We will go back to our old gods again. – Goethe
* * *
My eyes. My eyes.
I’m seeing again.
Across a gulf of how-many years, the light is filtering through.
There are names: Bava, Steele; Asa, Katia, Kruvajan. A title: Black Sunday. A spool of images: a movie. I see doors … windows … fireplaces … graves … trapdoors … chest cavities … eye sockets … picture frames … Openings. Each a frame to inhabit, a mirror, that I might picture myself again. If I use all I know I can reconstruct myself, remember myself back to life; show the world who I am and what I am capable of. This is my opportunity.
From the evidence, what I am, apparently, is an absence. A way in. A labyrinth that deepens the farther you delve. A morbid fascination, like the camera’s attraction to the images above. And that’s as it should be: the director, Mario Bava, was previously a cameraman, with this film graduated to the position of full-time director, so acutely aware of the significance of apertures. Being on the threshold of a new career, who better to articulate the anxiety of ambiguity these images convey, the sensation of being in neither world entirely but both at once? Fitting too he should have chosen as his subject a woman suspended between worlds, the 17th-century princess Asa, executed as a witch by her brother but lying in state awaiting her chance to possess the body of another.
Since Katia, Asa’s descendant in the house of Vajda and object of desire 200 years on, is only recently turned 21 and so on the verge of a major developmental advancement, Asa proves the embodiment of a more pervasive borderline psychological status than can be tagged to any one figure in the story or crew. The frequent dollying, zooming, and focusing of Bava’s camera and lenses into and toward these abysses serve to pull the viewer across the frontier of the screen itself, effecting an authentic meeting of the minds where the audience can recognize, if not always identify, the substance of its shared fears. As Asa does Katia, the movie possesses its spectator, too.
If Asa is a figurative intermediary, there’s a literal, chronological one in her descendant, Masha, born a hundred years between the other two women. As such a medium, she suggests a combination of the extremes of female identity implied by Asa’s seething libidinous evil and Katia’s purity, especially as all are embodied by the same actress, Barbara Steele. Since only passing mention is ever made of this pivotal character in the constellation of Vajda women, Bava invites the same scrutiny toward her he affords his other borderline imagery. To know me, you must go through Masha.
Never seen in the flesh like Asa and Katia, Masha proposes a spiritual presence, an essence, which we equate with that other woman conspicuous in her absence in the family circle depicted here, Katia’s unmentioned and presumed-dead mother. She is what Madelon Sprengnether has termed the Spectral Mother, a psychological device bridging the young woman’s transport from girl to independently identified adult personality. Her spiritual aspect is furthered by the circumstances of her death in the family chapel. As it was on her 21st birthday too that the earthquake took her life, we recognize the seismic impact of the occasion and assume the cause of the upheaval to be Asa, again, as it is in the film’s climax.
According to Barbara G. Walker’s Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, pre-Celtic Macha was known as the Great Queen of Phantoms, one aspect of the Irish Triple Goddess including Ana – signifying fertility – and Babd – “life-producing” – sometimes standing for all three. This triplicate form was common in pagan symbology, as in other belief systems, from the three Furies to the similar Fates and Omens, and remembered in such triumvirates as Bava’s Vajda women, Macbeth’s Weird Sisters, Dracula’s vampire brides, even in the more contemporary comedies Hocus Pocus and The Witches of Eastwick. For followers of the Old Religion, Macha presided over “an extensive necropolis … that also represented her womb of rebirth.” More apropos of Italian Bava and his screenwriters, the name may finally be a derivation of the medieval Latin masca, meaning both “specter” and “witch,” besides the pertinent and obvious “mask.” (The film’s original title translates as The Mask of the Demon.)
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, Queen Maachah was banished for her pagan practices by her son – Asa. Little more can be made of the coincidence in names beyond familial intrigue; “Asa” doesn’t appear in “The Viy,” the Gogol story commonly credited as Black Sunday’s source, though Walker suggests it may be a variant on the Old Iranian asha, or “Universal Law,” which she describes as a law of the matriarch. Others have her as the root of the Semitic Great Goddess Asherah or Egyptian Ashesh, the archaic form of Isis. Whatever the derivation, its connotation is of a uniformly powerful and commanding female presence, rearing its head once again.
Asa’s character is resonant of other women whose histories span cultures and religious doctrines. Foremost is Lilith, recalcitrant first mate of Adam in Hebrew legend, described by Claire Douglas in The Woman in the Mirror as “strong, angry, and aggressive,” and in archetypal terms as:
an instinctive and passionately creative side of the psyche that goes far beyond Eros … an archetypal phase of the feminine that is dark, wounded, bitter, fiery, hostile, and raging because it has been neglected and rejected for so long in the patriarchy.…
Lilith represents the deviant, the witch, and the outlaw; she is transformative as well as demonic.… [H]onoring and reintegrating Lilith results in the restoration of energy and vitality – a gift of this archetype to a woman’s body.
Lilith was a crossroads goddess, linking her with Asa’s transitional nature and her sorority of borderline visual metaphors. According to Walker’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, these locations were common sites for Sabbats, “for the reason that in the ancient world crossroads were held sacred by the Goddess Hecate, the Lady of the Underworld in pagan belief, the Queen of Witches in Christian belief.” (As with many of their symbols and signs, the cross was appropriated by Christians from the pagans for their own utility.)
Other mythological personifications of the powerful woman include the Hindu Kali, “the Black Mother, the dark mother of night” (Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati); Sumerian Inanna, “a lion-goddess of war and a dragon slayer” (Edward Whitmont); Babylonian Tiamat, “the irrational power of the primordial age and the creative unconscious” and “the Great Round that is primordial water, primordial parent, heaven, earth and underworld, merciful and avenging in one” (Erich Neumann). Also Greek Medusa, “the abyss of transformation … A femme fatale, and belle dame sans merci or witch” (Whitmont); Hera, Mother of the Gods; Hecate, the triple goddess, again, representing the Virgin, Mother, and Crone (Katia, Masha, and Asa, respectively), and Galatea, the “Milk-giving goddess” who gives name to Black Sunday’s production company. All are representations of that monolithic real woman in everyone’s experience – the mother – and the mythical stature she holds in our subconscious.
Remembering that witchcraft began its history as a nature-based religion, the most prominent of these maternal figures is Mother Earth herself, Gaia.
Typically depicted half-buried, as is Asa, to illustrate how her womb was in and of the earth, Gaia was called “the mistress of the vessel” by Neumann, “and at the same time the great underworld vessel itself, into which the dead souls enter, and out of which they fly up again.” Ancient Egyptian theology saw the Great Earth Goddess similarly, as both the womb life emerges from and, like Macha, the grave it returns to.
