A few weeks ago I was interviewed for the Genre Traveler podcast, created and hosted by Carma Spence. It’s now live and available, and Carma has created a cool page full of notes to go with the audio. Here’s the episode description:
This week I chat with Matt Cardin about religion and horror. Along the way our conversation touches on the role religious motifs play in the horror genre, the nature of horror vs. fear, the connection between religious experience and fear, gnosticism, the evolution of religious beliefs, the push and pull of spiritual concepts, sleep paralysis and more.
You can read more and hear the interview at Genre Traveler Podcast Episode 50: The Intersection of Horror and Religion.
Many thanks to Carma for a nice job!
My interview on the “Raw Factor” segment of this morning’s Spiritually Raw radio broadcast felt like it went well. Hosts Ajay and April proved to be excellent conversationalists as they talked with me about my central focus as an author (and human being) on the convergence of religious experience with horror fiction and film, and the tendency of horror to open out into religious experience, and my initiatory-type experiences of sleep paralysis and nocturnal assault that have underscored this connection.
You can listen to the interview on the podcast of today’s show. My segment starts at about 13:00 in the running time:
Also be advised that if I receive enough listener votes based on my brief (15-minute) appearance on the show today, then I’ll be brought back as a featured guest for a longer interview. You can vote for me by following THIS LINK and entering a comment in my favor — at which point psychic vibrations of gratitude will begin beaming your way and generating all sorts of positive synchronicities. (Did I oversell that? Sorry. But the gratitude part is real.)
In an interesting development, I’ve been selected as a potential “spot light guest” on SPIRITUALLY RAW, a (very) fringe-oriented occult/spiritual/conspiracy/New Age radio show with a 60,000+ daily listener base. I’ll be conducting a “pre-interview screening” live on air during a segment called “The Raw Factor” on July 5. Listener votes will determine whether I’m blessed with a full guest appearance later on.
The topic will be my long-running focus on the relationship between religion and horror, as expressed in my book Dark Awakenings (and also, maybe, my Divinations of the Deep). At the show’s website one of the producers and hosts, April Matta, has set up a page to advertise my upcoming appearance: “Religion and Horror: Matt Cardin, Tuesday, July 5.”
April has also encouraged me to use the site’s blogging capabilities and other functions to generate buzz, so I’ve obliged by writing and publishing a brief introduction to me and my work. And of course I’m reprinting it here. Click the title to visit the original, which has already started an interesting conversation.
I’m a horror writer. Since I was a very young child, I’ve been drawn by a kind of inbuilt gravity to scary stories about supernatural things. This includes all of the standard elements of supernatural horror stories — ghosts, haunted houses, vampires, werewolves, demons, and so on — but around my teen years it started to tip definitively toward the type of fiction and film that’s generally called “cosmic horror” or “weird horror.” Probably the single most famous writer in this vein is H.P. Lovecraft, who has only emerged as a canonical literary figure in American and world letters in the past 20 years, with a serious acceleration in his ascent beginning about 2004. I devoured Lovecraft in late high school and all through college, and have gone on to become a scholar of his work, publishing various articles and essays about him in a variety of journals and at a variety of websites.
For my entire life I’ve also been possessed by a fierce religious and spiritual instinct. I grew up steeped in evangelical Protestant Christianity. Then as a teen an interest in comparative religion began to grip me as strongly as my interest in horror (which was also accompanied by an interest in fantasy and science fiction). To make a long story short, I began to devour texts both ancient and modern about various world religious and philosophical traditions. In college I minored (and almost majored) in philosophy, and studied all sorts of religions both academically and experientially, befriending people from various religious, cultural, and national backgrounds, and seriously pursuing various meditative practices. Several years after graduating, I returned to academia to earn a master’s degree in religious studies, which I earned over a span of seven years.
Also after my undergraduate years, I started experiencing horrific bouts of sleep paralysis, not just the semi-common experience of half-waking into a state of paralysis but the really nightmarish kind involving full-blown hypnagogic and hypnopompic visions of a demonic presence that assaulted me spiritually. At the time I didn’t know what was happening to me, because I hadn’t heard the actual term “sleep paralysis.” I went on to discover the writings of David Hufford, the scholar who in the 1970s began to resurrect for us denizens of modern consumer-technological culture an awareness of this ancient affliction. I’ve been fascinated to see the level of awareness about SP continue a steady ascent in the past few years, with a segment about it even being featured just a few months ago on Rachael Ray’s television show.
To regroup: How does all of this relate to horror as religious and religion as horrific? By way of an answer, consider this quote from Lovecraft, from the introduction to his seminal study of the supernatural horror genre titled “Supernatural Horror in Literature”:
There is here involved [in the phenomenon of weird supernatural horror fiction] a psychological pattern or tradition as real and as deeply grounded in mental experience as any other pattern or tradition of mankind; coeval with the religious feeling and closely related to many aspects of it.
Did you catch that? Lovecraft was talking about the first-hand experience of supernatural horror, the psychology and phenomenology of the actual human response to these types of stories — and more than that, the primal human response that gave rise to these stories and lends them their power — and he was comparing it directly to the religious response, to the inbuilt human capacity for what we call religious or spiritual experience. Significantly, his focus here resonates directly with the thought of the early 20th-century German theologian Rudolf Otto, who hypothesized that religion originally arose from an experience of what he termed “daemonic dread,” an overpowering sense of uncanny dread and awe at the psychological perception of a mysterious, awesome, utterly transcendent presence or reality that is inherently fearsome to the human sensibility as such. Otto also said this same response was elaborated in another human cultural direction when it gave rise to the ghost story. Lovecraft’s and Otto’s focus also resonates with many things said by William James, the renowned American philosopher and psychologist from the turn of the 20th century, who in his seminal book The Varieties of Religious Experience dwelt at length on the specific human responses of pessimism, depression, and horror to many aspects of life, and argued that the “real core of the religious problem” lies in an overwhelming experience of cosmic horror born out of abject despair at life’s incontrovertible hideousness.
Drawing all of this together, what, therefore, is the upshot? What am I getting at regarding religion and horror, both individually and in relation to each other? My point is that when we focus on the question of religious or spiritual experience, we’re necessarily treading on shared ground with the very same primal psychological experience or response that underlies and gives power to supernatural horror. In precisely complementary fashion, when we respond to stories of weird supernatural horror, we’re opening ourselves to a fundamentally religious or spiritual experience.
For me, this was all a mass of definitely existing but mostly unarticulated ideas and emotions until my experiences of sleep paralysis impacted my overall worldview and intellectual/emotional sensibility in such a way that the underlying ideas began to come clear. All of my horror fiction has been written from that experiential centerpoint. I also pursued my graduate work in religious studies with a view to exploring and explicating the religion-horror connection. Most recently, in the past few years I’ve been gripped increasingly by an interest in the muse, daimon, and genius of artistic and literary creativity, since my own creativity has been fueled by and connected to all of the things discussed here in a way that’s analogous to the ancient model or metaphor of the daimonic muse as a real spiritual force or entity that drives and inspires writers and artists. This in turn has raised questions about the ontological status of that force or entity, and I’ve been pursuing them at a blog I created for that specific purpose, titled Demon Muse.
And that’s what I’ll be talking about this July 5 on Spiritually Raw.
Maybe it’s because I accidentally caught a few minutes of Dan O’Bannon’s wonderful Lovecraft adaptation The Resurrected on TV a few days ago, and the title struck a chord.
Maybe it’s because of the changing weather: the spring season here in Texas is rapidly transitioning to an epic summer (with our historic drought showing no signs of letting up), and the light and heat are invigorating.
Maybe it’s because of the influence of Dark Powers and Mysterious Forces that Man Was Not Meant to Know. Yeah, that’s what I’ll go with.
Whatever the case, the psychological spell that withdrew me into a half-involuntary retreat from blogging and social media and much of the Internet in general for what I thought would be all of 2011 has broken early, and suddenly I find myself blinking and looking around and feeling good about venturing out into the cyber-world again.
So what did I do with all of my extra time during the past five months? Lots of reading and studying. Lots of meditation and contemplation. Lots of cultivating and developing ideas for new creative projects. Lots of resting in the here and now without any sort of plan or goal. This last made for a particularly rich and satisfying experience of home life and day job during the spring semester at my college, since I was fully present for people and circumstances without any ulterior motive or nagging desire to be doing something else — such as, for instance, wasting time on the Internet.
A word of advice from me to you: If one day you come to your senses without any memory of having fallen asleep, and you find that your thoughts and moods, your energy and focus, are being drawn like gravity toward some activity or object of attention without any conscious intention on your part, and in such a way that the rest of your inner life and outer focus are distinctly suffering from this sucking-away of your presence, you should take it as a sign that you need to recenter and reground yourself. That kind of outer-directed, unbalanced psychological situation is dangerous, and also distinctly unpleasant. The specific locus of that spiritual black hole can be any number of things. For me it was social media and the Internet in general. To paraphrase (mangle) Thoreau, I wasn’t riding Facebook and Twitter, they were riding me.
