Hooks, Hair & Blood: Suspiria 2018’s Occult-Horror-Geek Analysis

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This Occult Horror Geek Analysis of Suspiria 2018 contains major spoilers!! If you have not yet enjoyed viewing the film then don’t read this review until after watching it. You were warned.

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Suspiria poster art inspired by Hindu god Nataraja – a form of Shiva as ‘Lord of the Dance’ -whose feminine aspect is Kali. Design by La Boca Design Studio

Let’s face it, there is just no comparing the original classic 1977 Suspiria directed by Dario Argento with the recent reimagining by Luca Guadagnino. The recent remix takes a completely different stylistic approach. So, although Argento’s classic has been praised and analyzed for decades and will ever remain in a special shrine in our black little hearts, there is also much to investigate in the art – and black art – of this recent film version.

Read our occult horror geek analysis of The Three Mothers here: https://devilinthedetailssite.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/suspiria-dario-de-quincey-and-the-dark-goddess-part-1/

The dark feminine is certainly highlighted in 2018’s Suspiria, and aspects of dark goddess imagery can be discerned. We were reminded of the goddess Hecate in the back-to-back-to-back arrangement of the three undead girls at the climactic ceremonial scene. And the goddess Kali – who is nearly always depicted with a sickle-shaped sacrificial sword – came to mind with the theme of destructive dance and rebirth, and the wielding of sickle-shaped hooks in the film.

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As in all Hindu art, every thing carries significance including the black, red and white color symbolism of goddess Kali. The white teeth upon the red tongue and mouth against Her black skin alone would take an entire article.
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With eye-black and mouth-white, and a shibari inspired outfit of knotted red cords like a witch’s ladder, Suspiria brings a modern twist to the dark goddess image.
Indian goddess kali.
Silver crescent hook evokes the lunar feminine current of witchcraft and the idea of periodicity.

The hooks employed by the coven as sacred tools may connect to such ideas as “to get one’s hooks / claws into a person” and thus having them at your mercy, or of a feline claw. The sickle shaped sword of the goddess Kali – much like the sickle shaped scythe wielded by the Grim Reaper in Western culture – represents Time (among other things we do not have the space to digress upon here. But Kali means Time in Sanskrit) and mortality. just as the sickle shaped waxing and waning of the moon has served as humanity’s oldest calendar (hence “month” and “menses” shares the same etymology as “moon”).

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Is Susie a psychopath or a goddess?

Because it really must be one or the other.

In 2018’s Suspiria, Susie Banion (Dakota Johnson) is very different from Jessica Harper’s Susie in Argento’s 1977 classic. Set in 1977, Susie is a girl obsessed from a very tender age with Berlin and Madam Blanc. She admits to fleeing from her little Mennonite community to see Madam Blanc perform in New York on three separate occasions (hitchhiking twice). She  also steals things: money meant for the Mennonite church is stolen and used to fund her trip to Berlin; she snatches a cosmetic from a drawer at the Tanz company’s reception office in a scene where she even shows Sarah (Mia Goth) how to properly break into the file cabinet (!) in order to look for files on missing fellow students. When Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) asks her how it felt to dance on her first day at the Markos dance company, Susie admits that she thought it felt like what it must be like to get fucked. “To be fucked by a man?” asks Madame Blanc. “No, I was thinking of an animal.” admits Susie, seemingly puzzled that Madame would have considered otherwise. And did you happen to notice that by the end of the film Susie has even appropriated Sarah’s clothing? 

More tellingly, Susie also shows little to zero remorse or emotional response to destruction or the suffering of others – like her dying religious mother, or a bombing outside her lodgings on her second night in Berlin. She giggles when she spies the matron witches teasing the genitals of an entranced police detective with one of their sickle-hooks. She’s immune to Sarah’s injury during the Volk dance performance as well as to Madame Blanc’s sudden demise. Susie cares not a bit for the obsoletereligious morality of her family and in fact she transcends all conventional religious morality and sense of right or wrong to get where and what she wants. And she does it all her way, in her own sweet time …almost effortlessly! If timing truly is everything then it was just Fate that brought Susie to her own rebirth. Not the sort of horror movie heroine we’re used to! She hijacks the divided Markos Tanz company in a way echoing the hijacking and political unrest continually broadcast in the news from radio and t.v. throughout the story. She was born to (super)naturally blossom into the goddess she becomes – Mater Suspiriorum.

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Suzy (Dakota Johnson) and Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) share a special kind of relationship.
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Wait! Wait! I feel a sigh from the depths coming on…

Through it all Susie remains Cool, detached, and yet also strangely connected – with Madame Blanc as her spiritual Mother and preceptor – and to the pain and destruction going on all around her like so many reflections from a many-faceted jewel of suffering. Or perhaps she herself is a reflection of sorrow and destruction – of all the miseries of her personal life and of the world-at-large being refracted and focused into and through her as the very soul of sighs, the Mother of Sighs. She brings not only mere destruction but utter upheaval and transformation; out with the old Mother and in with the new one – herself! Like some insect queen which bites the head off of the old diseased queen so that the hive may flourish.

An artistic rendering of a gruesome goddess.

Helena (Mother) Markos, Madame Blanc and the rest of the coven come to believe that they are preparing Susie to become the living vessel for the spirit of Mother Markos, whose spirit they plan to magically transmigrate from Mother Markos’ incredibly diseased body into Susie’s fresh young one in an intentional act of spiritual possession. In order to do this Susie is instructed to become a vehicle for the work of another. Madame Blanc explains: “When you dance the dance of another, you make yourself in the image of it’s creator. You empty yourself, so that her work can live within you.” However, in an ironic twist of Fate – and an act of spiritual aikido –  Susie actually ends up using the coven for her own ends as she blossoms at the climax of the film to fully become and embody Mater Suspiriorum – the Mother of Sighs. Instead of Susie being a tool for the coven’s designs, the coven actually becomes the tool for Susie’s own apotheosis.

Instead of Susie being a tool for the coven’s designs, the coven actually becomes the tool for Susie’s own apotheosis.

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The theme of rebirth and feminine power is hinted as dancers pass through under the legs of Susie who could be imaged as draped in entrails like a bloody mother goddess.
Miss Tanner (Angela Winkler, at left in red) always wears what appears to be a talisman of human hair.
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Did you notice that Miss Tanner (Angela Winkler) always wears a talisman on a chain around her neck – a pouch of human hair?! And some of the coven is dressed in human hair for the final ceremony!

The Volk dance performance scene displays the creatively captivating blend of dance and magick – of art and black art. Everyone knows about the Dance of the Witches and how it’s used as a way to generate magical power. Witchcraft is interpreted here as a late ‘70’s German dance style. Energy is generated within a field of movement set upon a silver starburst-like pattern taped upon the floor. The precise and fierce rhythmic movement of bodies in set patterns – (and the esoteric void spaces in between them, as Madame Blanc teaches Susie in regard to the space created beneath her when she jumps) – creates a living, breathing mandala – a machine of occult force to be harnessed by the coven. This motif reoccurs in the intense ritualistic finale where the dancers are positioned in a physical pattern of rebirth – the shape of the feminine, downward pointing triangle, hands drenched in blood, dressed in the shorn hair of many young women. the coven becomes not only midwives in an attempt to rebirth Mother Markos into Susie’s body – they themselves form a pattern of a bloody womb of rebirth: all knotted flesh, hands smeared in human blood and covered in hair.

