As regular readers of this blog are aware, Guillermo del Toro is a figure of particular interest to me. I edited The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro: Critical Essays (McFarland, 2015), and have written a number of posts about his work over the years. The most recent was “Del Toro, Bleak House, and Sacred Relics.” In that post I referenced an article in Rue Morgue where del Toro was quoted about how he views his vast collection of items in anticipation of the Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters exhibit in Los Angeles and other select cities.
"As the show's title suggests, to understand At Home with Monsters one has to understand the function of Bleak House and its contents. Del Toro regards it as sacred space.
'It's where I literally recharge my batteries. I feel a change in my energy, and it's incredible and inspiring for me, so objects are not there as a collection, they are almost like talismans, they are relics. [They are] holy relics the way that Catholics have an image of Saint Joseph or Saint Peter whoever they worship - that's the value of these things for me. I have a Saint Gill-Man from Creature From the Black Lagoon or Saint Dick Smith or Saint Dr. Pretorius - images of characters that are a part of my inventory of saints. When people say I am a collector, I feel as if collectors are obsessed with the object, of its value, specifically in the market of collecting. I don't give a shit about any of that! If I buy a toy, I take it out, I play with it, I put it on the shelf to look at, it's not hidden. No piece of my collection is hidden from view. Everything is on display...[because] it's an expression of myself.'"
Del Toro has made similar claims in many other sources. Comments like this intrigue me for several reasons. First, as a scholar of religion and popular culture I am intrigued by the way in which religious ideas influence conceptions of cultural artifacts from various fantastic genres. Second, del Toro grew up in a stern Roman Catholic household, and now describes himself as an agnostic, but one in whom Roman Catholicism is still a strong influence. This is evident in his body of work in film, television, and literature, and this is the case with his collection as well. Finally, I am a person with religious convictions, and a genre collector myself, and I too find certain objects inspiring and fuel for the imagination. I wonder how del Toro’s religious framework for understanding his collection might relate to my own perspective.
In the quote above del Toro refers to the items in his collection as talismans and relics, and he connects this to his Catholicism. In order to understand this better I had a conversation with a colleague, Kevin Cummings, a Catholic who writes for Geekdom House. The thoughts expressed below come largely by way of my conversation with Cummings.
To begin, let’s consider the talisman. Dictionary.com includes three definitions, the third of which applies to del Toro’s experience. It is defined as “anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.” Although we might normally think of the talisman in the sense of an object said to “possess occult powers”, one of the definitions at Dictionary.com, del Toro does not understand talismans in this way. Instead, they function for him as talismans in the sense of how they make him feel, which in turn influences his creative processes. There’s nothing especially Catholic or religious about that label.
But del Toro goes further and refers to relics and saints which he connects to Catholic conceptions. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a relic involves “some object, notably part of the body or clothes, remaining as a memorial of a departed saint.” In another entry in the Encyclopedia it refers to saints who have been canonized and beatified by the Church as “only those whose lives have been marked by the exercise of heroic virtue, and only after this has been proved by common repute for sanctity and by conclusive arguments.”
How does the Catholic definition and understanding of relics and saints relate to del Toro’s conceptions of his collection? First, let’s consider the idea of the saint. In Catholicism saints are a select few that are recognized by the Church as having demonstrated great and heroic virtue. They thus serve as objects for appreciation and veneration. This concept finds a connection to del Toro’s horrific saints. In the quote above he says, “I have a Saint Gill-Man from Creature From the Black Lagoon or Saint Dick Smith or Saint Dr. Pretorius.” Those real and fictional characters that del Toro has deemed heroic and virtuous, sentiments that are echoed by many in the fan community and thus perhaps loosely paralleling the Catholic Church’s beatification and canonization process, are viewed as saints.
Connected to saints is the second idea, that of relics. With the Catholic definition in mind, technically, unless del Tor has items in his collection that came from genre saints, parts of the body or clothes of Boris Karloff for example (and perhaps he does), then the items in his collection are not properly construed as relics, at least not in the strong sense of trying to make a connection to his Catholic background. However, in the Rue Morgue quote del Toro brings together his idea of relics with sacred imagery of saints. This takes us to a consideration of Catholic iconography.
Returning again to the Catholic Encyclopedia, it defines Christian iconography in part as follows:
“The science of the description, history, and interpretation of the traditional representations of God, the saints and other sacred subjects in art. Almost from the beginning the Church has employed the arts as potent means of instruction and edification. In the first centuries the walls of the catacombs were decorated with paintings and mosaics (see CATACOMBS), and in all later times churches have lent their walls, ceilings, and windows as well as their altars, furniture, and liturgical vessels and books, to be adorned with scenes from the Old and the New Testament, from the lives and legends of the saints, and even from old mythologies, modified, of course, and harmonized with Christian teaching.”
