A terrifying and enticing EDX-Files Valentine Special with Steve Mera on the incubus/succubus night demon phenomenon, and other paranormal lovers who have terrorized or pleasured humanity since the dawn of time… What could be more romantic than a paranormal being that seduces you while you sleep? This show is not for the faint of heart, so listeners beware, you’re in for a scare!
Anthony Hopkins, Aphrodite, Atropos, Baal, Beelzebub, Blood, Bram Stoker, Carfax Abbey, classics, Clotho, Cupid, Demeter, Dr Seward, Dracula, Eros, Francis Ford Coppola, Gary Oldman, Greece, Horror, Jonathan Harker, Keanu Reeves, Lachesis, Lucy, Mina Harker, Mina Murray, Renfield, Richard E Grant, Sadie Frost, Sex, symbolism, The Fates, The Wyrd Sisters, Tom Waits, Transylvania, Van Helsing, Venus, Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, Winona Ryder, wolf
This contains spoilers! Watch the movie first!
The 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, is a completely different take on the story of the monstrous Transylvanian count. It is more than just a love story, and as I began to study classics almost ten years later I realised there was a deeper meaning to the tale. The vampire had actually been portrayed as a fallen Eros, damned by God and His “mad men”.
The movie starts as no other film about Dracula starts, with the Count in human form. Here he is the real historical character we know Dracula to be based on, Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia. He goes into battle, leaving his beloved wife Elisabeta. Whilst in battle, Elisabeta receives false word that her husband has been killed. Devastated, she commits suicide. On his return, Dracula is told by the priest (played by Anthony Hopkins who will later be his adversary, Van Helsing) that his wife is damned because she took her own life. Dracula, enraged that the God he is fighting for should turn against him by condemning the woman he loves, renounces Him. He then damns himself by drinking the blood from the cross he has stabbed with his sword. Straight away, we know that the reason Dracula has willingly condemned himself to be damned is for the love of a woman, also damned.
Four centuries later, in 1897, we find ourselves in London at the Carfax Lunatic Asylum and are introduced to Renfield, one of the patients. He is talking to his “Master”, saying he has made preparations for his arrival, before eating a fly and thanking his invisible Master for his generosity. In Nods to the Old Gods, I mention Beelzebub, a Semitic deity. His name in Arabic was thought to mean Lord of the Flies, although this is probably a derogatory corruption of his true name Lord of the High Place (Heaven) or “High Lord”. He is also called Ba’al, meaning “Lord” or “Master”. He is primarily a sun god, and god of fertility. If damned, as He was – like many other pagan gods were – surely Ba’al would be condemned never to walk in sunlight and all acts of fertility, such as sex and sexual love, would also be condemned as impure lust by opposing forces (i.e. early Christians).
In the next scene, Renfield’s boss explains to Jonathon that Renfield has “lost his greedy mind”. Beelzebub was condemned to be a Prince of Hell, his sin being that of gluttony, which ties in with Dracula’s insatiable appetite for feeding on human blood, and also perhaps with Renfield’s gluttony for flies.
Dracula first appears as a supernatural being shortly after we are first introduced to our two protagonists, Mina and Jonathan, a couple very much in love who want to marry. They are prevented from doing so until Jonathan has first visited Dracula. Vampires and couples in love are often a motif of many Dracula stories. The two things seem to be inextricably linked. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the count finds a picture of Mina and immediately recognises her as the reincarnation of his beloved Elisabeta.
Unlike any other Dracula story, Oldman catches us off-guard and talks of something no other Dracula has ever talked about. He says: “The luckiest man who walks on this earth is the one who finds true love.” He then induces our sympathy by beginning to cry whilst telling Jonathan that he was married once, but his wife died.
As the story continues, other characters are introduced: the flirtatious, sexually knowledgeable and free-speaking Lucy is balanced with the virginal and sexually naïve Mina. Lucy’s suitors, each one more in love with her than the other, are Quincy P Morris, Dr Jack Seward and Arthur Holmwood. It is whilst watching Lucy flirting with all three men that Mina becomes aware of Dracula, an allegory of her sexual stirrings.
Back at the asylum, Renfield accuses Dr Seward of being “love sick” (thought to be a real disease in ancient Greece!), whilst in Dracula’s castle, Jonathan is seduced by three female vampires. They are described in Bram Stoker’s novel as Dracula’s three brides. Collectively they are referred to as “sisters” and at one point “weird sisters”. This is an interesting point. The weird sisters appear also in Shakespeare’s Macbeth as witches, but originally these were the Wyrd Sisters, or Fates. Here, The Fates therefore exist in order to determine Jonathan’s destiny. Clotho, the spinner, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who chooses our lot in life, and how long that life will be; and Atropos, who cuts the thread of life with her shears. In the film they are enjoying a sexual orgy with Jonathan, deciding his fate as they seduce him with their beauty and charm.
Meanwhile, the Dracula-as-sexual-urges allegory appears again, as Dracula watches the girls playing and kissing in the maze during a storm. Shortly afterwards Dracula lands in England and immediately entices a somnambulistic Lucy into the garden in order to seduce her. Lucy is wearing a flowing red dress, the same colour as the old count’s coat at the castle. The colour red seems to be a recurring motif of the film, perhaps symbolising its most usually associate emotion, passion and, of course, blood. In this scene, where Mina finds Dracula in the form of a beast, feeding on Lucy whilst enjoying her almost sexually as well, Dracula causes Mina to forget seeing him in such a state.
Soon after, fresh from feasting on the crew of the Demeter (incidentally, the ancient Greek mother goddess of the grain and fertility) and Lucy, Dracula appears as a young man walking through the streets of London. He is now dashing enough to let Mina see him in princely form. They go to the cinematograph, where Dracula seduces Mina. Here, a wild wolf is used as a symbol of his wild passion, which he tames as he tames the wolf, in order that Mina is safe from his carnal desires.
The next scene introduces us to Professor Abraham Van Helsing, as he gives a lecture on the problem of syphilis in Victorian society. He points out that venereal diseases literally means the diseases of Venus, Roman goddess of love, which is a reference to their “divine origins”. Venus is the mother of Cupid, the Roman god of love. Eros is the Greek equivalent of Cupid, whilst Aphrodite is the Greek equivalent of Venus.
As Lucy lies gravely ill and dying, Mina is swept off her feet by her prince, and we see that the vampire does indeed have more than one side to him. He gives Mina absinth to drink, which he describes as the “aphrodisiac of the soul”. An important line, as I’ll point out soon. Dracula, in this guise of Eros, and Mina, in the guise of Psyche (“the soul”), fall in love with each other all over again, whilst reminiscing about their sad parting. However, when Jonathan, having escaped the castle, sends word that he is safe and wishes for Mina to join him to be married, Mina puts a stop to her clandestine trysts with Dracula. She sails for Romania, still feeling he is with her, speaking to her in her thoughts. She broods over the fact that, being single and enjoying the company of her sensual prince, she felt more alive than she ever had before. Now, without him, about to marry Jonathan, she feels confused and lost.
At this point, Van Helsing realises he is dealing with Dracula, one of the undead, and warns Morris to guard Lucy lest she become a “bitch of the Devil” and “a whore of darkness”. He tells Morris that Lucy is not just a random victim, but a wanton follower. She is “the Devil’s concubine”. Lucy is the whore to Mina’s virgin.
As Mina marries Jonathan, the enraged Dracula condemns her best friend Lucy to become a vampire, and an eternity of craving human blood. He is the power or force of nature that no “foolish spells” can stop. The men watch as Lucy, now an undead nocturnal creature who has evolved into a maternal killer of children (see my blog article Margaret Thatcher meets Medea for more on the image of the monstrous mother in film), carries a toddler into her lair presumably for devouring. She is repelled by the cross, and defeated.
The men know they must kill Dracula, and make their way to his resting place in Carfax Abbey, whilst Mina takes refuge in Dr Seward’s quarters in the asylum next door. Whilst the men destroy and sterilise the boxes with his home soil in it, where the vampire must sleep, Dracula takes refuge with Mina. He escapes unseen. As a shape-shifter, Dracula can take on the form of several animals or mist. He is clearly an ethereal being.
