The Daemon is someone inside you
Apologies for my failure yesterday to make my regular Monday blog post. I really have no excuse, especially since I was off work yesterday due to last week’s winter storm that has resulted in several days of school cancellations. Today we’re in our fourth day of this unexpected vacation, with a return to work tomorrow looking mighty doubtful given the dreadful ice-packed conditions of all the rural back road around here. I devoted yesterday to working on some writing and musical projects, so at least I was productive after a fashion. But alas, I let the blog slide.
Today I realized that I’ve let something else slide here at The Teeming Brain: I never announced the winner of the fourth Daemonyx contest! I announced the contest way back on October 23rd, almost a month and a half ago, as part of my ongoing attempt to spread the word about Daemonyx (my musical project whose first album will be released next year). My apologies go out to Cody, who won by correctly identifying the source of the sound clip that appears multiple times in my/Daemonyx’s songs “The Gates of Deep Darkness” and “Daimonica.” For his prize Cody chose a hardcover copy of the horror anthology The HWA Presents: Museum of Horrors. I’m sure he’ll enjoy it, since there are some fine stories by some fine authors in there. Congratulations, Cody!
The sound clip, incidentally, consists of a man’s voice asking, “Is there someone inside you?” Cody correct identified it as coming from the film version of The Exorcist, where it is spoken by the psychiatrist (played by Arthur Storch) who hypnotizes Regan in an attempt to get at the source of her bizarre behavior. She answers “Yes” to his question, after which the psychiatrist announces that he is now speaking to the person inside of her. As we all remember, frightful chaos ensues.
My fascination with the theme of possession, inner presences, and that kind of thing won’t be new to readers of The Teeming Brain. The idea of a demonic, or rather a daemonic, or rather a daimonic influence evidencing itself in a person’s psyche has become a kind of philosophical/psychological/artistic/spiritual/religious lodestone to me over the past several years. It gets at the foundations of everything that has always fascinated me about the questions and issues surrounding art, creativity, inspiration, religious authority, God, the Devil, good, evil, spiritual transcendence, human subjectivity, psychosis, dreams, nightmares, mythology, and more. As I’ve mentioned in the past (e.g. in my post titled “Daemonyx: What’s in a name?“), the same idea stands at the center of my musical and literary pursuits.
At one or two points in the history of this blog, I’ve offered excerpts from my essay “The Angel and the Demon,” which will appear in Icons of Horror and the Supernatural: An Encyclopedia of Our Worst Nightmares, a two-volume reference work from Greenwood Publishing Group that’s scheduled for publication on the 30th of this month. I thought it quite fortuitous, given my intense personal fascination with the subject, that this specific topic fell to me when the essays were being assigned. A couple of posts ago I talked about the upsurge of religious-themed horror that I see taking shape in contemporary popular culture. As all culturally informed readers know, this is hardly the first time such a thing has happened. It famously happened once before, in the 1970s, when The Exorcist became a phenomenon, first as a book and then a movie, that swept across the American and Western cultural landscape. We should remember, especially in present circumstances, that Blatty’s famous novel was one of the key elements in the birth of “horror” as a modern publishing category. Right from the start, then, religion was central to this whole enterprise.
Surely you guessed a paragraph ago (didn’t you?) that I was going to quote once again from my Angel and Demon essay. Here’s a goodly chunk of its introduction, excerpted from the extended or complete version, which will only appear in a scaled-down fashion in the Greenwood book. The introduction discusses America’s cultural fascination with the iconic Angel and Demon, both of whom are aspects of the “someone inside you” that inhabits us all. As frequently happens when I really throw myself into nonfiction projects, I found all of my research playing right into the topics that fascinate me most as a human being.
FROM “THE ANGEL AND THE DEMON”
by Matt Cardin
I. Introduction: the prevalence of the Angel and the Demon
Even a cursory survey of the supernatural horror genre reveals the important role that the angel and the demon have played in it. From texts such as Dante’s Divine Comedy (written 1308-1321) and John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), which straddle the boundary between religious devotional literature and outright fiction, to fictional works such as Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971), the demon has provided ongoing fodder for creators of supernatural horror. As for the angel, while it has most often served as a mere foil for the demon, and has often been left entirely unmentioned in favor of focusing exclusively on demonic horrors, it has still made its presence known. Paradise Lost, for example, begins with a dramatic narration of the fall of Lucifer and his fellow angels from heaven and their subsequent transformation or transition into demons. More recently, the Prophecy series of horror movies from the 1990s and early 2000s has flouted modern Western conventions by abandoning the cute, cozy angels of Victorian art and the greeting card industry, and returning to a more ancient and traditional portrayal of angels as powerful, terrifying beings.
