The Horror of Saints, Slashers, and Virgins
By Matthew Williamson
Published Online (2012)
Introduction: “For every monster or vampire there must also be a virtuous—usually virginal—figure to counteract and nullify the spread of evil.” –Dr. Alfred Thomas
Horror comes in many forms and flavors, and frequently its roots are founded in rising sexual emotions from our cultural and social repression. This habitually stems from the mythology of Christianity—as much of the surviving medieval literature was curated by the Church—and is the base for our storytelling lineage. Even the earliest text in English, Beowulf, survives as a Christian adaptation of a Scandinavian folk story rewritten to promote the monotheistic principles of Christianity, and highlight references to the Old and New Testament. Grendel and his Mother—the main elements of horror in the tale—embody the fear of “Original Sin” as descendants of Cain. The first offspring of Adam and Eve—Cain who commits the first murder—is the result of Eve’s temptation by the Serpent to eat the fruit of knowledge. This connection between sex and murder probably started long before written language. While this association is present in the Old Testament, it was in the second century that St. Clement of Alexandria directly linked sex and sin—solidifying a social need to oppress sexuality to remain virtuous. He stated that “the babe just born has committed fornication, [and] has fallen under the curse of Adam”. It was St. Clement who created “Original Sin” which was never present in the writings of the New Testament or the teachings of Jesus Christ. This built-in system of shame has been so deeply ingrained into our culture that we had to create monsters to enforce this sex-negative culture.
The Original Sin of Adam and Eve (created by St. Clement) first gained popularity in Christian teachings in the 2nd or 3rd century. In the Jewish tradition, and according to the Hebrew Bible, there is no reference to Original Sin. The Serpent trickster that convinces Eve to eat the fruit was commonly thought of as a metaphoric standin for sexuality and the penis. This form of sexuality was turned demonic when the New Testament’s Book of Revelation stated that “the serpent” (as well as “the dragon,” a figure that Beowulf fights to the death) was Satan himself. Early and medieval Christians had it driven into their heads that Satan in his penis-shaped form instigated Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge, which resulted in the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and the first act of procreation, causing all humanity to be tainted by Original Sin. The direct connection between the penis and the devil was a real and everyday issue in the lives of medieval people, and was deeply ingrained with the clergy of the era. And who is the figure they held up as the one that can bring about the removal of sexual desire that the devil placed inside of everyone? Mary: the virgin who was cleansed of Original Sin by God in her Immaculate Conception. When her mother, St. Anne, held Mary in her womb it is believed that God—with the precognition of what Christ would do—removed all Original Sin from her. This is normally done during the sacrament of baptism, yet Mary would be born with this manner in as sinless a state as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. She is the only one who can give birth to the Savior of humanity: Christ, who died for our sin. In the virginal conception of Jesus, he is the only person to be born on earth that was not an act of sin, and he was placed into the body of the purest and most sin free person since humanity was tainted with Original Sin.