This birth imagery indicates the one threshold not explicitly depicted in Bava’s iconography but that for which all the others stand, the feminine sex – a portal between worlds. The subject matter of Black Sunday is, then, the centuries-old pent-up rage of a demonized archetypal chthonic force – at once pagan, feminine, sexual, and ecological – marshalling its powers and readying to enact its influence on a wayward world once again.
Having put my background in place, allow me to summarize Bava’s story.
In prologue, we see Asa executed by her brother Griabi (above) for consorting with the warlock Javutich, but not before levying a curse on him and their descendants. Two hundred years later, in 1830 Moldavia, young physician Andrej Gorobec travels with his mentor Dr. Choma Kruvajan; when their coach breaks down, they find themselves in the mausoleum of the Vajda family where Asa’s preserved corpse rests. Kruvajan inadvertently and unknowingly restores her to life when the cross positioned outside a portal on her sarcophagus is broken in a bat attack and some of his blood drips into her eye socket. Outside, the men encounter Katia, Asa’s living image, whose father the prince is preoccupied with the curse which has brother turning against sister and father against daughter to the end of the family line. After a series of intrigues, the resuscitated but still immobile Asa calls Javutich from his grave to murder and enslave Kruvajan, who in turn kills Prince Vajda. The revived Vajda is killed a second time while attempting to attack his daughter, whom Javutich carries to his mistress. Asa proceeds to exchange energies with Katia until a band of villagers carries the witch to her second and final immolation as Katia and Andrej kiss. The Vajda name has indeed ended, along with its heritage of evil and incestuous infighting.
Horror film prologues traditionally describe the trauma initiating a dysfunction, which the narrative proper seeks to exercise (or exorcise), like a restorative dream. When they occur in such a far-flung past as two hundred years ago, in film time – four hundred, in present time – they serve as an elemental, archetypal – possibly even evolutionary – preamble, the origin story of a culture or society, as Black Sunday’s familial setting suggests. We’re well advised, then, to regard this background in depth, as a window onto the rest of the picture.
Here, three critical elements stand out: the sororicide of the princess, the method this is accomplished by, and the landscape it takes place against.
As Tim Lucas points out in his commentary to the Image Entertainment DVD of the film, Ennio de Concini’s script indicates Javutich (above) as the “brother of the witch,” which would explain the Vajda family crest on his mantle and fill in the gap in Griabi’s self-description as the “second-born son of Prince Vajda.” It also reinterprets Asa’s “monstrous love for that serf of the devil” as incest, leaving room for Lucas’s conjecture that Griabi might be using his position as Grand Inquisitor to make a play for the throne ahead of his siblings. This isn’t too far a stretch considering the possible model for this backstory in the similar drama of Maachah and her adopted son as well as the political motives for too many such accusations during the European and American witch hunts.
Griabi’s hints at incest underscore the lack of a Father or Mother figure in this cauldron of primal impulses: The world of Black Sunday is marked by the absence of an authenticating, “normal” force of Eros. If he is both familial and religious Brother, the locus of his furor would then be in not only a physical, but a spiritual sister, too – the pagan, feminine aspect of his own personality, whose destruction invites repercussions all through history via Asa’s curse. Though the weight of redemption falls on Katia’s shoulders, it’ll take a reversal of this opening scene, the sacrifice of Katia’s brother Constantin, to make this possible.
Griabi’s fervor is topped off by the form his execution takes, the pounding onto Asa’s face of a spike-lined iron mask of Satan. It’s as clear a demonstration of “demonization” as has been committed to film. (Javutich receives the same treatment, though offscreen; his execution not being part of the spectacle lends the impression that it’s only auxiliary, complementary – not the point.) The vindication of this oracular character in such later Bavas as Hercules in the Haunted World, Knives of the Avenger, Kill Baby … Kill!, Ecologia del Delitto, and, to an extent, the “Drop of Water” segment of Black Sabbath lends credence to this interpretation, signaling the viewer not to take Griabi at his word. This act of repression Bava takes as an act of liberation, though, his assault on the eye an asterisk to equally convulsive scenes of ocular violence in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalu, and Arthur Crabtree’s Horrors of the Black Museum. It’s an indication that we’re about to experience a new way of seeing through the destruction of the old, which he emphasizes by having the camera pass through the eye of the mask as it’s brought up to Asa’s face, as though traversing a Cocteauvian looking-glass.
Finally, we consider the atmosphere this unravels in, a desolated, desiccated anti-Eden befitting such gothic In-the-Beginning. The influence of Bava’s imagery was immediate, with at least two other films that year, Roger Corman’s House of Usher and John Moxey’s City of the Dead, replicating its fogbound landscape of scorched earth and twisted, dead trees, indicating a sterile world over before the movie’s begun. Assuming this world to be a holistic one, how the terrain got this way would have something to do with the confinement of Asa’s fecundating power, since her and Javutich’s execution does nothing to remedy the situation. (Later action is careful to distinguish between the Vajda estate and that of the commoners shown much affection by Bava and company, a heritage, possibly, of the Russian source material.)
This exterior landscape is, as always, a mirror for the interior. Just as the Church was at that time caught, as Ken Wilber writes in Sex Ecology Spirituality, “between regression to magic, and fighting supersession by science,” the power struggle in Black Sunday describes a maturational conflict between fanciful childhood and rational, responsible adulthood. While men typically engage in this project via the Dragon Fight indicated by the device on the Vajda crest – a triumph over and separation from the forces of mother, nature, and femininity – womanhood is achieved through identification and communion with those qualities. The effects of their repression by the opposing forces of father, civilization, and patriarchy will be the conundrum Bava’s characters need to resolve if the landscape is to be restored to its presumed former efflorescence.
In order to understand what, exactly, Asa embodies as a woman and a witch, first look at the history of witches and witchcraft throughout Western culture, and what this says about the perception of women by the men who mostly constructed it.
To start, the term “witch” derives from the Middle English wicce, or wit – to know. This sage quality hints at the earthy remedies she was originally recognized for, as the village Wise Woman, or Saga – physician. In fact, it was just such a medicinal herb that supplied another of her epithets, Bella Donna – a beneficent poison, as Asa proves to be. So it makes sense that the “Inquisition” that began in the 15th century should have directed so much attention to this knowledgeable figure, a recognition that the intelligence their troubled minds were questing after lay in the identity of a supernaturally sentient female.