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The shibari styled dance costumes made of carefully knotted and artistically arranged red cords are both emblematic of the umbilical cords binding the daughters of the dance company to their sorcerous Matrons (who indeed “pull the strings” in order to channel their collective energy towards their own purposes) and the  well-known witches’ cord, or “witches’ ladder,” used in traditional witchcraft for making and containing magic by the intentional tying of knots and the weaving of spells. The witch goddess Hecate is occasionally depicted holding cords among her accoutrements.

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Blindfolding and bondage for initiation into witchcraft.

Read more about Hecate imagery and the Matrones in the original Suspiria and Three Mothers films in our series of articles on 1977’s Suspiria here: The Three Mothers & SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey & the Dark Goddess; Part 2

Need we state the obvious occult reference regarding the school’s collection of each dance student’s hair and urine? Ostensibly to drug test (or for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections) the school has the student’s urine, and the cuttings of their hair, as magical tools for binding and controlling who they will, how and when they will. A woman’s hair has long been held in esteem as a source of her magical power, her force of glamour. You can witness certain patriarchal religious traditions which enforce a covering of a woman’s hair as a method of attempting to suppress that wily female nature which may cause varying degrees of chaos on masculine order. This is why the goddess Kali always is depicted with long loose flowing hair emblematic of her freedom and her unbridled force. Just as one requires a personal item, or better clippings of hair, nails or the bodily fluids from an intended magical victim in order to cast a spell upon them, so do the matrons of the dance company gather these bits of matter to better serve their Mater… Suspiriorum. Miss Tanner is always wearing a talisman of human hair.

The necromancy employed by the coven manifests as a type of vampirism in which their magic, and probably Witch Queen Mother Helena Markos, is fed and nurtured on the suffering of those who fall onto the witches’ black list. Pat, Olga, and Sarah are made into undead automatons whose blood and internal organs are used in the witches’ black magical workings. Miss Vendegast the Matron who says “Don’t hurt Olga” just before they sink their sickle shaped hooks into her grotesquely twisted and tormented flesh appears to have been reminding them not to damage the internal organs so as to preserve their magical potencies to be used in their spell casting or other necromantic intentions.

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Ingrid Caven as Miss Vendegast warns the witches not “to hurt Olga” just before they sink their hooks into her.

Mirror, mirror on the wall… who’s the strongest witch of all? The mirror is a truly powerful magical instrument and a tool for psychological transformation. Just as Argento credited the influence of Disney’s Snow White upon 1977’s Suspiria we find the magic mirror resurfaces to reflect the soul in all it’s beauty, grace, torment and pain – multiplied – in the new Suspiria in a fractalization of the one into many.

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This coven does things the old fashioned way.
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The moment Susie becomes “Mother” echoes iconography of The Sacred Heart.
The Sacred Heart of Mary is echoed by Our Mother of Sighs – Mater Suspiriorum.

Occult horror geeks such as ourselves may find these reimagined occult symbols of interest in the growing list of occult flavored horror. Especially as we dive into this 21st century – where traditional religious ideology shifts along with the troubled cultural landscape and where Suspiria’s Susie Bannion is a heroine who – instead of defeating a coven of murderous witches – becomes the supreme witch by disposing the old model – it will be interesting to view what this strange world now considers “evil”.

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Suspiria Reborn: Revisioning A Vintage Horror Classic

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A witches dance? Hecate Triformis? Goddess Kali? Suspiria (2018) will leave you gasping and sighing.

A Spoiler-free review

By: H.B. Gardner

“We were truly impressed by what we saw.”

Horror remakes have been around since the old days. Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, Freddy Kruger, The Omen and many others have all been resurrected and redone. But in recent years many filmgoers have understandably balked at the idea of horror film remakes due to the obvious increasing lower artistic quality being sacrificed in favor of quick financial gain by studios which habitually crank out bubblegum films for the masses; films with superficial excitement but no lasting flavor and are disposed of and forgotten in a very short time. It has embittered some genre fans to see their treasured cinematic touchstones smeared as it were by the hand of corporate greed, incompetent acting and shoddy CGI.

Well, we viewed director Luca Guadagnino’s passionate 2018 revisioning of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror classic ‘Suspiria’ on it’s opening weekend here in Japan and will try to write, while still fresh in our minds, our thoughts on the subject of Horror Remakes – without any spoilers! (We plan to do a deeper occult analysis of this new Suspiria in a future article after we’ve had the chance to view it again …and again).

We are not only a longtime fan of Dario Argento’s original 1977 cinematic masterpiece Suspiria, but have spent considerable time meditating upon a key piece of inspirational source material, namely the essay called ‘Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow,’ from ‘Suspiria de Profundis,’ by Thomas De Quincey, where the title of the film and the idea of The Three Mothers were born. These Three Mothers – Mother of Sighs, Mother of Tears and Mother of Darkness are at the dark heart of the Suspiria universe. We being steeped in witchcraft, the occult and the horror genre ourselves ….well, our keen anticipation for the new Suspiria has been considerable. We went in with an open mind and with no expectations but to witness, as in jazz music, an improvisation on a theme.

We were truly impressed by what we saw.

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Mia Goth plays Sara.

Many, if not most of the popular movie-going populace, will not “get” this film, and at least two or three viewings may be needed to fully appreciate it. Suspiria 2018 is an artistic horror film. Those who expect a standard sort of remake, or who prefer their horror to be spoon fed to them with a smattering of jump scares, will likely be disappointed; and those with tastes reared on shallow bubblegum entertainment designed for those with short attention spans will be left impatient and bewildered. Luca Guadagnino’s film represents a deeper artistic turning into the profound regions of psychology, dance (as art), and witchcraft in the sense of The Black Arts than the more  typical horror film fare. The disturbing horror element is lasting in contrast to the superficial jump-scare formula that has long plagued the horror genre and it’s numb audience. Whatever your opinion of this new Suspiria, you must admit it is still a much more sophisticated and worthy sequel than Argento’s own 2007 Mother of Tears.

Learn about The Three Mothers by clicking the link below to another of our occult horror geek articles:

The Three Mothers & SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey and the Dark Goddess; Part 1

Guadagnino has stated that:

“I hope that the movie comes across as a relentless experience that’s going to go deep into your skin all the way down into your spine,” the director shared with The Hollywood Reporter. “I want the movie to perform as the most disturbing experience you can have. The movie is about being immersed in a world of turmoil and uncompromising darkness.”

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This he has succeeded in doing. The film has indeed gotten under our rather jaded and genre toughened skin. The palpable after-effect of this unsettling film reminds us of a few other Art House films with an unsettling vibe.

