Wednesday 15 July 2020

Room 207 Press Webinars #7: Lectio Infernalis – spiritual practice, trauma and horror as a healing text

Film writing saved my life.

That isn't an exaggeration, it's not dramatic. A three-year struggle with a precipitous and destructive mental illness whose effects on my relationships and self-identity were profound and lasting was alleviated by the meditative response to horror and writing a 150,000 word book about it.

And I know I'm not alone in that. There's been quite a lot written about the therapeutic – even spiritual – value of the horror movie, and for me, the most curious thing has been that the more blasphemous and traumatic the film is, the more capacity for healing it provides.

In Polish auteur Andrzej Zuławski's one real horror film, Possession, we have a moment where Marc (Sam Neill) is told that there is nothing to be afraid of but God. And he replies, “God is a disease.”

There's so much to unpack there; quite apart from the New Atheist idea of God as a toxic and contagious psychological construct,  a sort of communal mental plague, the idea of God in sickness, as immanent in the illness and the illness itself, challenges us, forces us to confront whether faith has any point at all. And what if anything, can bring us healing when we are forced daily to confront the void.
In Martyrs (2008), a film so extreme the BBFC used it a case study for traumatic violence, the supposed God-shaped hole in the human soul becomes all there is. But when you're living in a state of anxiety, emotional pain and overwhelming misery, while the contenplation of the void seems inevitable, approaching it through stories can help. The extremity of horror can be a release. It's not the cure, but it can be an aid to healing.

The Benedictine practice of Lectio Divina mean “divine reading”; this week, though, I'll be offering some of my own experiences as a way into talking about Lectio Infernalis, a reading in hell, which is, I think, the use of horror as a way of approaching and working through our trauma, anxiety and mental health issues – the things that can parasitise our lives in a way far too redolent of horror – in a positive way, and a lens through which we can explore cathartic and healing approaches to our past traumas.

The Zoom seminar Lectio Infernalis: Spiritual Practice, Trauma and Horror as a Healing Text is ran on Monday 20th July (8pm UK time and again at 8pm Eastern Time US/Canada). My $10+ Patreon backers got automatic access, as well as access to videos of this and all the previous talks, along with early access to my writing, an archive of audio readings and occasional exclusive goodies.

See the whole programme for the rest of the Summer here.