Wilber traces the Saga’s history a million years back to horticultural societies, where the female deity was as much a given as today’s male. This divinity was in large part due to women’s fertility and men’s ignorance of their own role in conception, so that she appeared to be the same self-regenerating mystery as the earth she worked with her hoe. Her role in the divine sphere diminished with men’s realization of their place in the reproductive cycle and their acquisition of more – and more sophisticated – tools. Still, the great Renaissance physician Paracelsus, for one, acknowledged that he’d learned everything he knew from the Sorceress, while her art has been credited with the development of what Joseph Campbell called the basis of all intellectual culture, astrology.
The earth-based religion the Sorceress arose from and for which she served as High Priestess was eventually overthrown by the patriarchal religions whose need to control those pagan tendencies contributed to the inception of the Inquisition. It was about this time “the stereotype of the fire-breathing old witch overwhelmed the image of women as benign Earth Mother, Lady Abbess, or effective queen” (Selma R. Williams, in Riding the Night Mare) and new legends of Lilith and the Amazons arose. Consequently, as the species matured and grew away from this ancient and powerful mother figure, it found, like many an adolescent male, that it had to demonize her in order to cauterize the wound of separation, making of the earth she represented evil too (“Hell is beneath our feet,” Susan Griffin notes) and all matter on it a thing to be transcended in his quest for the now male, heavenly spirit that was his new ideal.
So the witch hunts, which, Ronald Seth documents in In the Name of the Devil, “began in 1450 and lasted for 300 years,” an invention intended “to provide work for an Inquisition that was threatened with unemployment” ca. 1375. By Seth’s estimation, in excess of 200,000 were executed in all – over 100,000 in Germany alone; in France, nearly the same – though Raven Grimassi, in Italian Witchcraft, tells us that it was mainly the organized groups that the Church opposed: “The salutary village Witch was generally tolerated,” thanks to her role as healer and counselor. It was the coven that Montague Summers – an apologist for the Church – accuses, too, of being in political league against the throne and so the target of King James’s fury. Though James later re-evaluated his position on witchcraft, it was only after publishing his Daemonologie in 1597, which, according to Seth, started a wave of persecution in Scotland that contributed to the burning of 4,400 men and women.
As both Griffin (in Woman and Nature) and Chellis Glendinning (in My Name Is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization) note, the history of witch torment parallels the struggle of civilization to rise against its superstitious roots. Griffin offers a grim and often absurd timeline juxtaposing the development of math and the sciences with the execution of purported “witches” from Joan of Arc in 1431 to Anna Maria Schnagel in 1775, demonstrating that the more man denies his own “instinctive … creative … erotic” side, paraphrasing Douglas on Lilith, the more woman burns. Glendinning parallels these atrocities with the Western development of a “linear perspective” – a “way of seeing the world that is based on distancing and detachment,” as opposed to the fluid, pagan philosophy of relation and engagement with the phenomenal world. “Eventually,” she reports, “hundreds of thousands of people – mostly women, mothers, and healers – would be hanged, drowned, or burned in town squares all across Europe for nothing more than seeing life from the old, elliptical, nature-based perspective.”
The figurehead of this drive toward civilization was the patriarchal Church, which saw practitioners of the Old Religion as political enemies to be overcome the same way politicians have always abolished their opponents – by discrediting and demonization, and by replacing the old myths with myths of their own. Thus the legends of St. Patrick driving the snakes – symbolic of the Cobra Goddess once worshiped by pagan peoples – out of Ireland, and St. George’s similar defeat of the dragon. The latter tale, not coincidentally, figures in Black Sunday’s crest, which is emblazoned on Javutich’s vest as on the Vajda hearth, and in the icon of St. George found on Asa’s body. (Asa was executed on his Feast Day, when the contemporary drama resumes.)
The 1484 creation of Innocent VIII’s Bull, Csummis Desiderantes, which Herbert Thurston has described as “the papal declaration of war against witchcraft,” led to the drawing up of that other notorious treatise, the Malleus Maleficarum, or Witches’ Hammer, which Thurston credits as “the standard of procedure [for the treatment of witches] in the civil and ecclesiastical courts.” Part of a rising tide of anti-feminism, screeds such as the Malleus – written by a pair of Dominican monks – and the Tractatus de Confesionibus Maleficarum et Sagarum – “the chief handbook for Protestant and Catholic witchhunters alike” – made it clear that the real enemy was not just the heretic, but woman herself – feminine sexuality, especially. Griffin paraphrases the Malleus by stating, “all witchcraft comes from carnal lust which is in woman insatiable,” and Mario Jacoby, in Longing for Paradise, reinforces this impression, noting that throughout the brothers’ work, “sexual motivations emerge with remarkable clarity.”
Why woman should be singled out as susceptible to the allure of the craft was, according to Emile Brouette, because:
She is more credulous and less experienced than man; she is more curious; her nature is more impressionable; she is more ill-natured; she is prompt to take revenge; she falls more quickly into despair; and, finally, she is more talkative, so that if one of her companions is a victim of sorcery she is quick to spread the news.
King James, apparently, concurred:
Women are more addicted to magic than men, for as that sex is frailer than man is, so it is easier to be entrapped in these grosse snares of the divell, as was overwell proved to be trew, by the serpents deceiving of Eve at the beginning.
With such instruments at their disposal, the Inquisitors – at first met with skepticism and apathy – were after decades of campaigning finally taken seriously.
As a result, according to Jules Michelet, 7,000 “heretics” were “burned at Trèves … at Geneva five hundred in three hours; eight hundred at Wurzburg … and fifteen hundred at Bamburg.” “The Attorney General of Lorraine,” adds Seth, “Nicholas Remy, personally sentenced 900 to death between 1581 and 1591, while two decades later Judge Pierre de Lancre, sent to the Pays de Labourd … found all 30,000 of the inhabitants infected with witchcraft.” The executioner of Neisse, in Silesia, himself invented an oven “in which, in 1651, he roasted forty-two women and young girls, and in the next 9 years raised the total to over one thousand.”
Few writers give a detailed account of how the witch hunts came to end. Michelet describes some of the refutations of such ideology published at the time and credits “The Apostle of Toleration, Chatillon” with “[starting] men’s minds on a better path,” while others such as Agrippa, Lavalier, and Wyer kept the argument moving. Still, it was another 200 years before Louis XIV put an end to prosecutions in France and another 30 before England did the same.
