“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021) is the newest in the Conjuring Universe Series, a new artifact to the Museum of The Haunted All and Sundry. The legendary Ed and Lorraine Warren are as inseparable as a couple in love and benevolent as rescuers of souls afflicted with the forces of evil as ever. But the mysteriously noble and spiritually convincing atmospheric elements are barely there, albeit the mix still has the thematic Catholic flavor. They said that when fact becomes legend, publish legend. So the story of the movie may be based on an actual event that has become American folklore, a modern legend, and it is the legend that the movie published.
As with the tradition of the Conjuring World, the movie evolves from the actual event of the supernatural phenomenon beyond the reasonable explanation on what the eyes only can see. First, an insidious ambiance surrounding a family house that seems strangely alienated adumbrates a sinister force lurking behind the bathroom door, over the shower curtains, and finally inside your head. Then comes a Catholic priest, thanks to the rite of exorcism popularized by The Exorcist and the Warrens’ association with the religion as their spiritual base. But he is usually not too much of significant help, if not a trouble, so it is always the Warrens’ job to ghost-bust with a style of a medieval magician who used to reconcile esoteric paganism with Christian faith. In this installation, Lorraine proves to be a mighty Christian mystic and a white witch in crossing over the space and reading memories of the dead, all for the fighting the devil’s deputy in a tunnel that promised to capture as many human souls as possible to fill up Hell’s Circles.
The essential thematic elements of good v. evil, love v. hatred, violence v. peace are unfailingly ubiquitous in this installment. Still, more violence and hatred make up the scenes than the others, making the movie more aligned with screaming scary movies than classified as supernatural horror. Perhaps the application of Catholic elements as a credible supplementary spell on the movie’s ambiance might have slightly fared well with the director’s intention (or the producer James Wan, the original creative director) to make the film elevated to a canon of classic supernatural movies. But it doesn’t give much of the movie’s intended effect when the Warrens can do what priests can do. Besides, the characters other than the Warrens themselves are not convincingly real, sympathetic, or natural. Instead, they are either surreal or theatrical to the point of playing a masque in Elizabethan time, so to speak, which would have been excellent.
I watched the movie with high hope when it first started showing on HBO Max last Friday night. But my expectation was already turning ominous when I had trouble viewing it at first for some unknown technical reason. Once I got into the third world of Conjuring Universe, I knew it wouldn’t be what I had expected. The real Warrens have become the ghosts themselves, and I wonder what they would have thought about the movie. Judging from their celebrity status in the society of paranormal investigators, I think they would probably have been thrilled about their being the creative subject of the movie. Then maybe, it’s time for me to leave the Conjuring Universe in search of a new world of the supernatural without celebrity.
Magic in ancient Greece and Rome was an art of crafting natural force with a bit of help from the world of gods and spirits wonderous to the user without fully knowing them. Contrary to traditional orthodox Christian teachings, magic was not associated by default with sorcery privileged to an esoteric spiritual elitist often dark and sinister. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, magic was their belief system, part of their modus vivendi in everyday life from slaves to emperors in the sense that we go to doctors or counselors. In a word, magic, as we understand now, was not so much deviltry as a variety of rituals of individual petitions pleaded for the fulfillment, which even the tremendous ancient minds regarded worthwhile to record.
Before the era of Christianity, the concept of magic was often interchangeably used with the knowledge of natural and supernatural worlds, which the ancients saw as not impossible to cross in between and thus believed the ghosts and the afterlife. Plato and Pliny, the Elder, advised no mortals go to graves alone after dark because there the restless souls of the dead not crossing the Styx, wandered. The most significant of the ghost story is Pliny the Younger’s letter to his friend Licinius Sura. He tells of the philosopher Athenodorus, a stoic astronomer and tutor to Octavian, the future emperor, witnessing a ghost of an old man in shackles showing his improper burial site.
Magic encompasses auguries and omens by the flights of birds, spells, and potions to charm the figures of desires, and the astrological signs in the ascendant at births and the sun, all of which to make uncertain futures known as guides to walk the paths of life to arrive at the fates. Matyszak tells the reader in the capacity of a Virgil leading Dante to the Underworld that seers at Delphi and Cumae were relatively easy to foretell the futures, which were unchangeable. Their acute intuition took a dreamy leap to poetically versed oracle pronouncement in the background of ethylene atmosphere and told what the petitioners could do at their best to deal with what laid ahead of them because there was no more than one fixed future.