That negative energy feels like it’s gone now. So I’m diving back in while maintaining my center of gravity, because I really do find all of these tools to be pleasantly useful when they’re not playing the role of possessing demons. Hello, everybody. Nice to see you again.
Here’s some new Internet chatter about my recently published stories.
ABOUT “THE NEW PAULINE CORPUS” IN CTHULHU’S REIGN
[The anthology’s premise] leaves the contributors with a fairly broad territory to explore, which they do to greater or lesser effect, and sometimes with stunning originality. . . . Matt Cardin’s “The New Pauline Corpus” plays with that old Lovecraftian standby, the sacred text of cosmic evil, and comes up with something wickedly satirical.
— Richard Dansky, writing for for Green Man Review
Unlike other anthologies, the stories within Cthulhu’s Reign. . . push the boundaries of narration. There’s a healthy dose of experimentation with these stories like the one that Matt Cardin wrote entitled “The New Pauline Corpus.” As a result, some of the stories will require a close read, which is something to keep in mind if you’re picking this anthology up.
— Monica Valentinelli, writing for Flames Rising
Many years ago, I came upon an essay written by someone who claimed to be a devout Christian. In his essay, he attempted to answer the age-old questions about why God would allow suffering, pain and all of the other horrible things that we humans experience. God, he wrote, would be considered a sociopath if He were a human. However, He is so far beyond our spectrum of thought and being that what is sociopathic for us is something utterly different to Him. The essay left me certain that its author must only be devout in his faith because he believes God to be a horrible, vastly powerful entity who can be infinitely cruel and it’s better to try to keep Him happy with you. “The New Pauline Corpus” by Matt Cardin reminds me of this essay, drawing parallels between the Bible and the Cthulhu mythos.
— Lyndsey Holder, writing for Innsmouth Free Press
ABOUT “CHIMERAS & GROTESQUERIES” IN DARK FAITH
In the eighteenth century, when fiction was first developing as a modern artform and the willing suspension of disbelief was not yet something one could take for granted, authors often coaxed their readers into it by presenting the story as a manuscript which had come into the author’s hands by one means or another. As readers became more accustomed to suspending their disbelief willingly upon being presented with a work of fiction, such narrative apparatus was discarded as unwieldy. It would make its reappearance in some of the earliest science fiction stories, particularly the sword-and-planet stories of John Carter penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but by the second half of the twentieth century it became a rare device, used primarily to create the sense of a period piece. And that is what Matt Cardin seems to be trying to do in “Chimeras & Grotesqueries,” for all that it is set in a modern city and deals with an artist creating outsider art of a particularly spiritual sort. A man who may be slowly losing his mind, or who may be moving into a sphere of transcendent genius inaccessible to us mere mortals.
— Leigh Kimmel, writing for The Billion Light-Year Bookshelf
[N.B.: I really dig this next one. You’ve gotta love it when somebody calls it like they see it, and does so with flair. – MC]
An evocative, passionate and loving tribute to H. P. Lovecraft — no, wait. Half of an evocative, passionate and loving tribute to Lovecraft. The story of other worldly horrors invading ours wearing the warped and perverted masks of our tiny human religions was just being to envelope and subdue me, when it ended. Maybe Matt stared a little too deeply into the abyss and never got the chance to write the other half.
— Dylan Fox, writing at DylanFox.net
Just published: “Meet the Author: Matt Cardin”
This is an interview with me at the blog for Dystopia Press, a new publisher of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction (founded in late 2009). Dystopia Press is run by Mark Long, who also created and runs TSTC Publishing, the official press of the Texas State Technical College system. He and I are pretty sure we met briefly at last year’s ArmadilloCon in Austin. In any case, we’re completely sure that we’ll meet up and share a drink next month at this year’s con.
He asked great questions. I tried to do them justice in my answers. Topics include:
- the origin of my combined interest in religion and supernatural horror;
- the inside scoop on how I got hooked up with Ash-Tree Press for Divinations of the Deep and Mythos Books for Dark Awakenings;
- my writing process;
- my advice to writers;
The wait is over. The stars are right. Some rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born, and my long-awaited Dark Awakenings collection is now loosed upon the world.