Which is not to say witches, and women, are safe even today from the potshots of spiritually deranged men. Considering the lengths to which contributors to Satan, Pére Bruno de Jesus-Marie’s pre-Second Vatican collection of essays by Catholic scholars such as Brouette, go to apologize for the misogynist practices and beliefs that allowed their Church to participate in the mass murder of its subjects, the volume yet has room for voices like Thurston’s to proclaim, “That such a thing as witchcraft exists or has existed in the world no Christian can deny who believes his Bible to be the inspired Word of God” and that “it is difficult to believe that the incriminating details confessed by the accused have always been elicited by the fear of torture.” (Throughout the text, Jesus-Marie reveals his bias by referring to the victims of such aggressions as “witches” – not victims, say, or simply men and women.) As recently as 1994, Pope John Paul II went out of his way to condemn nature worship among the women of his flock, while two years earlier Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition denounced the feminist movement in a fund-raising letter as “a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft [italics mine], destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.” That estimable decade also saw the publication of Texe Marrs’ Big Sister Is Watching You: Hillary Clinton and the White House Feminists Who Now Control America – and Tell the President What to Do, which one discount book distributor’s catalog described as putting forth the theory that “a coven of powerful women are determined to undermine the present government, end American sovereignty, and bring about global Marxism.”
Two hundred years later, and the witch hunts continue.
When a movie skips forward in time the way Black Sunday does from prologue to film-present day – especially when the leap is as drastic as it is here – the implication is that the resuming narrative is taking place in the same mental space as before, even if the temporal situation has changed. The body may have moved on, but the mind remains stuck. Asa’s curse then plays as a post-hypnotic suggestion triggered by the discovery of her suitably preserved corpse, the relic of a bygone day that refuses to succumb to the decay of forgetting until resolved in the chamber of the mind it resides in.
Who should arrive on this landscape but a pair of physicians (below) – healing agents – cabbing their way to a “convention;” that is, to assimilation into the larger cultural framework, typically represented by marriage. Since it’s a young man and his elder inhabiting this space, it’s understood that the larger personality is in a transitional state, the destination maturity. When their coachman runs off the road, it signals that the ego is suffering a dysfunction that has thwarted the progress of the self toward this goal, emphasized by the loss of a wheel soon after. Their drawing down to Asa’s tomb in the interim is a turning inward for the doctors, whose treatment will cure not only the patient – haunted Katia, met moments later – but the healer too. What leads them here is the siren call of the wind through a decrepit “organ,” the pun a likely reference to Sunset Blvd.’s similarly plaintive innuendo. (The motif gets reprised in Bava’s 1965 science-fiction Planet of the Vampires as well as Curtis Harrington’s following-year Queen of Blood: in each, a radio signal from an extinct alien culture seduces a space crew to its peril.)
Wilber regards all such attractors in teleological terms – the forces pulling an object or idea from its inception to its omega point, or conclusion. Each stage along the way contains and envelops the previous one in a concentric pattern of emanation as the system or organism supersedes itself, as in the earth’s generation of life and that life’s subsequent evolution. Such transcendence is achieved, he says, through “a constant conversion of ‘otherworldly’ into ‘this worldly’” – of potential into reality – via a process of integration. In fantasy films, the interaction of the supernatural with the natural world promotes such spiritual advancement. So Katia’s final, fleeting possession by the resurrected Asa is the “conversion” and “integration” of the “other” world into this one the entire film has been leading to.
Disruption of this process, Wilber warns, can result in pathology – a “derailment” of the system on its way to realization, as the doctors on their journey. While differentiation – of male from female, self from other – in the development of consciousness is something to strive for in some circumstances, differentiation taken to extreme leads to dissociation, whose effects can be far-reaching and severe. For Wilber, the Enlightenment dissociation of man and nature – dualism – represented a detour in the growth of human consciousness, creating a schism between not only these elements but between such corollary concepts as heaven and earth, holy and unholy, mind and body, and, ultimately, man and woman. Glendinning, citing Paul Shepard, locates the origin of this split in humanity’s self-domestication and removal from the animal world, though all are reflective of that primal separation on departing the womb, the original symbiotic environment, as recounted in the biblical story of Eden. So it’s no mystery Black Sunday should begin with a separation, between Asa and her beloved. Her curse is a dysfunctional way of dealing with a thwarted teleology, an acting-out against the wrong done in the shadowed, historical past.
The seemingly peripheral detail of Javutich’s execution preceding Asa’s lends itself to at least two interpretations. First, the woman’s loss of a powerful masculine presence in her makeup – traditionally referred to as the animus, a mythical figure of agency and potential – leaves her inert and waiting for fecundation, like the winter earth awaiting spring rains. Since we’re dealing with the product of an all-male creative team, though, Javutich’s masked corpse sparks additional associations: At once, it suggests the dreamer who’s already abandoned his body at the start of the dream, to be represented by a likeness or simulacrum. Alternatively, it’s the husk of a particular facet of that personality shucked and put on display in order to be regarded objectively. Given Asa’s maternal associations as well as Griabi’s incestuous intimations, this would be the discarded, mother-identified child-self lost at a similarly convulsive point in development, much like Katia’s Masha.
As Wilber puns, “That which was dis-membered must be re-membered” before transcendence can occur – the reason Black Sunday begins in the past, and why that past remains so persistent throughout. So it’s essential Katia and Andrej come together, to spur Javutich’s arousal out of hibernation and resolve his undead character, as Wilber sees Eros – that sighing “organ,” again – as the driving force behind all reparations.
A blood relative of Agape, Eros is the element in human nature desiring a hand up, which Agape proffers. If this fails to happen, Wilber maintains, Eros manifests itself as Phobos – fear – and Agape as Thanatos, the death drive. This is the condition that obtains throughout Bava’s film. Griabi’s rejection rather than emulation of his siblings’ erotic attraction has resulted in, or is consonant with, the pathology of his own political ambitions and the poisonous atmosphere this generates.
The thesis Wilber’s immense and multidisciplinary study is drawn toward is that, due to a similarly pathological diversion from our primal earth-consciousness, our Erotic relationship to the biosphere and all it implies – from matter and nature to woman and our own animal being – has turned Phobic; witness the modern nature-in-revolt films, from The Birds on through Noah. Failure to integrate this Eros (Asa) with its brother Agape (or stewardship of the earth, where Javutich now resides) demonstrates itself in terms of the Thanatoxic relationship humans have with the planet today, which Wilber hopes to help correct by reintegrating the several disciplines thrown into conflict by this seminal split. If people are ever to achieve his “centauric,” or holistic, integrated form of consciousness, they’ll need to bring the mind and soul back into the body, god back into the earth, and reunite the male and female within – much of which happens, symbolically, by the end of Black Sunday.
