Titles of Interest - Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History

Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History
by David Frankfurter
Princeton University Press, 2008

In the 1980s, America was gripped by widespread panics about Satanic cults. Conspiracy theories abounded about groups who were allegedly abusing children in day-care centers, impregnating girls for infant sacrifice, brainwashing adults, and even controlling the highest levels of government. As historian of religions David Frankfurter listened to these sinister theories, it occurred to him how strikingly similar they were to those that swept parts of the early Christian world, early modern Europe, and postcolonial Africa. He began to investigate the social and psychological patterns that give rise to these myths. Thus was born Evil Incarnate, a riveting analysis of the mythology of evilconspiracy.

The first work to provide an in-depth analysis of the topic, the book uses anthropology, the history of religion, sociology, and psychoanalytic theory, to answer the questions "What causes people collectively to envision evil and seek to exterminate it?" and "Why does the representation of evil recur in such typical patterns?"

Frankfurter guides the reader through such diverse subjects as witch-hunting, the origins of demonology, cannibalism, and the rumors of Jewish ritual murder, demonstrating how societies have long expanded upon their fears of such atrocities to address a collective anxiety. Thus, he maintains, panics over modern-day infant sacrifice are really not so different from rumors about early Christians engaging in infant feasts during the second and third centuries in Rome.

In Evil Incarnate, Frankfurter deepens historical awareness that stories of Satanic atrocities are both inventions of the mind and perennial phenomena, not authentic criminal events. True evil, as he so artfully demonstrates, is not something organized and corrupting, but rather a social construction that inspires people to brutal acts in the name of moral order.

Chapter 1: Introduction
Sorting Out Resemblances
Circumstances for Imagining Evil
Evil in the Perspective of This Book

Chapter 2: An Architecture for Chaos: The Nature and Function of Demonology
Thinking with Demons
Demonology, Lists, and Temples
Beyond the Temple: Demonology among Scribes and Ritual Experts

Chapter 3: Experts in the Identification of Evil
Prophets, Exorcists, and the Popular Reception of Demonology
Witch-Finders: Charisma in the Discernment of Evil
The Possessed as Discerners of Evil
Contemporary Forms of Expertise in the Discernment of Evil: Secular and Religious
Conclusions: Expertise and the Depiction of Satanic Conspiracy

Chapter 4: Rites of Evil: Constructions of Maleficent Religion and Ritual
Ritual as a Point of Otherness
Ritual and the Monstrous Realm
Ritual as a Point of Danger
The Implications of Evil Rites

Chapter 5: Imputations of Perversion
The Imaginative Resources of the Monstrous
Constructing the Monstrous

Chapter 6: The Performance of Evil
Performance and Demonic Realms
Direct Mimetic Performance
Indirect Mimetic Performance
Direct Mimetic Parody

Chapter 7: Mobilizing against Evil
Contemplating Evil, Chasing Evil
Matters of Fact and Fantasy

Titles of Interest - Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange

Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange
Adam Scovell
Columbia University Press, 2017

Interest in the ancient, the occult, and the "wyrd" is on the rise. The furrows of Robin Hardy (The Wicker Man), Piers Haggard (Blood on Satan's Claw), and Michael Reeves (Witchfinder General) have arisen again, most notably in the films of Ben Wheatley (Kill List), as has the Spirit of Dark of Lonely Water, Juganets, cursed Saxon crowns, spaceships hidden under ancient barrows, owls and flowers, time-warping stone circles, wicker men, the goat of Mendes, and malicious stone tapes.

Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful And Things Strange charts the summoning of these esoteric arts within the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond, using theories of psychogeography, hauntology, and topography to delve into the genre's output in film, television, and multimedia as its "sacred demon of ungovernableness" rises yet again in the twenty-first century.

