Our second issue of Mysterium Tremendum has finally arrived! We’re proud to publish the only quarterly we’re aware of (and we’ve looked for others) dealing directly with the intersection of horror and the holy. If you’re uninitiated to the theme, you can find the introduction to Mysterium Tremendum’s first issue below.
In issue two, we’ve once again collected a stirring selection of tales from new weird fiction and horror authors. Better yet, we’ve revisited again a theme that is dear to SMM: puppets, the inanimate, and the uncanny. This time, you’ll find work from Thomas Mavroudis, Douglas Ford, Madeleine Swann, and S. L. Edwards.
As always, Mysterium Tremendum is printed, bound, and distributed directly from us. Each issue features illustrations, and is printed on quality cardstock and premium white paper. Issues 1 and 2 are both available at www.silentmotoristmedia.com.
As always, we appreciate your support. While several releases are scheduled for the latter half of this year, we depend on Mysterium Tremendum to keep things operational in the “low output” periods. If you enjoy SMM, we strongly encourage you to pick up a copy or subscribe to the quarterly on our Patreon page, where you’ll also gain access to early cover reveals, announcements, submission calls, and entire unedited texts from upcoming anthologies. Thank you again, and without further ado, here is the editor’s introduction to the inaugural issue of Mysterium Tremendum:
Horror and the Holy is the title of a book I stumbled across in the “criticism” section of my favorite used book store (blandly named “Recycled Books and Records”) in Denton, TX. It’s an underappreciated work by Kirk J. Schneider, a practitioner of Existential Therapy (it’s worth emphasizing that he’s not a philosopher, critic, or professor of literature). My encounter with it followed by several years my academic exposure to Noel Carroll’s theories on horror. I must be clear about Carroll here: The relation I have with his major work of horror criticism, The Philosophy of Horror, is antagonistic. I squirmed at his patronizing treatment of the genre as something that needed to apologize for existing, a thing surely impossible to enjoy without elaborate and unlikely justifications. Carroll had to turn horror inside out and strip it of its essence before he could take it seriously—why should we listen to criticism like that?
Unfortunately, much of the academic treatment of horror follows Carroll’s spiritless pragmatism. It’s almost enough to make you forget that The Bacchae and Titus Andronicus happily warm their seats somewhere in the peripherals of the canon without causing a scene. Enough to make you forget that Artaud is a thing.
The point is the “problem of horror” stuck with me through an extended period of rumination, perhaps the deepest rumination I’ve ever dedicated to any single literary subject or theme. This train of thought is now well worn, having followed me down various detours and byways into everything from comparative religion to UFO phenomena. At some point between Schneider and Carroll, I had already felt that the attraction of horror had something to do with holiness. I hadn’t yet discovered the multitude of sources that would confirm this perspective (I was seeking an answer, somewhat insanely, in Lacan at the time), but when I saw Horror and the Holy’s bright yellow spine, the moment was weighted with all the inevitability of fate. Aha, I could’ve said, so we meet at last.
I’ll save an extended exposition of Schneider’s theories for a future essay. For the purposes of this introduction, it’s enough to point out that the title of his book has become the catch phrase for this publication, the one-line response handy for sideways glances and curious inquiries.
I’ve briefly outlined my “academic” interest in the topic. Allow me to underline it with a deeper, more personal dimension:
My earliest memory of truly religious feeling is set during a late evening church service. I don’t recall the occasion, but there were candles and an atmosphere of exceptional solemnity (it felt like a funeral, but it couldn’t have been). Our pastor, a Southern Baptist on the dying end of the “old school,” was delivering a special sermon on the End of Days: “And the first beast was like a lion,” he said in a voice that seemed to amplify as it washed across the unmoving congregation, “and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelations 4: 7-8 KJV) Distorting the textual image in my kid brain, I imagined a sea of eyes, glimmering in a red-stained darkness. The eyes shifted as immense and horrible beings writhed beneath the bloody surface. The eternal evocation of “was, is, and is to come” rang fearfully through my imagination, filling me with an immensity I couldn’t begin to comprehend as I wept and begged forgiveness for whatever sins a boy my age could accumulate to justify such visions.
My parents didn’t notice, nor were they particularly affected by the sermon themselves. I, however, was already trained to read the Bible with the utmost conviction of its indisputable truth (that old hill Christianity seems eager to die on). I was also a creative child, despite being imbued with the thoroughly-protestant disbelief in monsters. This interplay of belief and imaginative space left me perfectly ripe for my first encounter with the holy, synonymous, in my case, with horror.
I guess you could say this early experience left me ready to draw these parallels. As it relates to this chapbook, what I want to publish are stories that echo with the sensations I remember vividly from that sermon: an intermingling of awe and horror at the doorstep of the unexplainable. Perhaps this metric is far too subjective. Perhaps it isn’t. We’ll see.
More interesting than my own inclination is the fact that I’m not alone. Soon after reading Schneider’s Horror and the Holy, which persuasively (if a little simply) argues that horror and the holy both operate in terms of extremes—namely, infinite expansion and constriction—I continued to look for writers willing to consider horror fiction sincerely within this obvious yet counterintuitive (thanks in large part to wrong-headed antagonism perpetrated by religion, leading to things like the “Satanic Scare” of the 80’s) context. Victoria Nelson has written two excellent books (The Secret Life of Puppets and Gothicka) that loosely explore this theme and many more; the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft has become a breeding ground for “alternative spiritualities” (see “Calling Cthulhu” in Erik Davis’ Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica, or Scott R. Jones’ When the Stars Are Right: Towards an Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality); horror cinema, as Douglas E. Cowan points out in Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen, is awash with conscious references to its own relationship to religion; the work of Jeffrey Kripal and Whitley Strieber posits a sense of religiosity intimately tied to the world of genre fiction, and immensely influential thinkers like Georges Bataille and Antonin Artaud have been alerting us to the transcendental potential of the horrific for half a century. The list goes on, all the way back to Rudolf Otto (yes, for the moment, we’re ignoring the Kantian and Burkean “sublime”), whose description of the experience of “the numinous” in The Idea of the Holy is fraught with horror. And it’s from this book that I’ve lifted the title of this little series.
Mysterium Tremendum: “awe-inspiring mystery.” Readers of Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature will find good weird fiction described in similar terms—a “spiritual horror” is one that transcends the “acceptance of popular standards” (53) and plunges us headlong into the abyss of the unknown. That, in this beautiful time of ours, rife with malcontent and blown wide open to a renaissance of horror fiction, is what every publisher of weird fiction and cosmic horror seeks to publish, even if they don’t view this aesthetic as particularly resonant with the mystery of the holy. It would be redundant to plant our flag on that hill and call it a day.
More than one writer of horror has spied this resonance and consciously sought to emphasize the presence of holiness at the heart of their craft. This is the horror fiction we want. We are happy to feature three such writers in this issue. This publication will have served its purpose if it creates a space that encourages further conscious exploration of this theme. It’s my opinion that the more horror can recognize its own motivations, the more likely it is to move forward. That is always the goal, isn’t it? Forever forward, forever into the unknown.
–Justin A. Burnett