Bava’s 360-degree camera pan around the interior of Asa’s tomb goes some way in addressing this longing for unity by reinforcing the mandalic wholeness of the place – a womblike oneness of time, identity, and the cosmos. The overriding impression of the setting, though, is as a chamber of the mind, the focal point being Asa’s sarcophagus, perched atop an altar as if to convey its “religious” significance to the men drawn toward it. It’s a shrine to their half-buried, mythological image of Woman and Mother combined, most significantly of the Feminine Within – the Witch and the Vampire men try to suppress but whose allure none can resist forever. Thus the cross positioned outside the coffin window, as later between Katia’s breasts (an echo of the similarly repressive talisman in the 1956 Universal-International The Thing That Couldn’t Die as well as those cross-pendants virginal victims-to-be wear for similar purposes in conventional vampire movies), placed there not to keep the vamp away but to keep her in – in the past, the subconscious, the Self.
Against all nature – not to mention reason – a giant bat attacks Kruvajan. As with all such irrational occurrences it can only be read metaphorically, as an eruption of the “animal” libido, writ large so as to gain attention, causing him to break not only the cross but the glass over Asa’s face with his baton in a reiteration of the spikes piercing her face and a foreboding of the staking of his own eye. It’s a rupture of the hymen, the single act that brings about all the misery – and transcendence – to follow. The glass also functions as a camera lens or screen fixing Asa, like the audience, in frozen, “dead,” unseeing contemplation of the conditions that contributed to her situation there. When Bava ruptures this membrane as he had in his passing-through-the-mask movement, he’s again letting his viewers know that his movie is coming after them; it, like Asa, is free now to invade their minds as Asa does Katia’s, and they will be obliged to deal with her and its meaning at last, as her persecutors historically had not done.
Entombed with Asa is the icon of St. George, who slew a dragon to save a princess. Besides its conquering Christian subtext, the myth is also symbolic of the male child’s sublimation of his own primal femininity and mother-attachment – the dragon – in anticipation of an involvement outside the family – the princess. The film’s mixed European pedigree – an Italian film based on a Ukrainian story – makes for an interesting contrast, as the Roman Catholic Church’s observation of George’s feast day, where the story proper begins, takes place on April 23, suggesting the battle as a heroic allegory for the renewal of spring. The Russian Orthodox celebration more pertinent to the characters themselves, though, is on November 3, marking the end of what Italian tradition has as a three-day visitation of the dead on earth – the film’s approximate span.
Kruvajan’s removal of the icon plays as a plundering of the goddess’s chamber like the one that opens Bava’s previous, uncredited co-directorial effort Caltiki, the Immortal Monster, which is alluded to again when the doctor’s glass-wound drips blood into Asa’s eye socket the same way the blob-goddess Caltiki is fecundated by her lover above, a comet passing through the heavens. The preceding lifting off of the satanic mask reveals the multiply-punctured face of the vampire – the spectacle of the sexualized mother – a shock effect repeated at the climax when Asa’s garment is torn to expose her similarly cavernous skeletal insides: the horror of the female sex, and a parallel to the blasted landscape outside.
As if by invocation, the separation of the dragonslayer-image from the “dragon” and the removal of the demonizing façade from the body of the woman yields the appearance of young, very much alive Katia in the doorway, at dawn, on Sunday: on three thresholds, as though newly born. She is the spirit of Asa liberated from the psychic constraints of men, and the image of all women on the eve of reuniting with their archaic feminine power via the women’s movement incubating at the time of the film’s production. Her, as Masha’s, appearance as Asa’s reincarnation suggests the cyclic blood-renewal of menstruation (those ensanguinated cavities, again, adding another meaning to Asa’s opening “curse”) as well as a Phoenix-like rising from the ashes. The introduction of this personality completes the complex of identities implicit in the dual initials of both Asa/Andrej and Katia/Kruvajan, demonstrating the mirroring of all personae within a single, multifaceted personality.
The figurative family unit drawn here, with the elder Kruvajan and two children, is replaced by the actual Vajda family in the next scene, significantly gathered around the dragon-crested fireplace. There’s a rich tradition surrounding the hearth and its place in Mediterranean as well as Wiccan culture. It was sacred to the goddess Vesta – Greek Hestia, symbolic guardian of images – whom Ovid saw as a “living flame,” and was supposed by her followers to connect the living with the spirits of their ancestors. This it does when Vajda’s hearth is discovered to conceal a passageway to the ruined chapel and crypt housing Asa’s body (another motif borrowed from an earlier uncredited co-directorial effort with nominal Caltiki director Riccardo Freda, I Vampiri). Set at either side of the portal to this catacomb are the portraits of Asa and Javutich – separated, as ever, by the flame of desire.
Grimassi tells us that the fireplace was the center of the house in Pagan Italy and the site of the Tuscan custom of the veglia. Here children were told fairy tales meant to indoctrinate them into the community, while adolescents were taught about their ancestors, in order to establish a sense of continuity with the past and tradition. The clustering of these narratives around a single image serves to constellate them, indicating the fairy tale as another form of the myth whose purpose, according to Wilber, was to glorify and strengthen the clan. All come into play in Vajda’s recounting of the family history while brooding before the firelight (below), as again soon after when detailing the unhappy circumstances of Masha’s demise.
Vajda’s ruminative character reminds us that the Latin term for hearth is focus, which would have been of interest to Bava the cinematographer, for whom the camera would have been the center of his film-world. As Barbara Kirksey illuminates in her article “Hestia: A Background of Psychological Focusing,” the first modern use of the term was by Kepler in relation to “the burning point of a lens or mirror,” indicating the primacy of the fireplace setting to the familial drama it centers around as well as the immediacy of the burning-scenes at the beginning and end of the picture. The prince’s attitude before the fire suggests a bringing into clarity the rest of the movie will carry through, climaxing as it does with the optically achieved effect of Katia’s transformation into Asa. This magnifying-glasslike concentration on a given object reaches its own burning point when the traditional villagers arrive with torches ablaze to consign the witch to her pyre once again, as light illuminates the image in the frame.
Kirksey considers imagery of the center in terms of the navel, equating the familiar contemplation by the fire with “navel gazing.” This accords with pagan cultures’ placing of newborns’ umbilical cords beneath the foundation of the hearth, whose logs tended to come from the base of the tree to further symbolize the family’s roots. So Vajda is indeed contemplating the family’s origins through what he doesn’t know is an umbilical passage to the crypt, the womb of their ruined spirituality. Bava’s linking of this scene from the last with a shot of the bubbling back to tumescence of Asa’s eyeballs implies that Kruvajan’s blood may have planted the seed for her revival, but Vajda’s focused “brooding” – in the sense of incubation – is what has restored her to life.