Nor are these figures influential merely within the confines of the supernatural horror as such. In 1973 the cinematic adaptation of The Exorcist became a sensation among audiences and was subsequently recognized as the first true “blockbuster,” predating the likes of Jaws and Star Wars. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won two of them. Its earnings made it one of the top grossing films at the U.S. box office that year, and in the decades since, it has steadily remained in and around the top ten highest grossing films of all time both domestically and internationally. Upon its first release it ignited a national conversation about theological matters within the United States, just as its author (Blatty, who penned the screenplay from his own novel) had hoped it would do, and spurred many fear-based conversions and reconversions to Christianity.
Angels have shared a similar widespread influence. Director Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, which begins and ends with angels, received only a middling response from audiences and critics when it was first released in 1946 (although it was nominated for five Academy Awards). Then in 1974 a copyright lapse due to a clerical error placed the film in the public domain. When television stations around the country began to take advantage of the opportunity to run the film free of royalty charges, a new generation of viewers rediscovered and fell in love with it, thus transforming it into a widely beloved “holiday classic,” and thus rendering the supporting character of Clarence the most famous cinematic angel of them all.
Over the course of subsequent decades, angels became the subject of a bona fide national obsession in the U.S. A slew of television programs (Highway to Heaven, Touched by an Angel), movies (Angels in the Outfield, City of Angels), and best-selling books (A Book of Angels, Ask Your Angels, Where Angels Walk) arose to cater to a rising fascination with the idea of winged heavenly guardians and messengers. In 1994 the NBC television network aired a two-hour primetime special titled Angels: The Mysterious Messengers, and PBS ran a well-received documentary titled In Search of Angels. A 1993 Time magazine cover story about the angel craze included a survey indicating that 69 percent of Americans claimed to believe in angels, while nearly half believed they were attended by a personal guardian angel. Newsweek, which ran its own angel-themed cover story the very same week the Time issue appeared, reported that the angel craze appeared to be rooted in a very real spiritual craving: “It may be kitsch, but there’s more to the current angel obsession than the Hallmarking of America. Like the search for extraterrestrials, the belief in angels implies that we are not alone in the universe—that someone up there likes me” (quoted in Nickell, 152-3).
Not incidentally, this sentiment closely echoed Blatty’s expressed motivation for writing The Exorcist. As he has explained in numerous interviews and also in his 2001 memoir If There Were Demons, Then Perhaps There Were Angels: William Peter Blatty’s Story of the Exorcist, when he was a junior at the Jesuitical Georgetown University in 1949 he encountered a Washington Post story about a fourteen-year-old boy in Mount Rainier, Maryland who had undergone an exorcism under the official sanction of the church. Blatty had long been concerned about the spiritual direction of modern Western society—The Exorcist, let it be noted, was published in the immediate wake of the 1960s’ “death of God” movement—and in the account of this boy and his apparent demonic affliction, Blatty thought he could discern “tangible evidence of transcendence.” Two decades later he fictionalized the story in his famous novel. But it was a fiction with a serious existential purpose; as he later explained, in his view the reality of demons served as a kind of apologetic proof for the existence of God: “If there were demons, there were angels and probably a God and a life everlasting” (quoted in Whitehead). In 1999, at a time when movies such as The Sixth Sense, Stir of Echoes, The Blair Witch Project, and Stigmata were flooding movie theatres and video rental stores, he invoked a version of the same idea to account for the resurgent popularity of supernatural thrillers: “One of the prime allures of the supernatural thriller is that there is a world of spirit and that death doesn’t mean our final destiny is oblivion” (Bonin).
In the early 1970s it seemed that the Roman Catholic Church, or at least the Pope, agreed with at least the first half of Blatty’s demon-angel apologetic. In November of 1972, Pope Paul VI delivered an address to a General Audience in which he expressed his concern over what he viewed as demonic influences at work in the world: “Evil is not merely an absence of something but an active force, a living, spiritual being that is perverted and that perverts others. It is a terrible reality, mysterious and frightening. . . . Many passages in the Gospel show us that we are dealing not just with one Devil, but with many” (Pope Paul VI). These statements ignited a debate both inside and outside the church and embarrassed many priests whose outlook was more in tune with the secularistic, demythologized tenor of the time than with what they viewed as the mythological belief system of pre-Enlightenment Christianity. But the international phenomenon that was The Exorcist demonstrated that the Roman pontiff obviously spoke not only for himself but also for an enormous public that either believed as he did or, at the very least, suspected or wanted to believe in the existence of a transcendent spiritual reality. The fact that the pope’s remarks were bookended, temporally speaking, by the 1971 publication of Blatty’s novel and the 1973 release of the movie makes it difficult to avoid speculating that all three statements—the novel, the movie, and Paul VI’s speech—were expressions of a burgeoning cultural phenomenon.