Adam Scovell is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Liverpool, a short film-maker, and an authority in the field of folk horror. He blogs at

Titles of Interest - Monstrous Progeny: A History of the Frankenstein Narratives

Monstrous Progeny: A History of the Frankenstein Narratives
Lester D. Friedman and Allison B. Kavey
Rutgers University Press, 2016

Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein is its own type of monster mythos that will not die, a corpus whose parts keep getting harvested to animate new artistic creations. What makes this tale so adaptable and so resilient that, nearly 200 years later, it remains vitally relevant in a culture radically different from the one that spawned its birth?

Monstrous Progeny takes readers on a fascinating exploration of the Frankenstein family tree, tracing the literary and intellectual roots of Shelley’s novel from the sixteenth century and analyzing the evolution of the book’s figures and themes into modern productions that range from children’s cartoons to pornography. Along the way, media scholar Lester D. Friedman and historian Allison B. Kavey examine the adaptation and evolution of Victor Frankenstein and his monster across different genres and in different eras. In doing so, they demonstrate how Shelley’s tale and its characters continue to provide crucial reference points for current debates about bioethics, artificial intelligence, cyborg lifeforms, and the limits of scientific progress.

Blending an extensive historical overview with a detailed analysis of key texts, the authors reveal how the Frankenstein legacy arose from a series of fluid intellectual contexts and continues to pulsate through an extraordinary body of media products. Both thought-provoking and entertaining, Monstrous Progeny offers a lively look at an undying and significant cultural phenomenon.

HBO's homage to the original "Westworld"

Previously I've commented on my appreciation for the 1973 science fiction film, Westworld, as well as how much I enjoyed the premiere episode for the HBO television series reimagining from 2016 (as well as some of my own theological reflections on it). Last weekend I added a subscription to HBO as another part of my streaming television package, and binge watched the 10 episodes of the series. I realize I'm a late comer to commentary, but I did notice an homage to the film in one of the episodes, I think it might have been episode six. One of the main characters, Bernard, goes deep into the facility to research some data, and in the darkness his flashlight illuminates a robotic figure out of focus in the background. The silhouette is that of "The Gunslinger" character played by Yul Brynner in the original film. Prior to the silhouette coming into view a musical element taken from the original film can also be heard, part of the theme for this character. You can listen to it in this YouTube clip. This musical element is used several times in the series, but it's unclear whether this is repeated as an ongoing homage, or whether this will serve as an important auditory cue as the series goes into it's second season in 2018.

For additional Eggs see this video.

"The Last Jedi" and Religious Disillusionment

There is an interesting essay by Britton Peele at GuideLive that connects dots between the trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and contemporary dissatisfaction with institutional religion. The piece is titled "How Luke's words in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' mimic real-world disillusionment with religion." In the trailer Luke can be heard saying, "I only know one truth. It's time for the Jedi to end." An excerpt from Peele's piece:

To these people, the idea that "it's time for the Jedi to end" is relatable. If you associate religion not with love but with moments like the Crusades, then yeah, I can see why you might be anti-religion. If you look at the Jedi not as noble peacekeepers but as misguided zealots who were mostly wiped out in a war, then yeah, maybe the Jedi don't need to be around anymore.

The essay has things to say to those religious folks interested in keeping their connection of institutional religion and political and social power, particularly the religious right.

Saw Gerrera: patriots, terrorists, and perspectives

A quotation from the Star Wars franchise character Saw Gerra makes for an interesting reflection related to current events. For those that don't know about this character, here's some background from

Saw Gerrera was a human male resistance fighter who, as a leading member of the Onderon rebels, fought against the Confederacy of Independent Systems on Onderon during the Clone Wars. He and his sister, Steela Gerrera, were instrumental in the rebel liberation of their homeworld during the Onderonian Civil War. He later became a key member in the fight against the Galactic Empire and the formation of the Alliance to Restore the Republic. His tactics against the Empire led him to be seen as an extremist, one whose notoriety was recognized by the Empire and, many years later, the New Republic.