The concept of the Catholic icon seems to be closer to what del Toro has in mind when he views objects in his collection in sacred ways. For Catholics, icons are “representations of God, the saints and other sacred objects in art,” it can also include legends and mythologies, and churches are often decorated with such things. This parallels del Toro’s situation quite well. His collection includes representation of various sacred objects in artistic ways, they reflect fantastic mythologies that the director finds inspiring and even sacred, and they fill his Bleak House much in the way that sacred iconography adorns church buildings. So rather than relics, it would seem that del Toro’s collection is probably better understood as drawing upon his Catholic background to function as icons.
The final insight that Cummings had after reflecting on del Toro’s Bleak House was that it involves similarities to Catholic chapels. There is a long history and various types of chapels in Catholicism, and after reading the extended entry in the Encyclopedia, it appears that votive chapels have some connection to the way in which del Toro has his collection structured and the way in which it functions for him. These types of chapels are “erected by the devotion of private persons, often to commemorate some special event or to enshrine some valued relic.” Del Toro has created Bleak House as a private person, and it enshrines relics or icons. So this part of the definition is met. But what about commemoration? Various media treatments of Bleak House have described the various rooms of the structure, many of which have certain themes such as the Dickens room and the Nosferatu corridor. Some of the major themes reflected in the house were incorporated in the At Home With Monsters exhibition. This included childhood innocence; Victoriana; Rain Room; Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult; Movies, Comics and Pop Culture; Frankenstein and Horror; Freaks and Monsters; and Death and the Afterlife. In the themed rooms of Bleak House del Toro is commemorating various saints and icons (if not relics), and even in the rooms that are not designed with specific themes, objects are included that commemorate and enshrine sacred ideals and topics, such as those that characterized the thematic sections of the exhibit. Beyond the structure there is the function. Del Toro has also said in interviews that he moves about the house and works in various rooms depending upon his mood and need. Thus, just as a Catholic might visit a chapel devoted to a special event or valued relic, del Toro moves from room to room that function similar to mini-chapels to interact with enshrined icons or relics.
I find this phenomenon fascinating, and have only scratched the surface. I hope this subject is treated in greater length in the future by others with greater expertise than I in the area.
"Del Toro, Bleak House, and Sacred Relics"
"Religious Tensions Expressed Again in 'The Strain'"
"Regina Hansen: Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film"
2nd Global Conference
Call for Participation 2017
Saturday 1st April – Monday 3rd April 2017
Contemporary novels, films, and religious practice all embrace the supernatural with open arms. From vengeful gods and goddesses and witches to poltergeists and hauntings, to demonic possession and the accompanying exorcism rituals, the human imagination has been captivated for millennia by the power of forces that operate outside the laws of nature and the relationship between humans and the spirit world. Over time, the supernatural has served as a basis for titillating audiences and generating fear. Whether that fear is used to entertain an audience or control a population, the threat of supernatural retaliation is among the most potent motivators we know.
The 2017 project meeting hopes to build on the insights of last year’s conference. The unexpected preponderance of Disney-related discussions surprised all the participants. The Disney footprint seems to be inescapable when discussing depictions of many of these characters and the tales in which they appear. The yearning for ever more terrifying special effects or horrifying plot twists demand that authors and filmmakers search out new folklore and legends to inspire their work as well as discover new ways to tell old tales. New threats to serve as motivators are required as the old threats became mundane, “ho-hum,” and discredited. The supernatural offers a source of personal comfort in the face of grief by providing assurance that a departed loved one is watching over us. However, as the long line of supernatural hoaxes reveal, however, this longing to believe in the afterlife can enable schemes designed to manipulate and swindle vulnerable people and con artists are also always looking for new ways to cheat their victims.
The supernatural has served as a useful means of explaining complicated natural processes in terms humans understand. As history’s famous witch-hunts have demonstrated, the supernatural is also a potent weapon for exerting control over individuals whose behaviour or appearance fail to conform to the ‘norms’ of the community. Conversely, the supernatural can also provide a means of expressing minority beliefs in a way that challenges the power of mainstream organized religions.
What purpose does the supernatural serve in 21st century societies? Is it a throwback to the irrational, superstitious and archaic beliefs of a so-called primitive era, or is it a reminder that there is more to existence than the ‘truths’ revealed by the sciences? The Supernatural interdisciplinary research and publishing event aims to interrogate and investigate the supernatural from a variety of perspectives in order to understand the uses and meanings of the supernatural across time and cultures.