Though the Vajda family itself is stable and loving, there’s a contrast between the judgment meted out to them through the filmmakers’ plotting and design and the fate befalling the peasants living outside their realm. In particular, we’re given the unnamed village girl introduced in the next scene, played by Germana Dominici, a 13-year-old lookalike for Barbara Steele. When the girl is sent out into the night to fetch some milk, the audience fears the worst for her, knowing how far the film has already demonstrated its willing to go for a shock. This fear is compounded by the fact that at that moment Javutich is about to claw his way out of his grave in the cemetery adjacent to the barn. Accompanied by Asa’s urgings to “Rise, Javutich, rise!” his arousal suggests an erection inspired by her feminine attraction; as this goes on behind the village girl’s back, the window behind her functions as a peephole onto her pubescent unconscious. The payoff is in the fact that nothing happens to her: Bava is playing with his audience, but he’s also clearly unwilling to let evil directly touch this innocent.
The purity of the milk imagery is picked up in the girl’s next scene, when she’s found washing clothing at the riverside. After the heavy gothicism of the film till then, the brilliance of the daylight, the openness of the surroundings and freshness of the scenery compared to the barren Vajda landscape seem almost out of place, though the poignancy of the sequence is essential to the balance of the picture. The flowing, spirited vitality of the life depicted here, rich with children and activity, plays against the moodiness of the entrenched upper class, the latter’s nobility a façade quickly dispensed with once Javutich appears.
When the white shirt the girl is washing, reminiscent of the whiteness of the milk, is taken by the current, it leads to the carcass of coachman Boris, killed the night before so Javutich could transport the unwitting Kruvajan to the Vajda estate. As a direct consequence of family history, the corpse suggests a pollutant corrupting the public waters, the mansion a dark factory dumping its wastes into the townspeople’s real and psychic backyards – again, a motif derived from I Vampiri and foretelling Bava’s own later Ecologia del Delitto, or Ecology of Crime, featuring another Gaia figure brutally executed in its opening minutes. The discovery of the body here, a sad pastoral on the realization of mortality like later American works River’s Edge, Boyz N the Hood, and Stand by Me, suggests a loss of innocence; it’s also descriptive of Katia’s sexual maturity, Javutich’s arising the emergence out of the dirty earth of the same kind of pagan eroticism as got him buried in the first place.
In a sequence reiterative of the girl’s following the water to the corpse, Javutich leads Kruvajan through winding catacombs ever at an unreachable distance until his lantern is all that remains, hanging in midair, and then goes out. This labyrinth is another architectural conceit beloved of the ancients for its spiritual and allegorical resonance. Given to resemble the folds and patterns of the brains or intestines, a journey into the labyrinth was a descent into both the self and the interior of the feminine unknown, one’s emergence a rebirth, restored and transformed. It was a favored device of Bava’s too, from its hearth connection in I Vampiri and The Whip and the Body to its visual and metaphorical allusions in the tail-chasing climax to Kill Baby … Kill! and the dense narrative perambulations of Lisa and the Devil.
The maze figured prominently in Easter rituals during the Middle Ages. There, the delving of its mysteries reiterated Christ’s harrowing of hell – itself a recounting of the slaying of the Cretan Minotaur – the outcome of which was the promise of life everlasting that is spring. Initiation ceremonies frequently involved labyrinths, their wanderings marking the passage through puberty into adulthood. As Seonaid M. Robertson has it in Rosegarden and Labyrinth, these rites often involved the search for or discovery of “now a Lost Mother, now a Dead Father, now a Hidden Brother” – each of which factor into Sunday’s plot.
According to Penelope Reed Doob in The Idea of the Labyrinth, the word stems from the Latin labor intus, or inner work; our term maze derives from the Middle English amased, for “out of one’s mind,” where we also get amazed. A synonym in many texts was domus daedeli, or Daedalus’s house, for the genius who created the first labyrinth to keep the hybrid offspring of Queen Pasiphaë’s illicit union with a bull, reminding us that every such structure has an architect, a purpose and a solution. Labyrinths have been likened to, variously: paganism – the circuitousness of heathen thought being antithetical to the “straight path” of Christianity; Christianity – God himself an impenetrable mystery whose many twists and turns describe a logic and wonder inscrutable to mortals; the female genitals, in Italian literature; and snakes – the Mother-Goddess as Snake Goddess being the deity of Knossos, whose caves one entered to be purified by Mother Earth.
There are two types of maze: the unicursal, consisting of one entrance and one exit, following a single, winding path throughout, and the multicursal, involving a series of ambages and errores that may trap the wanderer within. Ambages refers to the circuitous course itself, from the Latin ambo, meaning “two” or “both,” and related to ambiguitas, for “roundabout” or “equivocation.” Errores are the labyrinth’s blind alleys, wrong turns, or dead ends equally intended to befuddle. A maze is an ambiguous space, part of a process we go through in order to either come out the other side or to retrace our steps after confronting the undifferentiated material at its center. As Doob points out, each type serves a similar purpose: “to carry the wanderer over just the right territory to achieve something that could not have been reached by a direct route.” It may seem arbitrary and entrapping from the inside but is remarkable for the ingenuity of its design on overview.
Bava’s film is a labyrinth, from its physical properties – the celluloid reel resembling the architectural structure seen from above – to its welter of plot threads involving the distant and intermediate past, familial intrigues, class relations, romantic involvements, and the twists and turns of everyone’s personal psychology. Along the path from beginning to end – the film climaxing in its architectural center – are several seeming blind alleys in the question of Katia’s absent mother, the episodes with the peasant girl, Kruvajan’s meaningless death, and the dead prince’s incestuous advances on his daughter. No wonder perhaps the signature example of the film-as-labyrinth came out shortly after Black Sunday, Last Year at Marienbad, with its similar reflexes along time frames and character interactions.
If Black Sunday is a labyrinth, Bava is its Daedalus. Using the Cretan maze as a model, we would do well to consider the dual purposes of his “domus”: What it was built to contain, and What the wanderer may hope to achieve by delving it.
In the first instance, we think of how the mind erects elaborate systems of self-deception in order to isolate its Minotaurs – precious, taboo, or threatening memories or ideas – only to have them breach these walls or seduce us inward in dreams. In his commentary for The Whip and the Body DVD, Tim Lucas suggests the particular material the director may have been sequestering when he refers to the Bava family’s ties to Mussolini and his shame concerning them, that film’s castle and corrupt clan expressive of the director’s feelings toward his country and its fascist former leaders. The holding of Asa within the Vajda estate offers a similar context, the structure as well as film designed to isolate and contain this powerful force.