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Japanese poster

What we liked about the movie:

The Dance scenes. In 1977’s Suspiria, dance was a rather insignificant aspect of the story, and did little more than provide a setting for the murderous mayhem. In the remake the dance is an esoteric key to the story. Art and The Black Arts are melded into a united force of Witchery heretofore undeveloped in film. Esoteric readings of the film abound with occult and witchcraft symbolism in unfamiliar yet traditional manifestations. This aspect will be explored more thoroughly in a future occult-horror-geek article.

The story, in a way seemingly disjointed or random at first (though not quite as so dreamlike as the original psychedelic Suspiria),  is actually held together throughout and underneath it all by an umbilicus of deeper psychological interpretation and esoteric continuity. A Psychological reading of the film will immediately highlight  the mother-daughter complex throughout, and within a few differing configurations (Suzy and her mother, Suzy and Madame Blanc, Helena Marcos and Madame Blanc etc.). The fuller background given for Suzy couldn’t have been better and adds a whole other  dimension to the story. There is also the wider scope offered of interpersonal relationships especially between women: sisters (Suzy is a twin), the status of older and younger woman, the naturally inspired novice and the experienced teacher; all added into the general theme of female empowerment – though mostly in it’s negative, or darkest, devouring Mother sense.

“The fuller background given for Suzy couldn’t have been better and adds a whole other  dimension to the story.”

The witches of the dance company are intriguing characters and deserve a mini-series in their own right.

The perhaps bewildering inclusion of so much focus on Dr Klemperer the character of the psychologist, pining for his loving wife he lost during the Nazi regime, who gets pulled into the web of witchcraft also highlights this psychological interpretation of Suspiria. He spends his time counseling those he meets who have been consumed by the devouring mother of the Markos dance company. He also spends a great deal of time crossing the border between East and West Germany. He is placed in the neither-neither realm of not being firmly in one world or the other: East and West Germany, past and present. He is already situated at the witches twilight crossroads and is thereby already under the sway of Mater Suspiriorum. This split, or division, is also accented within the Marcos Tanz company where a rivalry of sorts is brewing and the developing tension, suspicions and paranoia of listening through walls echoes that of  East Germany at the time of the setting. It was a time of turmoil, much like today.

With an unsettling atmosphere woven through with anxious sighs, fearful tears,  brooding darkness, and a good dose of body horror, Guadagnino has created a chilling and angst-ridden atmosphere of pain evocative of the late 70’s or very early 80’s. The inclusion of the psychologist’s story as a prominent rather than cameo role brings an added measure of De Quinceyan depth and poignancy undeveloped in the original.

Seeing it in Japan:

We are at a disadvantage as far as viewing new horror movie releases here in Japan. It usually takes several months for most films to make their way here to the Far East with their accompanying Japanese subtitles. Also, the cinematic experience in Japan was a little less than we had hoped for in that the theater was of quite a small size, the screen being no bigger than our own living room wall. We had viewed Hereditary just last November in a very nice, new spacious theater with a big screen in another part of Osaka. However, Toho studios must have got exclusive rights to show Suspiria in Japan as it was only viewable in a Toho theater which required a visit to Umeda in the heart of Osaka. We were able to purchase a Suspiria souvenir movie booklet at the cinema (in Japanese). It was a packed theater that first Saturday of it’s release in Japan. We were unprepared for a substantial amount of the dialogue to be in German or French so deciphering these languages amidst the Japanese subtitles was a bit perplexing. Surprisingly, however, this anglophone handicap did not mar the visual storytelling. We are anticipating multiple future viewings on blu-ray.

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Tilda Swinton works magic in three seperate roles !

The acting was the best we’ve seen in any horror film in a while. The performances were believable even amidst the often unbelievable mayhem going on.

The filmmakers took the original ‘Suspiria’ and spun it in the darkest and deepest directions it could possibly go.

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Dakota Johnson is amazing as Suzy.

A lot of thought and passion was obviously put into this rendering of the story and the art and crafting of it. The filmmakers took the original Suspiria and spun it in the darkest and deepest directions it could possibly go. This is a very different Suspiria from Argento’s. There is no comparing the two, each being a very different creature telling the same myth in a different way. While the original Suspiria remains a classic of the genre it may be said to feel a bit dated or even to contain a bit of camp, especially as viewed from our jaded eyes 40 years after the fact (consider the bat scene!). The new Suspiria never descends into the current trend of torture porn or detours into outright camp. The psychological tension is at first subtle but present right from the start; and the horror and mystery wrap slowly and insidiously about and clings like a viscous, membranous veil. There is suspense, mystery, striking imagery, dark fantasy, dread, horror, gore and the grotesque but it never really seeks to terrorize with mere cheap thrills in the way commonly done nowadays. The story is crafted to leave you unsettled and disturbed afterwards, recalling in this way Cronenberg’s films like Dead Ringers,  or like 1999’s The Reflecting Skin, and the more recent Hereditary. It also echoes the original source material from English opium eater Thomas De Quincey who, as already mentioned, originally conjured The Three Mothers in his work Suspiria De Profundis, in a brief essay titled Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow.

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Tilda Swinton gives compelling performances as three separate characters.

Due to our mistrust of Hollywood – having lost faith with expecting studios to deliver quality horror, along with the tastes of the masses of film goers having seemingly devolved to the level of a 14 year old with a superhero fetish – we sadly suspect that this film may be greatly under appreciated. The original Suspiria has two sequels – both directed by Dario Argento, the first of which Inferno (1980) is a worthy successor. Mother of Tears (2007) despite having three Argento family members and Udo Kier involved in the production remains an unsatisfactory conclusion to the baroque, oneiric drama of the first two. Could we see a trilogy develop from this recent Suspiria remix? one that would focus on each of The Three Mothers? Only time will tell.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria has given us hope. While the pacing may feel a little slow or the story seem to try to encapsulate too much, we think it is an epic dark horror fantasy that brings one to meditate on the condition of a world that seems to so often feed off of pain and misery; whether this be on the level of interpersonal relationships, or of the individual to a group, or the warring sides of a fractured society.

…it is an epic dark horror fantasy that brings one to meditate on the condition of a world that so often seems to feed off of pain and misery.

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Tilda Swinton is a phenomenal actress.

Demons: As They Are

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By H.B. Gardner

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Image from Hereditary, 2018. Actress: Toni Collette.

Mea Culpa. We have been so busy as of late with the second semester of teaching at a Catholic school here in Japan that we’ve decided to make one article for Nov. and Dec. to cover our promise of delivering a monthly piece. Hope it is worthy.

We recently were able to view the film Hereditary as it just recently opened in theaters here in Japan where we dwell. We were uncertain what to expect concerning the story as we prefer to go into a movie without knowing too much about it; but we had heard great praise for this film from a few long-time friends who are well acquainted with horror. We were very pleased with the film overall, and even more-so since it contains a satisfactory taste of the demonic. It was the most emotionally harrowing horror film we’ve seen in the past decade and perhaps it deserves some closer attention to discover all the Devil In the Details – which we may find some time to do in a future article. But for now, let us consider – in the widest possible sense – the case and state of the demon.

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Hereditary, 2018.

