over all the barking.

It’s been years since I’ve been bitten by a dog. This was really just a scratch and the frantic woman assured me the dogs had had their shots. But I’ve seen the movies. I know what happens next. Two nights from now I’ll be roaming the streets after dark, half human, half dog. The Hunter Moon (the official name for October’s full moon) comes on Sunday. I can’t blame the dog—it was only doing what aggressive dogs are bred to do. My commute, however, has a new hazard. Not only do we deal with construction zones, I now have to arouse myself to watch out for werewolves on the way home. It must be October.

Me, in two days.

Me, in two days.


Transformations

WerewolfsGuideToLifeHalloween, when you think about it, is an odd holiday. I know many who claim it as their favorite although you get no presents and not even a day off work. I suspect that part of the mystique comes in the form of Halloween representing autumn in miniature. The slow death of summer as the chill of winter settles in. The trees, vibrant in their dramatic death throes, are beautiful and melancholy at the same time. The long hours of darkness leave plenty of opportunities to see ghosts. Rich Duncan and Bob Powers’ book, The Werewolf’s Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly Bitten, is appropriate for the season. This lighthearted parody of self-help books nicely illustrates how monsters often come into contact with religion. As a secular handbook, the Guide nevertheless addresses itself to the religious questions of life: should a werewolf go to confession? How do you deal with guilt? Do werewolves go to heaven? Monsters often force us to face the questions we just can’t answer.

The werewolf, of course, is the manifestation of a person gone feral. While people don’t actually physically change into animals, evolution has left us with a deep kinship to our fellow creatures. At times when work, or school, or relationships become trying, we are tempted to let the beast loose. One size doesn’t fit all, despite the many attempts of society to keep the vast majority of people in the same plight. Halloween is a cathartic holiday that permits us to be someone else and, perchance, to howl at the moon. Not exactly like Carnival, Halloween thrives on false appearances. We wear costumes. The trees and sunlight that apparently die are really only cycling through an annual death and resurrection.

Halloween can’t touch Christmas for a holiday that commemorates new beginnings, but in many ways Halloween is the more visceral of the two. In Manhattan, although Halloween decorations show up early in October, the holiday is lost in the city. The werewolves pretty much keep to themselves. As Christmas, with its lucre, becomes the next obvious holiday (in stores Halloween decorations already give way to those of Christmas at the start of October now) the city transforms. Despite its multi-ethnic and multi-religious makeup, Christmas trees will begin to appear, some impressively large, and the greens will remind everyone that it is time to spend. You’ll get days off work and the days will be painfully brief. Light will slowly return to the skies and the cycle will begin all over. Some will watch this all with wolf-like eyes, however, awaiting the next season of monsters and myths, knowing they are what make us truly human.


War in Heaven

Van_Helsing_poster

Van Helsing, about which I’ve posted before, is not a great film, but it is perhaps the closest that modern cinema has to offer for my childhood Saturday afternoon viewing. Vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein’s monster all appear together in a ménage à trois that Universal would’ve been proud to own in the 1960s. With lines cribbed from some of the Universal originals, plus some less believable chatter from Steven Sommers, the campy film is unrelentingly in dialogue with religion and its monsters. Indeed, the plot revolves around the church’s plan to save humanity from monsters by the employment of the eponymous van Helsing. I’ve probably seen the movie half a dozen times, and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit the this is the first time I’ve stopped to wonder at why, unlike Bram Stoker’s van Helsing, the one in the movie is named “Gabriel.”

It should’ve been obvious at the first viewing, but this time I was watching the movie with the intention of parsing its theology. In medieval Roman Catholic angelology, there are seven archangels. Two of them (or three, depending on whose Bible you are reading) are named in Holy Writ. Gabriel is, of course, one of them. The movie also shifts Dracula from being son of a Wallachian nobleman to being the “son of the Devil” (clearly by adoption). The Devil’s gift of resurrection (with which the movie is rife) comes with the vampiristic curse. And the climax of the film has the leader of God’s army (“the left hand of God”), Gabriel, battling the son of Satan. This is none other than the war in Heaven of which the Bible speaks. The leader of the archangelic army is actually Michael, but having “Mike van Helsing” as your lead just doesn’t carry the gravitas of Gabriel.