Dracula visits Mina as she sleeps. This scene conveys two things. Initially it is the iconic incubus night demon who visits a sleeping woman in order to have sex with her (the succubus being the female equivalent who visits sleeping men). This is thought by some to be a manifestation of the disturbed mind, and is linked to suppressed sexuality. Dracula by Bram Stoker is itself linked to the suppression of women’s sexuality, especially in Victorian society when the story takes place. This bedroom scene is also evocative of the Eros and Psyche story, which concerns the overcoming of obstacles to love that stand between the psyche (“soul” or “breath of life”) and Eros/Cupid (love and desire). Initially Eros marries Psyche but, though a good and gentle lover, he does not allow her to see him. He flees when she goes against this rule and looks upon his true nature. The jealous goddess of love, Aphrodite, sets Psyche some tasks. After she accomplishes the tasks, Psyche is thus purified through suffering and is now prepared to enjoy eternal happiness. With the help of Zeus, she is reunited with her husband, Eros.
When, at last, Mina sees Dracula as he really is – a non-living being – she asks what he is. His reply: “I am nothing. Lifeless, soul-less, hated and feared. I am dead to all the world… I am the monster the breathing men would kill. I am Dracula.” Of these two lovers, Mina is the only one with a soul, and now she has seen her true love as he is. She is devastated, realising he is the murderer of her friend Lucy, and therefore of flirtation and freedom. Nevertheless, in spite of his true nature and in spite of herself, Mina finds she still loves this particular monster. Her only desire is to become his partner in eternal life. Even at this point, Dracula attempts to stop Mina from becoming “cursed for all eternity” because he loves her too much to condemn her. The choice to be cursed is entirely Mina’s as she insists on drinking his blood: what would normally be perceived as an unholy communion, were it not for the fact that we understand these two to be true soul mates completely in love with one another. The question should be, why is this love deemed evil by God (or His followers)?
Christianity has always played a role in this story. The men attempt to ward Dracula off by wielding crosses, one of the things that supposedly repel him. He has been damned because he renounced the Christian God at the start of the story. Nevertheless, he seems more empowered now, with the love of Mina, and manages to set fire to the cross Van Helsing is holding, saying “Look what your God has done to me.” Again, following one of the most important scenes of this movie, this is one of the most important lines. It is God, and His followers, that Dracula blames for turning him from a prince into a monster. As any scholar of Christianity knows, as the new religion took over, everything of an erotic nature was condemned. As Van Helsing himself says towards the end: “We’ve all become God’s mad men.”
Finally, it is then up to Mina to give Dracula peace, piercing his heart and reuniting him once more with his soul in heaven. Through her trials and suffering, Mina is at last blessed by God. She is both the Virgin and the Magdalene, as well as Psyche. Eros, in this 20th century story, has at last found His way into Paradise. So too, possibly has The Magdalene, if that is who Mina is supposed to represent towards the end of the story. Certainly Dracula takes on an almost Christ-like appearance as he ascends to Heaven and is reunited with God, and Mina must always be his counterpart. This might seem a slightly complicated point, but it seems that Eros (erotic love) has been purified and is now innocent and pure enough to enter into Paradise. Mina, in her vampiric state, is wanton and lustful. At one point, she seduces and kisses Van Helsing. In recent years, it has been widely agreed by religious scholars that Mary Magdalene was misidentified (possibly deliberately) as a prostitute. However, there is no evidence of this. If Dracula as Eros has now become the epitomy of pure love (Christ), his lover Mina/Psyche/Magdalene has the mark of shame removed from her forehead and is also purified once more i.e. after many years of being falsely represented by the Church, we know now that The Magdalene was not a promiscuous “sinner” (not, I hasten to add, that I believe prostitution is a sin). I *think* that might be the point of the ending…..
Until next week. As always, your friend, A.D.
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Aleister Crowley, astrology, atheist, Baphomet, Beelzebub, Beltaine, Beltane, Black Death, Brighid, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee, City of the Dead, cults, Dennis Wheatley, Dogmas and Rituals of High Magic, dragons, Druids, Edward Woodward, Eliphas Levi, Emily Johnson, esoteric, fertility, Gallic Wars, Gerald Gardner, God, Goddess, Great Plague, Greek, Green Man, healing, Helen Duncan, heterosexual, homosexual, Horror, hypnosis, Imbolc, Jane York, Julius Caesar, Kafka, Knight's Templar, Lucifer, Magi, magic, Malleus Maleficarum, masturbation, May Day, Mendes, Mia Farrow, monotheist, Nods to the Old Gods, occult, pagan, Peaches Geldof, persecution, Persian priests, phallic, polytheist, power, reincarnation, Religion, Rome, Rosemary's Baby, Satan, satanic, scapegoat, Sex, sexually repressed, skyclad, snakes, spiritualist church, Spring Equinox, standing stones, Summer Isle, Summer Solstice, superstition, symbolism, The Devil Rides Out, The Goat of Mendes, The Great Beast 666, The May Pole, The Wicker Man, The Woman Who Came Back, Thelema, Venus, Victorian, Willow, witchcraft, Witchcraft Act, wizard, zodiac
Horror stories have always represented the fears of society, in exactly the same way as religious belief often mirrors the secular world. For example, superstitions changed during the outbreak of the Great Plague, when people began to blame the unexplained deaths on human sin and witchcraft (Malleus Maleficarum Part 1, Q XV)
Human beings have always had a bit of a negative obsession about the Other in society. Time and again we have scapegoated anyone who is different. Since ancient times, we’ve ridiculed and persecuted anyone who does not have the same beliefs as ourselves. The truth is, we are all very similar in all the ways that matter. We are all made up of the same stuff.
Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means,
warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer
as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
do we not die? (The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare)
We often give different names for the same things that we each call truth, but decry another for using unusual terminology to describe. It doesn’t take much scratching of the surface to reveal that we are often talking about the same thing. The ancient Greeks coined the phrase ‘magic’ from the Magi, the Persian priests, whose customs were too strange for the Greeks to understand were holy in nature.
I hear Peaches Geldof has joined a sex cult. Shock, horror! She is now a believer in Thelema, the religion founded by occultist Aleister Crowley, who practised sex magic, with apparent “secret sexual techniques for masturbation, heterosexual and homosexual sex” (Guardian, author anonymous). Well…there’s only so much you can do, but I’m guessing we have to take into account the time that Aleister Crowley was practising his esoteric knowledge. This would have been right, slap bang, in the middle of sexually repressed Victorian times. Thank goodness we’ve evolved our notions of sexuality and what constitutes “perverse”.
Aleister Crowley died in 1947, with a reputation as The Great Beast 666, a name he positively lapped up. In 1944, a few years before his death, Helen Duncan, a psychic, was prosecuted and imprisoned under the 1735 Witchcraft Act for revealing wartime secrets. Six months later, in September 1944, Jane York (72) was also prosecuted under the same Act and in December of that year Emily Johnson of Redhill Spiritualist Church was given a severe warning by police. They told her she would be prosecuted if she did not stop her “activities”. The Act actually strove to stamp out the belief in witchcraft amongst the educated in society, but it was possible to prosecute people for pretending to “exercise or use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, or conjuration, or undertake to tell fortunes”.
The prosecutions sparked off the creative minds in America, and the following year John H Kafka came up with the story for The Woman Who Came Back (1945). The unfortunate heroine, Lorna, finds herself the scapegoat of the townspeople and is accused of witchcraft for everything that goes wrong. It doesn’t help matters that a coincidental meeting and accident has caused Lorna to suspect they could well be right. Thankfully by the end no one believes in witchcraft. Phew!
By 1951, the Witchcraft Act was repealed and replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act, and the previously “underground” Craft of Wicca began to flourish, led by Gerald Gardner. Of course, ignorance breeds fear and, as I have mentioned, fear breeds the practice of scapegoating. By the 1960s movies on the subject of the occult began to get filmed, particularly anything to do with covens and Satanic devil-worshippers. A second wave of witchhunts began, this time within horror movies. City of the Dead (1960) with Christopher Lee paved the way for the paranoia about anything to do with witchcraft. In 1968, two very popular films in the genre were screened: Dennis Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out and Rosemary’s Baby. Five years later, in 1973 The Wicker Man was filmed. Many more followed, but these are the main ones that set witchcraft and paganism against Christian morality and ethics, at least in the minds of the Christian audience.