Here's the line from this character that I'd like to comment on in this post. It's found at the top of the page in the entry quoted above:

"I'm not a terrorist. I'm a patriot. And resistance is not terrorism."

In consideration of this quote my two main areas of research come together. The first is pop culture and the fantastic, which is what TheoFantastique is all about, and the second is interreligious conflict. These two areas of research meet in this character and the quote. Here we have a science fiction character who fights as a rebel against the evil empire. But from his perspective, his self-identity is not one of terrorist. Instead, he sees himself as a patriot, a freedom fighter. What I find interesting about this is that this is exactly the same perspective of those involved in various forms of conflict over political (and somewhat religious) differences where the individual or a group of individuals are fighting a much larger and powerful force, usually a government. In our current context this is precisely the view of members of Boko Haram, al-Quaeda, and ISIS. But from the perspective of those in the receiving end of their violence they are seen as terrorists. Perspective is everything.

In offering this commentary I am not saying that terrorist violence is therefore justified. However, (contrary to conservatives who say there is nothing to be gained by trying to come to grips with the causes, and perhaps even our role in the construction of our enemies, I believe we must understand the perspective of those engaged in such violence if want to truly come to grips with what contributes to it. Only then will we be able to put together holistic strategies that may be effective in ending the violence.

"War for the Planet of the Apes": Reverse dehumanization?

A new trailer for War for the Planet of the Apes was recently released, and it promises to wrap up the trilogy with violent conflict as the world's remaining humans battle the dominant ape population. Just as the original POTA films reflected their social and cultural contexts, so do the current group of Apes films. War is no exception. In the new trailer the character identified at as "Colonel," played by Woody Harrelson, is shown giving an inspirational speech to a large group of troops about to march into battle. In this speech he says, "There are times when it is necessary to abandon our humanity to save humanity." While it is difficult to interpret this line in the film definitively from the short clip, given that the second entry in the trilogy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, set the stage for a violent showdown between the apes and humans, and that this plays out in the final film, this seems to be the context in which the remarks should be understood. Dots can be connected to this line from another image in the trailer, a rear shot of a human soldier hunting in the woods with "Monkey Killer" on his helmet. Fans of the original series of films in the late 1960s into the 1970s will recall that the apes considered the term "monkey" derogatory when applied to them, and in Escape from the Planet of the Apes when a human innocently uses this term in reference to a newborn ape, Caesar goes into a rage and accidentally kills him. The derogatory usage seems to carry over into this film, and when combined with the line in the speech from the Colonel it appears that an interesting phenomenon may be at play.

Previously I've posted on the topic of dehumanization connected to monstrosity and genocide. In my view the quote from the Colonel may be understood in this way. Although there are rules that are drawn upon in war to limit the brutality, nevertheless, in order to overcome the human hesitancy to kill others we tap into dehumanization. This involves the use of propaganda, as well as terminology and concepts where the enemy is conceived of as less than human. In the case of the battle between apes and humans, this is literally the case since the apes are animals, but these are intelligent social creatures who have built a culture. In this way they approximate human beings, and in order to overcome any possibility that there may be hesitancy in killing them, derogatory phrases like "Monkey Killer" are used, and the Colonel's speech seems to encourage the abandonment of aspects of humanity, such as our moral sense of empathy for others, making it possible to destroy the apes and thus save humanity. Curiously the Colonel calls for the suppression of essential aspects of human nature while trying to save humanity at the same time. But saved to exist as what? As a species that continues to define itself by tribalism where the moral circle of empathy continues to be small and exclude others in the out-group perceived as enemy, even if they are highly intelligent apes with a sense of self-awareness, social relationships and culture?

Previously this series of Apes films has served as a mirror for human violence. It appears that the final entry in the trilogy will provide us with another opportunity for such critical self-reflection.

"War for the Planet of the Apes" Trailer

I'm an almost life-long Planet of the Apes franchise fan, with the exception of the Burton installment. Summer 2017 will see the final entry in the reboot wrapping up a trilogy.