The movie opens with Dracula claiming that science has triumphed over God, and yet the mythology of monsters prevails. Frankenstein’s creation is morally pure, being a loving child of science, and the church declares him anathema. Throughout the movie all the monsters claim to want is to live, to survive. In fact, they are already resurrected. The werewolves get the dog’s share of the theology, however. They are infected or cursed rather than reborn. The war in Heaven has come to earth as angels and demons battle for supremacy. In the end, it is the human family chosen by God that goes extinct. I’m not sure all the theology adds up at the end of the film, but again, that is the very nature of mythology. And a film that can bring back a careless Saturday afternoon really doesn’t need to make sense at all.


Creature Feature

Gregory L. Reece’s Creatures of the Night is a strangely profound book. I picked it up to read on the plane home from Chicago and I wasn’t disappointed. Promising to explore ghosts, vampires, werewolves, demons and devils, Reece suggests that maybe the key to such fascination rests with the late Rudolf Otto. I had over a decade of students read Otto’s famous little book, The Idea of the Holy. Otto, whose palindromatic surname suggests something uncanny, characterized the holy as the fascinating mysterium tremendum, the wholly other. (I will refrain from calling it the wholly holy.) The mystery that makes us tremble. The monsters that haunt our nights and imaginations are aspects of this utterly other.

Along the way Reece proves an able tour guide. He recognizes, as I have repeatedly stated in this blog, that religion and fear are conjoined twins. He also knows how to get your skin crawling. For Reece there is no question that such things are real. Real doesn’t mean that they are physically lurking outside your window at night—for who is to say that only the physical is real?—but they are as real as religion. No doubt strange things have transpired in history and continue to occur. And the reason we go into church may ultimately be the same reason that we watch a horror film.

As Reece comes upon the topic of demons the air in the room (or plane, or bus) thickens. Here we have documented accounts of impossible events. No amount of rational training can remove the shudder from these stories. Explanations of epilepsy only go so far before terror takes over. By herding them together with vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, Reece stakes his claim that they all are real. Rational reductionists may shrink our world down so tightly that no room appears in the inn for our creatures of the night. But those who are honest, even among the reductionists, will admit to a mysterious tremor, even if unintentional, on a dark and stormy night.


Shaman on Us

My reading habits are unorthodox. I don’t follow a fixed plan, but hope for something that will keep me engaged for the fifteen or so hours I spend commuting each week. I began October with a book about werewolves and followed it up with a book on the Hmong. Apropos of neither and both, I turned next to Shamanism: An Introduction, by Margaret Stutley. While not the best organized book, it does provide a smorgasbord of shamanistic traditions, principally from Siberia, where Shamanism was first recognized. Before I’d finished, I’d read about both epilepsy and werewolves.

Shamanism is not a “religion” per se. There is little agreement among scholars about what a religion is at all. Shamanism is very much a local set of beliefs and practices that have only very basic elements in common (shamans being one of them). It is a good example, however, of how moral heathens can be. Shamans often accompany egalitarian societies who do not require governments and religious leaders telling them to be nice to each other. No, this is not the noble savage myth, but it is a clear indication that major religions are not required for morality. It evolves on its own. Often shamanism is not constrained by overly left-brain influence, and sees connections science can only deny. The plight of Lia Lee was explained here in a way physicians could access—epilepsy and other diseases are problems of the soul as much as the body—if only they read books about religion. Healing involves calling the soul back. Treatment of the body misses the point. And sometimes the dead become werewolves.

We live in a world where real suffering is caused by lack of understanding about religion. Assuming a cultural hegemony of Christianity, or Islam, and sometimes even other religions, we discount those who believe differently than we do. The New Atheists frequently overlook just how seriously people take the world of the emotions and belief. That realm is a large part of what makes us human and it plays by no logical rules. Nor does it care to. In a country, such as the United States, where money is believed to be the very warp and woof of the good life, shamans sometimes secretly cut the thread. Still, don’t ask universities to expand the study of something as insignificant as religion because all intelligent people know that nobody really believes that stuff any more.