Demons, or otherwise harmful spirits, or spirits with a doubtful status in regards to their relations and connections with humankind, have held a prominent position in human spiritual and religious experience ever since the most ancient times and from all quarters of the globe. Evil spirits, by whatever name or category – such as we usually refer to as demons, have been regarded as bringers of disease, calamity, misfortune, temptation, pain, damnation, sorrow and all manner of adversarial forces opposing frail human existence. Beyond these many miseries unleashed from Pandora’s box, demons are also believed to have the ability to take possession of people, animals and even objects. But demons are also said to have tremendous powers and have the ablity to grant wishes, bestow boons and make deals …usually in exchange for some very precious commodity or offering.

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Onibaba, 1964

In various cultures throughout the ages a demonology has developed in which all manner of evil spirits have been categorized, codified and ranked according to various hellish hierarchies. Our word “demon” derives from what the Romans called a “Dæmon,” the Latin word for the Ancient Greek daimōn δαίμων: “god”, “godlike”, “power,” or “guiding spirit.” Another example would be the Arabic “djinn” from which we get “genie” and has an etymological relationship with our word “genius.” These we’re not considered evil entities. The pre-Christian concept of these ambiguous spirits was more akin to numinous inspirational forces of various kinds.

Some old Medieval books of magic known as grimoires spill over with lists of these diabolical entities. As just one group of beings existing in this universe shared by all manner of living creatures – both seen and unseen – demons dwell alongside other incarnate and discarnate spirits including humans, animals, ghosts, angels, sprites, elemental spirits and etc. Demons may be seen as beneficial or harmful depending entirely on where one is standing. In the Hellraiser series of horror films based on the work of Clive Barker, the demons are referred to as Cenobites which by definition indicates members of a religious order. Pinhead, the lead cenobite himself, refers to his kind as “Demons to some, angels to others.”

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“Demons to some, angels to others.” Cenobites from Hellbound: Hellraiser II, 1989.

“Demons to some, angels to others.”

And this is something we can truly use to help us relate to demons – if we allow ourselves to open our minds to such an experience. No person is all good just as no person is all bad – no matter how constant and deliberate the demonization may be at times that is directed at politicians, homosexuals, the Russians, Republicans, bosses, teachers, neighbors, retail clerks, screaming SJWs, internet trolls, etc… & ad nauseam. In this world everyone has a job to do, or a duty to perform – whatever their role may be – helpful or adversarial. Everyone and everything from the homeless dog to the jobless alcoholic, from the broom pusher to the busy mother, from the doctor or to the wealthy corporate executive, each is playing their own role in the comic tragedy: Humanity’. Sometimes you play the victim, other times you may be the rescuer, …or maybe you are usually the oppressor; the roles are often switched in the sick triangle of codependency that is material existence to which we are all chained. But we digress…

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The Devil, Key XV in the Tarot, usually depicts two demons chained to their master.

Demons! If these demonic beings are seen as a part of the totality of creation, the work of a Creator, or resulting therefrom, then they surely have a role to play in the grand opera that is human spiritual existence: that is to say, in our daily lives. In Hinduism and Buddhism demons or Asuras are simply one state of existence, along with gods, humans, animals, celestial spirits, hungry ghosts and the denizens of hell. All beings are viewed as bound within The Wheel of Life (bhavachakra) and are chained to it by karma (action) and the fruits of those actions.

Asuras are not exactly demons in the Western Abrahamic sense however; they are more like nature spirits, demigods or Titans; sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, to humankind. Indeed, Buddhism just as often categorizes gods (devas) and demons (asuras) together, with gods being placed above the demons as a higher order of the same divine existence. Both are powerful beings  but have different orientations and inclinations, the Devas (gods) representing the powers of Light and the Asuras (demons) representing the powers of Darkness. The distinct realms or dimensions of all these various beings are generally distinct from each other but they certainly overlap and intertwine so that the demonic, the divine, the celestial, the hellish, the ghostly, the animal  and the faerie are all mixed together with our own plane of human existence. By one’s actions it is believed that one may attain to any of these forms of existence in the course of transmigration of the soul, otherwise known as reincarnation. Depending on your actions you may very well be on your way to becoming a god, or a demon, or an animal, or a denizen of Hell, or another human form, or an angel, etc… in your next incarnation.

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Tibetan style Bhavachakra ‘Wheel of Existence’ depicting the six realms of embodied existence between the spokes of the wheel

Theodicy: the problem with evil

(click the text above for a wikipedia article on Theodicy). In Christianity, as in the other Abrahamic traditions, demons (or djinn in Islam, or qlippoth in Jewish and Qabbalistic mysticism) are viewed as an imperfect and evil result of God’s creation. This extreme dualism between good and evil is a bit problematic, philosophically speaking, when considering the cause of evil as it, at the very least, calls God’s perfect omniscience and omnipotence into question. Even if the Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden is counted as being a good reason for mankind being plagued by death, sin and demonic influence as reason to support the concept of “the fortunate fall” in order to make way for a Savior, then does this not call into question an omniscient and omnipotent God’s good will in putting an insurmountable temptation before His glorious but flawed and naive creations: Man and Woman? According to Christian mythology, when the Serpent Satan (or was it Lilith? Or perhaps those are just two sides of one coin) offered the forbidden fruit, neither Eve nor Adam could refuse it, despite dwelling in Paradise and being so close to God. What hope is there then for us here in our present situation?

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Michelangelo’s Temptation of Adam & Eve (Lilith as half woman, half serpent). Notice the positioning of Adam and Eve and consider the meaning of “forbidden fruit” and “The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

Oh yes, the solution offered by Christianity is the long dead, desperately anticipated, but oh-so-tardy Nazarene, the King of the Jews; He is presented as the only way towards salvation. According to believers, one needs must only to put complete trust and faith in Him. He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake, He knows if you’ve been bad or good so you better be good and trust in him only if you want to earn your xmas reward of avoiding Hell, getting your wings, and spending an eternity traipsing along streets of gold strumming your harp among the clouds.

But these demons! Surely if they do indeed exist (and who are we to argue that they do not? What with all the headline news evidence at hand!?) they and all other so-called “mythical” creatures must have their own lives to live: masters to serve, families to care for and raise, duties (dharma) to perform, roles to play… just as all sentient beings have. They must also have a purpose or reason for existing in the scheme of the Wheel of Life; but are likely just as often loathe to contemplate it, as are many humans these days who follow the trend of sneering at religious or spiritual ideas, making the asinine claim that “nothing means anything;” – as brainless a statement as has ever been said on Earth. Our estimable opinion is that this universe is positively swarming with all manner of beings, entities and energies – both seen and unseen.

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Satyr’s Family, by Louis Priou, circa 1876. Satyrs (considered demonic to the Abrahamic religions) generally lack the means to adequately clothe their families.

“…this universe is positively swarming with all manner of beings, entities and energies – both seen and unseen.”