The City of the Dead, starring Christopher Lee, is about a student who goes to a small town to find out information about witchcraft for her studies. Little does she realise that the townspeople are all evil devil-worshipping witches, who make lots of sacrifices, especially around about the time of Candlemas. Candlemas is a Christian festival for a start. It is the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin. However, in the pagan religion it is the festival of Imbolc, and marks the beginning of spring. It is associated with the virgin goddess, Brighid. We can clearly see here a distinct similarity between the purified virgin and the virgin goddess.
Lucifer is also mentioned in this film, and has long been synonymous with the Devil and his many other names: Satan, Beelzebub etc. In Nods to the Old Gods I have explained briefly that Lucifer’s name means “light bearer”, and that it was the name given to the dawn appearance of the planet Venus, which heralds daylight. Early Luciferians – devotees of the god Lucifer – worshipped dragons and snakes, as well as the sun. In more advanced ancient civilisations, dragons and snakes were not perceived as evil. In fact, they were often associated with power and healing.
The opening sequence to The Devil Rides Out is full of imagery usually associated with magic, Satanism and astrology. Set to the background music, which is horrific and scary, it seems we are to imagine all these images are too. The zodiac signs are used in this sequence, and then again at the end, on the sacrificial altar of the devil worshippers. Also, in the opening sequence we are introduced to Baphomet, who will later appear on the floor of the observatory and again at the orgiastic party. He is a goat-headed being, referred to as “The Goat of Mendes” by Christopher Lee. The reality is that most modern scholars now agree “Baphomet” is a corruption of “Muhammad”. Baphomet was the name of the idol the Knight’s Templars were accused of worshipping in the 14th century. It is thought that during their occupation of the Outremer, they had begun to incorporate Islamic ideas into their belief system. This, the Inquisition of course declared to be heretical.
In the 19th century, Baphomet became more associated with the occult (the name occult means “hidden”, as in “hidden knowledge”). In 1854, Eliphas Lévi published Dogmas and Rituals of High Magic in which he drew his image of Baphomet. This image is the best-known picture of Baphomet (see below).
Lévi considered his Baphomet to be a depiction of the absolute in symbolic form:
The goat on the frontispiece carries the sign of the pentagram on the forehead, with one point at the top, a symbol of light, his two hands forming the sign of occultism, the one pointing up to the white moon of Chesed, the other pointing down to the black one of Geburah. This sign expresses the perfect harmony of mercy with justice. His one arm is female, the other male like the ones of the androgyne of Khunrath, the attributes of which we had to unite with those of our goat because he is one and the same symbol. The flame of intelligence shining between his horns is the magic light of the universal balance, the image of the soul elevated above matter, as the flame, whilst being tied to matter, shines above it. The beast’s head expresses the horror of the sinner, whose materially acting, solely responsible part has to bear the punishment exclusively; because the soul is insensitive according to its nature and can only suffer when it materializes. The rod standing instead of genitals symbolizes eternal life, the body covered with scales the water, the semi-circle above it the atmosphere, the feathers following above the volatile. Humanity is represented by the two breasts and the androgyne arms of this sphinx of the occult sciences.
The appearance of Basphomet in The Devil Rides Out is referred to as The Goat of Mendes, a name which Lévi also used to describe Baphomet. Herodotus described the god of Mendes (in Egypt) as having a goat’s face and legs, and that male goats were held in high regard by the Mendesians. E A Wallis Budge writes:
At several places in the Delta, e.g. Hermopolis, Lycopolis, and Mendes, the god Pan and a goat were worshipped; Strabo, quoting (xvii. 1, 19) …The Mendisians, according to this last writer, paid reverence to all goats, and more to the males than to the females, and particularly to one he-goat, on the death of which public mourning is observed throughout the whole Mendesian district; they call both Pan and the goat Mendes, and both were worshipped as gods of generation and fecundity. Diodorus (i. 88) compares the cult of the goat of Mendes with that of Priapus, and groups the god with the Pans and the Satyrs. The goat referred to by all these writers is the famous Mendean Ram, or Ram of Mendes, the cult of which was, according to Manetho, established by Kakau, the king of the IInd dynasty.
Lévi’s Baphomet became an important figure within Aleister Crowley’s mystical system of Thelema. For Crowley, The Devil is the God of any people that one personally dislikes. Baphomet represents life, love, light and liberty.
There are a couple of interesting points about The Devil Rides Out, particularly the character of Duc de Richleau (Lee), who has knowledge of esoteric scriptures which he has taken the time to memorise. Like the bad guy, Mocata, Richleau also has the ability to use both hypnosis and magic, which he utilises to defeat the powers of darkness. Furthermore, as Mocata raises the angel of death, Richleau manages to raise the dead, bringing Tanith into the body of his niece and commanding her to do his will. He even manages to re-write history and turn back time with his magic. Although not explicit in the film, Richleau, to all intents and purposes, is a most powerful wizard who has the knowledge and ability to use the highest of magic.
Cleverly, and most importantly, however, is the fact that the makers of the film have also brainwashed the audience into believing exactly what they want them to believe with the imagery they use….
The same year, Rosemary’s Baby also hit cinemas. The heroine, Rosemary (Mia Farrow), becomes pregnant after having a weird lucid dream in which she imagines herself to copulate with the Devil. Controlled by her doctor and eccentric neighbour, Minnie, Rosemary becomes more and more isolated from all her friends. The climax, as Roman tells her, is that Satan is her son’s father.
In Nods to the Old Gods, I explain that Ha-Satan is usually translated as “adversary” (i.e. of God). In Arabic the term Shaitan means “astray” or “distant”. In the Quran, after Iblis refuses to bow to Adam with the rest of the angels, he becomes known as Shaitan, meaning “enemy”, “evil”, “rebel”, “devil”. In the Baha’i faith, however, Satan is not regarded as an independent evil power, but signifies the lower nature of human beings i.e. the evil ego within us. In conjunction with what we know of his relationship to Pan (the goat-headed fertility god of the ancient Greeks), it would seem that Satan also represents inner sexual instincts. In Rosemary’s Baby he is the sexual force used to impregnate her with the child of the Devil. The ultimate challenge for Rosemary is whether or not her maternal instinct will be powerful enough to overcome the revulsion she feels towards a child whose father is Satan.
In 1973, The Wicker Man gave an impression of pagan religions which has been hard to get rid of. Edward Woodward plays a cop who goes off to Summer Isle to investigate the disappearance of a little girl, Rowan Morrison. What he encounters are the uncooperative inhabitants of the island who seem intent on thwarting the policeman’s investigation.
He stays at the Green Man’s Inn, where he meets more of the weird townsfolk who proceed to sing a rather raunchy song to the landlord’s daughter, Willow (Britt Ekland), which perturbs the prudish Christian Sergeant Howie. He is further angered and unsettled by seeing couples having sex in a field outside, and a naked woman crying over the grave of her (presumably) dead husband.
The naked Willow sings a Siren’s song to try to entice the sexually suppressed and sweating virgin, Howie. However, he is engaged to another and believes sex before marriage to be wrong. He manages to withstand her charms, but more sex and frivolity are to follow. The following day is May Day Eve, and begins with boys dancing round a Maypole. He overhears the local school teacher explaining that the Maypole symbolises the penis, “venerated in religions such as ours as the generative force in nature” to which Howie makes it clear he is absolutely disgusted. Howie interprets the beliefs and teachings as “degeneracy, indecency, corruption and filth”. On discovering Rowan’s name in the school register, the teacher is forced to explain to Howie that when a person dies the belief of the Summer Isle inhabitants is that they return to nature: to air, to fire, to trees, to water, to animals. She explains that the children find it easier to understand reincarnations rather than resurrection.
Further investigations lead Howie to the residence of Lord Summerisle. On the way, he witnesses a strange ritual with naked women dancing round the fire within a circle of standing stones. Howie argues that the people of the island are practising false religion and false biology by believing in reproduction without intercourse. Lord Summerisle responds that Jesus himself was born of a virgin and a ghost. One belief is no less ridiculous than the other.
As Howie gets more and more angry, Lord Summerisle and the other residents seem to become more and more pleasant and happy. Throughout the film we hear about the sun god, the goddess of the field, the idea of sacrifice in order to gain a good harvest, John Barleycorn (the life of the fields) and the salmon of knowledge. The climax is a virgin sacrifice burned within the confines of a giant wicker man.
Is this what we pagans get up to? Well, no, not quite. Neo-paganism is based on the Old Religions and the practices depicted in the film are either twisted versions of the truth or complete nonsense in the modern age. It is true that the May Pole is a phallic symbol. In many ancient cultures, such as Rome, the penis was venerated as a potent fertility symbol and it wouldn’t have been unusual to see phallic symbols above doors, for example. It is only in modern times that our Christianised culture has forbidden us to worship such things.
