Since the Yuletide season is fast approaching, I thought I would take some time this weekend to share some new book reviews in hopes that it might make your gift-giving preparations for Yule, Solstice, Saturnalia, or other Winter Festival, a bit easier.
Have you ever wondered why “The Exorcist” is scary? Why “The Wicker Man” managed to amass such a loyal following? Why even very bad horror films can sometimes affect us deeply? Then you need to read Douglas E. Cowan’s new book “Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen”.
“Sacred Terror examines the religious elements lurking in horror films. It answers a simple but profound question: When there are so many other scary things around, why is religion so often used to tell a scary story? In this lucid, provocative book, Douglas Cowan argues that horror films are opportune vehicles for externalizing the fears that lie inside our religious selves: of evil; of the flesh; of sacred places; of a change in the sacred order; of the supernatural gone out of control; of death, dying badly, or not remaining dead; of fanaticism; and of the power–and the powerlessness–of religion.”
Cowan has written an engrossing and deeply knowledgeable book analyzing the religious elements in horror films. Of particular interest to modern Pagan readers will be his exploration of the religious “other” in many of these films, particularly the way pre-Christian religion, Pagan revivals, and witchcraft (Satanic or otherwise) are treated in cinema, from “Rosemary’s Baby” to “The Craft”. An essential tome for anyone interested in the intersections between popular cinema and the sacred. A academic sequel of sorts to Stephen King’s more populist examination of horror: “Danse Macabre”. For more on this book, I highly recommend checking out the Theofantastique interviews with the author.
When I first approached Brendan Myers’ new book “A Pagan Testament: The Literary Heritage of the World’s Oldest New Religion” I thought it would be in the vein of “The Paganism Reader”, a collection of literary texts influential to the modern Pagan movement, and while that is indeed an element of the work, it takes far greater pains to contextualize and explain the philosophy behind the included sources. It also takes more time to explore the ever-evolving literary and oral traditions that have emerged from our modern festival circuit.
Originally entitled “A Wiccan Testament”, the book pays a great deal of attention to the literary history and influential texts of that religion. Which isn’t to say that non-Wiccan Pagans won’t find anything of value here, on the contrary, the book takes a sort of “Pan-Pagan” journey through history, from pre-history to the ancient Greeks, to an examination of Aleister Crowley’s influence on modern Paganism. A sequel of sorts to his thought-proving work “The Other Side of Virtue”, it envelops the more modern Pagan texts into a larger continuum of pagan thought. A map, an idea, of what modern Paganism can offer to the world.
“The contemporary pagan community, holding the Earth in such high regard as it does, is in a position to show the world what a spiritually aware, environmentally conscious, socially just, and artistically flourishing society looks like. The pagan community can create a social and cultural space where ancient noble ideas like ‘inspiration and honour’ are still preserved and
This is a bold and smart work. While Myers’ ideas may not resonate with everyone, he should be commended for being at the forefront of an effort to write better Pagan books. He, along with some other authors of note, are writing those “advanced” books we all keep saying we want (also, you might find my recent interview with Brendan Cathbad Myers to be of interest here).
The final work I’d like to discuss isn’t an academic tome, or a philosophic exploration of our Pagan beliefs, but a work of poetry and art. “The Phillupic Hymns” by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus is a collection of devotional poems and translations dedicated to the gods of Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul and Britain, with a special emphasis on Antinous, the deified lover of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. These poems explore the syncretism of the ancient world, the homo-erotic natures of many ancient gods and heroes, and the cultural tensions inherent when an imperial power interacts with those it has subjugated. These works seem accomplished, sincere, and passionate, but I’m no great judge of poetry, so instead of appearing foolish, let me instead share one of the shorter poems contained in this collection so you can judge for yourself.
She was known across the continent,
in the east and in Greece
long before the pomerium was drawn
by Romulus and Remus.
The seven hills of Rome—
the Quirinal, Viminal, and Aventine,
Capitoline, Caelian, Palatine,
and Esquiline—mere Tiberian mud
when the lady first granted
her protection to mortals,
or guided Aeneas’ barque to
the shores of Latium.
She makes her home even now
in every stone of the Eternal City,
invited by Hadrian,
given a dwelling
as neighbor to Venus Felix—
the mirror of amor—
reflecting the sunrise of the east
so that Roma Aeterna
may shine across the west.
In my estimation this is a worthy addition to the growing collection of titles to be found at the Bibliotheca Alexandria. A vital entry into a growing field of devotional literature within the modern Pagan movement. We can only hope that works like “The Phillupic Hymns” are only the beginning of a greater trend towards a modern Pagan artistic tradition.