Subjects for presentation include, but are not limited to, the following:
The Supernatural in Theory and Practice
* Shifting perspectives of what is supernatural over time and across cultures
* Non-Western perspectives on the supernatural
* What attitudes toward the supernatural suggest about human perceptions of the boundaries between worlds
* Ancestor worship and the cultures in which this tradition is practiced
* Witchcraft, voodoo and the cultures where these traditions are practiced
* Satanism and cultural perceptions of this belief system
* Reasons behind the enduring fascination with supernatural evil, including philosophical, theological and anthropological perspectives on this question
* Relationship between the supernatural and magic
* Religious traditions and the supernatural (supernatural aspects of faith and belief, attitudes of faith traditions toward the supernatural, how clergy respond to individuals who report supernatural experiences, etc.)
The Supernatural and Real Life
* Socially accepted forms of supernatural belief and the factors that make some beliefs more acceptable than others
* Harms and benefits of believing in the supernatural
* Relationship between the supernatural and cruelty
* Apocalyptic supernatural evil events or characters and the significance of millenarianism
* Characteristics of supernatural entities and the significance of their difference from/similarity to human traits
* Relationship between the supernatural and social power/ideologies (e.g. witchcraft as pretext for dealing with non-conforming women, using the supernatural to engage with physical enemies, etc.)
* Legal/legislative approaches to restricting or enabling supernatural belief (limits of religious freedom principles, state-sanctioned punishment of witches, etc.)
* Medical/clinical perspectives on belief in the supernatural: the neuroscience behind (dis)belief, clinical responses to individuals who report supernatural experiences
* Science and the supernatural: using science to (dis)prove supernatural occurrences
* Technologies that facilitate/measure/prove engagement with the paranormal/occult
* Future of the supernatural in a world increasingly driven by science and reason
* Analyses of reports of supernatural encounters: common conventions of reports, style and mode of recounting experience, impact of titillation versus simple reporting of events in the reports of these encounters
* How the function and/or interpretation of a report of supernatural evil changes over time or across cultures
* Impact of oral traditions, artistic renderings and generic conventions on the telling and reception of accounts involving supernatural encounters
* How the reception of reports of the supernatural is influenced by the experience of listening versus reading or viewing
* Emotional and intellectual pleasures associated with the supernatural: pleasures of fear and titillation, etc.
* Comedic interpretations of supernatural evil: haunted houses in amusement parks, horror movie spoofs, etc
* Supernatural in film, television (including reality series like Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters), theatre, music, art and literature—and how they differ from more ‘traditional’ accounts
* Supernatural spaces: spaces associated with evil and the economic benefits/tourism implications of such connections
* Hoaxes, frauds and swindles
Supernatural and Live Performance
* Curated film screenings
* Performances (dramatic staging, dance, music)
* Art installations
What to Send
300 word abstracts, proposals and other forms of contribution should be submitted by Friday 28th October 2016. All submissions be minimally double reviewed, under anonymous (blind) conditions, by a global panel drawn from members of the Project Team and the Advisory Board. In practice our procedures usually entail that by the time a proposal is accepted, it will have been triple and quadruple reviewed.
You will be notified of the panel’s decision by Friday 11th November 2016. If your submission is accepted for the conference, a full draft of your contribution should be submitted by Friday 3rd March 2017.
Abstracts may be in Word, RTF or Notepad formats with the following information and in this order:
a) author(s), b) affiliation as you would like it to appear in programme, c) email address, d) title of proposal, e) body of proposal, f) up to 10 keywords. E-mails should be entitled: The Supernatural Abstract Submission
Where to Send
Abstracts should be submitted simultaneously to both Organising Chairs:
Stephen Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob Fisher: email@example.com
This event is an inclusive interdisciplinary research and publishing project. It aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore various discussions which are innovative and exciting.
All papers accepted for and presented at the conference must be in English. Selected papers will be developed for publication in a themed hard copy volume(s). All publications from the conference will require editors, to be chosen from interested delegates from the conference.
Conference Outcomes and Outputs
The conferences we organise form a continual stream of conversations, activities and projects which grow and evolve in different directions. The outcomes and ‘outputs’ which can productively flow from these is a dynamic response to the gatherings themselves. And as our meetings are attended by people from different backgrounds, professions and vocations, the range of desirable outcomes are potentially diverse, fluid and appropriate to what took place.
For detailed information on possible outcomes and outputs, please click here. (This will open a new window).
All accepted papers presented at the conference are eligible to be selected for publication in a hard copy paperback volume (the structure of which is to be determined post conference and subject to certain criteria). The selection and review process is outlined in the conference materials. Other publishing options may also become available. Potential editors will be chosen from interested conference delegates.