There are rituals and ceremonies for evoking and appeasing demons – from both East and West. From the East there is a stronger compassionate tendency to appease these demonic and chthonic spirits and the unquiet dead and releasing them from their karmic miseries by offering them a path towards the Light- and a better future incarnation – through prayers, offerings and days of remembrance. This is likewise done in the hopes of helping the dearly departed to secure comfortable positions in the afterlife and a fortunate rebirth (nobody wants grandma’s spirit ending up as a hungry ghost unable to find peace). We have something similar in the West with the second of November as All Souls Day and Day of the Dead (Di­a de Los Muertos), when  the departed Christian dead are remembered. The burial of the dead and accompanying funeral rites are also all towards this end of ensuring that the dead will indeed rest in peace. Special attention must be given even to certain directions of the compass that are considered demonic. For example, the West or Southwest wind are noted as a direction of misfortune and illness according to Chinese and Japanese geomancy (Fu hsui or Fung shui) which is opposite the Northeast gate which is also considered a demon gate here in Japan.

“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”.

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In ancient Mesopotamian religion, Pazuzu (Akkadian: 𒀭𒅆𒊒𒍪𒍪 Dpà.zu.zu; also called Fazuzu or Pazuza) was the king of the demons of the wind. He also represented the southwestern wind, the bearer of storms and drought. Made popular by The Exorcist.

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The Exorcist was Pazuzu’s worldwide debut.

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But there are also sorcerers, magicians, necromancers, witches, aghoris, fakirs and the like, who practice various kinds of magic and / or mysticism in their desire to summon and harness the power of  demons, djinn, and other restless malevolent (or ambivalent) spirits towards their own ends and interests. These are humans such as would dare to rend the veil separating our world from those others, thereby allowing traffic between. Such practices are often categorized  under the Black Arts and are frequently linked with ritual practices usually considered impure or hazardous by the more Apollonian and Abrahamic minded.

Demon summoning you ask? But what need is there for elaborate ceremonies involving months of preparation along with rare and expensive paraphernalia? As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest: “Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”. Summoning a demon is just one click away these days! Wanting to conjure a Demon of Vengeance? Look no farther than the internet! All the tools you need to evoke misery upon an adversary are there simply by posting and spreading rumors or embarrassing photos of the intended victim! Demons of Corporate Greed leer over your shoulder as your finger hovers over that “order with one click” button. Looking for a Demon of Lust? There’s an app for that! No magical diagrams or complicated incantations in Latin and Greek necessary!

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An Aghori in Varanasi, India enjoys licking a skull. Aghoris spend most of their time getting high and playing around corpses in cremation grounds in order to get closer to the Godhead …or Godhood.

But let us consider that this grand drama being enacted here on the earthly stage in our daily lives – peopled as it is with myriad characters – may include demons in it in the form of humans we know and interact with on a day-to-day basis! Certainly it may be said that some people act as  angels just as others bedevil us. It can be quite an experience getting to know these characters: laughing with little angels at school, socializing with demons online or at the shopping mall, getting the unsophisticated attentions of a horny satyr at the company xmas party, dealing with the denizens of Hell at the DMV… all as part of the daily grind. Perhaps one day you may even find a demon staring back at you from your own bathroom mirror! But one must be honest and admit: No matter where you’re sitting at in the bewildering opera house of Life – whether it’s a comedy, tragedy or a horror (or usually all of the above mixed together) – it’s still a pretty good show!

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Night of the Demons, 1988.

‘Rocky Horror’ as Satanic Midnight Mass

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By: H.B.Gardner

Halloween draws closer! Check locations for movie theaters showing The Rocky Horror Picture Show – preferably with a live cast – as an option for the fearfully fun October festivities.

Behold! Our exalted opinion of The Rocky Horror Picture Show!

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A tableau of the taboo.

They congregate at midnight, gathering at select movie cinemas around the world. The cinema – where the public sits in darkness to share a collective dream; or in this case, an erotic nightmare. There is the instant impact of the inversion of the ordinary. Gender has become fluid and unfixed, the conversation veers into strange territory, and the fashion…! Most are dressed in black: satin, lace lingerie, leather… but there are also patches of shimmering silver, scarlet velveteen and feather boas. Torn fishnet stockings, suspended with ruffled garters, cling tightly to hairy, well-muscled legs. Ample breasts powdered with glitter are swelling in a bustier. Sweating catamites with painted faces catcall to one another amidst shining gold sequins and the sharp tapping of stiletto heels. But you are also most likely to see a lot of skin, with people as scantily clad as you will ever see in a movie theater! “Virgins” to the night’s pagan festivities are duly presented and humorously harassed. Lacquered lips shout slick obscenities as an ancient pageantry of innocent love, unbridled lust, sex, death and sacrifice – brought from worlds far beyond the stars – unfolds below the colorful, flickering shadow-play projected onto the wide silver screen.

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No other Cult Film has an actual cult quite like Rocky Horror!

The liturgy of recriminations, bawdy jokes and blasphemies is recited by the faithful. The ritual dance is stepped and thrusted with lively vigor. The  sacraments are dutifully produced and utilized in the due course of the ceremony. Rice is tossed and the triggers of water pistols are squeezed in a riotous seminal discharge (later on, I discover grains of rice that have slipped into uncomfortable places on my person as well as in my hair). Lighters are lighted and waved in the darkness as devotees veil their heads with newspaper. Toilet tissue flies at the drop of a name! Like the profanation of the eucharist, toast is tossed and trampled by dancing feet in an unholy communion. The celebrants of the midnight ceremony, the priesthood decked out in it’s finest lingerie, enact the ancient rituals in a way most congruent with the times.

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Devoted cultists, shrouded in newspaper, assist Janet in finding the Frankenstein Place by lighting their lighters.

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“Great Scott!!”This is not what usually happens when we go to the movies. But ‘Rocky Horror’ isn’t a movie – it’s an experience!

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The presentation of the virgin sacrifice.

The young virgin couple drive happily towards a future of socially sanctioned married bliss. But darkness falls, the storm confounds, and their car gets a flat tire – as though the elements themselves have deemed that the hand of Fate should fall and bring these victims – marked by alien gods – to the very gates of the underworld where all taboos are broken. The virgins are unceremoniously defrocked, stripped bare, and offered unto the altar of Dr. Frank N. Furter – an insatiable, sadistic-yet-charming, alien Demon God/dess of Lust from another world.

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Meat (Loaf) for The Beast.

This Demon God/dess indiscriminately commands and wields the occult powers of life and death. A Golden Child is birthed in beefy glory and enslaved to his Master’s lust. The Wild Hunt is enacted as The Hog – shadow side of the Golden Child – is ritually chased and slaughtered. The cannibal feast ensues. The flesh of the Dying and Resurrecting Son is eaten. Incestuous alien siblings hatch an insidious plot. Morality is questioned and… at this point, rightly discarded. And they are all,  characters and celebrants, fed to The Beast; all are swallowed by the gaping jaws of the Eternal Night. All give themselves over to absolute pleasure.

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The ritualistic ‘Last Supper,’ where a betrayal is revealed.