"Beauty and the Beast" and Fairy Tales

From time to time TheoFantastique looks at the significance of fairy tale in contemporary culture, and with the continued box office success of Disney's live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, another opportunity presents itself. Readers may enjoy an essay in titled "'Beauty and the Beast' Comes From a Long Line of Stories About Women Hooking Up With Animals" that looks not only at the various versions of that particular story, but also other fairy tales, and how such stories are significant beyond the dominant Disney approach. writes:

The internet as a giant nostalgia machine has made fairy tales somehow even more of a Disney-dominated monoculture. This is a disaster in the making. If we wholly lock ourselves into the Disney versions of these stories and talk only to the collected works of this enormous corporation rather than the broader history of fairy tales, we impoverish ourselves and foreclose all sorts of weird, interesting, and potentially even radical creative possibilities.

Call for Papers: Elder Horror on Screen

Call for Contributors
Elder Horror on Screen: Hermits, Harbingers, and Hags
(4/1/17 Abstracts; 10/1/17 Essays)

As the baby boom generation grays, representations of the elderly on screen are receiving significant scholarly attention. Cinematic depictions of aging as a degenerative process, the othering, marginalization, and victimization of the elderly, and fears of the finality of death have all been increasingly highlighted and analyzed as we attempt to sort out the complex social, psychological, economic, and emotional consequences of—and responses to—growing old.

Absent from these considerations, however, is a genre in which our fears of growing and being old, and of the elderly, take on fantastic proportions: Horror. Here, the threats of aging are made manifest and bloody—by the eccentric harbinger of doom, the crone who seeks to restore her vitality, the pensioners who bargain with the supernatural to cheat death, and ancestors who return from the grave to curse the living—as well as threats to the aged, whether cast as frail victims or as stalwart gatekeepers and repositories of Old World knowledge.

This collection seeks essays on films in which these horrors of aging are prominently featured. It will explore the ways in which these texts reflect—and shape—our ambivalent attitudes toward growing old, exploring cinematic presentations of aging as the ultimate, inescapable horror destined to overtake us all, as a terrifying time of reckoning with past sins, and as a portal to unexpected (even unimaginable) powers. It will also pose new questions about our complex relationship with the aged, whose role as keepers of wisdom and experience simultaneously intrigues and unsettles us.

We seek proposals for intelligent, accessible chapters—rigorous scholarship and innovative ideas expressed in clear, vigorous, jargon-free prose—that examine and critically analyze the relationship between aging and horror as it is portrayed across a range of films and eras. Proposals for both topical essays and close readings of a single text are welcome. Proposals on films produced outside the US are very welcome. Previously unpublished work only, please.

While genre horror is a ready vehicle for these images, proposals looking at terrors associated with aging and the elderly in other genres, such as melodrama, science fiction, and genre hybrids or mash-ups are also very welcome. Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

* The elderly as harbingers of doom (Friday the 13th 1 and 2, Trolls 2, Krampus)
* The elderly as victims—or not (Breathe, Homebodies, Rabid Grannies, The Visit)
* Unholy alliances (Rosemary’s Baby, The House of the Devil, Paranormal Activity)
* Aging and revenge (Dead Silence, Drag Me to Hell)
* Chasing youth (Countess Dracula, Hocus Pocus, The Brothers Grimm)
* End-of-life reckoning (Ghost Story [1981], Bubba Ho-Tep)
* Bodies of horror (Psycho, Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice, Grandma’s House)

Please send your 500-word abstract to both co-editors, Cindy Miller ( and Bow Van Riper (

Publication Timetable:
Abstracts – Apr. 1, 2017
First Drafts – Oct. 1, 2017
Revisions – Feb. 1, 2018
Submission – May 1, 2018

Acceptance will be contingent upon the contributors' ability to meet these deadlines, and to deliver professional-quality work. Contributors who, without prior arrangement, do not submit their initial draft by the deadline will, regrettably, be dropped from the project.

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