Holy Wolves

Nothing creates the mood for a werewolf movie like reading a book about real werewolves. The Howling was released the year I was finishing high school. At that time my humble circumstances allowed for very few visits to the movie theater, and certainly never to see horror films. I grew up watching B-films in black-and-white on television, but paying extra to see what was slightly unseemly in a theater stretched the limits for a good Christian just a bit. College was on my mind, and it was while in college that my horror film interest blossomed. All of which is to say, I’ve never seen The Howling before. I remember the movie posters, but the film had to wait until werewolves clawed their way back into my mind. Most of the classic movie monsters have their basis in religion, but The Howling doesn’t really delve into the origin of werewolves as much as it wonders what to do about when their numbers start to become a problem. Those who know about such things note that the special effects were cutting edge for the time, but CGI has spoiled us all.

Although the film doesn’t inquire into werewolf origins, it still gives a nod to the religious. The film’s werewolf population lives in a colony that has a “ritual center,” and since the cover for the colony is a retreat center for a psychologist’s patients, we find seekers amid the crowd. One of the inmates, Donna, explains that before joining the colony she had tried all the new religious movements, without success. And the one character who knows how to dispatch werewolves runs an occult bookstore in Los Angeles that is visited, in a shock-comic moment, but a pair of nuns. The message, so typical of the early 1980’s, is that all religions are just about the same. People are seekers, and any religion will do in a pinch.

In a way, this downplaying of the religious element in werewolves is not unexpected. As society was becoming more obviously secularized in the sixties and seventies, religion was becoming just one of many options available on the path toward self-fulfillment. In The Howling, becoming a werewolf was another. Ironically one of the old-timer werewolves laments the loss of “the old ways.” The werewolf colony lives on cattle that are farmed as politically correct sheep for the wolves, and it just doesn’t satisfy. The same might be said for religions. Accommodations, so necessary to survival in an evolving society, inevitably change the old ways of religion. Religions themselves transform over time. The Howling may not be scary, or believable, but it does serve as a kind of paradigm for worldviews that are undergoing transformation. Shifting shape, after all, is a sure symbol that one is still alive.


Where? Wolves?

The problem with occasional phenomena is that they are seldom empirically verified. Try as we might, no one has managed to be in the exact place at the exact time on Loch Ness to capture definitive evidence that Nessie exists. Of course, it is very difficult to prove that something doesn’t exist. I have a creeping suspicion that not all of reality can be quantified. I’m very glad for the parts that can be, but a little mystery never hurt anyone. I’ve just finished reading Linda Godfrey’s Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America. There—I’ve already lost some of you! We all grow up to learn that there are no such things as werewolves and I’ve experienced many a peaceful night in that knowledge. Nevertheless, many people do report seeing upright wolf-like creatures, and many of the people interviewed by Godfrey appear to be entirely sincere. What makes this intriguing to me is that many of these episodes are reported in a circumscribed area (near which I used to live). While reports come from across the country, it is easier to dismiss one person who saw something odd once than it is to discount many people who see a similar thing over many years in the same general vicinity. That’s why I keep coming back to Godfrey’s books.

Being an open-minded writer, Godfrey also considers possible spiritual explanations for what people see. Shamanistic traditions, in this case particularly Native American ones, do not dismiss transformations from human to animal. It is difficult for most of us to accept that a person could bend the laws of physics and biology—for which we suffered through so many tests in our education—to mutate or mix human DNA into or with lupine stock. Indeed, it takes the faith of the world of religion to believe that. And yet, people see beasts.

We have been in the process of sealing the borders to our universe since the Enlightenment. The vaster our universe becomes the smaller the realm of possibilities grows. But we haven’t even explored all of our own little planet yet. The deep-sea trenches remain largely out of our reach, and the sheer volume of the oceans boggles the imagination. Even on land, we can’t watch every place all the time. The possibility of getting to somewhere truly remote is frequently an optimistic illusion. At times with my wife’s family I’ve ventured to places so far from civilization that freedom truly feels palpable. And as we hike down some neglected trail, talking to alert the grizzlies to our presence, nearly always we end up encountering others out here to escape from the likes of us. Yet a whole lot of the woods remain off-trail. It’s not a small world after all. And it’s October. Who’s to say there’s not the occasional werewolf out tonight?


Where Are the Wolves?

Spend a leisurely hour at your local commercial bookstore and you won’t be able to avoid seeing vampires. Just yesterday I noticed that a neighborhood bookstore had an entire section entitled “Teen Paranormal.” Zombies also continue to grow in popularity, now having their own line of undead Christmas products. And where is the humble werewolf? Not gone, just lurking in the shadows.