- Publisher: Mythos Books
- Date: May 2010
- Length: 319 pages
- Table of Contents: Available at MattCardin.com
The brand new issue of Dead Reckonings praises the book with these fine words:
It is refreshing to see that there are still authors interested in and capable of portraying a species of dread that is dependent neither on the standard bogeymen of horror fiction nor in pain and the threat of bodily dissolution as ends in themselves….The philosophical and theological bases for Cardin’s horror run deep….[He brings] his ideas to vivid, immediate life through his excellent descriptive skills, believable characters, well-described settings, and an unusually apt gift for choosing metaphors when attempting to describe the ineffable….In “Teeth,” comparative religion, philosophy, and quantum mechanics meet in a mandala that offers the clearest expression of Azathoth as the universal maw since Lovecraft. Perhaps even more devastating is “The God of Foulness,” which posits a cult based on the incarnation through disease of the third god in an unholy trinity, served by a text riddled with redirected, misquoted, and parodied extracts from the world’s spiritual texts. Cardin’s ability to detail the full implications of ideas that utterly destroy “the human need for illusion” reveals the forces behind those ideas in action, without risking anticlimax, and demonstrates the impact they have on the lives of characters in whom readers can recognize themselves; this lends the stories a terrific impact.
— Jim Rockhill, review of Dark Awakenings in Dead Reckonings #7 (Spring 2010)
And don’t forget these other fine endorsements:
“In Dark Awakenings, Cardin proves himself to be an adept in the fullest sense of the word. To both the morbid and the cosmically minded, who may be one and the same, he delivers his visions and nightmares in a master’s prose. In the tradition of Poe and Lovecraft, Cardin’s accomplishments as a writer are paralleled by his expertise as a literary critic and theorist, as readers can witness in this volume. His analyses of supernatural horror and its practitioners are also dark awakenings in the dual manner of his stories, with one eye on the black abyss and the other on an enlightened transcendence without denomination. Again, this quality of Cardin’s work can be seen in the writings of Poe and Lovecraft, two other felicitous freaks who merged the antagonistisms of their imagination into a chimera as awful as it is awe-striking.”
— Thomas Ligotti, author of Teatro Grottesco and The Nightmare Factory
“Matt Cardin channels visions of dark, maniacal intensity. His otherworldly divinations will have you lying awake in the dark, counting stars in that most pitiless gulf that yawns above us all. A master of terror and dread, he ranks among the foremost authors of contemporary American horror.”
— Laird Barron, author of The Imago Sequence & Other Stories and Occultation
“Dark Awakenings offers the dream imagery of the best weird fiction but goes even further beyond the ordinary thanks to Matt Cardin’s fierce intellect. Haunting stories and insightful essays. This is mandatory reading to prepare for the doom to come.”
— Nick Mamatas, author of Move Under Ground
“In a wonderfully readable, multi-layered collection, Matt Cardin shows us that he knows, as very few do, how to write — from several perspectives, including as a researcher — in a way that is both riveting and richly detailed. Cardin’s gift can be celebrated by all readers.”
— T.M. Wright, author of Strange Seed and A Manhattan Ghost Story
Recently, Mathew F. Riley and the other good folks at Horror Reanimated have been asking a number of horror writers to name, and explain, the single book they would like to be buried with.
My own essay went live today. [UPDATE 3/1/17: Horror Reanimated is now defunct, so the link just given will take you to a cached page courtesy of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine.] I just now reread it and realized that I may have finally managed to explain to my own satisfaction why I’m helplessly hooked on both supernatural horror and books about philosophy, religion, and spirituality.
Previous entries in the series have come from Mark Samuels, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barron, Adam Nevill, Mark Morris, Brian Lumley, Reggie Oliver, Michael Marshall Smith, David Moody, Christopher Golden, Gary McMahon, and Simon Strantzas — a fine crowd to be associated with, for sure.
The creator of the online fiction review site A Story a Day Keeps Boredom Away recently reviewed all of the stories in the new Dark Faith anthology.
He had this to say about my story “Chimeras & Grotesqueries”:
I love the type of story that starts with a preface declaring that what follows was found in a drawer someplace by the “author,” and said author hopes his own introduction does not skew the reader’s response to what follows. Honestly, without that introduction, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this story anywhere near as much. I have no idea if Cardin has used the fictional author Philip Lasine in other works. The un-named preface-writer discusses his devotion / faith in Lasine’s work, and then we get a previously undiscovered Lasine work which deals with the topic of belief in its own way. Without the preface, the story by Lasine would have felt a little too crafty or arty; with the preface, it feels like a commentary on the type of crafty-arty writing that brings some literature and philosophy majors to the edges of bliss.
That’s quite a perceptive review. I, too, am a great fan of frame narratives when I’m reading fiction, including the “found story” subtype that I used in the tale at hand. Frame narratives open up marvelous opportunities for deepening a story’s theme in ways that are virtually subliminal, since the burden of recognizing and working out the connections between the core story and the surrounding narrative frame(s), and of interpreting the nature of the latter’s commentary on the former (and vice versa), falls upon the reader.
