All posts by Jess Kovacs

Insidious- A Witch’s Thoughts

by White Bryony

I saw this recently and thought it was actually very interesting from the perspective of someone who practises witchcraft and sprirtwork so I thought I would review and share it.

Spoiler warning: I do try to refrain from giving too heavy spoilers, and any bad ones will have a nice warning so that you can skip it if you like. I also swear a bit.

Insidious is the story of family whose kid who falls into a coma and then kinky shit starts happening. This is the kind of stuff that makes you relieved to hell and back that these kinds of spirits are seriously goddamn rare. Here’s a link to the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1YbOMDI59k

I’ll first get the technical non-witchy stuff out of way:

  • James Wan, your calling is to make/direct ghost stories. I know that you are extremely unlikely to ever read this, but dude, you are awesome at it.
  • The script is excellent as well. Great pacing, good dialogue- I cannot compliment the guys who made this thing enough. We need more of you in the (horror) film industry today.
  • The choice to have minimal soundtrack in the first act was a very good one
  •  I also applaud the sparse use of jump scares and how well those that were used were built up and designed to further the plot. Thank you guys for putting in effort.
  •  Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne were fantastic as the parents. Patrick Wilson: I will try to stop seeing you as your character in Hard Candy (though you were pretty good in that too)

 

Now for the not so good stuff:

  •  I’ve seen The Phantom Menace. If you have too then the big bad demon might be a bit difficult to take seriously. Alternatively this might be a good thing. Nightmare retardant can be so nice.
  • There was one moment with horribly conspicuous CGI. The rest of the film had been so good about CGI use that I was a little disappointed for those few seconds.
  • One of the problems in the film probably could have been solved with a decently performed exorcism in the dad’s childhood. More on that later.

Ok, now that’s all done onto why I think a review of this is relevant to this site (SPOILER): ultimately the main plot is otherworld travel. I’m pretty sure that’s what a lot of people here do.

Quite honestly, it could have uses as a warning thing for people who are being an idiots with their path. Watching this can really give a powerful message of don’t cut corners or bad shit will start happening. Sure, it might not be to this extent but sweet Mother it’ll scare you into pausing to think for a moment first. For a pgan the moral of the film could almost be “If you don’t protect yourself demons will crowd around you/start feeding off you/send you into a fucking coma.”

I would almost be enough of an asshole to say to a newbie who doesn’t seem to quite get what the otherworld can potentially entail “Ok look, fine you want to learn this stuff? Awesome. Watch this first. It’s not exactly realistic but it’ll really make you want to use protection. A lot of protection. And maybe a night light.”

If you’re not new to the crooked paths it’s a great watch too. The parts with the otherworld travel were incredibly well executed and you can have a lot of fun (and get scared) at how completely insane everything gets. At one point they call in a spiritworker of some kind whose methodology is certainly interesting and probably a good choice given her line of work… though some it might give you a laugh.

It does surprise me a little bit that I didn’t see this film get more popular among pagans who walk the crooked paths, especially given that astral travel is a huge part of the film. Ok, fine some won’t like horror but it’s so good that I would have thought I’d hear a lot more favourable word of mouth (I heard some people say good things about Paranormal Activity, after all). Is it too close to home? Are you not able to suspend your disbelief? Whatever the reason I”m going to throw a reccomendation out there if you don’t mind watching something creepy.

Now to the fear side of things. This film is very clever with its scares. In the beginning it held back where it needed to, and once shit gets real it still holds back just enough that you don’t quite know what you’re looking at. It is a very creepy film.  Insidious only needed one shot to really freak me out. It involves a creepy smiling doll. Holding a shotgun. Somehow this is a horrible combination (I was thinking of trying to find a screenshot of that but it would require me looking at it again for a prolonged period of time. I really don’t want to.) It really cleverly builds suspense and tension so the climax actually ends up being a bit of a relief. The spirits in this are terrifying at times. (Don’t like creepy smiles? There’s a whole family here to freak you out!) but their motivations are pretty believable. Some of them are pretty much just wanting a go in the empty body, a couple are just being assholes.

Ok, there is one problem I mentioned earlier and feel the need to discuss. If you don’t want a pretty major spoiler then skip this paragraph…  Why on earth did they not exorcise the dad when he was a kid? Why? Part way through the film we’re told that when he was a child he had a spirit/demon attach itself to him like a parasite because he’s been projecting himself without realising and therefore without protecting himself. They stop him projecting, fine, but they don’t kick the spirit completely off. WHY? You can’t just leave it and hope it will go away- you can see it sneaking closer to him in photos. It is clearly waiting for the chance to do something nasty. His mother goes and speak to a decent spiritworker of some kind so why didn’t they get rid of the damn thing? If anyone else has seen this did they mention why they didn’t? That’s the only major issue I have with this film.