This weekend I finished the third werewolf book by my one-time co-Wisconsinist, Linda S. Godfrey. (She’s still there, but I’m not.) Lest any of my readers think I am casually lumping her work together with the fictional fantasy monsters, I must declare up front that The Michigan Dogman is not a work of fiction. Linda is a careful researcher, a former journalist, and a woman who possesses something many researchers lose over the years: an open mind. The problem with occasional phenomena is that they are almost impossible to test in any empirical kind of way. Since even before the Beast of Bray Road story broke in 1992 occasional reports of bipedal canines had stumbled into the news once in a while, causing headline-happy journalists to push the werewolf button. Underneath the current monster hype, however, is an intriguing question of origins.

Where do all these similar stories originate? While not even close to the number of reported Bigfoot sightings, the dogman/manwolf sightings that Linda has pulled together are impressive for their overall uniformity. Witnesses who’d never heard of the creature repeatedly report fine details that mesh with accounts of individuals otherwise unconnected. The standard answers of hoaxes and misidentifications just don’t cover the three volumes worth of material she had compiled. Few would stand by the assertion that these are shapeshifting humans, but for those with an open mind the werewolf trilogy gives pause (paws?).

The universe is large beyond human comprehension. Simply because we’ve evolved very complex brains doesn’t mean we’ve found all the answers. I’ve never seen a werewolf or any other popular cryptid. But having studied the strange world of religion all my life, I know better than to declare, ex cathedra, that very strange things cannot exist.


Where Wolves Dare

It’s the fall of the year when an old man’s thoughts turn to werewolves. Not that I’ve ever believed there were such creatures, but they do have a pedigree in ancient religious ideas, and even today skin-walkers play a role in some Native American traditions. While I lived in Wisconsin I found out about the Beast of Bray Road, a cryptid that is seen on occasion south of Nashotah, where I lived. Unfortunately I learned about the beastie too late to make any attempts to see it, but the documentation of the creature is in good hands with local author Linda Godfrey.

When I moved to New Jersey, scrabbling for a living tended to outweigh concerns about werewolves. Nevertheless, I did hear of an odd account in a south Jersey newspaper from 1925. According to the Woodbury Daily Times (now defunct), a farmer in Greenwich, south of Camden, shot an up-right hopping, dog-like creature that had twice raided his chicken coop early on a December morning in 1925. According to the paper, hundred of people went to view the unidentified animal and some even photographed it. Now, 85 years later, the story is barely remembered. Was this just another gun-toting Philadelphia suburbanite shooting an annoying dog, or had a “werewolf” passed through New Jersey all those many years ago? Periodically accounts of dogs running on hind legs are posted by late-night drivers in the Garden State, but no photographs or other evidence ever seems to be forthcoming.

Werewolves are less about monsters than they are about struggling with inner conflict, according to many psychologists. Our animal nature, deeply sublimated, sometimes makes a ferocious bid for freedom and otherwise sane individuals believe themselves to have turned into wolves. When I look at my crazy employment history, somehow I can relate. Some day I hope to transform into a fully employed academic or editor who has a steady income and an appreciative employer. My chances of seeing a werewolf, however, may be slightly better. I think I’ll head to Greenwich to poke around a bit, but I’m going to wait for a full moon, Friday the 13th, or a full-time job – whichever comes first.

Read Linda Godfrey's new book


Sinful Moonsters

Wednesday night a student asked me about the moon god Sin. The name “Sin” has nothing etymologically in common with the usual English word for wrongdoing; they are simply homonyms. Nevertheless, when students first encounter this odd juxtaposition they often think that there must be something to it. This particular student pointed out that many activities classified as sinful take place at night, under the moon. Could they be connected? Linguistically, no; but it did get me thinking about the idea of the moon’s baleful influence on various creatures of the night.

Serious academic works seldom take vampires, werewolves and witches, some of the moon’s most infamously unholy acolytes, to be worthy of valuable research time. Meanwhile Stephanie Meyer and company are laughing all the way to the blood bank. Popular culture gives credence to the children of the night that the academic world ignores. I tried to do a little research on the moon and its mythology only to find that most moon books deal either with serious attempts at astronomy or serious attempts at astrology, neither of which I was seeking. I wanted to know when the moon had slipped from being the gentle god/goddess of the night into its role as the overseer of evil.

