Exploring the Gothic at The John Rylands Library

video-still-darkness-and-lightDarkness and Light reveals how Gothic architecture and anatomy inspired and influenced a literary genre, and how the lasting legacy of Gothic can be found in art, films and subculture today. From the fantastical to the macabre, this intriguing exhibition unearths Gothic treasures from the Library’s Special Collections to investigate subjects as varied as the role of women in the Gothic movement, advances in medical science and classic literature.

The exhibition also showcases artwork by students from the University of Salford and a gallery of photographic portraits of 'Goths', celebrating diversity and inviting visitors to explore what Gothic means to them.

"Nosferatu" director's stolen head, and occult ritual?

MurnauIn a previous post I discussed an article in Fortean Times that mentioned connections between Western esotericism and an individual connected to the classic silent horror film Nosferatu. Just yesterday the media, in places like The Guardian, reported about a grave robbery in the form of someone stealing the head from the corpse of Nosferatu's director, F. W. Murnau. Some of these reports are interesting not simply because of the morbid nature of the theft in connection with a horror film, but also a particular speculation being offered. As The Guardian writes:

Wax residue is said to have been found near the grave, suggesting that candles had been lit, and a possible occult motive for the theft.

The Washington Post was even more bold in its connection of the incident to alleged occult activity:

A candle left at the scene led to speculation that Murnau’s corpse was part of a ceremony staged by “Satanists” or those practicing “black magic,” as Ihlefeldt put it.

And at the conclusion:

Given the lasting power of Murnau’s creation, it’s not hard to understand why an errant German Satanist would want to make off with his skull — which is little comfort to Ihlefeldt.

This is an interesting line of reasoning from wax residue to candles to an occult motive if not an outright satanic ceremony. Isn't it possible that candles were used for lighting during the theft? Why should candle wax be tied to the occult rather than other possibilities? What occult or satanic practices and beliefs require grave robbing and the heads of dead horror directors?

It seems to me as if the media couldn't afford sensationalism in regards to this story, and that fear and satanic panic regarding "the occult" or Western esoteric tradition is alive and well.

CFP: "Expanding the Scope of Horror" - special journal issue of Interdisciplinary Humanities

spring-2014-large"Expanding the Scope of Horror"; special journal issue of Interdisciplinary Humanities
Humanities Education and Research Association
Fall 2016: Expanding the Scope of Horror

Guest Editors: Edmund Cueva and William Novak

The proposed set of essays and book reviews would have as its main objective to offer a new practical model for research and analysis as an alternative to the rigid and dichotomous methodologies often used in investigations on horror. Currently, most of the scholarship either tends to situate horror on the fringe of academic research and therefore not worthy of attention. Or, research isolates and defines horror as being strictly the intellectual property of those who are experts in literature or film.

The proposed paradigm would seek to create a multidisciplinary investigatory paradigm that will bring together into productive discussion such varied disciplines as classics, art history, philosophy, architecture, psychology, religious studies, history, gender studies, music, and the traditionally associated areas of literature and film.

The special issue would serve as a starting point for future discussion and research on horror in all of its multiple and complex forms. Please send inquiries and submissions to: Edmund Cueva at and William Nowak at
Contact Info:

Edmund Cueva at and William Nowak at

Titles of Interest: Science Fiction Theology

James McGrath recently drew attention to this volume on his blog.

Science Fiction Theology: Beauty and the Transformation of the Sublime
(Baylor University Press, 2015)
by Alan Gregory

Science fiction imagines a universe teeming with life and thrilling possibility, but also hidden and hideous dangers. Christian theology, often a polemical target for science fiction, reflects on the plenitude out of which and for which the universe exists. In Science Fiction Theology, Alan Gregory investigates the troubled relationship between science fiction and Christianity and, in particular, how both have laid claim to the modern idea of sublimity.