So if anyone wants to get scared one evening watch Insidious. Sure, you might not want to do anything remotely connected to astral travel for a while (Ah. I think I might have answered a few of my questions from earlier….) but it is a really good creepy film.

 

 

I almost changed my mind and stuck a picture of the doll here. You can thank me later.

 

Epilepsy As Sacred- Part Two

Epilepsy as caused by dark forces

In general, this falls into two categories: epilepsy due to possession, or epilepsy as a sign that there is a witch working black magic. Again, the seizures mentioned here will mostly be in reference to tonic clonic seizures.

The idea of epilepsy and seizures being caused by malevolent beings is widespread across many cultures; to the Anglo Saxons it might be a sign that the sufferer had been afflicted by elves – a short Saxon charm for use in exorcism goes “I conjure you demons and thieves, elves and the falling sickness”- and the Norse held similar beliefs. Many childhood illnesses common at the time would have had seizures as symptoms so frequently it was explained away as the child being stolen by elves. Christians in Medieval Europe declared epilepsy to have been caused by demons. In some areas of modern day rural Africa seizures will be assumed to have been caused by some kind of demonic possession or witchcraft.

When we think of a person who has been possessed there are certain things that often spring to mind: deepening voice, spastic motion of the limbs, perhaps frothing at the mouth, possible telekinetic powers and similar. With the exception of gaining super powers these can all be attributed to epilepsy. During a seizure the patient may yell out and scream and in The Exorcist one of Regan’s first symptoms when initially possessed is tonic clonic seizures (for a while the doctors actually diagnose her with a form of childhood epilepsy). Even today we still have that basic idea of what a possession looks like. Even though we now know the difference between epilepsy and something that has a supernatural cause, when we create images of that supernatural thing it has that more… traditional, shall we say, appearance.

The biggest issue with modern societies still attributing demonic possession as a cause of epilepsy is that the patient will go to a priest or some other person in a similar role rather than seek medical help (or the patient may be unable to do so). In a study on Voodoo possession (E. Carrazana et al, 1999) cases some were found where the priests’ methods had an adverse effect on the patient. While it is difficult to say how many cases are caused by an actual possession it is generally better to assume that the seizures have a natural root cause as opposed to supernatural.

“But there is no bodily infirmity, not even leprosy or epilepsy, which cannot be caused by witches…. For we have often found that certain people have been visited with epilepsy or the falling sickness by means of eggs which have been buried with dead bodies, especially the dead bodies of witches, together with other ceremonies of which we cannot speak, particularly when these eggs have been given to a person either in food or drink.”

Quote from the Malleus Maleficarum.

During the time of witch hunts (and unfortunately still in some rural areas) a seizure could be taken as the sign that the patient had been cursed. During the Salem witch trials the supposedly cursed girls exhibited convulsions and during the major period of witch hunts a person experiencing seizures might herald the start of hunts in that area. As with divine punishment and demonic possession it is not surprising that people without today’s understanding of neurology would leap to these kinds of conclusions, though it should be noted that many physicians of the time did recognise that epilepsy was caused by processes within the person’s body. Back then- as it is even today- it was the villages where this belief was most prevalent.

However, it should be noted that the majority of modern prejudices against epileptics and people who suffer from seizures appear based more on the misunderstanding that epilepsy may be contagious rather than reasons of witchcraft or demons- we can hope, then, that with further education on the topic epilepsy will become less of a stigma in the future.

References

Alaric Hall, Elves in Anglo-Saxon England: Matters of Belief, Health, Gender and Identity, Boydell Press, 2007

Daniel Anlezark, Myths, Legends, and Heroes: Essays on Old Norse and Old English Literature, University of Toronto Press, 2011

Louise Jilek-Aall, Morbus Sacer in Africa: Some Religious Aspects of Epilepsy In Traditional Cultures, Epilepsia volume 40, 1999

The Exorcist, William Friedkin, 1973

E. Carrazana, J. DeToledo, W. Tatum, R. Rivas-Vasquez, G. Rey, S. Wheeler, Epilepsy And Religious Experiences: Voodoo Possession, epilepsia, volume 40, 1999

Heinrich Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum, 1486

Bernice Wissler, Epilepsy and Witchcraft: a Brief History, epilepsy.com, September 15th 2003

A. K. Njamnshi, S. A. Angwafor, P. Jallon, and W. F. T. Muna, Secondary school students’ knowledge, attitudes, and practice toward epilepsy in the Batibo Health District—Cameroon, epilepsia, volume 50, 2009

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