The book invites the reader into the world of magic like never before because knowledge is a composite of Herodotus, Plutarch, Pliny the Younger, Socrates, and Plato. They took the extraordinary subject seriously because it was part of their daily lives bordering on a thin line of the spiritual world that was as real as they were. The book is written in a language accessible to all spectrums of education and walks of life. It is philosophy, religion, and history magically mixed in the author’s magic potion of erudition that significantly produces learning charmed in natural wits.
From Plato, who believed that the dead walked around a cemetery, Pliny the younger who told of his friend’s in Greece encountering a ghost of an old man in a chain, and Arthur Conan Doyle, who himself manifested as a revenant looking for his lost diary in his former early abode, there is no distinction between the learned and the general in acknowledging the existence of spirits. There are more things on earth than are explained in theories. Poltergeist: Then and Now by Wayne Ridsdell revisits the places where the noisy spirits were/are reputedly manifesting themselves and lets the reader judge the veracity of the existence of the century-old poltergeist on his own.
The book reads like an anthology for the history of poltergeist 101. The author has gleaned several famous poltergeist cases from the Cock Lane Poltergeist to Borley Rectory Haunting, The Enfield Poltergeist, and the Rosenheim Poltergeist. They are all too familiar to stimulate the reader searching for a new case of the subject, even if it may not be as sensational as the aforesaid famous cases. But in all fairness, the instances’ enumeration latently serves as suggestive DYI touchstones for discriminating the genuinely supernatural from the others, including mental illness, fraud, or overt imagination. Take, for example, the Cock Lane Poltergeist and the Mayfair Ghost, aka Berkeley Square ghost. Despite the shocking incidents recorded in the annals, the circumstantial evidence surrounding the cases arises from a jilted lover’s malice, the rage of failed expectation, and rambunctiousness of avarice, manifested in one big hoax of an invented poltergeist. Although the authors do not directly debate the cases’ truthfulness, the detailed accounts of the stories behind the issues bespeak the possibilities of stratagem.
What lacks in the originality of strange poltergeist incidents makes up in the unveiling intelligence about historical and literary relations to the ghostly phenomena. For example, the haunted 50 Berkeley Square in London inspired Rudyard Kipling’s “Tomlinson,” a poetic version of the Book of Dead retold in his poetic vision is a gem to discover. From London, the reader travels to the ghastly Glamis Castle and finds himself in the secret chamber where the sinister force originates from, which no one but the first-born son at his twenty-one birthday can access to. The secret remains intact to this date in the Bowes-Lyons Family, the castle owner, who included Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and the unfortunate Nerissa and Katherine, who were locked up in an asylum for their prenatal imbecility till their death, eschewed by their loyal cousins. The reader’s thirst for the supernatural piquancy in the context of historical evidence is adequately quenched in such information.
The reader keen on supernatural (not paranormal, psychic, or psychological) stories based on real events might find this book mediocre in contents that are a well-organized summation of case studies. Still, the book is a good primer for the world of poltergeist and its historical record that links the past to the present, which the noisy spirit knows no boundary of time and space. What happened before happens now and will happen tomorrow. I think this is what the author wants to ascertain in this book.
“The Entity (1982)” is an American film based on the real-life event of Dorothy Bither, who was habitually raped by evil spirits that followed her everywhere. In the movie, Dorothy is Carla Moran, a young, intelligent single mother of three whose life becomes a Circle of Hell incarnate on earth in which she becomes a sexual slave of the unseen unclean spirits. Despite the physical signs of attacks, her well-meaning but over-zealous psychiatrist Dr. Phill Sneiderman believes that her unhappy childhood and different anfractuous life experience generate the mind’s play. He then forces his belief into her with a superior sense of academic and professional pride, even if her children have witnessed supernatural powers are attacking their mother. Carla catches at straws in the form of parapsychology to set herself free from the demonic forces, even if the help is not entirely altruistic and may turn on a full circle of violation of her body, her heart, and her spirit.
