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“The Uncanny Convergence of Religion and Horror”: My new column for NAMELESS MAGAZINE

The first installment of Numinosities, my new column for [Nameless] Magazine, is available for free reading at the journal’s Website.

[Nameless] is a newly launched “Biannual Journal of the Macabre, Esoteric and Intellectual.” Edited by Jason V. Brock and S. T. Joshi — a fine team indeed — its stated goal is “to meld divergent (even challenging) critical perspectives on a variety of subjects — fiction, music, art, film, social commentary — and present them with the best content (literary, artistic, and, in the case of the website, multimedia) we can muster from the genres of horror, science fiction, magical realism, slipstream, and dark fantasy.” The format is a biannual print journal and electronic edition combined with a Web magazine.

The debut issue, dated Summer 2012, is now available, and is a really impressive piece of work featuring a beautiful visual layout and contributions from the likes of William F. Nolan, John C. Tibbetts, and Gene O’Neill. So it was a welcome thing when Jason contacted me with an invitation to contribute a recurring column about horror, religion, and philosophy to future issues.

The first Numinosities column is about the perennial entanglement of religion with horror in a way that makes each imply and entail the other. Here’s the gist:

In point of fact, horror and religion have always been bound together in the most intimate of entanglements. Look to the ancient Sumerians: you’ll find in their cosmogony the tale of Tiamat, the great chaos dragon who formed the original, primal substance of reality until her children, who were more anthropomorphic, and who were therefore the gods worshipped by humans, overthrew her. Observe that horror came first, before divine solace, in the most ancient creation story of which we’re collectively aware. Check the ancient Egyptians, those vital quasi-neighbors of the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent, and you’ll find similar instances of daemonic monstrousness built right into their reigning theologies at nearly all points. The same goes for the ancient Greeks, some of whose creation myths involved the progressive overthrow of primal chaotic monstrousness — think the Titans, think Kronos devouring his children — in order to produce the ordered cosmos we have today.


So why, then, should people today still find it necessary to ask about the connection between religion and horror? When it would be more reasonable to ask if they have ever not been connected, why do so many of us moderns find it odd or shocking to hear their deep linkage called out and explicitly identified?

Perhaps — and here I may simply be indulging my own temperament and mistaking it for insight, or perhaps I may really be onto something (a judgment I will invite the reader to make for him- or herself) — perhaps it has to do with an unconscious recognition that only a few have ever named aloud, a recognition that is simultaneously implicit and explicit in all of those great biblical images of a wrathful God whose transcendent nature is categorically other than the natural world, so that, even though this nature is technically termed “holiness,” it emerges in human experience more as a tremendous, awe-and-dread-inspiring eruption of supernatural nightmarishness that is fundamentally corrosive both to the world at large and to the human sensibility in particular. In other words, perhaps it has to do with a psychologically subterranean sense of unsettlement at the notion that the divine itself, not just in its conventionally demonic aspects but in its intrinsic essence, may be fundamentally menacing.

— Matt Cardin, “Things That Should Not Be: The Uncanny Convergence of Religion and Horror,” Numinosities, [Nameless] Magazine, December 1, 2012

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Image: “”Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco de Goya [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons