LOGO
,,,

BARNABAS’ COLUMN #3: God VS Satan

BarnabasBlair

“Maggie Evans, I anoint thee with the blood of the owl, the raven and the bat……”

- Humbert Allen Astredo as Nicholas Blair on DARK SHADOWS, 1968

The above quoted scene, in which the Satanic-looking Nicholas Blair (a superbly theatrical Humbert Allen Astredo) attempted to sacrifice perennial damsel in distress Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) on the Dark Altar (because he loved her!), raised many eyebrows when it first aired on DARK SHADOWS in 1968. In a similar scene a few weeks later, witch-turned-vampire Angelique (Lara Parker) lit some candles as she called upon the Dark Lord to “hear” her. Both characters were seen standing before the Gates of Hell, bargaining with a gentleman in a long, hooded robe.

BarnaLaraAngelique

Lara Parker as Angelique

Soon after, a church group stationed themselves at the entrance to Cunningham Junior High School in Brooklyn, New York, where I attended the 8th grade. The fliers they handed out assured us that the Lord was waiting to save us, and that DARK SHADOWS had led more people on a path to Satan than any show in TV history.

In several interviews over the years, DARK SHADOWS head writer Sam Hall assured viewers that Angelique and Nicholas brokered their deals not with Satan, but with one of his “assistants.” It was a failed attempt to placate religious groups who were concerned about “saving the children” from watching this evil show. Hall might have lost the argument, but he won the war: in 1968 DS’ ratings were soaring. The following year it was one of the USA’s most popular and talked about TV shows.

All of which raises a most interesting question: can a traditionally religious person enjoy a show like DARK SHADOWS? It was a question I faced many times growing up in an Orthodox Jewish household.

I discovered DARK SHADOWS in October 1967, about a week before the show’s brilliant time-trip to the year 1795 began. I was 11 years-old and this story mesmerized me. I recall being terrified by that dark and stormy night when Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) awoke in his coffin for the first time. I screamed in fear when Barnabas’ love, Josette, arose from her grave to meet with him one final time. The storyline included Victoria Winters’ lengthy trial for witchcraft (she was framed by Angelique), and this fascinated me. I had never before, or since, seen anything quite like DARK SHADOWS.

During that first winter of the Shadows, I was only able to watch four of the five episodes per week. Sabbath began early in the winter, and no television was permitted during. Imagine my relief the following spring when the Sabbath commenced a bit later, so I didn’t have to miss any of the shows.

Through it all, I had to fight for the “right” to watch my show. Why was I watching this ridiculous series which glorified evil when I could be doing more uplifting things like studying the Torah, asked my parents? I wasn’t alone. At Saturday morning Temple services, the other kids and I would sit in the back of the Sanctuary, discussing DARK SHADOWS. Our parents were horrified. Our Rabbi pointed at us and shook his head disapprovingly.

In April, 1968, we drove from Brooklyn to spend the Passover holiday with my Uncle Solomon and Aunt June and their kids in Rochester, NY. Uncle Sol was a Rabbi—we were practically heathens in comparison to his family.

“What channel is ABC on?” was the first thing I said upon our arrival. My cousins, all sporting their Yarmulkahs, watched DARK SHADOWS with me. A few weeks later, Aunt June told my mom that I had gotten her kids hooked on “that damn, stupid show”.

Many years later, I got together with my cousin Simcha when we were both living in Israel. He was in Jerusalem, studying to be a Rabbi. I had sworn off religion by then. I was living in Tel Aviv, hanging out on the beach, drinking Pina Coladas.

“Are you still into DARK SHADOWS?” he asked me. I laughed.

Then he told me something which truly startled me. In the 1970s, when DARK SHADOWS reruns aired on a Rochester TV station, he and his dad would watch it together, after which they studied Torah. He admitted that his father had begun to enjoy it! Through it all, both of them remained unwavering in their strict observances of Orthodox Judaic tradition.

What a breath of fresh air that conversation was. Let’s get real here: DARK SHADOWS is a fantasy, an entertainment. It’s great fun to watch, but it has absolutely nothing to do with real life. I find it hard to imagine that anyone other than the delusional and unbalanced could be lead on a path to Satan by it.

The dilemma to watch or not to watch DARK SHADOWS isn’t limited to Orthodox Jews. Devout Christian Karen Rushing, a longtime DS fan, shares her own view on the subject:

How I Came to Know And Love the Original DARK SHADOWS Daytime TV Soap Opera and the Impact It Still Has on My Life

by Karen Rushing

In 1967, at age 10, I had two experiences that changed my life. During that year, the Christian faith I had been raised in became my own, through my own decision to pursue a personal relationship with Jesus. Also, my life-long interest in all things fantasy—myths, fairy tales, etc—became a burning love for my newly discovered favorite TV show, DARK SHADOWS.

BarnabasRushing

DS fan Karen Rushing (Middle) with DS stars Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker.

Though I’m grateful for a wonderfully loving and supportive family, my peers were a different story. For reasons I still don’t understand, I wasn’t just unpopular, I was strongly rejected, even to the point of being dragged across the asphalt ball court at recess. I had a few friends, but I didn’t fit in the world. That’s why both my new loves were important. My faith gave me confidence in a God who loved me no matter what other people thought of me. DARK SHADOWS taught me it was OK not to be like everyone else.

I was entranced by Barnabas Collins. He was man, monster and hero. His guilt and struggle with the monster within was evident in his actions, as was his love for his family and friends. “Barnabas” is a Biblical name, given to a New Testament man not at birth but because of his actions. It means “son of encouragement.”  Barnabas Collins and so many other characters on my beloved show were sources of great encouragement to me. These characters experienced worse hardships than playground bullying—supernatural curses, for example—and still they worked at becoming better people and making a difference to their loved ones. They even went through time to change events and save lives.

Years ago, I found out that a sister-in-law was also a Christian DARK SHADOWS fan. We discussed how many people couldn’t understand how we could be both. We knew, though. Both the Bible and DARK SHADOWS taught us of timeless struggles: of good to defeat evil, of every person with his/her inner demons, and of learning to accept others who are different from ourselves as people of inestimable value.

DARK SHADOWS has affected my life in countless ways all these decades, from ringtones to family bedtime rituals. Suffice to say that, when I leave this world, I hope to be remembered as a true Christian and a true DARK SHADOWS fan.

Well said, Karen!

Happy viewing.

Until next month, enjoy your journey into the shadows, whatever that journey might mean to you.

Related Articles
About the author
David-Elijah Nahmod
David-Elijah Nahmod is an American-Israeli half breed who has lived in New York City and Tel Aviv. Currently in San Francisco, his eclectic writing career includes a variety of horror mags, LGBT publications, and SF Weekly. He was thrilled and honored to be named Best Reviewer of 2012 at the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. You can find him on Facebook (David-Elijah Nahmod, Author) and Twitter (@DavidElijahN)
  • ProfessorFear

    Another excellent Dark Shadows article! Thank you!

    • David-Elijah Nahmod

      Thank YOU, Professor!

  • Sharon Smyth Lentz

    Thank you, David, AND Karen!
    Well done!

    • David-Elijah Nahmod

      Thanks, Sharon. Love ya!

  • Barry

    Great stuff! I love these articles.

  • Shirley Grossman

    Growing up in a conservative Jewish family, i didn’t have any issues with watching the show. My mother watched with me and dubbed the program Meshuggah Shadows; she thought the plot lines were crazy. My playmate from across the street who was also Jewish introduced me to the program thus earning her a place in my personal hall of fame. Only in recent years did I come to realize that many Jews were involved in the series: Dan Curtis, Lela Swift, Grayson Hall, to name a few.

  • cynthia curran

    The book centers around the figure of Leo Allatios (1586-1669) and his work, “De Graecorum hodie quorundum opinationibus”. Though born on the Greek island of Chios and raised an Orthodox Christian, he later moved to Rome where he converted to Catholicism and became a high level official in the Vatican library. He lived at a time when the relations between the Orthodox and Catholics in the Venetian-occupied islands were very irenic and pourous. He himself committed much of his time to explaining the theology and liturgy of Orthodoxy to the Western Church, and believed that the main things that separated the chuches were matters of discipline and culture. In the work cited above, which translates roughly as “On some current superstitions of the Greeks”, Allatios recalls many of the stories that he was told growing up of the spirits and monsters that haunted the countryside of Chios. A medical doctor first and foremost, he ties these phenomena into ideas of pathology, dismissing some but affirming others, and revealing to the modern reader the religious minds of the common folk of the Greek Orthodox world.

    The list of creatures that Allatios describes goes from the frightening and macabre to the extraordinary and benign. It is as follows:

    1. the gello: A cross between a demon and a vampire that tended to attack unbaptized infants. Mothers would protect their children against the gello by hanging talismans or containers of holy oil from the cot where the baby slept. Since the Orthodox Church does not baptize babies until forty days after birth, the child was seen as particularily vulnerable at this time.