To the extent that science fiction has appropriated―and reveled―in the sublime, it has persisted in a sometimes explicit, sometimes subterranean, relationship with Christian theology. From its seventeenth-century beginnings, the sublime, with its representations of immensity, has informed the imagining of God. When science fiction critiques or reinvents religion, its writers have engaged in a literary guerrilla war with Christianity over what is truly sublime and divine.

Gregory examines the sublime and its implicit theologies as they appear in early American pulp science fiction, the horror writing of H. P. Lovecraft, science fiction narratives of evolution and apocalypse, and the work of Philip K. Dick. Ironically, science fiction's tussle with Christianity hides the extent to which the sublime, especially in popular culture, serves to distort the classical Christian understanding of God, secularizing that God and rendering God's transcendence finite. But by turning from the sublime to a consideration of the beautiful, Gregory shows that both Christian and science-fictional imaginations may discover a new and surprising conversation.

Behind the scenes of AMC's HUMAN

AMC is launching a new series that explores robotics and artificial intelligence. It is called HUMANS. This behind the scenes trailer provides some background, and it looks as if it will contribute to the growing collection of science fiction addressing this important topic.

Christopher Lee Passes Away

BRITAIN-ENTERTAINMENT-CINEMA-BOND-SKYFALLTheoFantastique is sad to report the loss of yet another genre icon. Sir Christopher Lee has passed away at the age of 93. He can now reunite with Peter Cushing and Vincent Price.

Disney's Dark Side in the News

film8_1I recently came across two items that dovetail with the TheoFantastique interests in Disney and his exploration of the dark side through animation. The first is an item in USA Today titled "Walt Disney's Curious Fascination with Death." The article not only mentions projects where death is the focal point, as in The Skeleton Dance and "Night on Bald Mountain" from Fantasia, the article also quotes the work of scholar Gary Laderman to note how significant death was in other works of Disney. The article is worth exploring for those interested in Disney studies, and particularly his dark animation projects.

The second piece is news being reported in various outlets such as Verge that plans on are in the works to make "Night on Bald Mountain" into a live-action movie.

2nd call for submissions: "The Paranormal and Popular Culture"

trapped-1024x768Previously, a call for submissions was issued for a proposed volume, but we need a few more good abstracts to complete the volume.

With this second call for submissions we are are looking for proposals for essays to be included in an edited volume entitled The Paranormal and Popular Culture. Academic writers and independent scholars are invited to submit proposals spanning the wide range of topics on pop culture and the paranormal, and their connection to religion, including reflections on the full panoply of extraordinary beings (e.g. vampires, zombies, demons, ghosts, mutants, cyborgs, cryptoids, etc.) and extraordinary phenomena (e.g. psychic abilities, channeling, spontaneous combustion, magic, necromancy, etc.), as well as theoretical and/or historical reflections on supernaturalism and the paranormal, Fortean approaches to religion in popular culture.

Those interested in being considered as contributors should send an abstract to the co-editors, Darryl Caterine ( and John Morehead ( by September 1. Our timeline is as follows: write up a proposal in September and pitch it to various publishers. Assuming we receive a timely and positive response from one or more of them, the tentative deadline for the essays would be February 2017.

"The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro" now available

978-0-7864-9595-5The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro
Critical Essays

Edited by John W. Morehead
Foreword by Doug Jones
$39.95 softcover (6 ¥ 9)
Photos, notes, bibliography, index
ISBN 978-0-7864-9595-5
Ebook ISBN 978-1-4766-2075-6 2015

Guillermo del Toro is one of the most prolific artists working in film. His directorial work includes Cronos (1993), Mimic (1997), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy II (2008) and Pacific Rim (2013). He has also worked extensively as a producer, with several screenwriting credits to his name. As a novelist he coauthored The Strain Trilogy (2009–2011), which he also developed into a television series for FX in 2014. Del Toro has spoken of the “primal, spiritual function” of his art, which gives expression to his fascination with monsters, myth, archetype, metaphor, Jungian psychology, the paranormal and religion. This collection of new essays discusses cultural, religious and literary influences on del Toro’s work and explores key themes of his films, including the child’s experience of humanity through encounters with the monstrous.