Beltaine is an important date in the pagan calendar. It is on 30th April, the eve before May Day until May Day Night, and it is associated with sex and fertility. It is between the Spring Equinox (21st March) and the Summer Solstice (21st June), and it marks the beginning of summer. It was originally a Gaelic festival when symbolic fire rituals were performed to protect the cattle and people, and to encourage crops to grow. Flowers were displayed, and young girls washed their face in the May Day dew. A custom which sometimes still carries on to this day! I remember doing this when I was a young girl.
Nowadays, we generally don’t have much opportunity or requirement for driving cattle between two bonfires for cleansing and protection. We might wish for crops or plants to grow, though, and some pagan rituals might request that the Goddess of the Grain makes our land fertile. Pagans are very individual. Some might take a walk in nature, enjoying the changing seasons and lighting a candle, perhaps saying a prayer, performing a small ritual to mark the occasion or take a trip to Edinburgh to watch the Beltane Fire Festival. Some pagans choose Beltaine to marry, or consummate a relationship, because of its association with love and fertility. A few do carry out rituals naked or ‘skyclad’, but not all. In fact, not many. Most rituals are done robed. However, skyclad rituals are not frowned upon. The pagan ethic tends to be “each to their own”.
We don’t all believe in reincarnation, although some do. Paganism is so varied and there is no dogma to insist that you believe one thing over another. In fact, you can be pagan and a monotheist (one god), polytheist (many gods) or atheist (no god(s)). Paganism allows you to revere nature, and be of a scientific disposition at the same time, but for those who wish to believe in a god they can. This might seem strange, but we once did all live in harmony, with communities deciding which gods they would worship. Just because someone worshipped one god, did not necessarily mean they did not believe in the existence of the other gods. It seems to me that this system makes for a more harmonious existence amongst the cultures of the world. If we could all accept that we each have our own very different perspective of the world, we might at last live in harmony. Live and let live, as the saying goes!
As for the Wicker Man, there is only one account which alleges it was used by the Druids for human sacrifice. This was written by Julius Caesar in his Commentary on the Gallic War. The Druids may have used ritual sacrifice as a means of executing criminals, but whether they used a giant wicker man to do so is highly debateable. Nowadays, no humans are ever sacrificed, and animal sacrifice is frowned upon by the majority of pagan and magical communities and practitioners. Furthermore, most pagans do not believe in the Christian devil, as he is a later invention and stems from many of the early pagan gods who were misunderstood and, therefore, demonised as time went on. However, there are some people who practise both Christian and pagan religion, celebrating both Christian and pagan feast days. This is probably very similar to how it would have been in the early Celtic Christian world, when we learned to live side by side and more in harmony with each other. What went wrong?
If you think scapegoating doesn’t happen nowadays, you are very wrong. Children are named as witches, ostracised and attacked in parts of Africa, blamed for bringing bad luck to their villages. Just as alarming, is the fact that we don’t have to look much further than our own backyard to find that in British society the sick, disabled and immigrants are having the finger of blame pointed in their direction for all the ills of our desperate economic situation. Like in horror films depicting ancient gods as demonic, the public are often not aware of the level of brainwashing they are receiving, whilst innocent people suffer and die. Suicides have risen in the UK, as the poor find themselves more and more in debt, whilst the tax-avoiding rich are become richer. If you don’t see something very wrong with that, then you have indeed been brainwashed; and you are taking part in the age old practise of scapegoating.
Until next week, I hope we all see the light.
Your friend, A.D.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/jan/24/comment.comment3 by Vanessa Chambers 24/1/2007
3 New Court, A Study in Terror, Aaron Kosminski, Aberline, Anne Chapman, Annie Chapman, Catherine Eddowes, Christopher Plummer, crime, Dark Annie, Dorset Street, Duke of Clarence, Dutfield's Yard, Elizabeth Stride, Fear, freemasonry, From Hell, Ginger, Horror, Jack the Ripper, Jack the Ripper (1988), Jack the Ripper Documentary, James Mason, John Neville, Johnny Depp, Juwes, Leather Apron, Long Liz, macabre, Mary Ann Kelly, Mary Ann Nichols, Mary Jane Kelly, Michael Caine, Mitre Square, murder, Murder by Decree, mutilations, Polly Nichols, prostitutes, Ripperologists, Sex, sex crime, Sir William Gull, terror, the queen's physician, The Real Jack the Ripper, Victorian London, Whitechapel murders
Few events have inspired crime and horror writers as much as the Whitechapel murders of 1888. From August to November of that year, the East End of London lived in complete and utter terror. Though there were other murders that year, five in particular were attributed to the hand of one suspect, known only by what was to become his most infamous name: “Jack the Ripper”. It is a name that should strike fear and loathing in even the bravest of people, for the vilest acts were committed by this one person. If, indeed, it was one person.
His victims were all penniless, alcoholic prostitutes, who walked the foggy streets of London’s East End. In order of murder:
Mary Ann “Polly” Nichols: 31st August
Mary Ann had gone out on the streets, after an evening of drinking, to earn her lodgings for the night. She was seen by an acquaintance at 2.30am. By 3.15am she was found, in the spot where only half an hour earlier a policeman had passed by. Her throat and abdomen were both cut open, but there was very little blood, leading police to conclude she had been murdered elsewhere.
Anne Chapman (“Dark Annie”): 8th September
Anne Chapman, also drunk and in need of money for lodgings, went out at 1.45am, was last seen at 5.30am and was found in a back yard at 6am. Her face and tongue were swollen, indicating that she had possibly been gagged or suffocated. Her abdomen had been cut open, intestines lifted out and placed on her shoulder. All her pelvic organs were removed with one clean incision, leading investigators to conclude that The Ripper had knowledge of anatomy. The attending pathologist, Dr George Bagster Phillips, said he himself could not have performed the task in anything less than an hour. If the precise anatomical removal was deliberate, it was done at lightning speed.
Elizabeth Stride (“Long Liz”): 30th September
Elizabeth had been drinking up until 6.30pm with a friend, before going out on the streets for her lodgings money. She was seen in another pub later, around 11pm, drinking with a man. By 1am she was found in a Dutfield’s Yard, behind the International Working Men’s Educational Club. Her throat had been slit. It is thought that the killer was disturbed by a salesman entering the yard with his horse and cart, and that the mutilation was probably left unfinished. It’s highly likely because simply killing Elizabeth was not enough to satiate the thirst of The Ripper that night.
Catherine Eddowes: 30th September
Within half an hour of killing Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes was also murdered. Last seen at about 1.35am, after being let out of her police cell at 1am where she had been taken earlier in the evening to sober up, giving her name as “Mary Jane Kelly”, one of the pseudonyms of the fifth and final victim of the Ripper. Approximately ten minutes later, at 1.45am Catherine was found dead by a policeman in Mitre Square. Her throat was slit, her vocal chords were severed, abdomen ripped open, and intestines placed on her shoulder in a similar manner to that of Annie Chapman. Furthermore, the inside of her thighs had been sliced open. Her left renal artery was cut through, and the left kidney removed. Catherine’s womb was also partially removed. Her face, eyes, nose and ears were mutilated. The pathologist declared that someone with anatomical knowledge must have carried out the murder. It would have been a truly gruesome sight to behold. However, it was nothing to the next, and final, horror the police would encounter.
Mary Jane Kelly aka “Ginger” and “Mary Ann Kelly”: 9th November
Mary Jane Kelly was the only victim who had permanent lodgings. She lived at 3 New Court, an alley off of Dorset Street. Of all the Ripper murders, Mary Jane Kelly’s is the only one that is committed indoors. Because of this it is likely that The Ripper had time to carry out his sick deeds undisturbed. It’s possible that Mary Jane was drinking heavily all evening. There are a couple of unconfirmed sightings between 8 and 11pm, in two different pubs, and in the company of several gentlemen throughout the evening and the early hours of the following morning. By 10.45am her body was discovered. She was mutilated beyond recognition. The surface of her abdomen and thighs had been removed, her abdomen emptied, breasts cut off, arms slashed, face completely mutilated and unrecognisable, her neck was severed to the bone. Her organs were found in various locations in the room: her kidneys, uterus and one breast were underneath the bed, the other breast by her right foot, her liver lay between her feet, her intestines by her right side, her spleen to the right, skin from her abdomen and thighs lay on a table.