    2. the babutzikarios: the Christmas gobblin. Both Allatios and the Byzantine writer Michael Psellos considered it to be a hallucination, but it was said that those who were born at Christmas were temporarily possessed by this creature every year between Christmas and New Year’s. Those prone to this type of possession were kept busy at this time by counting holes in a sieve. Distraction was the only real cure.

    3. the vrykolakas: A plague bringing zombie whose very presence was deemed fatal to the inhabitants of a village. The only way to get rid of one is to burn the corpse. The Church obviously fought vigorously against this belief, and sought to exorcise the corpse instead, with mixed results.

    4. the tympaniaios: an undecayed, unsightly corpse that had turned all black and was swollen to the point that its skin resembleda drum (hence the name). This phenomena was seen as the result of people dying in the state of excommunication without having received absolution. It was said that when the priest recited the words of absolution over the body, the corpse would begin to crack and decay immediately. Hartnup believes that this phenomena was tied into the spiritual power struggle that the Orthodox Church had to wage in the Ottoman period against Catholicism and Islam: only the Orthodox clergy could cure the tympaniaios.

    5. nereides: nymphs who inhabit watery and wooded places. They were seen as being lustful after young men, and would often deform their victims. Special care had to be taken while defecating in a field by spitting three times before the act.

    6. stoicheia: household spirits and the spirits of various places, often taking the form of a lizard or snake. Allatios saw with his own eyes how a stoicheion predicted both his arrival and departure from his home by appearing in the form of a snake. When his mother found a snake in a pantry, an old woman next door told her that this meant that Allatios would be arriving from Italy after a long absence. Sure enough, this came to pass within a few days. When Allatios himself in the same home felt the snake slithering under his pillow some time later, he was told by the same woman that he would be departing again soon, which also came to pass. People also told of a stoicheion who dwelled near the well that appeared in the form of an “Ethiopian” boy. He would cause no harm to people: people would either greet him or ignore him completely without much consequence. When building a new house, people would offer sacrifices to thestoicheion of the place when setting the first corner stone, seeking permission from the spirit to build the house. Allatios, having some formation in Renaissance Neoplatonism, believed that the stoicheia were spirits that descended into all things from the planets, giving them a virtue far beyond the status of “inanimate objects”.

    There are other stories of miraculous exorcisms and healings, but these can be discussed another time. In the range of creatures described, we see the presence of a cosmos other than our own, one that is often hard to square with what we would call Christian “small o” orthodoxy. In our own minds, we have been trained to think of the universe as a very strict and neat hierarchy: God-angels-men-demons-animals-plants-inanimate matter. Such a paradigm is a recent invention, as I have been saying lately, and by no means the only alternative. The bonds between the human world and the preternatural one were seen in the past as much more complex and dynamic than our own very strict divide between the sacred and the profane.

    In the gello, we see a concept of embodiment and human identity that now seems to us counter-intuitive. Hartnup believes that the reason Eastern Orthodoxy waits forty days to baptize a child has little to do with theology and more to do with ancient ideas of the development of the human person. Since ensoulment was not seen in the ancient world as taking place until forty days after conception, so the child was not seen as being fully human until forty days after birth. The child was thus not fully ontologically separated from his mother, and since the mother was unclean for forty days after childbirth, so the child was seen as partaking of the mother’s unclean state. At this time, the gello was a danger since the child, being in an ambiguous ontological state, was vulnerable to attack. After baptism, however, this demon was no longer a threat.

    In the cases of the vrykolakas and the typmaniaios, problems are encountered at the other end of life’s spectrum. Both phenomena were perceived as the result of violent or irregular death over which the Church had control. In the popular Orthodox consciousness, the process of the soul leaving the body was seen as something gradual, as indicated in the Orthodox services for departed souls at the third day, the fortieth day, etc. If the soul “gets caught” in the body due to an unforeseen violent death or an excommunication by the Church, it could not escape the body and could wreak havoc and plague on unsuspecting villagers. This also has to do with the controversial “toll house” theory in Orthodoxy advocated by the late Seraphim Rose using old monastic documents. Needless to say, these are far from our own ideas of the relationship between soul and body.

