Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Halloween Geography: Catholic Supermen of America and Great Britain

Part of a series of fun Halloween posts and by no means comprehensive
Setting: the United States of America
Problem: Haunted House with the normal bleeding walls, mysterious hostile voice saying "get out," and the usual poltergeist


The above is a standard set up for ghost haunting stories in the United States. Whether it be in movies or urban myths many Americans are familiar with this backdrop. When supernatural evil is the enemy, only the power of God can be trusted to combat this dire threat. But in American culture not any power of God can be trusted. No one would think about consulting the local Baptist youth minister or the post-Methodist preacher at the local post-Presbyterian church. No, the only logical choice for battling Beelzebub and his minions would be a Catholic priest. The stereotype of a Catholic priest armed with sacraments and years of underground exorcism training is the cultural default character for this type of situation.

Some may wonder why a Catholic priest, the representation of a faith long viewed negatively in most of America, is the standard fighter of evil in American culture. It is surprising therefore for many to learn it is because of past anti-Catholic biases that the Catholic faith and members are viewed in this regard. The Catholic religion was viewed by most Americans as a combination of Christianity and weird superstitions. The first use of Catholics fighting evil in popular American stories came into being at the start of the 20th century. This is the time of a great rise of Catholic Americans and a slight acceptance of them by Protestants. As Americans became more scientific-minded, ghosts and demons were pushed to the side. However, when these spirits were needed for stories, Americans combined ghost legends with the stereotypes of Catholics.

The appearance of Catholic priests as supernatural warriors took a decline after Vatican II in the 1960s. The use of English in mass and doing away with many traditions made Catholics look less foreign and even less mysterious... and less likely to have years of super secret demon fighting training. New Age psychics and bastardization of old American Indian shamans began to appear in evil battling tales. However, Catholic priests still fight evil in modern stories like Constantine, The Order, and various exorcism movies.

In the United Kingdom Catholics do not appear in almost any ghost stories. In older tales high church, catholic, Anglicanism is used to combat evil like in Dracula. Low church protestantism was not used because most of the original fundamentalist/revisionist movements like the Puritans had burned themselves out in England by the 1800s. The second wave of English protestantism was more focused on social issues rather than defeating Satan. Most modern British ghost combating tales are New Age. The best example is the Highgate Vampire where two New Agers, one involved in magic and the other a New Age Old Catholic, claimed to have defeated a demon.

3 comments:

cokaygne said...

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for anglicanism. It's got all the good stuff of catholicism, rituals, saints, tradition, without the bad stuff, dogma, heiarchy, social conservatism. If I were a believer, which I am not, I'd be an anglican, not an episcopalian because that church was and is nothing but organized snobbery. Yes, episcopalianism's current "inclusivness" of practicing gay bishops, etc., is rooted in not sharing the prejudices of the lower orders.

Anyways, belief in the supernatural and in men ordained to fight evil supernatural beings comes from the ritualistic, mystical side of catholicism that symbolicly permeates anglicanism. By eliminating all intermediaries between man and god, prtoestantism opened the door to science and the natural death of the supernatural.

Catholicgauze said...

Cokaygne,
The last sentence of your comment was right on. I wonder then how the return of the quasi-supernatural of some Evangelical/Pentacostal groups can be explained. Are they merely copying Catholics/Orthodox things like exorcisms and alike like they copied the title of bishops, fasting, and etc.?

Michael said...

I seem to recall a few episodes of KUNG FU- The Legend Continues where Kwai Chang Caine did some exorcising.

I wonder to what extent this (and the Catholic/High Anglican superman) reflects a perception of the specialization required to be a priest or monk? They're required to have more training and to make greater sacrifice, so they're somehow more skilled?