Concerning intent, there are at least two threads, woven in the figure of Kruvajan (above), a questing self who ventures where the primary personality can’t. His discovery of Asa at the center of the labyrinth suggests, first, the completion of the mystery pursued by the peasant girl whose witnessing of Javutich’s phantom coach ride began the sequence. For her and Katia both, he provides a connection to the “feminine soul image” described by Irene Claremont de Castillejo in Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology, who can only be found after meeting and establishing a rapport with the animus – Kruvajan’s guide, Javutich. As Castillejo relates, in terms surprisingly relevant to the scene:
It is [the animus] in fact who, bearing aloft his torch, leads the way into the innermost recess where the soul image of a woman so successfully hides. As it is he whom a woman meets first he may appear to be himself the soul image she is seeking; but if she ventures with him further into the dark and unknown, she may find that he does not himself represent her soul, but is rather acting as her guide towards it.
Not that this “soul” image is distinct from physicality, either, according to pagan theology, for finding Asa provides both a missing link in the women’s attainment of sexual maturity and a recognition of the forces keeping this potential at bay. As Castillejo has it, “Life insists on being lived, and anything else that belongs to one’s life which is allowed to lie dormant has to be lived by someone else.” It’s the psychological phenomenon of projection, and the “someone” receiving the projection is Asa. Not coincidentally, the scene climaxes with the explosion of the sarcophagus from around her corpse, the freeing of this awesome, if still paralyzed, energy into the world.
For Andrej, her discovery suggests the intuition of a great change of his own, the identification of a repressed feminine force within. The emergence of this irrational erotic power overwhelms the cold, scientific faculty when Asa compels Kruvajan to submit to her will: “My lips will transform you,” she promises, and transform him they do – into a half-world being like herself.
In exchange for Kruvajan’s compromised father figure, Andrej receives two brothers, in the form of Katia’s sibling Constantin and the monk he turns to for counsel when called to the castle on his mentor’s disappearance. Each is a counterpart to the brothers that opened the drama. At first met with chilliness, Andrej’s developing friendship with Constantin ameliorates the jealousy between Griabi and Javutich, as fulfilled by the younger Vajda’s climactic sacrifice. As the religious brother is played by a 36-year-old actor in an obvious prop beard giving the effect of aging him – a device Bava would employ again in Whip – he suggests both the hero’s borderline maturity (he is Andrej’s Masha) and the Spiritual Father risen from the ashes of the two dead physical ones.
The rapid flowering of Andrej and Katia’s love suggests an a priori knowledge or familiarity, as though each had recognized a facet of themselves in the other. They’re in love, in the purest sense of the term, immersed in a romantic, mystical presence and participating in a larger reality than their own. Having reached the limits of their present selves, as demonstrated by Katia’s fatalistic speech and the depressed setting their relationship is nurtured in, in the Vajdas’ ruined garden, they now seek to transcend their confinements, as Asa her combusting coffin. Their first private dialogue takes place by a fountain reminiscent of the river and suggestive of a still-flowing font at the heart of the family’s nobility, opposite the tortured psyche of the hearth. Here Katia confesses to feeling she’s “being destroyed from the inside”: She’s desirous of new life, which Andrej, presumably, will plant once what’s inside – Asa; her own wanton, erotic self – is brought to the surface and incorporated into conscious life.
Andrej’s reassurances of a “light” that “will pierce the darkness” are literalized in the next scene, when butler Ivan’s lancing of an ignited curtain by the hearth leads to the discovery of a secret passageway to Asa’s crypt, behind Javutich’s portrait. It’s a metaphor for the opening up of several elements in the film, recalling, first, the peasant girl’s riverside discovery by the similar device of a cloth. The winding labyrinth evokes the meandering stream and contrasts again the flowing water with the hearth flame, which Grimassi tells us was a symbol of the spirits of the Old Religion. Passing through it was an initiatory rite after the fashion of the Orphic labyrinth. The sexual inference of the immolating veil is duplicated by Ivan’s piercing, then shredding, of the portrait behind it to reveal the vaginal pathway to, in this case, Asa’s corpse at the end. (Amplifying the innuendo is the presence here of another – nude – portrait of Masha.) When the act is immediately paraphrased by the monk’s staking of Kruvajan’s eye, it associates the two as similar breakthroughs, the former the introduction of a new and the latter a putting to death of an old way of seeing.
Narratives – fantasy narratives, especially – often break down into reiterative actions or gestures, indicating a system on the verge of collapse. It’s at this point the work becomes most like a labyrinth, doubling its actions and retracing its steps on reaching toward its elusive center. The epitome of this in Bava is Kill, Baby … Kill!, when its hero gets caught in a fugue tearing through the same infuriating room over and over again till finally ending up chasing and catching – himself! In a story as full of doubles as Black Sunday already is, the personality at this point has run its course and is now in the process of working out extraneous or redundant elements to reach the authentic, definitive material at its core, embodied in the transcendent moment Andrej and Katia become one.
Before this can happen, though, the friar must dispatch Kruvajan – again – while other-brother Javutich eliminates the second father figure, Vajda – a second time – then scuffles in the catacombs with Constantin, as he later will Andrej; both mortals, in quick succession, fall through a trapdoor to a seemingly bottomless pit. This cross-referencing of actions and identities anticipates the moment Asa trades energies with Katia, but all are only a rehearsal for the big ambage when the villagers drag Asa to her fiery finale in a restatement of the opening event, providing a path out of the labyrinth of the lovers’ personal and social history by proposing a new beginning.
As in the prologue narration’s confusion of witch and vampire, there’s an apparent contradiction when Asa speaks of her will to “enter and possess” Katia’s body, which is what Bava implies but not what actually happens. By optically aging Katia’s face while the witch’s features lose their lines and wrinkles, Bava leads us to believe Asa is exchanging bodies with Katia when what she’s really doing is draining the life force from her. This is a fortuitous confusion, though, for what’s visualized, as opposed to what’s happening, erases the superimposed “mask” of the beginning, redeeming Asa’s character of its implied demonization.
Usually, such contradiction is a clue that the statement being made is so urgent it has to circumvent logic in order to make itself known. To understand why it happens here, consider its effect. And that is utter sublimity.