The naively subversive impact of Richard O’Brien‘s fantastic, funny, sexy musical homage to vintage B-grade Sci-Fi and classic Horror films, rock and roll, and extra-terrestrial androgyny is still being widely felt in our present day. Since it’s release as a film in 1975 (following it’s theatrical stage version as ‘The Rocky Horror Show’), and it’s continued midnight screenings ever since it’s release, tremendous leaps have taken place in culture in the fields of sexual liberation, gay rights, same-sex marriage and the acceptance of all kinds of people – the kinky, the geeky, the alien, the bisexual – who fall outside of the traditional mainstream, or even the side stream! Indeed, one may ask just what “mainstream” even means anymore. ‘Rocky Horror,’ beneath it’s Mardi Gras exterior,  has become a social rite of passage and midnight initiation into adulthood.

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A match made in Transexual Transylvania. The Hieros Gamos, or Sacred Marriage rite.

The barrier-breaking, iconoclastic fervor of the Nineteen-Seventies birthed The Rocky Horror Picture Show at just the right moment; seizing the zeitgeist of the age and pushing the boundaries of what was considered socially acceptable behavior in a way that overturned the conventional. It safely ushered the gays, the geeks, the misfits  and the curious into circles of acceptance where they could share and revel in their diversity as opposed to suffering in isolation. A couple of generations have found their footing in the world from this wickedly wayward psychodrama that has much more to do with the audience that keeps it alive than the actual film. But the story, and it’s disturbed and exalted re-imaging of ancient initiatory Mystery religion, is brought to mischievous life by it’s outrageous cast of characters and vibrant music. For it is here that the song of the deepest soul is sung in The Passion of Frank and Rocky, Brad and Janet, Riff-Raff and Magenta, Columbia and Eddie… “Don’t dream it. Be it.”

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A monster is truly a beautiful thing to behold.

In past centuries, and even today, The Black Mass, or Satanic Mass, (in any of it’s several variant forms – from theatrical to criminal), has been held in secret by small groups of subversive dissidents as a form of religious iconoclasm and revolt against systemic oppression by the institutions of both Church and State. Church and State – neither of which are ever more powerful, or dangerous, than when they merge – are inverted in the Satanic Mass: the crucifix is turned upside-down, the candles are black, the sacraments are profaned, the body of a young beauty becomes the altar, and the patriarchal hegemony is spat upon. Or similarly, like the Cult of Dionysus, or the Feast of Fools in old Europe, we see with ‘Rocky Horror’ dramatic upheavals in consciousness when we are confronted with what surprises and scares us when all normal social conventions are overturned upon the chaotic, gender-bending, Time-Warping altar of midnight madness – where the sacred is profaned and the profane becomes sacred.

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One part “alien David Bowie,” + one part “Mick Jagger on something,” + one part “Bela Lugosi as wharf whore,” + one part “Bette Davis as “Baby Jane” Hudson” as Army General.                                 = All as Tim Curry as Dr Frank N. Furter

Falling From Grace: Defenestration within “Cinema’s Unholy Trinity”

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The Exorcist, 1973

defenestration
ˌdiːfɛnɪˈstreɪʃ(ə)n
noun
  1. the action of throwing someone out of a window.
    “death by defenestration has a venerable history”

Any seasoned horror film fan will have vicariously experienced any number of various forms of gruesome death: impalement, eviseration, decapitation, burning in flames, eaten alive & etc. etc.. Whilst we continue to pursue our occult horror kink of pondering The Devil In The Details, we noticed one particular form of death presents itself in the three classic Devil themed horror films widely considered to be Cinema’s original “Unholy Trinity,” namely Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976). These three films have historically contributed a lion’s share to the satanic cinema vanguard and unleashed a flood of imitators in their sulphuric wake. The form of death exhibited in these three films which we are referring to here is technically known as defenestration, otherwise known as jumping, or being pushed, from a window.

First, let’s start with a quick review of the defenestrations in said Unholy Trinity.

Rosemary’s Baby: Actress and Playboy Playmate Victoria Vetri, aka Angela Dorian, played Terry Gionoffrio, the young houseguest of elderly satanic couple Minnie and Roman Castevet. Terry commits suicide (or so we believe. It is never actually revealed, in either novel or film, whether it was truly suicide or murder; we are left to decide on our own)  by jumping from the 7th floor of the notorious Bramford apartment building where Rosemary and her husband have just moved in as neighbors. We do not see the actual jump onscreen but only it’s immediate aftermath. Terry’s death is the catalyst for Rosemary’s involvement in the Castevet’s insidious, diabolical plot.

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The Exorcist: Two characters in the movie, film director Burke Dennings (Jack McGowran) and Father / Doctor Damien Karras (Jason Miller), are both (at different points in the story) expelled  from the demonically possessed Regan MacNeil’s bedroom window and plummet to their deaths at the bottom of a very steep flight of stairs outside. Father Damien’s death, which is also a suicide rather than a murder, is shown onscreen.

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Nice knowing you, Padre.

The Omen: Lee Remick as Mrs Catherine Thorn, unwitting foster mother to the child Antichrist Damien,  is in hospital recovering from the results of another bad fall which, as with most deaths in The Omen trilogy, appears as the result of an uncanny and tragic accident. As she awkwardly attempts to leave said hospital she meets with foul play and is expelled from a very high window.

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Lee Remick plays the victim in The Omen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Billie Whitelaw as Mrs Blaylock is our favorite Satanic nanny.

You can view Mrs Blaylock’s online dating profile here:

Link:  Bad Date Blaylock

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Mrs. Thorn’s (Lee Remick’s) satanic revelation comes too late in The Omen.

While we’re on The Omen, who can forget the young nanny Holly  (played by Holly Palance, daughter of actor Jack Palance) who made her cinematic debut in perhaps film’s first, and most spectacular, jumping suicide by hanging which ends with her body crashing into (rather than out of) a window?

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The Fall of Lucifer by Gustave Doré

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“It’s all for you!”                                              The spiritual motto of Pope John Paul II was a Marian one, “TOTUS TUUS” meaning: “Totally Thine” or “ALL YOURS”.

Occult Horror Geek Purport

Is it merely our diabolically enhanced imagination which feels some poetic connection may exist between the defenestrations in three of our most highly regarded diabolical horror films and the Fall of Lucifer along with the Rebel Angels from the Book of Revelation (12: 2 – 9) ? Or, the biblical Fall From Grace in the Garden of Eden? Is there not an infernal taint of the soul inherent in such a death? Whether by murder or suicide? This is especially poignant in Father Damien Karras’ savior-like death to save young Regan MacNeil. We might also pause to consider Rosemary’s acquaintance, Terry’s leap (of  faith?) from the seventh floor of the “Black Bramford”, and it’s Qabalistic and spiritually infernal  association with a diabolical “Seventh Heaven” motif.

Of course, plenty of other forms of death occur in The Omen series. The only death from The Exorcist we haven’t mentioned yet is the elderly priest Father Merrin  (Max Von Sydow) who collapses from heart failure during the strenuous exorcism. The only death other than Terry Gionoffrio’s in Rosemary’s Baby is that of Rosemary’s elderly friend Edward “Hutch” Hutchins (death by witchcraft); and that occurs off-screen. But defenestration has a special aura of the satanic. The French have a phrase for it: l’appel du vide, the call of the void. That inexplicable impulse as you stand in a high place to leap. Lucifer rebelled and was cast down (so the legend goes); did He not have the same sort of feeling? Could He not resist the call of the void?