The room was a blood bath. The bed was saturated and the floor was a pool of about two feet square. There were several spatter marks on the walls in line with the neck. Her face was gashed all over, many times, as were her arms and calves. It was a truly horrific murder. Of all the macabre killings, Mary Jane Kelly’s murder was probably the most abhorrent and ghastly of them all.
Ripperologists generally agree that out of all the murders going on in London at that time, these five were committed by the same person known as Jack the Ripper. Who he is depends on who you talk to. There are more theories than the five murders he committed! The eyes of suspicion fell upon the Jewish community as Londoners looked for a scapegoat, preferring to believe it to be a foreigner than one of their own people. This may have been the case, but it is far from certain.
The royal and masonic theory is obviously a colourful and exciting angle, and very film-worthy. Several enjoyable movies have been made around this theory. On just a quick research of events, however, it would seem that the evidence is sketchy at best…disappointingly so! Still, never let the truth get in the way of a good story, eh?
So who, then, if not the Queen’s physician, or indeed the prince himself? Well, there was certainly an abundance of dodgy characters roaming the East End of Victorian London. The Ripper murders were not the only ones being committed either. It would be fair to say that the East End was poverty stricken, filthy and no doubt disease-ridden to boot. The fact that so many penniless prostitutes walked the dangerous foggy streets after sunset, looking for money to buy a bed for the night, some food the next day and enough left over to drink away all their troubles, gives us some idea of what kind of life those poor women were leading. They were extremely vulnerable, with few people who would miss them and probably drunk enough that they were incapable of defending themselves very much. Together with their trade, which forced them into the streets, a trade which had to be done in private, in the middle of the night, these women were easy prey for The Ripper.
One popular theory is that he killed them in a carriage before dumping them. One thing I’d say is that he had to be pretty confident of his surroundings and probably lived in the area. Most of the killings were done in what appears to be a very short time frame of 15-20 minutes. He was really very quick. Either he did have access to a carriage, or the killings were done by more than one man. It’s true he may have had a relative knowledge of anatomy, but possibly not any more than he’d read in a book. That he seemed to know where certain organs were, to me, proves nothing about any professional knowledge on the matter.
One of the more plausible theories is that The Ripper was a man called Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew. Kosminski had been named as The Ripper by police, but a witness who saw him with one of the victims, would not testify against a fellow Jew. Kosminski could not therefore be tried, but he did suffer from some kind of paranoid psychosis and so was taken to an asylum. There were no more Ripper murders after that, and the police closed down the investigation. This was despite the fact that more time had elapsed in between murders than it had between the last murder and the end of the police investigation, pointing to the suggestion that the police knew something they weren’t saying.
Regardless, everyone has a theory and a belief. 125 years later Jack the Ripper continues to strike fear into the hearts of those who read the story of the Whitechapel murders. He is the ultimate villain and the stereotypically demonic serial killer. His barbaric crimes will no doubt continue to inspire future writers as they always have done, everyone attempting to claim a piece of the truth for posterity, but it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day. What’s important is that the conditions were right for someone to take advantage of those innocent women: squalor and poverty which we should never allow to happen again. What matters most of all is that he stopped. Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror was over, but his rule of only 10 weeks will never be forgotten.
Until next week, hit the road Jack! Your friend, A.D.
Murder By Decree (1979) with Christopher Plummer as
A Study in Terror (1965) with John Neville as Sherlock
Jack the Ripper (1988) with Michael Caine as Aberline.
Click here to watch online.
From Hell (2001) with Johnny Depp as Aberline.
Click here to watch online.
The Real Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper Documentary (Part 1 of 6)
MORTUARY & CRIME SCENE PHOTOGRAPHS
Mary Ann Nichols, died 31st August 1888, aged 43.
Anne Chapman “Dark Annie”, died 8th September 1888, aged 47.
Elizabeth Stride “Long Liz”, died 30th September, aged 45.
Catherine Eddowes, died 30th September 1888, aged 46.
Mary Jane Kelly/Mary Anne Kelly/”Ginger”, died 9th November, aged (approx) 25 years old. In the article above, there is only an artists impression available to ascertain the appearance of Mary Jane. However, with modern technology it has been attempted to reveal what she might have actually looked like.
* With special thanks to Andy Young for introducing me to this subject. Miss you.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, Aliens, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Black Christmas, crime, Doctor Loomis, drugs, Ellen Ripley, feminism, feminist, Final Girl, Freddy Krueger, Ghostface, Halloween, Hannibal Lecter, Horror, intelligence, Jason Voorhees, killer, knives, Laurie Strode, Leatherface, Lila, Mad, Mad Man, Madness, Michael Myers, misogynist, Nancy, Norman Bates, psychiatric illness, Psycho, Psychological, resourceful, Sam Loomis, Scream, Sex, Sidney, Sigourney Weaver, Silence of the Lambs, slasher, stabbing, strength, strong women, thriller, twists, victims, virgin, weapons
Slasher movies are a favourite with horror fans. Even if you’re not an outright horror fan, it’s likely you will have seen at least one of these in your life! The slasher has elements of thriller and crime, so can be appealing to audiences who also enjoy these genres too. In turn, some thrillers and other horrors, which are not really slashers as such, may have elements of the slasher in them.
What you may or may not realise is that there is a set of rules that come along with slasher and slasher-type horror films. During my post graduate in film and television, I had fun studying the “Final Girl” in horror. The Final Girl is a strong, independent female protagonist, the peer of the victims, but seen to be virtuous. She does not indulge in the sex and drugs that prove to be the downfall of the others. She also tends to avoid any kind of bullying. She’s just an all-round nice girl, sometimes slightly “put upon” by others who take advantage of her good nature. She is known as the Final Girl because, well, she’s the last one standing at the end of it all. The Final Girl either escapes or overcomes the threat, showing her power, strength and intelligence for whatever scrape she’s managed to land herself in.
Final Girls share many characteristics: they are often sexually unavailable or virgins who avoid any illegal or illicit activity and often, though not always, have a non-gender specific name such as Laurie (Halloween) or Sidney (Scream). The Final Girl can even be found in non-slasher horrors such as Alien, with the masculinised female character of Ellen Ripley (known only as Ripley); although, it has to be said that Alien does have many other characteristics of a slasher too.
The Final Girl is “watchful, intelligent and resourceful”. She is, pretty much, the perfect horror movie heroine. She is a character the audience can admire and she is a survivor. Many critics of the slasher might say that it is a misogynistic genre, as it often has naked and vulnerable women being overpowered by men. However, the Final Girl proves this not to be the case at all, quite the opposite. The Final Girl is a very smart and dignified character, who usually always outwits the killer in the end.
However, the character of the Final Girl has evolved over time. In Halloween Laurie’s ability was to simply remain alive until Doctor Loomis got there to save her. By the time A Nightmare on Elm Street came along the Final Girl was starting to take steps to protect herself, and defeat the threat. In the latter, Nancy is ready to take on Freddy!
Not only do Final Girls take on the killer, they also often protect young children too, showing their maternal side into the bargain. Just as there are monstrous maternal figures to be found in horror, the Final Girl is the complete opposite. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween has two young children in her care that she is babysitting for, whilst Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens protects Newt with the famous line: “Get away from her, you bitch!”
As time has gone by, various differences have crept into the genre to allow it to evolve, and also to create unexpected twists at the end. The first slashers had the Final Girl discover and help to capture the killer (Psycho), escape the killer until another day (Black Christmas), and finally, killing the killer, after the killer had killed all her peers, so that the Final Girl is also the Final Killer; this has further evolved so that some Final Girls turn out to have been the killer all along, although this is a little bit more unusual.
In slasher horror, usually the weapon used by the killer is a blade of some kind, hence the term ‘slasher’. It could also be argued that in, for example, Halloween, Laurie attacks Michael Myers with weapons that are phallic: a knitting needle; a coat hanger, which she fashions into a spiked object, and a knife – all intended for stabbing. In the final sequence, Laurie takes over the dominant role using very masculine weaponry.