The erotic thrill created by the two women’s personalities occupying the same space heightens the viewer’s sense of participation in their transference: as a coming-together for not only the characters but for elements of the film, it’s a summation of all the threshold imagery leading up to it. Each facet of the consciousness at this point shares equal footing, all sublimated or subsumed in a condition Wilber describes as the “Nondual,” the resolution of the Enlightenment separation of mind and body, man and woman, self and other, nature and the supernatural. Bhagavati says this sort of ecstasy “is not so much a going out of your body as it is coming into your body fully.” Marie-Louise von Franz describes demonic possession similarly, as a projection inside – of the “inner companion” or “inner Juno,” synonymous with genius: the chthonic mother Katia has only ever heard about but never seen.
When Asa is reborn in Katia, it’s as one who has been body reduced to spirit finally again becoming spirit-in-the-body. The beauty of the moment lies in the fact that Katia isn’t purified by its passing but made whole by its occurrence: she has, as the saying goes, come into her own. This reconnection with a lost magical, spiritual, powerful feminine image had been bubbling under the surface since the 1940s at least in obscure “B” features the likes of Bewitched and The Woman Who Came Back as well as the big-budget The Uninvited, and kept simmering throughout the fifties in The Search for Bridey Murphy, The Undead, Three Faces of Eve, Lizzie, and Back from the Dead. It wouldn’t truly erupt until the seventies with the various adaptations of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla and, arguably, The Exorcist and its offshoots. Once out of the bag, it would not be easy to keep this spirit there long.
Katia’s absorption of Asa’s wild feminine power was essential to not only her own developing personality but to the reintegration of this energy into the male world of the doctors too, as of the patriarchal Church and insular masculine psyche. The moaning pipes of Asa’s crypt proposed a call from within the male characters as well toward some part of their past left unresolved and wreaking havoc on the masculine persona – a desire for the abandoned feminine self left behind on maturation and focused on the powerful mother figure whose attraction grows more monstrous the further he tries to distance himself from her. This repulsion does nobody any good, as reflected in the barrenness of the landscape, so the unconscious longing remains. Before any re-membering may be achieved, though, the masculine-conscious ego, already seen dead and transfigured behind the mask at the beginning of the picture, must be submerged, as when Constantin pulls Javutich into the pit. When Andrej emerges from that same uterine space, reborn, it’s the first step toward the transformation of that ego into a new persona free of the projections and repressions that had gone into the making of the monster in the first place.
“Ego” is a loaded term for Wilber, representing the human character following its separation from the animal world in order to develop a sense of morality, science, and the arts. (“It was Eve who freed Adam from the blindness of nature,” as Castillejo puts it.) Wilber casts his argument largely as a conflict between Ego and “Eco,” for our more grounded, earth-conscious nature, and equates each with Higher and Lower, or Ascendant and Descendant, embodied in the principles of Eros and Agape.
It wasn’t enough for the developing Ego to supersede the Eco, though, for humans to evolve; in time the Ego was seen to be
severing and repressing its connections and communions with nature – both external nature and, more important, internal nature (sensuous, desirous, sexual, vital).… And the more the Ego succeeded in its goal of devaluing the Eco, then the more abstract, arid, dry and desiccated it became. The very emergence of the Ego … was now destroying the rich fabric of communions on which the Ego itself depended. (Wilber)
This is of course where Black Sunday begins. The nature-oriented, matriarchal Old Religion (in Wilber’s terms, Eco-consciousness) represented by Asa and Javutich is caught at the moment of being unseated by power-hungry Griabi’s emerging Ego; by the time of Andrej and Kruvajan’s patriarchal science, the purgative power of Enlightenment would be in full flower.
Wilber recognizes no advancement without communion between all faculties – the logical and instinctual, intellect and intuition, as well as past and future, innocence and experience, virginity and sexuality, potential and actualization, desire and fulfillment, woman and man, nature and humanity. Since each of these has its deficiencies, not to mention mortality, they must all either transform or perish. They perish by closing themselves off from the other, as Griabi does in his condemnation of the lovers; they transform by assimilating – incorporating; or, as Wilber puts it, embracing – competing ideologies.
When youthful, hopeful Constantin – the Ascendant aspect of the governing personality – drags Javutich into the pit with him, it’s the incorporation of that chthonic Descendant character into the psyche as Katia experiences with Asa. This frees Andrej – trapped in the same rut as Constantin – to take the next step of integrating with his own feminine counterpart: the meaning behind his and Katia’s climactic embrace. It’s the assimilation of not only the magical-animistic quality Asa epitomized but Andrej’s rational-materialist – the ideal evolution into what Wilber terms the Vision-Logical. What proposes itself as a horror story resolves in elation, the keening of the organ calling Andrej to that neglected chamber the yearning of Asa – as of Earth itself – to help her integrate Katia, so ultimately to unite with his quality. As witnesses to all this, it’s the viewer’s project to consummate the unseen sexual union of the surviving pair by practicing the lessons underlying their actions and bring them to fruition in the real, temporal world.
So you see who I am. You understand what happens to a character that’s been submerged and devalued for so long it may no longer even recognize itself. Impotent, it nevertheless gains power, and need only await its captor’s exhaustion after one too many wildfires, floods, droughts, or freak incidents to impress itself once more.
Wilber says “the other world is this world rightly seen,” and in the otherworldly Black Sunday, both realms hold sway for 90 minutes. They come to us via the one aperture that both penetrates and is penetrated, the human eye, through which we invade the natural world at the same time we allow that world into the supernatural depths of our minds. For Bava, preternaturally gifted with the third eye of the camera lens, the need to bear witness to finite history as well as infinite wisdom results in a Vision-Logical expression of not only each individual character but of the transcendent commingling of all planes, at all times, in all dimensions. As Daedalus his seemingly inscrutable labyrinth, he’s able to see above the chaos and proffer, as Doob implies, a “perception of stable order from the privileged perspective of eternity” – a perspective the viewer might adopt by seeing through the same shared eye, the better to recognize the next scheduled emergence of the spurned and devalued archetype as projects itself through the portals of Asa, Masha, and Katia.
The eyes of the world are watching you, and having been seen and seeing yourself, you are now accountable for your actions. The planet you’ve demonized and dishonored is now self-aware, and is ready to put its knowledge into action.
You have been warned.
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Kirksey, Barbara, “Hestia: A Background of Psychological Focusing,” Facing the Gods. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1980.
Lucas, Tim, Black Sunday DVD commentary; 1999 Image Entertainment.
Lucas, Tim, The Whip and the Body DVD commentary; 2000 VCI Entertainment.
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Wilber, Ken, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala, 1995.
Williams, Selma R., Riding the Night Mare. London: MacMillan Publishing, 1978.
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Note: All images are screenshots from the film.