You know: when you’re falling… DIVE!

The significance (if indeed we choose to see it) of defenestration in these black art- flavored movies ends at: 1) the parallel poetic resonance with the biblical Fall of Man, and the Fall of the Rebel Angels. And 2) the case of suicide as a mortal sin in the case of  Terry Gionoffrio in Rosemary’s Baby and Father Damien in The Exorcist. This final point – that of suicide as a mortal sin – we have already examined in a previous article here:

Sympathy for the Devil: The Sublime Satanism of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

Though the motif of hanging as ritual suicide, or as a punishment for witchcraft, also intrigues us, we will save that particular form for a later article.

What movies would you add to cinema’s greatest Unholy films? Do Suspiria (1977), The Sentinel (1977) and Angel Heart (1987), come to mind…? Please view our ever-expanding list of diabolical horror films at the Satanic Cinema Sommelier; Our Favorite Devilish Films

Thank you for reading and please share if you like.

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‘This Is No Dream: Making Rosemary’s Baby’ – A Book Review

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‘This Is No Dream; Making Rosemary’s Baby’

Text by: James Munn

Special Photographer: Bob Willoughby

From: Reel Art Press, 2018

206 pages, hardcover. LOTS of photos!

♥♥♥♥♥ 5 Black Hearts (=love it)

The legend behind the making of a horror classic!

Fans of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ have waited 50 years for a collectible item to be made available to the general movie going public – beyond maybe a poster, or the blue ray DVD with it’s extra features.  But all good things come to those who wait! Finally, we are offered a feast that lingers on our favorite devil movie. Famed Director Roman Polanski’s faithful cinematic version of Ira Levin’s bestselling novel was released in 1968. Now, just in time for the golden anniversary of this diabolical classic, Reel Art Press presents us with a treasure of a book guaranteed to carry the merely curious and the serious film fan behind the scenes of this landmark cinematic production.

The book itself is a large quality hardcover of over 200 pages that spills over with marvelous color, and black and white, pictures by lauded film set and celebrity photographer Bob Willoughby. Quite a fair number of these pictures are seen here for the first time! As Polanski’s voyeuristic lens recorded a classic suspense horror thriller for the ages, Willoughby’s camera caught the intimate on-the-set moments of it’s making.

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Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon on the set of Rosemary’s Baby. Photo: Bob Willoughby.               Reel Art Press.

The text by James Munn takes us on an insider’s journey through the film’s production, from it’s start as the novel was picked up for film rights even before it had barely reached the bestseller list, through it’s troubled production plagued by tensions – both economical and emotional (Good Lord! The drama!), to it’s momentous popular release during the time of a major cultural revolution in American society,  and to the aftermath of it’s wide influence ever since. We are given lots of information and insight from those who were there or directly involved, and encounter the amazing personalities – Roman Polanski, William Castle, Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon and more – that contributed to this tremendously influential film.

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John Cassavetes. photo: Bob Willoughby. Reel Art Press.

Reel Art Press has done a fantastic service in the quality artistic presentation of the photos and text. Fans of Rosemary’s Baby, satanic cinemaphiles, and those interested in the workings of the film industry will all find this book of fascinating interest as much for it’s insights as for it’s delicious photography. A must-have treasure for any serious Rosemary’s Baby devotee in your life. A coffee table art book Minnie and Roman Castevet would adore! Would make a great Christmas present!

Link to video ad for the book :

This Is No Dream; making Rosemary’s Baby

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From the back cover of ‘This Is No Dream, making Rosemary’s Baby’ from Reel Art Press.

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Read our interview with Rosemary’s Baby cast alumnus Ernest Harada:

An Interview with Ernest Harada: Celebrating 50 years of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

Or some of our other articles on Rosemary’s Baby:

13 Ways You Can Celebrate “Rosemary’s Baby’s 50th Anniversary”

All of Them Witches: A”Who’s Who” in Rosemary’s Baby

‘Rosemary’s Baby’: Raped by The Shadow

‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Turns 50 !

Sympathy for the Devil: The Sublime Satanism of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

 

My Baby Rose Marie: A meditation on Horror Film and Spiritual Understanding

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Detail from the original cover of Ira Levin’s novel, 1967.

This is not an easy article to write… and there are many ways of getting this wrong, or misinterpreting my intentions. This is a very personal article which does somehow relate to my fascinations with diabolical horror, religion and spirituality in my personal experience; please bear with me.    –   H.B.G.

My obsession with the story Rosemary’s Baby, as popular novel and film, goes way back into my pre-teen days; and my love of diabolical and occult horror in general goes back even earlier. After a brief look at this website my profound interest in Rosemary’s Baby will become quickly obvious. I won’t try to explain this general attraction towards occult horror; but, I first ought to try to express why I think this particular story has had such a lasting and personal significance to me.

I sympathize with the character Rosemary Woodhouse because she is a Madonna figure; or maybe, at first, after the horrific revelation at the end of the story, a reluctant Madonna. She loves her unborn child and does everything within her power to protect it from a perceived threat of harm from a coven of witches. After the discovery of her baby and the revelation of it’s satanic paternity, and after the initial shock wears off a bit, Rosemary comes to accept and love the child just as she always did. As she always knew she would.images-4

This causes sympathy at the end of Rosemary’s Baby for those sensitive souls who contemplate the mystery within the story. This is the main point: the limitless reaches of Mother Love, of complete parental acceptance of a child despite it’s demonic appearance or diabolical destiny. We question if it is not in fact a happy ending, or… what?!

As a youth I felt terribly flawed, imperfect, weak, and worse than worthless. My family loved me but I was “different.” Midwest American society and religion, in the form of my Protestant upbringing in a small city, was ever quick to point out a particular damning spiritual defect I noticed within myself, a defect I was desperate to conceal as much as possible. But to broach  this topic is to open a whole other can of worms I choose not to deal with here.

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Black Sabbath album cover 1983 This image has always reminded us of this line from The Raven: “And his eyes have all the seeming, of a demon’s that is dreaming….”        E.A. Poe

That a mother or father could love such a “damned” thing despite it’s “sinful” nature flies in the face of God and becomes heresy. Therefore, I developed heretical ideas and beliefs at quite a tender age. Stand unashamedly, even defiantly, before The Almighty with your child – whatever his or her nature, is one way of looking at it. After reading and watching Rosemary’s Baby, I wanted to have a devil baby myself, a child which would otherwise be shameful or unwanted, and love it as my own, and bring it up to be whatever it was meant to be, in perfect love and understanding. Like that devil baby image I saw on junior high  classmate’s Black Sabbath t-shirts back in the eighties. I would have loved to care for Rosemary’s Baby. Now, in hindsight,  I know it was my own self I wanted to love… but couldn’t. A monstrous view of myself caused by small-minded religious trauma.

Fast forward through years of spiritual questing, learning, depression, art, a little therapy – professional or otherwise, some very strange and wonderful religious and occult experiences and wide ranging experimentation and different relationships, and I’m now a married father of two beautiful children (one boy, one girl) living in Japan, until the birth of our third child last October, just a couple days before Halloween… It seemed only natural for us to call her Rose Marie, Marie being a family name on my mother’s side, asides from the 50th anniversary of Ira Levin’s diabolical fable.