Probably the first Final Girl appeared in Psycho (1960), in the form of Marion’s sister Lila. Lila appears with Marion’s boyfriend Sam Loomis (in Halloween a character bearing that name would also step in to save the day, as has previously been mentioned…!). Along with other conventions that were built up over time, Psycho also saw the appearance of the human monster in the shape of the serial killer. The serial killer is necessarily dangerous and frightening, an almost supernatural killing machine, usually with a severe psychiatric illness and a grudge to bear, often caused by a traumatised childhood. The Final Girl is confronted with her every nightmare in the flesh: Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees (well, actually, his mother…but his legend lives on regardless!), Leatherface, Freddy Krueger, Ghostface, Hannibal Lecter. Sometimes they have a supernatural side, like Michael Myers. Most often they are the scariest thing of all, real-life people! But, always, always, always, they are not just bad, they are completely and utterly insane. The Final Girl has her work cut out for her, but through it all she prevails.
Every horror fan has got their favourite Final Girl/Psychotic Maniac movies, whether slasher or not. Here are some recommendations. I don’t suppose they are really in any particular order. Silence of the Lambs and Psycho, though not slashers, have my favourite psychotic serial killer characters, whilst Alien has my favourite Final Girl – a good, strong performance from Sigourney Weaver. Black Christmas is actually, to my mind, probably one of the best and earliest of the genre. I really have no idea why I love Halloween so much. I just do. I think it’s the atmosphere, but I just can’t quite put my finger on it. Nevertheless, I have lost count of the number of times I’ve watched it – at least once a year at, yes you’ve guessed, Hallowe’en! And I just loved the twist in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.
I’ve actually written my own slasher horror movie script! If any budding film directors or production companies wish to get in touch, I’d be delighted to hear from you!
I’d also love to know about readers’ favourite slashers, psychological horrors, Final Girls and serial killing maniacs. Do feel free to post comments!
Until next week. Don’t go anywhere…I’ll be right back! Your friend, A.D.
Muir, J K (2007) A History of the Dead Teenager Decade in Horror Films of the 1980s McFarland & Co: USA (Chapter 2).
Anubis, beast, bi-sexual, buggery, Carmilla, Dark Fantasy, Desire, disguise, Dorian Gray, Dracula's Daughter, Egyptian mythology, Finding Delphi, gay, gothic, Greek, homoerotic, homoeroticism, homosexual, homosexuality, Horror, Hyde, jackal, James Corden, Jekyll, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, lesbian, Lesbian Vampire Killers, monster, Oscar Wilde, Paul McGann, queer, Robert Louis Stevenson, secrecy, secrets, Sex, sexual, Sexuality, sodomy, Stephen Fry, the love that dare not speak its name, Underworld, Vampire, Victorian, Werewolf of London, Wilde
As I mentioned in a previous article, horror is the perfect place to find a secret subtext. In some parts of human history, it became unfortunately necessary for the subject of homosexuality to remain hidden in the world of literature and film. The UK 1533 Buggery Act made sodomy punishable by death. In 1861, this was changed to life imprisonment rather than hanging. However, in 1885 the laws were extended to include all sexual activities between males (Queen Victoria did not believe there was such a thing as lesbians!). It was in this very dark era that “the love that dare not speak its name” had to find other ways to communicate itself. Gay and bi-sexual writers were able to give expression to the subject of homoerotic desires using the medium of Gothic literature. In fact, many of the early Gothic romance writers were linked to homosexual scandal. “Secret and unlawful desires” became euphemisms for homosexuality. Three such tales, where one may find allusions to homosexuality, are Carmilla (1872) by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde. A few years later in 1935, with the advent of film, the gay theme can be found in a couple of horror films such as Werewolf of London (1935) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936).
Carmilla is the story of a young woman’s susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire called Carmilla. The young woman, Laura, whilst living in a castle in Styria, has a vision of a beautiful woman when she is six years old. She claims later in the story to have been bitten on the chest by the visitor, although no wounds are visible. Perhaps this signifies an initial pang of attraction. Twelve years later, Laura finally meets Carmilla face to face, when Carmilla’s carriage is involved in an accident. The two women recognise each other from the dream.
Carmilla and Laura start to become close friends, although Carmilla has very sudden mood swings, and makes unsettling advances towards Laura. Of course, Carmilla exhibits vampiric tendencies, such as sleeping during the day, being awake at night and becoming enraged at hearing religious songs. Furthermore, Laura sees a portrait of an ancestor from the 17th century: Mircalla, Countess Karnstein, who looks identical to Carmilla. Laura begins to have nightmares of being bitten on the chest by a fiendish cat, which transforms into a female figure. It would seem Laura’s feelings are being disturbed by an aggressive sexual predator.
Laura becomes very ill following these nightly visitations. Her father is told by a friend that his own, recently deceased, daughter had similar symptoms and goes on to describe the situation which involved a young woman named Millarca, who became friends with his daughter. He came to the conclusion that his daughter was being visited by a vampire, and upon a surprise attack the ‘cat-like creature’ took the form of Millarca and fled.
It all unravels that Carmilla, Mircalla and Millarca are one in the same person. All are anagrams of the same name. Of course, it is clear that lesbian attraction is the force between Carmilla and Laura:
Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever”. (Carmilla, Chapter 4). (1)
Carmilla confined her attentions to female victims, was more comfortable at night-time, was very beautiful, able to walk through walls, could shape-shift into a cat and slept in a coffin. She was, most definitely, a lesbian vampire! A few films have been made in her honour. Some attempt to keep to the original story, but you may remember Carmilla making an appearance as the antagonist in Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009), starring James Corden and Paul McGann.
I had never thought of The Strange Tale of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, as being homoerotic. Up until now, as one of my all-time favourite stories, I had viewed it as a tale of the classic ‘beast’ or monster within. What that monster was, I had put down to some sort of message about insanity and split personalities. However, it is thought that one reading can be interpreted as that of a queer tale, so let’s look at the evidence for homoeroticism within the story. It is said to be a story of disguise – and not only in the form of Jekyll and Hyde: ‘a Gothic tale is disguised as a moral fable; the moral fable is disguised as a monster story’ (1). It might be safe to assume, therefore, that there is much more going on beneath the surface than the initial reading of it might suggest – I’d expect nothing less from such a stylish writer as RLS.
Thanks to a potion invented by Dr Jekyll, he is able to lead a double life in the form of his alter ego, Mr Hyde (obviously the name ‘Hyde’ is the same in sound to the word ‘hide’, which is exactly what both Jekyll and Hyde are doing, depending on who is visible. Hiding. As for Jekyll, well…the only word I can think of is ‘jackal’ and it wouldn’t surprise me if this was indeed the intended meaning. In Egyptian mythology, the jackal-headed Anubis, is the god of the Underworld, protector and judge of the dead. Ultimately, I suppose, Jekyll is a doctor who leads himself to death, but is he also judging himself as well?
The story is commonly thought to be a tale on the horrors of the unleashed sexual appetite, and here is my initial mistake. Having only seen the film, I assumed that the sexual debauchery Hyde demonstrated were towards women. In fact, in the original text there are no female characters, apart from a cook and a housemaid – both peripheral to the story. However, Stevenson himself rejected the notion that Hyde was about sexuality of any kind, maintaining that the only reason people would read it that way is because they can think of nothing else! A trap we should be careful of when reading Gothic fantasy… Nevertheless, some people do believe that Hyde is a closet homosexual and RLS does include some suspicious markers of homoeroticism within the story:
The suspected blackmail of Jekyll by his “young man”, his “favourite”; the “very pretty manner of politeness of Sir Danvers Carew” when approached in the street – terms that may have denoted forbidden liaisons to a Victorian readership. The hidden door by which he enters Jekyll’s house is the “back way”, even “the back passage”. It happens that the year of composition, 1885, was the year in which an amendment to an act of parliament made homosexual acts between men a criminal offence.(3)
On closer examination it looks like there is much more to discover within the pages of the story, and I think it might be worth returning to this subject in full once I’ve had the chance to read the original text thoroughly. It would seem there are several possible interpretations, and I wonder if this in itself was deliberate. Quite often a writer has more than one message he/she wishes to convey.
Most people know of Oscar Wilde and the circumstances which led to his imprisonment, after being convicted of homosexuality. He spent two years in prison for the sake of the “love that dare not speak its name”, famously quoted in Wilde with Stephen Fry playing the lead role. Fry gave a very beautiful and moving speech on being brought to trial for daring to love a man. He explains that in ancient Greek times it was perfectly natural, and the purest of relationships, for a teacher and his student to share a bond.