Evidence was scant, but it seems that in the Middle Ages, maybe influenced by late Roman ideas, scholars began to recognize the moon’s potential as a dismal influence. The moon has long been popular in folklore as a source of lunacy and luck. Lovers crave the moonlight, but so do teenage vampires and raging werewolves. This is, apparently, a concept of no great ancient pedigree. In any case, the moon here has nothing to do with sin.


Transformations

Last week my colleague James of Idle Musings sent me a review of Stephen Asma’s On Monsters that I’ve been meaning to incorporate into a post for several days now. Since New Jersey has been buried under more snow than it’s seen since the last Ice Age, I’ve been busy shoveling and navigating icy roads to class and only now am finding the time to respond. (Still, I have to say that the snow we have here now is no comparison to good old lake-effect snow where I grew up. Of course, the population back home was much smaller so the media never made a circus of it. After all, it is just winter!) In today’s paper, however, there was a review of The Wolfman that graciously affords me another opportunity to address one of my favorite, if under-represented, areas of religious studies: the monster.

Local film critics haven’t exactly panned the remake of the 1941 classic, although it is noted that the new version tries to avoid the essential subtexts of “alpha-male dominance, sexual repression, compulsive behavior and father-son feuds” (from Stephen Whitty’s Star Ledger review; Whitty also notes, on the cheerful side, that Universal is trying to revive its monster franchise). The werewolf has always been my favorite monster character. Aside from the negative aspects noted by Whitty, the werewolf also represents transformation from the helpless, lost, and confused Lawrence Talbot to a purposeful, confident, and unambiguous wolfman. The werewolf is everyman/everywoman pressed to the limits by a demeaning, heartless society until individualism breaks out in all its savagery and power.

Apart from the religious elements in all monsters (is the werewolf not a paragon of spiritual transformation?), a political subtext also emerges. While the front page declares the financial woes of the state and the continued trouble trying to pass any healthcare reform, page 3 declares “Top 5 health insurers post soaring profits.” One person’s cancer is another insurer’s boondoggle. Meanwhile the Larry Talbots of the world are being told, “give a little more – everyone’s got to share this burden.” Eventually, however, there will be a full moon and transformations will take place. As a student of religions, I can recognize the werewolf as more than a monster and as containing far more symbolism than a Robert Langdon could ever untangle.

Who's not afraid to look in the mirror?


Hallowed Be Thy Wolfbane

Anti-pesto to the rescue!

Anti-pesto to the rescue!

With autumn in the air and the harvest season looming near, my family recently watched Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Quite apart from the inspired improbability of Aardman Studios productions, the central role of the village vicar in this film aroused my interest. Confirming an oft-cited proposition of this blog that mythical creatures burst from the same mental regions as religion, at Lord Quartermaine’s inquiry as to what might kill a were-rabbit, the vicar promptly pulls down a monster book from his shelves to reveal the secret. It is the church that knows about monsters.

In my continuing research into religious reactions to death and the afterlife, I constantly run into the name of Montague Summers. Summers was the author of the definitive books, in his period, on vampires, werewolves, and witches. He is best known for his translation of the Malleus Maleficarum, “the hammer of witches,” the main witch-hunting tome of the Middle Ages. A deacon of the Church of England before converting to Catholicism, Summers was a believer in the phenomena that he researched. Styling himself a witch-hunter (he lived from 1880 to 1948), he tried to live the fantasy world he helped to create.

The more that neurologists study the brain, the more we discover how deeply embedded religion can be. Any number of researchers have suggested various “God-shaped nodules” in the gray matter that provide for continuing religious belief in the face of advancing scientific knowledge. I would suggest, as a “religionist,” that perhaps nestled next to our mental menorahs, crucifixes, and statues of the virgin, there are also ghosts, witches, werewolves, and vampires lurking in the dark corners of the God node.


The Fear of the Lord Is Pure

This is the 9th podcast for this blog. The topic under consideration here is why fear is so closely associated with religion. I ponder the origins of the concept of deity and try to make a connection with other dark areas of the imagination.