We knew Rose Marie was a girl. We knew she would be delivered via c-section just as our previous two were because that’s the way it’s done in Japan. We knew the c-section was scheduled to be October 30th – also known as Devil’s Night (natural birth would have been a week later on November 6th – my own birthday). We knew Rose Marie was destined to be a Scorpio – like her daddy. We were a little surprised when the maternity clinic staff decided to do a c-section earlier than scheduled – on the 29th – due to my wife’s condition. We blamed it on the typhoon we were experiencing. What we didn’t know and were totally unprepared for was that Rose Marie had one extra chromosome number 21, technically called Trisomy 21, commonly referred to as Down syndrome.

We were not told right away. Not sure what the standard practice is in Japan but it was two days after the delivery, on Halloween, after they unexpectedly relocated baby Rose Marie from the maternity clinic to a university hospital. Quite possibly nobody on staff wanted the burden of breaking the news to me, the father, in English. We were told there were some  concerns about our baby’s oxygen levels, but she is doing alright. I was so busy looking after my other two that my time with our newest baby those first days was very limited. I thought she looked a bit funny but I thought nothing of it since all newborns look strange.

After being admitted into the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and washing my hands I found two serious faced doctors standing by one of a dozen or so plastic bassinets and incubators waiting to see me. The first doctor spoke English and asked me if I noticed anything different about this baby from my other two children. Somewhat bewildered, I looked at my baby and commented something about her eyes… it wasn’t possible for her to open them yet on her own, and her cheeks seeming swollen. All newborns look funny and squished after all. The first doctor (the second one didn’t speak at all, as I recall, probably not confident enough in his English ability) asked if I noticed something different about her ears, that they were set a little lower than normal. The bridge of her nose slightly squashed, a lack of muscle tone, the presence of extra skin on the back of the neck….

The word “shock” is appropriate here. You could have knocked me over with a feather were I not so numb and dumb. Did I stop breathing? I don’t remember what was said –  something about more tests being needed but that Down syndrome was likely. But that there didn’t seem to be any heart problems or other immediate concerns, and she seemed strong. The doctors faded away into the background to leave me with my baby.

“My explorations into the occult and mysticism have taught me much, one of the greatest and most persistent being to release fear and to embrace the darkness; it has so much wisdom to offer.”

I stood there in the NICU of a foreign land staring down into a plastic bassinet at a little creature resting uneasily with tubes and wires attached. Beeping, crying sounds, and staff speaking in Japanese in the background around me as they tended their precious charges. I was alone with this tremendous revelation, my wife back at the maternity clinic still recovering from c-section surgery – probably very worried. A chair was brought over and I was told to sit down.

I sat there and stared at Marie-chan. I laid my big hand lightly on her little body, above her heart; my hand covered her entire torso. I had no clue as to what to do. I was feeling a very heavy weight being dropped on my shoulders as I looked at her squished and swollen features. After a little time a nurse approached and asked if I’d like to hold her. “Can I ?” I asked, stupidly.

Can I? Can I do this?

I was so careful because of an IV tube and wires attached to monitors. So small and helpless. I held her. She was so light, so fragile. Happy Halloween, Mr Gardner. Trick or treat?

Such darkness. Such heaviness overwhelmed me. An unspeakable darkness. My hands hesitate to type for fear to implicate myself and my own dreadful thoughts. An evil born of fear and ignorance conjured the worst ideas into my head, then. Ideas masquerading as merciful, which must have been fairly common actions in the time of our ancestors a few generations back when faced with such a situation, when there were fields to till and mouths to feed and back-breaking labor and no time or economy for compassionate nursing.

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Artwork: uncredited, please enlighten us.

But this is my baby. The little Scorpio girl I’d been expecting. My little Rose Marie. Were my parents still alive how would they react? They adored their grandchildren.

I wanted to comfort the flawed and helpless little creature in my arms. She was surrounded by strangers, all good staff, I’m sure, but it’s their job. They weren’t family, and could not be completely loving, as such. They have enough to keep them busy. How to do it? I stared at the cartoon fish, frogs and animals on the walls and over at the industrial sink. I tried not to stare at the other babies in the NICU, some looked much weaker and in more need than my little one. Well, I’ve always sung to my babies, or hummed, when so small, a way of affirming to the little consciousness snuggled in my arms that a caring presence was there. But at that moment, believe it or not, I could not think of a single lullaby, not a one could come to mind or memory! My brain and tongue were frozen. Now, of course, I can list them all: Hush Little Baby, Rock-a-bye Baby, Twinkle, twinkle little star…. But nothing, not a lyric or tune came to mind.

Irony of ironies, only one lullaby came to me as I sat holding my youngest in that NICU in Osaka University Hospital: the opening and closing lullaby theme to the film Rosemary’s Baby; the “La la la la….” sung by Mia Farrow herself. I began to hum it quietly, that sad, sweet, haunting and somehow comforting tune, as I looked down at my youngest, my Rose Marie.

Link to listen:

Krzysztof Komeda – Lullaby – (Rosemary’s Baby – 1968) sung by Mia farrow

My explorations into the occult and mysticism have taught me much, one of the greatest and most persistent being to release fear and to embrace the darkness; it has so much wisdom to offer.

Under the respectfully-distant-but-ever-at-hand-presence of the NICU staff I was able to change Rose Marie’s diaper and to bottle feed her that first Halloween. I feared the bond which I felt forming. I wasn’t sure I could nurture this bond. (Can I? Can I do this?) That night, Aidan and Lily, our two others at home with my mother-in-law, danced around a candlelit Jack O’ lantern as I stared numbly at the grimacing face of the flickering pumpkin. Trick or Treat, indeed. But those first few weeks following the birth were very difficult and dark and full of a bleak sadness for us.

“We now consider ourselves lucky, blessed, chosen.”

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Mia farrow in the final scene of Rosemary’s Baby, 1968.

Fast forward to today. Rose Marie is nearly nine months old now and doing very well, despite the regular “irregular” digestive trouble common among Trisomy 21 babies. My wife and I have come a very long way since last Halloween; we have discovered a new kind of normal (whatever that means!). Rose Marie, or Mari-chan, is a special light in our lives and we cannot imagine life without her. We have reached epiphany after epiphany. About half of babies born with Down syndrome require neonatal heart surgery or some sort of digestive tract surgery. It is about a one in a thousand chance to get a baby with Down syndrome. Most do not even make it to full term and birth. We now consider ourselves lucky, blessed, chosen. Rose Marie is an angel who has enlightened our souls, and her smiles and giggles and cuddles are absolutely enchanting. She dispels the darkness and has ushered in so much light and opened us up to a wider world. It is amazing how the human heart can adapt, change, grow… how a tremendous spiritual upheaval which dashes the soul upon the rocks of harsh physical reality, shattering it apart from the frail and selfish ego, can strengthen one and raise the spirit higher.

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Me with Rose Marie

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Mari-chan

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