spirituality of horror

There are so many places where I have met God, some are traditional like in church or in recovery, while others are not so traditional. One of the non-traditional places where I meet God is in horror stories, which probably isn’t a place where normal people tend to find God, but I don’t know if I’ve ever claimed to be normal. The world of horror is a world that makes sense to me. Another thing that I appreciate about horror stories is that they aren’t necessarily “happily ever after” stories. The endings tend to be true to life, which can be up or down.

One story where I recently found God was in Bayou Whispers by R. B. Wood, which is interesting since the book is full of zombies, New Orleans, voodoo, psychic phenomena, and evil, things that are not really commonly associated with people’s images of God. The thing about this story is that it shows the complexity of the classic good vs. evil tale, and how sometimes it can be really hard to differentiate between good and evil. It’s also a story that heavily features mental illness, which ties in with the voodoo spirituality. It’s often difficult to determine where the line between mental illness and spirituality blurs, and I think that for in order for me for be mentally healthy means being spiritually healthy and vice versa. They are intimately connected.

Then there is the dance between psychic abilities and spirituality, because psychic ability itself is neutral as far as good or evil. The question becomes are the gifts being used for holy things or unholy things. If it is being used for unholy purposes, it can be redeemed, I can verify that. This story caused me to pause and think about things in relation to my own relationship with God. I need to evaluate constantly whether I’m walking in the dark as I used to, or in the light of Christ.

The main character of the story, Jeannine, has to pass through some temptations that reminded me of the temptations of Christ in the wilderness. She has visions and nightmares about her life, and her mother, who serves evil, is demanding that Jeannine choose evil and follow in her footsteps. But Jeannine, like the rest of us, has to make her own choices, and in the end, the story is redemptive because Jeannine chooses to renounce ancestral sin (which is something I also had to do in a formal way), and makes her choice for good, which overcomes a lot of the ancient evil.

One of my first horror reads ever was Carrie by the famous Stephen King, and being raised in a cult, the book really resonated with me. I had to read it in graduate school, and I guess that’s where I realized that horror was one of those places where I was going to meet God. I hadn’t, of course, been allowed to read such things while in the cult, which is probably part of what made me connect so deeply with this. Carrie is an odd child out in a public school with a highly religious mother who doesn’t explain the ways of the world to her daughter. When Carrie gets her period finally in her senior year of high school, she panics because she has no clue what just happened to her. Her mother hasn’t even had the decency to teach her that.

She forces Carrie into harsh punishments where Carrie is supposed to pray away evil, and all Carrie ultimately wants is power and revenge. I understand these motivations intimately, although neither are healthy. The story of Carrie shows me that it’s possible to get revenge and perhaps have power, but the costs are high. Carrie showed me what can happen with the thirst for revenge, and it also showed me what unrestrained psychic power can cause, and also what carnage can happen in moments of red-hot anger. I look at Carrie and realize that these are the things that sometimes come into my own heart, and that I need to make sure that I ask Jesus to keep removing those things when they surface. In the end, Carrie’s anger, rage, hatred, and lust for power kill her. This was an important story for me.

None of this, of course, is what my professor wanted me to get out of the story when they assigned Carrie, but I have found that graduate school was useful for many things, not just learning things that the syllabus insisted I learn, and not only did Carrie remind me of some important lessons, but it also showed me something new that interested me. For someone that grew up in a cult and hadn’t really figured out what I like to do, this really helped.

Then there is the horror classic The Bleeding Season by Greg F. Gifune, the story of a bunch of adult men leading mediocre lives that they are tired of. One of these men dies by suicide, and it causes the others to have to figure some things out. Their friend is not who they thought he was, his whole life was a lie, but as they piece it all together, they realize that they all some inkling that things weren’t right but ignored it. This story showed the kinds of evil that can lurk inside of people, just waiting for a chance to come out and be destructive. It showed the horror of walking in darkness.

These are just three of the many titles that I have read in the past few years, but all of them have had a deep impact on me. The stories make my world make sense to me, and Jesus comes and meets me there and we read through the story together. I learn things that are comprehensible to me, even if the concepts were not something I was able to understand before reading the story. I frustrate my friends a lot because they say things to me and make suggestions that I blow off or don’t understand until I read the idea in a book. I know it’s a weakness of mine, but horror helps me to connect things, and mostly, horror is deeply spiritual for me. We all come to God in different ways and relate to God in different ways. One of my ways happens to be horror stories.

Published by MaryClare StFrancis

MaryClare StFrancis is a writer who sounds as boring as hell but who is intimately acquainted with the horrific and the sacred. For a long time, darkness has been her friend, but she now walks in the light of Christ. As a committed Episcopalian, her main contribution to the church is her ability to make the priests facepalm or swear, depending on the day and context. MaryClare has a Master of Arts in English and Creative Writing and lives in Mississippi with her four children.

3 thoughts on “spirituality of horror

  1. You are essentially calling another culture’s religion a mental illness. Despite what Hollywood and books have led you to believe, voodoo is an actually Haitian religion. Do not try to validate your religious beliefs by dismissing another. It is petty, small, and goes against the values you claim to strive towards. As someone born and raised in the Bayous of Lousiana, you claim to be open minded and yet you write as though it is closed and locked tight. Do not dismiss a religion because you do not understand it.

    1. I see that you sent this from an anonymous email address but I chose to approve the comment anyway, in case anybody else who wanted to use a real email address had the same thoughts. I did not say that Voodoo is mental illness, and I know what it is. Voodoo is in the story, so is mental illness. I didn’t write the book, so perhaps it is the book’s author you have an issue with? I love Jesus, and I’m also mentally ill. I can’t just box my life up into compartments and keep them all separate, it all ends up connecting together, just as it did with the different religion than mine, Voodoo, in this story. The woman was mentally ill, the woman’s religion was Voodoo.

  2. To the anonymous commenter, she did the exact opposite of what you are accusing her of. She acknowledged that god can be found in many ways, shapes, and forms. Over all a good read if you have an ooen mind and arent looking fir a fight.

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