Stories written like this, when they’re well-mounted, inherently complexify and enrich themselves the more the reader mulls over their meaning. So it was nice to see the reviewer picking up on this part of what I was doing.
Of course, on a more basic level it was pleasant to read that the reviewer enjoyed the story.
FYI, and to repeat what I may or may not have mentioned before, “Chimeras & Grotesqueries” is the fruition of the story excerpt I presented here on Halloween 2006. It depicts the invasion of a nameless modern-day city by a dark supernatural power, as observed by a hideously disfigured narrator who lives in an alleyway and spends his days fashioning miniature monsters out of garbage. Or actually, that’s the core narrative, which is enclosed in the frame narrative described by the reviewer above.
Also to repeat, Dark Faith, edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon and published by Apex Books, is an anthology of stories and poems about spirituality and horror. It was published just yesterday. It’s attracting favorable attention. As they say, check it out.
Here’s part of the official description:
Horror’s top authors and promising newcomers whisper tales that creep through the mists at night to rattle your soul. Step beyond salvation and damnation with thirty stories and poems that reveal the darkness beneath belief. Place your faith in that darkness; it’s always there, just beyond the light.
A few days ago I received my contributor’s copy of Cthulhu’s Reign in the mail. It’s a themed anthology whose approach is stated concisely by the description at Amazon:
Some of the darkest hints in all of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos relate to what will happen after the Old Ones return and take over the earth. What happens when Cthulhu is unleashed upon the world? What happens when the other Old Ones, long since banished from our universe, break through and descend from the stars? What would the reign of Cthulhu be like on a totally transformed planet where mankind is no longer the master?
In other words, it’s unique among Lovecraft Mythos anthologies because instead of focusing on the standard threat of the apocalyptic return of Cthulhu and his fellow Old Ones, it’s full of stories set in the period after the big event has already occurred.
The book’s editor, the creatively irrepressible Darrell Schweitzer, invited me to the project several months ago, and specifically asked if I might be able to deliver a story that reconciles Lovecraft’s Old Ones with Christian theology. I ended up producing a short tale titled “The New Pauline Corpus.”
Recently I described the story’s genesis in greater detail to my fellow horror author John R. Fultz for a series of articles titled “Anticipating Cthulhu’s Reign” that he’s writing for Black Gate.
In the series’ first installment, “Everybody Loves Cthulhu,” John explains the anthology’s central conceit in detail, and describes his own contribution to it, a story titled “This Is How the World Ends” (which I’m looking forward to reading).
In the second installment, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” he explains the origins of my “The New Pauline Corpus,” and also the stories in the anthology by Ian Watson, Mike Allen, Brian Stableford, and Laird Barron (who’s finally getting a proper website! (said the guy who only got one six months ago)).
Upon receiving the aforementioned contributor’s copy, I quickly reskimmed my story to see how worthy it appeared in retrospect (my standard practice when receiving published copies of my work). I was pleased to find that it mostly upheld the hopes and intentions I’d held while birthing it. I would change half a dozen wordings here and there, but that’s about it. This is much better than my reaction to, for example, my story “Snapshots from a Feast,” which appeared in print several months ago — after a publishing delay of several years — and made me cringe with the wrong kind of horror. Oh, to turn back time.
Anyway, during this latest reexamination of “The New Pauline Corpus” I was struck by how intensely oriented toward the cerebral the story is, as opposed to the emotional or visceral. Most of my other work mingles intellectualism with emotional intimations of supernatural horrific-ness and despair. But this one leans definitively toward the intellectual end of the spectrum, even as it’s narratively structured in a highly weird and nonlinear way. I guess that’s just the direction I naturally went when trying to articulate the heart of the relationship I’ve always intuited between Lovecraftian horror and the Judeo-Christian cosmology.
During a recent web session as I was browsing to see if the antho is receiving any advance press, I was pleased to see that a reviewer for the The Maine Edge understood — and dug — what I was getting at:
A personal favorite is Matt Cardin’s “The New Pauline Corpus,” a story written in triptych built around a new gospel reconciling the rise of the Old Ones with the foundations of Christianity. We get a theologian’s proof equating Cthulhu to the Old Testament God, a “fictional” recounting of the time of the change and a diary-style account of a church official attempting to construct a new gospel from the pieces of the former two. It’s an interestingly-written piece that has some seriously strong connections to Lovecraft’s work. Probably the best one of the bunch.
— Allen Adams, “The call of ‘Cthulhu’s Reign,'” The Maine Edge,
Cthulhu’s Reign is scheduled for an April 6 release.