It has been suggested that the name Dorian, the protagonist in The Picture of Dorian Gray, is a reference to the ancient Greeks, who had a very different and more accepting view of homoeroticism. Both Lord Henry and Basil compete for Dorian’s attention, praising him for his good looks and youthfulness. Basil even states: “as long as I live, the personality of Dorian Gray will dominate me.” Nevertheless, Dorian does claim to have only ever loved one woman in his lifetime: Sibyl Vane. It could be that Dorian, like Wilde himself, was actually bisexually inclined. The fact that he is as attracted to her when she is dressed up as a man, as he is when she is dressed as a woman might point to that. Wilde was very happy and in love with his own wife for the first few years of their married life. Although I do wonder if the use of the word Sibyl is another nod to the Greeks and their prophetess, the Sibyl, the priestess seer who pronounced her oracles in ancient holy places like Delphi. (In Finding Delphi the Sibyl plays an important part in the story). Either way, it would seem the attraction Dorian feels for Sibyl is as a result of her ability to be all things, and as an actress she is well-placed to “mask life”.
Although it remains obscure, Basil asks why Dorian’s “friendship is so fatal to young men” and mentions the “shame and sorrow” of one of the young men’s fathers. Basil also tells Henry how he worships Dorian, begging him not to “take away the one person that makes my life absolutely lovely to me.” In the 1890 edition, Basil is more focused on the love he feels; whereas in the 1891 edition the following year, this has been changed to reflect the influence Dorian has on his art: “the one person who gives my art whatever charm it may possess: my life as an artist depends on him.” (4, 5, 6, 7).
Like Dr Jekyll, Dorian has another side to himself, his hidden sexual menace, which lives in the portrait of himself he keeps locked away. About the secrecy of his portrait, Dorian says: “I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvellous.” In both stories, the protagonists enjoy the pleasures of leading a double life, whilst in Carmilla, the vampire is known as having three different names and with the ability to disguise herself in the form of a cat. Although these are necessarily inexplicit about the subject of homosexuality, in the Victorian era when these stories were written, it is of much use to the interested reader to read them bearing in mind the zeitgeist of 19th century Britain. To those who don’t see (or wish to see) the homosexual content in these stories, I’m sure you’ll find another interpretation and there is certainly much more to discover.
In the meantime, it is only by studying those dark times that we begin to see the horror of equating any kind of love with evil and ugliness. No character who hides away their repressed natural emotions ever meets a happy end.
Until next week, be true to yourself and love with pride. Your Fag Hag friend, A.D.
(1) Le Fanu, J S (1872) Carmilla in “In a Glass Darkly” (Kindle edition).
(2) Halberstam, J (2000) Gothic Surface, Gothic Depth: The subject of Secrecy in Stevenson and Wilde in Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and The Technology of Monsters Duke Uni Press: USA.
(3) Campbell, J The Beast Within in The Guardian (13th December 2008)
(4) The Picture of Dorian Gray Book Notes: http://www.bookrags.com/notes/dg/
(5) Literature (TPODG): http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/index_p.html
Blood, Carrie, Christianity, Colchis, curses, demonisation, Dracula, Euripides, feminism, Greek, Hekate, Horror, Jason, Lucy, Magi, magic, Malleus Maleficarum, Margaret Thatcher, Medea, menstruation, monsters, monstrous mothers, periods, powerful women, prophesy, Psycho, Religion, sacrifice, Sex, sexism, sexual predators, Stephen King, supernatural, The Devil, Vampire, vampirism, witch, witchcraft, women
Margaret Thatcher is nothing, if not memorable. She is both loved and reviled, depending on which side of the fence you stand on. It is not my intention to pay a tribute, though it does seem like a fitting topic this week, following the death of Thatcher, to discuss legendary women who fall into the category of ‘monstrous mothers’. Their deeds are outwith the accepted boundaries of what it means to be a woman. They, therefore, become known as a witch or monster.
Medea, wife of Jason, in the classical tale of the same name, is one such witch. Written in 431 BCE by the Greek playwright Euripides, Medea tells the story of a foreign witch betrayed by the man she loves. She gives up everything, her wealth and status, for Jason; everything, that is, except her magic. In fact, Medea is a priestess of Hekate from Colchis. This was the special domain of sorcery known as Kolkha. In the 6th century BCE Colchis came under the Persian Empire†. In Greece, foreign religions were treated suspiciously and given the name ‘magic’; terms which arose from the name of the Persian priests, The Magi. Medea is treated badly throughout the story, both by the suspicious women of her new town and from her once beloved Jason. The townswomen do not like that Medea dresses differently from them; and Jason betrays her when he decides to marry Princess Glauce. Glauce is deemed to be more of an appealing match. After all, Medea is only a ‘barbarian woman’ in the eyes of the Greeks. By this point in the story, Medea has raised Jason’s two sons, and gets her own appalling revenge on him by murdering his wife and her father on the wedding day. She goes on to murder the two sons that she and Jason have together. Medea is shown, however, to be an oppressed victim, appealing for the sympathy of the audience. In this tale, she escapes in a blaze of glory, astride dragons, having wreaked her revenge on the philandering Jason.
The Sun himself, the source of all life and warmth, vindicating the cause of passion, disorder, violent cruelty, against the cold, orderly, self-protective process of civilised man, is a reminder that the universe is not on the side of civilisation; and that a life combining order with happiness is something men must win for themselves in continual struggle with an unsympathetic environment. (1)
This week, I’ve read the line: “Ding dong the witch is dead…” so often I can’t now seem to get it out my head. Interestingly, it was not until The Wizard of Oz, that we had the introduction of the witch as a terrifying character on the silver screen.
The witch has always inspired dread and fear, going back to ancient times, as can be seen in the case of Medea. The earliest known witches were feared only because they were thought to have magical and terrifying powers, not because of any association with The Devil. This was a later-added Christian fear (both The Devil and the association of The Devil with witches).
In some cultures, young girls who experienced prophetic dreams during menstruation were thought to be witches. There was often this association with blood and the supernatural. Menstruation was linked to the ‘witches curse’, something Stephen King explored in his much celebrated story Carrie. Historically, the curse of a woman who was menstruating or pregnant was believed to be much more powerful. It was known as a ‘Mother’s Curse’, and meant certain death. In the 14th century, the secret feminine knowledge of midwifery became associated with witchcraft and in 1484 The Malleus Maleficarum stated that witches were castrators. Clearly men, therefore, had much to fear from these devil women! Witches, during those years, were often accused of such things. The main reason given for a woman’s ‘otherness’ is her natural carnal nature. Here is a shining example of the demonisation of women and sex, rolled into one convenient package. Burn the horny cock-thieving bitches!
In horror, the witch still has an essentially sexual nature, with supernatural powers and a wish to harm, wreaking destruction on the community. Being closer to nature than man, she can control such things as storms and hurricanes. In Carrie, the anti-heroine is a young menstruating woman, although not a mother. The monstrous mother role is given to her mother, who desires to control her daughter through a warped sense of religious morals. At no point in the story does she ever really show a maternal bond with Carrie. In both Psycho and Carrie the monstrous child is a product of the psychotic, domineering and monstrous mother. There is, incidentally, another important similarity between Carrie and Psycho. Both Marion in Psycho and Carrie, are punished severely after enjoying sensual pleasures in the shower, and both these scenes end in blood-shed.
Having been given no prior warning about periods from her mother, Carrie is then subjected to a lecture on the sins of women when she returns home. Raving about sexist religious beliefs, Mrs White goes on to blame all human evil on women. Woman is the universal scapegoat, and Carrie is, therefore, the sacrificial victim at the Prom, where she is baptised in the blood of a pig as a joke by her bullying classmates. Carrie is ‘crowned queen and anointed with pig’s blood’ before going on to wage her terrible and monstrous revenge. Like Medea, we are encouraged to view her display of monstrosity with sympathy because, like Medea, Carrie has been treated appallingly by her female peers and (not her husband) her mother.
Both women desire a fresh start at the end of their vengeful outburst: Medea in Athens, and Carrie, pictured as a trembling child washing off the indicators of her womanhood, kills her mother and returns to the ‘womb’ of the dark closet.
It’s pretty safe to conclude that the monstrous female is a patriarchal invention. Women tend not to be frightened of themselves, usually. In horror, the monstrous nature of women is undoubtedly linked with her place as man’s sexual other (2).