Additional possible outputs include: paperback volumes; journals; open volume on-line annuals; social media outputs (Facebook pages, blogs, wikis, Twitter and so on); collaboration platforms; reviews; reports; policy statements; position papers; declarations of principles; proposals for future meetings, workshops, courses and schools; proposals for personal and professional development opportunities (cultural cruises, summer schools, personal enrichment programmes, faculty development, mentoring programmes, consultancies); and other options you would like us to consider.
Inter-Disciplinary.Net believes it is a mark of personal courtesy and professional respect to your colleagues that all delegates should attend for the full duration of the meeting. If you are unable to make this commitment, please do not submit an abstract for presentation.
Please note: Inter-Disciplinary.Net is a not-for-profit network and we are not in a position to be able to assist with conference travel or subsistence.
Today my co-editor and I were notified that our proposed volume, The Paranormal and Popular Culture: A Postmodern Religious Landscape, was accepted for publication by Routledge. We have been shopping for a publisher home for a bit, and after positive assessments from external reviewers who examined the proposal including the Introduction, table of contents, and list of contributors, the volume will be published as a part of the Routledge Studies in Religion series. I am pleased and privileged to work with my co-editor, Darryl Caterine, author of Haunted Ground: Journeys Through a Paranormal America (Praeger, 2011), on a volume that promises to make an important scholarly contribution to the exploration of the paranormal.
Walmart has their Halloween display going for the 2016 season, and a special display of videos near the front of the store features a special release by Universal Studios. Their classic horror films have been released with glow in the dark covers. This is reminiscent of the Aurora monster model kits of the past with the optional glow in the dark heads and hands. I already own the complete set with restored video and sound, so this isn't enough incentive for me to make additional purchases of the films, but I did leave my name and contact information in the video department in the hopes of getting a copy of the display board after Halloween. It would make a nice addition to my office crypt.
A number of great abstracts have been submitted, but we need a few more chapters to have a complete volume. Please take a look at this second call for submissions.
They ways in which people pursue religion have changed in America and the West. Traditional, institutional religions are in decline, and even among those who claim “None” as their identity, an individualized spirituality of seeking is growing in popularity. As a part of this quest, the sacred often comes in seemingly nonreligious forms. Gary Laderman, a scholar of religion asks in light of this situation:
“So what if the sacred is not only, or even primarily, tied to theology or religious identity labels like more, less, and not religious? We might see how religious practices and commitments emanate from unlikely sources today…”
One of those unlike sources of the sacred is fantastic fan cultures. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres are incredibly popular and have become multi-million dollar facets of the entertainment industry. But there is more here than meets the eye. Fantastic fandom has also spawned subcultures that include sacred aspects.
Fantastic Fan Cultures and the Sacred will be an edited anthology that explores the sacred aspects of fantastic fandom. Submissions should focus on how aspects of the fantastic function in religious or spiritual ways for individual fans, and fan cultures and communities. Chapters will be academically informed, but accessible to average readers so that it appeals not only to scholars wanting to learn more about pop culture and religion, but also to average fans who will expand their understanding of their fandom and culture. McFarland has expressed an interest in this volume, and if a contract is signed with them it will involve double blind peer review of the manuscript. Contributions should be in the 6,000 word range with a submission deadline to be determined in the near future.
Possible topics for this volume include but are not limited to:
- Collecting and sacred relics – Of special interest is Guillermo del Toro’s and Bleak House, and his connection of this to his unique form of primal spirituality and Roman Catholic background: “I’m not a collector. I’m a religious man.”
- Convention participation as religious pilgrimage
- Cosplay as immersion in sacred narrative and identity
- Horror conventions as worlds “of gods and monsters”
- Pop culture phrases as sacred wisdom teachings
- Science fiction, fantasy, and horror as sacred narratives and mythology
- Star Trek fandom as secular civil religion/spirituality
- Buffyverse fandom and other genre “cult fandoms”
This volume will be edited by John Morehead. Morehead is the proprietor of TheoFantastique.com. He has contributed to various online and print publications including Cinefantastique Online, the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and Extrapolation. In addition, he is the co-editor of The Undead and Theology, Joss Whedon and Religion, and the editor of The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro. A publisher is interested in this volume, and if accepted, it will be peer-reviewed.
Those interested in being a part of this volume are encouraged to send a 300-word proposal and your curriculum vitae by email. Both should be in MSWord or PDF format. The deadline for submission is October 15, 2016. Materials and questions should be sent to John Morehead at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The media is reporting that Gene Wilder has died. He passed away from complications from Alzheimer's at the age of 83. Wilder held a special place in my heart. This began in my youth with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and then Young Frankenstein which I was privileged to watch in the theaters when it premiered. For me the film still holds up as incredibly funny, and also functions as an homage to Universal's Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. I believe Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks' best film, no doubt because of the co-writing talents of Wilder. Wilder's comedic talent will be sorely missed.