The film agrees to the truth on the supernatural essence of rape by portraying Carla as a woman of diligence, intelligence, and heart who goes to a secretarial school at night for a better future. Her love and affection for children are filled with kisses and smiles, even to her head-strong adolescent son. Her childhood memories and paths she treaded upon thus far might have been labyrinthine, but just because you have past wounds doesn’t mean you are stigmatized for the malady of the heart forever. Dr. Sneiderman’s attitude toward his patient Carla is reminiscent of the late Victorian and early 20th-century institutionalization of women with checkered lives, the victims of violence, into crudely primitive asylums where any sane person was sure to lose a reason before long. However, Carla rejects her telltale testimony to the supernatural terror to be nothing but a tale told by a lunatic woman, full of sound and fury that means nothing.
‘The Entity’ is a classic movie of supernatural phenomena in the ordinary surrounding of Los Angeles, CA. What makes this film classic in its pure literary sense is the absence of gory scenes accompanied by shrill screams of overtly acted characters who know what will happen to them. Nudity is present in the film not as gratuitous scenes of repertories of box-office horror movies but as realistic segments of what and how it happened all. I initially avoided watching this film by its thematic subject of rape and its naturally subsequent psychological narrative analysis as someone craving for a true supernatural story without frequent staccatos of blood splashes and big sharp tooth. It was a low hope for high heaven when the film was impressively indelible in my mind after I watched it last Saturday. If you prefer watching 70s and early 80s supernatural films over slash movies after the golden periods of the genre, ‘The Entity’ will entertain your sentiment and satisfy reason. And remember this: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Don’t forget that.
Salman Rushdie spoke of ghosts as the souls of the dead tending unfinished businesses on earth. Be it everlasting phantasmal whistling from the desolate fields of the buried or flickering of lights with sounds of footsteps in manmade abodes, but mind you that sometimes they come back. It is not about the fashionable New Age enlightenment advocating the veracity of paranormal activities involving ghost hunters, would-be, or self-proclaimed practitioners of occultic practice. It is academically certifiable, according to the eminent French Medieval Studies scholar Claude Lecouteux in his treaties on the formidable return of the souls departed.
The belief systems that the souls of the dead will and can come back to where they have left are universal in all cultures, including the dominant Christianity. Christianity, especially the Church of Rome, has drowned upon syncretism of pre-existing uniform pagan beliefs that paying due respect to the dead by offering food on their anniversary of death is an obligation and prevention of malice thrown upon the living. Lecouteux affirms in the discourse of the truth of revenants by the ecclesiastical records of Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustus. Even the ancient pagan luminaries, such as Ovid, Pliny the Elder, and the Younger, and Plato, corroborated the Wondering Souls’ existence roaming among the mortals. These great benefactors of humanity averred that sometimes, by the mysterious will of God, the dead are not entirely gone to the world beyond or occasionally permitted to manifest in reality. Therefore, it is worth giving such notions a preferential credit over the sensational testimony of ghost hunters, psychics, or gypsies.
Lecouteux illustrates peculiar funereal practices, especially of the Northern Europeans, such as putting the deceased’s head between the legs, sealing the roofs, windows, or any openings of a house of the dead lest the departed remain in the place of the living. After a breath of life leaves the corporeal temple, it ceases to exist and is, therefore, doesn’t belong in this world. Lecouteux’s treatise becomes a historical narrative of the deceased’s whys and wherefores in a confused state of spiritual anomy, refusing to cut a tie to the terrestrial world that they don’t belong any longer.
The book is my second read written by the French scholar following The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted, an excellent read in its multidisciplinary approach to validate the historical events of the fantastic phenomena in the narrative style conflated with Thucydidian objectivity and Herodotusian parataxis. Although this book retains the cracking narrative tradition of his, it is not as enthusiastically stimulating as the other book on the more popular noisy spirits for the sake of the subject itself. Perhaps, my being of the modern era accustomed to the sensory effects influenced by films and other visual aids may contribute to a rather unjust opinion on this book about revenants. Notwithstanding the preferential subject matters, this book will be a valuable textual source for historical, cultural, or social research about the universality of belief systems molded into a syncretism of the Church’s established religious doctrine. Or to put it simply, this book will pique anyone not easily succumbed to occult fad but equipped with a curious mind on the restless wandering souls, thus helping fortify his or her belief that sometimes they do come back.