The dark side of maternity is also explored in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The Count, described by Almond as a ‘monstrous baby’, suckles on women, turning them into bad mothers: ‘non-maternal sexual predators’ such as the vampirised Lucy, is later destroyed by honourable men. Furthermore, the three female vampires encountered by Jonathon Harker are representative of rampant female sexuality, much reviled by Victorian society. In such a society, they symbolise the corruption of motherhood. With witch-like qualities Shakespeare would have been proud to see, the terrifying power these three possess is female sexuality. Furthermore, Lucy goes from unconscious flirtatiousness to becoming blatantly seductive and, therefore, dangerous. Shortly after her death there are newspaper reports of children going missing who later, returning with bitten necks, report having met a beautiful woman who turns out to be Lucy. When confronted vampirising a child at night, Lucy callously discards the child and attempts to seduce her husband, Arthur. This is a scene which shows female sexuality is incompatible with maternity, a strong Victorian notion. It also reverses the roles of the mother and child. Instead of the child feeding from the mother-figure, the mother feeds upon the child (3).
Powerful and/or sexual women are often seen as a threat to a patriarchal-dominated society, whether or not they and their behaviour deserves to be viewed as ‘monstrous’. Like her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher was a successful politician from the late 1950s, gaining the ultimately most powerful position possible in 1979 when she became Prime Minister of the UK. Thereafter, she became a Monstrous Mother, suppressing the power of her ‘children’, sending them to be killed in unnecessary wars, increasing their poverty and manipulating them with well-timed elections. Eventually, 200,000 of Maggie’s children demonstrated against her policies. There’s definitely a gothic horror story in that! I doubt, however, that Maggie would get as much sympathy as Medea or Carrie…
I’m not sure either if she had an ‘essentially sexual nature’, though no doubt she was the wank fantasy of some BDSM pervs…
Well, anyway, I’m even more grateful to have such a loving mother when you see what’s out there! Mine even gave me a kidney – she’s a keeper!
Until next week: More power to MILFs! Your friend, A.D.
(1) Euripides, Medea & Other Plays Penguin (1963 edition) p9.
(2) Creed, B (1993) Woman as Witch in “The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis” Routledge pp73-83.
(3) Almond, B R (2006) Monstrous Infants and Vampyric Mothers in Bram Stoker’s Dracula in “The International Journal of Psychoanalysis” 2007:88:219-35.
† The Making of the Georgian Nation: 2nd Ed, Ronald Grigor Suny, p 13
“In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of two possible solutions: either he is a victim of an illusion of the senses, of a product of the imagination – and the laws of the world remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality – but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us… The fantastic occupies the duration of this uncertainty. Once we choose one answer or the other, we leave the fantastic for a neighbouring genre, the uncanny or the marvellous. The fantastic is that hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event.” (Tzvetan Todorov: The Fantastic, A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Press of Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 1975 p25).
In order for horror and dark fantasy to be remotely compelling to the reader, it should be somewhat believable and a tad inexplicable, enough to make us feel ‘creeped out’ or on the edge of our seats, at any rate. Those who read these genres, particularly vampire stories, are often deeply aware of the significance of the literature, if indeed they have not had an experience of sleep paralysis accompanied by hallucination; if hallucination is what demons are, springing from the mind of the victim. The experience of them is every bit as real as you sitting here reading this blog. Throughout literary history there have always been souls who understood what vampires and demons symbolised, as well as how to defeat them.
Our most disturbing fears, if awakened, will teach us something of our present circumstances. These fantastical events never occur without reason. Like attracts like – negative environments and people very often bring their negative influences to our own psyche. Our beliefs, fears and unconscious mind do the rest. By allowing ourselves to remain in that state of mind we open ourselves up to terrifying experiences (or dark energy is attracted to us, whichever you choose to believe). Either way, writers of dark fantasy and horror are often your guiding light in Hell.
These writers usually have a deep understanding of the Otherworld and reader’s darkest fears. They take you there in order that you may better understand the many possible dangers and demons that can be encountered in life; and they hopefully end the story with a solution of how to defeat these monsters.
One of the most famous horror writers is Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. We’ll come to the Count in a minute, but it is interesting that the subject of the disturbed mind is present in the form of Renfield, who has some very important information for the reader. Note too the eccentric figure of Van Helsing, a slightly mad, but genius doctor, who also has the required knowledge of the fantastic as well as the mundane. In fact, many of Stoker’s characters question their sanity throughout the story.
Blood, as the mad Renfield informs us, is the life. By consuming blood, he says, you gain the vital powers of the person whose blood you are draining. This is proved by his Master – Count Dracula – who becomes younger after drinking the blood of the youthful Lucy. She becomes weaker, eventually dying, as he becomes stronger. Mina drinks his blood in some kind of perverse and unholy communion. Dracula is very clearly placed in opposition to God, and we can assume that he therefore represents the Devil himself. In fact, Dracula is indeed compared to the Devil several times. As for Renfield, he is the unfortunate mad man who speaks the truth: the ‘Cassandra’ of this story.
Of course, blood is symbolic of so many things. On the subject of transubstantiation, in some pagan faiths, such as Sioux, there is a long-held belief that eating the flesh of a certain animal empowers you with that animal’s vital essence and spirit, a superstition that undoubtedly found its way around the world in many other guises. Bram Stoker was probably aware of the legend of Countess Bathory who, regardless of whether she did or not, supposedly bathed in the blood of virgins to retain her youth (See Footnote 1). In our modern world, we are well aware that blood transfusion saves lives. This was only a recent discovery in Stoker’s time, but he does mention, and describe, the procedure in Dracula. Most importantly, blood symbolises the potent life and energy we possess. Without it, we die. That life and energy is required so that the figurative vampire may live. In other words, if we let our fears take us over, or repress our innermost desires, we will be drained, disempowered, possibly depressed and eventually die.
Sleeping and night time are, of course, the places you will encounter vampires and other night demons, and in Dracula it is no different. Disturbed sleep is touched upon with the somnambulistic Lucy, who is easier to control when she is in this state. Sleeping people cannot defend themselves, like the state of sleep paralysis mentioned earlier. It is in this state that people are also very often prone to hallucinations. This is a condition which has been described for centuries by those who have reported incubus and succubus attacks. These creatures are night demons who feed upon our energy or have sex with us, in much the same way as Dracula does with Lucy and Mina. Dracula, therefore, is bound up not only with our fears but also with our repressed sexuality. The vampire’s teeth penetrating the neck of his or her victim, is symbolic of sexual penetration and shows our deep-rooted primal desire to be fucked. Hard. By a sexy, charismatic guy with a castle and pet wolves. Possibly. You get the picture. In the half-asleep world of sleep paralysis we are bound, helpless to our inner desires and fears. It is then that the vampire is free to strike, and the hallucination takes over.
Never fear, there is hope, and Stoker et al give us some clues on how to defeat the darkness in our lives. I suppose it’s up to each of us to take what we will out of that, but you’ll have to take a deep breath, pick up the books and face your fears for yourself….
In Sisterhood of the Wolf there is an appearance of a mysterious stranger. To begin with, he is not identified as a vampire, but there are many tell-tale signs. He is dark, with penetrating eyes, and there is an enticing quality about him. Channing knows she should not be anywhere near him, but she simply cannot help herself. There’s also something strange about Channing which, again, the reader will no doubt suspect long before it happens. She should be able to smell the stranger from across the street. That’s some super-power! Nevertheless, even although she cannot, she still gets a warning, a tingling, before she sees him. He has a magical super-power too! He is able to influence her senses and actions. Channing needs no persuasion to follow his command, even though the impression is of a strong independent woman.
This short opening scene is intended to be sensual, sexual, tense and dangerous. I have deliberately cut off the reader at this point, hoping it will leave you all wanting more! What I can say, for now, is that Channing is not scared for her own wellbeing. She’s a woman well able to take care of herself, and that dark stranger better watch out. He is about to bite off much more than he can chew! This is definitely a book for feminists!
Until next week, your friend… A D.
1. He was certainly aware of some of the history of eastern Europe, as is evident with his lead character, based on real life Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, also known by his patronymic name of Dracula. A name he inherited via his father Vlad II Dracul, a member of the Order of the Dragon. The real Dracula’s cruelty was renowned, and his preferred method of execution was impalement, where Stoker no doubt derived the classical image of the stake – one of the methods used to kill vampires.