This book is now available through your local bookstore as well as and McFarland Publishing.

The Esoteric "Nosferatu"

nosferatu-filmadThe May 2015 issue of Fortean Times caught my eye when I was in the bookstore on Friday. On the cover was Max Shrek made up as Count Orlok in the silent horror film classic Nosferatu as the illustration for a story by Brian Robb titled "Nosferatu: The Vampire and the Occultist." As a scholar of religion, the Western esoteric tradition is an area of interest for research, and when this comes together with horror then it becomes the best of both worlds in religion and pop culture studies.

Robb's article tells the story of Albin Grau and his Prana-Film. Grau us credited with costume design for Nosferatu, but he was responsible for far more in this film. Much of his pre-production artwork found its way into promotional posters for the film (including the one in the image accompanying this post) and it also influenced the visual and conceptual elements of the rat and infection that shaped the look of Count Orlok. In addition, Prana-Film was Grau's production company. "Prana" coming from Hinduism and the Western esoteric tradition of religion and it refers to the life force or vital energy.

Grau was a practitioner of the occult that experienced a revival during the Weimar Republic in Germany, an interest fueled by the nation's defeat in World War I and the further devastation from the 1918 Spanish Flu. Robb describes Grau's esoteric involvement:

"Albin Grau's occult interests were far-reaching, but his main affiliation was to Fraternitas-Saturni, the 'Brotherhood of Saturn', a German mystical order founded in the late 1920s. Prior to that, Grau had many titles and many roles - if there was a [sic] occult group active in the early 20th century then he was probably a member. Under the alias 'Frater Pacitus', he was a Master of the Pansophical Lodge, where he first met fellow occultist Eugene Grosche. Gray was also briefly an initiatve of the Ordo Templi Orientis, or OTI, primarily associated with the 'great beast' himself, Aleister Crowley."

Robb cites the work of Raymond Owen in an online essay titled "Nosferatu and the Occult(ists)" that expands on the occult connections of Grau:

"Grau’s occultist affiliations are of considerable interest, eventually reaching even to Aleister Crowley, although that connection was tenuous in his filmmaking years. Grau was a practitioner of mystery rituals and a close associate of Heinrich Tränker, a seller of esoteric books who founded several 'pansophic' groups in Weimar Germany. Tränker’s 'Pansophia' ('all-wisdom') was a program of occultist syncretism based on the close study of arcane traditions: alchemy, freemasonry, theosophy, ritual magick, rosicrucianism, astrology, templarism, 'the hidden knowledge of the East' etc. Sometime in the early ’20s—right about the time his friend and fellow occultist Grau was launching Prana-Film and preparing to make Nosferatu—Tränker consolidated his various groups into the Grand Pansophical Lodge of the Orient—Berlin, with himself as Grand Master. Grau served under him in an office called 'Master of the Chair.'”

nosferatu11According to Robb, Grau not only included elements of esotericism in Nosferatu, but he also embedded various esoteric messages in the film. Robb did not demonstrate the latter claim to my satisfaction, but he does draw attention to a scene in the film where a contract between Orlock and the character Hutter is shown. The document only shows on screen for a few seconds, but it does include occultic symbolism.

Robb discusses the symbols and says they "are largely astrological in nature, evoking the Moon (Luna), Mars, and Saturn, as well as Satan himself. The intention was to suggest the contract with Count Orlok is actually a pact with the Devil, suggested through the use of personal sigils." Robb goes on to say that "some magical practitioners" consider the symbols on the contract authentic, but "if translated stricly according to tradition, produce something akin to gobbledegook." Unfortunately, Robb fails to provide a citation or bibliographical references for this.

This is the first time I've heard of any connection between esotericism and Nosferatu. It sounds like it might be worth pursuing with further research.

Related post:

"The Mummy (1932): Zita Johann and the Esoteric Tradition"

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