In celebration of the 50th Anniversaries of our favorite diabolical novel and film, we offer our Occult-Horror-geek purport on the abiding myth of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.
Note: This article is one of our studied opinions and interpretations of the novel and closely adapted film version of Rosemary’s Baby. We make no claims or assumptions that the original author, Ira Levin, had the ideas presented below in mind when creating this story; far from. The perspective offered here is that gleaned from our knowledge of comparative religion and mythology and archetypal psychology. Our occult musings and psychological reflections constellating about these deep and thorny subjects are entirely our own. It is by no means the ultimate interpretation. H.B.G.
Author Ira Levin said in an afterward to the 2003 New American Library edition of his novel Rosemary’s Baby: “Lately I’ve had a new worry. The success of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ inspired “Exorcists” and “Omens” and lots of et ceteras. Two generations of youngsters have grown to adulthood watching depictions of Satan as a living reality. Here’s what I worry about now: If I hadn’t pursued an idea for a suspense novel almost forty years ago, would there be quite as many religious fundamentalists around today?”
Ira Levin’s worry is a valid one. Has his highly acclaimed (and fiercely excoriated) novel of contemporary Diabolism indeed help motivate a surge in religious fundamentalism since it’s publication as a best seller and release as a hit film? Moreover, as it has often been observed that “life imitates art,” there must be some recognition paid to Rosemary’s Baby (and it’s many imitators) for it’s influence on the modern occult revival. Why the diabolical hangover which has inspired numerous reiterations in popular film and literature? Why has Rosemary’s Baby had such a long lasting cultural effect?
Some of this is due to it’s timely “Age of Aquarius” appearance just prior to the Summer of Love (1967 novel), and it’s delivery as an Oscar worthy film (1968) just after it. This was a critical time of social upheaval which we’ll delve into more below. See also: ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Turns 50 ! on this perspective.
‘Rosemary’s Baby’ succeeds in turning horror into the sublime by leading us through Rosemary Woodhouse’s harrowing conception, pregnancy and birth to a climactic revelation of a monster child which, we are left to presume, will bring destruction and devastation. And yet here – at this very point – comes the heart wrenching twist: the monster is undeniably and wholeheartedly accepted in love. “Hail Rosemary!” Full of grace; divine grace of The Mother is moved to embrace that which brings certain doom and destruction. We will attempt to show how the mytheme (myth + theme) of the abandoned child Pan – rescued by Divine Grace – is an acceptance of our dark drives and creative (destructive?) passions, and is reflected in Ira Levin’s bestseller. Rosemary exhibits divine grace just as Dionysos and all the Olympians showed when Pan’s father Hermes rescued him from abandonment and took him to Olympus for presentation to the gods and goddesses. In short, a shattering of traditional values, morals and beliefs is presented as part of a “Divine Plan;” uhm… so to speak.
In short, a shattering of values and morals and beliefs.
It is our studied opinion that the great and lasting success of Rosemary’s Baby, as novel and closely-adapted film, comes from the simple fact that it is mythic. Archetypal. It arises from, and touches upon, the deepest layers of Western religious consciousness and spiritual experience. It follows threads of ancient patterns inculcated by Western spiritual consciousness as exhibited in folk tales and in classical mythic motif – i.e.: Fear of the Devil, cannibalistic witches and Witchcraft, the Faustian pact with the Devil, the semi-divine child who is secreted away somewhere, the rejected monster child. Rosemary’s Baby also successfully encapsulates, quite simply and very believably, the ontological polarity within the Western religious Hebrew-Christian paradigm: Good vs. Evil; and then deftly turns that very concept on it’s head. See: Sympathy for the Devil: The Sublime Satanism of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ on this last perspective.
Furthermore, as a fairy tale very much of it’s time, Rosemary’s Baby brings us face-to-face with a few thousand years of patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultural oppression and repression of physical human sexual impulses which have long been projected into the Shadow (in the Jungian sense), or “Dark Side” within the human psyche – the suppressed dark drives and creative passions of our lives. As this article will attempt to show, Rosemary’s Baby is a story in which 1960’s American society’s cultural shift towards an awakening to greater sexual freedom is reflected as a reawakening to primal Pagan archetypes suppressed within Western consciousness.
Let’s see how Ira Levin, probably unconsciously, helped unlatch the hidden closet door at the back of our minds – leading to the dark shadow side reflection of proper, day-to-day, morally upright consciousness.
The Resurrection of Pan
It is an old adage that the gods of an old religion will always become the devils of the new one. The Judeo-Christian Devil has been so conflated with various ancient pagan gods that they have become nearly identical in Western consciousness. In psychological terms, many centuries of zealous demonization of (and frenzied fig leaf adding to) the pagan roots of Western culture by puritanical Christians has forced these archetypes to become suppressed within our collective psyche, evidenced by C.G.Jung’s famous saying that the gods have become our diseases.
The image of The Devil of popular imagination is a complex amalgam of ancient pre-Christian gods and daemons, but is borrowed largely from the Greek untamed god of wild nature – the horned, hooved and ithyphallic Pan. Now, the myth of the birth or origin of Pan is part of an ancient recurring mythic motif of the lost, hidden or abandoned, child. This archetype was revived later in the Romantic period which saw a huge revival of Pan, especially in England, with the publication of Peter Pan and his tribe of “Lost Boys” dressed in animal skins and living in a wild Neverland – a stand-in for Pan’s native heathen Arcadia and his band of merry, hairy satyrs.
“…the myth of the birth or origin of Pan is part of an ancient mythic motif of the lost, hidden or abandoned, child.”
“Rosemary’s Baby is a modern reversal of the Christmas nativity story”
While Rosemary’s Baby is a modern reversal of the Christmas nativity story (we find in Rosemary’s Baby Album ((IraLevin.org)) that one original idea for a title was ‘All Is Calm, All Is Bright‘), the myth of the lost or hidden divine child, or the monster child, has ancient roots. Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, Dionysus were all hidden as babes, as was Moses. The Minotaur is a perfect example of a monster child that is secreted away in the labyrinth. According to ancient myths the god Pan was rejected by his wood nymph mother because of his frightful goatish appearance and uncanny laughter (“What have you done to it?! What have you done to it’s eyes?!” we can imagine her screaming). Besides baby Pan’s hooves and horns, the eyes of the goat (as well as those of cats and frogs – all associated with witchcraft) are notorious for their uncanny appearance. This trait derives from Pan’s father, the trickster shepherd god Hermes (Mercury) – who oversaw all forms of trade and commerce, including thievery, but especially that of animal husbandry. As a son, or extension, of his father, Pan takes part in the sphere of Hermes and is closely connected with beastial providence. Hermes is the patron of herdsmen and always has his eyes upon their interests, which is to say their flocks (as for Pan, you might see this as a reinterpretation of “He has his father’s eyes.”). Moreover, this Mercurial aspect directly relates to the Faustian pact, or economical deal, struck between Rosemary’s satanic neighbors and her husband Guy who will do anything to achieve success as an actor, including deceiving his wife and pimping her out to Satan as a breeding animal, in order to serve his own interests. This also reminds us of Hermes’ famous legendary exploits at deception and as protector of thieves.
“…the myth of the monster child has ancient roots.”
Myth tells us the strange babe Pan, upon being rejected and abandoned by his mother, was rescued by his fleet-footed father Hermes, bundled in a white hare’s skin (associated with fertility, the moon and Venus – indicating some of his attributes), and spirited away to Mt. Olympus where all the gods delighted in him – especially Dionysus (Bacchus), god of wine and religious ecstasy, with whom Pan is often closely associated. The crude and salacious nature of the young he-goat is partly concealed within the gentle appearance of a snowy white hare, much as the young couple’s innocent plan to make a baby conceals an insidious diabolical plot. The abandoned babe Pan, however, is universally accepted by lofty, omniscient Olympian consciousness – for it is there that his divinity is recognized: the animal nature of human impulse, instinct and sexuality is revered as an essential and sacred component of life, nature and human existence itself by the divine powers. And as we know from the final scene in Rosemary’s Baby, the monster child is hidden away from the mother, and the demonic babe is accepted – not only by the supernaturally empowered and mysterious coven of witches overseen by Roman and Minnie Castevet – but later by Rosemary herself in a complete reversal of the initial attitude of horror. A manifestation of Divine Grace is thus an integral part of this satanic tale: accepting the monster within, the child she has loved all along during her pregnancy, despite the painful misgivings experienced. Soul-deep horror is surpassed by gracious and tender mother love, giving this dark fairy tale of the magical child a significant contemporary twist. See: Sympathy for the Devil: The Sublime Satanism of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’
Rosemary’s “Dream” as a visitation by Pan, the Incubus
Pan, from whose name we get our word “panic,” is the god of the wild, shepherds, flocks, hunters and herdsmen; and his solitary, often melancholic, and “rough and ready” nature exhibits this. Pan was considered the instigator of panic, fear, terror, mental disturbances and the bringer of nightmares, prophetic dreams, oracles and possession. He belongs in consciousness as the original archetype of the incubus. He is the sender of erotic nightmares. His wild, instinctual sexuality is his most prominent characteristic (beyond the obvious physical signs), and it constellates about masturbation, beastiality, and the pursuit and rape of nymphs and handsome young goatherds. Pan is nature in all it’s fierce and unrelenting natural urge to merge, to couple, to unite.
But Pan is unlucky in love: he never marries (no wedding band on this old he-goat!), and he is always left longing for those just out of reach (Echo, Syrinx, Selene, Pitys). His divinity is a solitary existence apart from the Olympian gods. He is also the original archetype of the misunderstood and lonely musician. His music is said to stir the soul of man, beast and god. Pan dwells in the wild, unpopulated areas: where the lonely goatherd plays his pipes and contemplates his erection.
When Rosemary’s wedding ring is removed by her husband just before the rape scene we are being told that we are crossing outside the boundaries of morally accepted Apollonian consciousness. A law is being transgressed. Like an inverted cross, it indicates a reversal of what is considered acceptable. The Abyss is traversed as Rosemary, the good but lapsed and doubting Catholic, passes from her sunny, white and yellow apartment (egg colors: fertility), through the secret passage at the back of the closet, where hidden things are secreted or suppressed: remember old Mrs Gardenia’s big heavy furniture used to blockade the hall closet early in the story? Rosemary passes into the shadowy, Dionysian, chthonic and infernal world of the Castevet’s; the “Nightside” of dreaming and erotic nightmare consciousness, where nude witches cast spells and demons dwell. Indeed, Rosemary is young American consciousness with doubts about organized religion who, after getting caught up in the herbally enhanced spirit of the 1960’s (“Tannis anyone?”), discovers the spiritual archetypal world of gods and monsters.
As the devilish dream begins with the removal of her wedding ring it ends with Rosemary being offered a ring as worn by the pope himself to kiss, a ring in the form of the silver pendant given to her by the Castevets (silver is the metal of lunar consciousness and witchcraft). The marriage vow is broken and a new sacrament is presented to Rosemary for this Panic marriage – bringing us, ring-like, full circle, just as Rosemary’s journey through her diabolical pregnancy comes full circle like the pitted, full moon-like orb of the evil smelling charm which mirrors the full-moon like belly of the puerperal mother: again reflecting (moon like) the charming young lady who carries something foul and foreboding within her swelling womb: the fulfillment of the Castevet coven’s greatest aim and achievement.
A “Panic Marriage”
On the morning after the “nightmare,” (remember Pan-morphed-into-the-Christian-Devil is an instigator of nightmares and the primal icon of the erotic Incubus) Rosemary awakes feeling pretty awful and complaining of her nightmare of being raped by “someone inhuman.” She discovers scratches all over her body. Guy admits to “doing it” to her while she was unconscious as he didn’t want to miss “baby night,” and admits to having drank a bit too much himself (laying the blame on ecstatic Dionysius). Rosemary is not only the victim of rape but also the victim of a mysterious nightmare brought on intentionally through witchcraft via Minnie Castevet’s narcotic, psychoactive “chocolate mouse” – an important reference to the Dionysian cultural experience exhibited in the bourgening experimentation with psychedelic drugs, which undoubtedly evoked visionary and spiritual revelations, during the 1960’s counter culture movement. This narcotic aspect is present as the evil-smelling Tannis Root in the novel, something Rosemary smells, along with sulphur, during the rape, and is subtly hinted in the dream sequence in the film by a greenish vapor veiling Rosemary’s face just before she looks up into the eyes of the Devil raping her. “Pharmakeia”, being the Ancient Greek reference for “witchcraft” or “sorcery”, reveals it’s connection to herbalism, veneficium and psychoactive plants as used in magic and ritual.
In myths, human women are often visited or seduced by Gods in various guises, and such unions often result in the birth of semi-divine heroes… or monsters; Zeus is notorious for his philandering exploits with mortal women. Rosemary, in an inversion of the Annunciation and Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary by The Holy Spirit, is the victim of witchcraft, and rape – called by some Ancient Greek writers a “Panic marriage,” in reference to Pan’s fierce and sudden couplings. Rosemary rather weakly complains of this non-concensual coupling to her husband but she remains submissive to her circumstances. However, there is no denying there has been a penetration by the inhuman, the beastial-divine, and that a tremendous upheaval within her has taken place. Mother Earth herself, as The Nymph, has been violated; but the protest has been, at least up to this point, weak: the traditionally accepted submissive attitude of the patriarchally conditioned wife, just as the unrestrained pollution and exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources went largely uncriticized until the strong push for ecological reforms which started gaining momentum in the “flower power” era of the 1960’s. The “Father” of Rosemary’s baby is conspicuous by his “absence” after the conception, both literally and figuratively, in the forms of both The Devil and Guy Woodhouse respectively.
Rape transgresses the boundaries of most any human law – represented by the removal of Rosemary’s wedding ring in the “dream,” – and is a key element in the story. Reports of sexual assault is a fact we often encounter in the news and, these days, in the #MeToo movement. Rape is also a phenomena which follows in the panic and wake of war and invasion – significant here as the U.S.A.’s direct involvement in the Vietnam War began around the time Rosemary’s Baby as novel (1967) and film (1968) appeared. Pan also appears in connection with war, as for instance his assisting the Athenians by causing the retreat of the Persians at the Battle of Marathon, and Olympian Zeus’s battle against the monster Typhon, as well as Pan being Dionysius’s shield bearer in his campaign to India – all occasions in which Pan’s influence, usually by causing panic terror, decided a fortunate outcome.
Rape is an overpowering of animal drives that unfortunately, yet undeniably, occurs within human nature: has ever a day passed upon human-dwelling Earth in which a rape, or sexual assault of some kind or other, has not been committed? Yet, it is such a universally taboo subject that even today it is still barely understood within the study of psychopathology: we all know what rape is, but understanding and charting how it happens within the landscape of the human soul is extremely difficult. It is significant to note here the emergence of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at the start of America’s involvement in Vietnam in which, as in all wars, rape occurred – including G.I on G.I. rape (here: Vietnam war rape), and simultaneously at the heralding of The Summer of Love in 1967, and The Sexual Revolution which followed in Western Culture – about the same time as the first gay pride, feminist and ecology movements.
PAN, whose name means “All” (e.g.: Panasonic, Panavision, panorama, pandemic etc…) transcends even human bisexuality and emerges as a kind of omnisexual (Pansexual?) creature: He is God, man and beast. Awareness of Pan touches upon religion and sex. His nature is to force himself upon consciousness – thereby often causing panic – another key factor in Rosemary’s experience in the story. According to psychologist James Hillman, Pan’s rape is not an urge with intent to destroy, nor even to merely “deflower,” but to force awareness of the primal animal body upon lofty, rational “Apollonian” consciousness. And this is what Rosemary’s Baby did in it’s day: it forced upon Christian, middle class, American consciousness the imminent sexual awakening and changing of traditional religious values. (See: ‘Pan and the Nightmare’ by Hillman).
And this is what Rosemary’s Baby did in it’s day: it forced upon Christian, middle class, American consciousness the imminent sexual awakening and changing of traditional religious values.
Rosemary is not a virgin – a qualification required as we learn from Minnie Castevet in the novel, but she is, at first, naive and unexperienced with the Shadow. Rosemary’s condition changes drastically after the diabolical rape and conception. Like a victim of an Incubus or nightmare daemon, she begins to appear and feel vampirized. In the dream the Pope says “They tell me you have been bitten by a mouse.” This could be rephrased as: “They tell me you have received The Mark of the Beast.” The rodent is a symbol of plague. Rosemary has been “infected” by the fever dream awareness of religious doubt and repressed sexual urges amid contemporary society, topics which were exploding in the U.S.A. in the Sixties. She is in constant pain. She cuts her hair boyishly short in a “pixie cut” – reminding us of many young actresses who have portrayed Peter Pan. This is the beginning of her transformation and the gradual appearance of a subtle “masculine” aggression to her character, which before was only hinted at e.g.: she initiates sex on the couple’s first night in their dark, empty, cavern-like, new apartment – Pan was worshipped by lovers in caves and grottos. Guy also instills a brief moment of panic fear in this scene as they begin making love by referring to a pair of cannibalistic, Victorian era sisters who’d lived in the building. Later, perhaps due to her awakened consciousness raising brought on by the Incubus infection, Rosemary instinctually begins to use powers of deception, an art within the sphere of Pan’s father Hermes, herself as a survival mechanism (e.g.: the phone call to tease some information from the actor blinded by witchcraft, the lie she tells to Dr. Sapirstein’s receptionist while escaping his office, the spilling of the contents of her purse as a distraction by the elevator, the secreting and hoarding of sleeping pills…).
As a distraction from her excruciating pregnancy, she plans a party for her young friends (a service to Dionysos) which intentionally excludes the strange, elderly neighbors. The women who attend her breakdown in the kitchen during the party offer advice, insight and validation for her unusual circumstances. The kitchen as heart(h) of a home and traditional place of women’s power is the place of Olympian “family” goddess Hestia/Vesta. After the party, when panic over her degenerating condition finally threatens to overwhelm, her anger irrupts and the pain suddenly stops. The “feminine” – finding it’s inner “masculine” strength – has found it’s voice and begins to take on it’s own instinctual power – separate from patriarchal conditioning – from then on in the story: a symptom of Incubus/Pan’s (instinctual) animal influence coursing through her blood at this point. The submissive and assertive qualities are balanced, and the violated nymph is finally transformed into the powerful and avenging Mother Goddess. We seem to be witnessing a related uprising in consciousness in the #Me Too movement of today. Rosemary’s suspicions increase after she attempts to protest when Guy bullies her into surrendering her book on witchcraft before setting it out of easy reach for her on a high shelf – across the tops of a two volume set of Kinsey’s ‘Sexual Behavior in the Human Male/Female’ in both the novel and film.
Pan o’ Mantic
Pan is also a mantic god, i.e. He is a god of divination and prophecy. He is said to have taught the art to the god Apollo himself – lending some chthonic prestige to The Shining One when Apollo took over the oracle at Delphi. Rosemary’s prudent friend Hutch tries to dissuade her from impending doom, even prophetically appearing in her narcotically induced dream-nightmare to warn her of “Typhoon !” – a subtle reference to the Devil as Typhon. Even from beyond the grave, good ol’ Hutch, in a strange and ironic feat of necromantic divination, manages to communicate the awful truth to her via a clue in a book on witches and a modern spelling game. Thus, Rosemary is pulled ever deeper into Pan’s witchy sphere as she deciphers the name of Steven Marcato in the letter tiles of a game of Scrabble.
“The great god Pan is dead”
Here we must note the appearance in the story of the April 1966 issue of TIME magazine which carried the stark ‘Is God Dead?’ cover. In the history of the god Pan a major event is considered to be recorded by the Greek historian Plutarch ( 45 AD – 127 AD). During the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14–37), the news of Pan’s death came to one sailor on his way to Italy by way of the island of Paxi. A divine voice hailed him across the salt water, “Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes, take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead.” Which Thamus did, and the news was greeted from shore “with groans and laments.” The legend of the fateful crying out, and of the news spreading, that “The great god Pan is dead” has inspired many a poet through the ages. Christian apologists such as G. K. Chesterton have repeated and amplified the significance of the “death” of Pan, suggesting that with the “death” of Pan came the advent of theology. To this effect, Chesterton once said, “It is said truly in a sense that Pan died because Christ was born. It is almost as true in another sense that men knew that Christ was born because Pan was already dead. A void was made by the vanishing world of the whole mythology of mankind, which would have asphyxiated like a vacuum if it had not been filled with theology.”
The final chapter or scene of Rosemary’s Baby depicts Roman Castevet’s pronouncement that “God Is Dead!” Considering all this, and that the solemn question “Is God Dead?” appears on the cover of TIME as used in Rosemary’s Baby, begs the question whether history really does repeat itself, and if it is not true that “the gods of the old religion will always become the devils of the new.”
“the gods of the old religion will always become the devils of the new.”
Since the publication of Rosemary’s Baby in 1967, there has been a mounting surge in throwing off the shackles of thousands of years of patriarchal Judeo-Christian suppression, especially in the realms of sexuality and women’s bodies. The ecology movements have adopted Pan as a sign under which to rally to save Mother Earth. Pan is himself noted as a devotee of the Great Mother Goddess in Ancient Greek religion, and in classical literature he is even referred to as “Her dog” by other gods. It is a testament to Ira Levin’s creative genius – what the Romans called a “Dæmon,” the Latin word for the Ancient Greek daimōn (δαίμων: “god”, “godlike”, “power,” or “guiding spirit,” that he was able to reach deep into the zeitgeist of his age to stir up such a potent and delicious witch’s brew; one which brings us face-to-face with the ancient shadows of our psyche which have continued their assault and penetration of the consciousness of modern culture’s grappling with religion and sexuality. By crafting a dark modern legend which people still enjoy and analyze 50 years after it’s publication and release, Ira Levin has made us a little bit more aware of just what is going on “down there” in the subconscious.
*One thread we decided not to follow here but offer as a point of consideration is Rosemary’s own complicity in surrendering to her situation by… 1. ignoring the advice of Hutch – a trusted, fatherly friend of upright moral standing (comfortable traditional values) to live somewhere other than in the Bramford apartments and 2. Rosemary’s own longing for motherhood which so often leads to her suppressing her own instinctual misgivings in order to achieve her own desires.
…and our sick little minds.