    Lastly, and most importantly, we have the stoicheia, or the household spirits. In Hartnup’s presentation of these beings, it would seem Allatios was the least dubious about their existence, having encountered personally their benevolent or benign nature. In the common orthodox Christian narrative of the cosmos, the stoicheia would really have no place. Are they angels? Demons? Some sort of miscellaneous creatures with preternatural powers? Or none of the above. We must also keep in mind that Allatios was not at all a person given over to superstitions or unorthodoxy. He was working right in the heart of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and when confronted with things that were demonic or the product of hallucinations, he would be the first to express doubt. On this and other phenomena, however, he was thinking with another mind than the one that we have today. In his attitude towards these household spirits in particular, there is another approach to the invisible world that we have long ago left behind.

    There are of course other phenomena in the Orthodox world that we could cite, such as the charms against the evil eye attached to icons that we see in the above picture, werewolves, ghosts, and many other things that we place now unambiguously in the category of “superstition” rather than religion. The question that must be asked is, absent these phenomena, do we believe in the same context as the one that existed when our doctrines first came about? If we don’t, it is no wonder that many would place our own articles of faith and legitmate miracles (the Resurrection of Christ, the miracle of St. Januarius, apparitions of the Virgin Mary) in the same category as the “superstitions” cited above? Perhaps the main problem is not one of the discernment of the legitimacy of the phenomena themselves, but rather of developing again the internal logic behind all of these preternatural events. It is a problem of no longer seeing the universe in strict quantatative categories and viewing it through the lens of ancient wisdom and cosmology.

    In terms of Orthodoxy in this country, the spiritual seeker must realize that Orthodoxy was not any more pristine than Roman Catholicism in any of these questions. There were just as many ghosts, superstitions, and “deviations” from what we would consider proper in the Christian East as there were in the West. For me, citing abstract doctrines is far from helpful in either case since religions that exist only on paper are not religions worthy of belief. You cannot abstract the doctrinal aspects of the Church from the daily lives of the people, just as it is much, much harder for us to abstract “faith” from “superstition” than we would care to admit. Obviously, the clergy help, but they are by no means infallible regarding these questions. As in all things in life, a well-formed conscience in dialogue and humble submission to the rest of the Church is what is needed to face a world full of things that we do not understand.

    « .)

    The Romanians also have a vârcolac (vyrkolakas), but it’s a werewolf-like monster that eats the sun.

    Reply26032009AMM (13:36:56) :

    Very interesting and much I agree with. You might find this article published by Dumbarton Oaks worth a look:

    http://www.doaks.org/publications/doaks_online_publications/DOP55/DP55ch06.pdf

    Folk belief surrounding the state of the soul after death clearly entered the mainstream beliefs of the church.

    This being Lent also, the Purple Demons are out in force.

    Reply26032009christina (17:28:32) :

    J

    Great Dumbarton Oaks article, AMM … And, of course, many thanks to our guide through the wild and wonderful world of all things folk religion, Arturo, for an informative post, which I think I will whip out next time some six-month-old convert starts lecturing the hierarchs and ethnics about “authentic” Orthodox Tradition and Orthopraxis.

    Reply26032009Lord Peter (22:04:37) :

    I

    :

    Arturo, I saw these evil eye amulets everywhere in the villages of Greece and in the Greek Isles. They covered outdoor shrines with icons and home shrines. Many of the older Greek women were upset with me that my babies didn’t have the amulets around their necks.

    Reply8122009Schnarchen (23:41:56) :

    Wow loved reading your post. I submitted your rss to my blogreader!

    Reply28102013cynthia.curran8@email.com (01:09:39) :

    Arturo, I saw these evil eye amulets everywhere in the villages of Greece and in the Greek Isles. They covered outdoor shrines with icons and home shrines. Many of the older Greek women were upset with me that my babies didn’t have the amulets around their necks.

    Reply
    They would those amulets among the deceased Byzantines of the middle ages. Also, Procopius the fame Byzantine historian talk not only about God but also the old Greek-Roman force of Fortune.

    Reply28102013cynthia.curran8@email.com (01:10:46) :

    I mean the Byzantines wore those amulets as well.

    Reply28102013cynthia.curran8@email.com (01:20:26) :

    Also, back to Procopius when he criticized Jusitnian and Theodora there is a lot of demonology. Justinian’s mother is inform that a demon not her husband was Justinian’s father. Justinian could remove his head and carry it. He could be above the ground. Most of the political criticsim of Justinian and Theodora had to be that they were blood thirsty demons So, 6th century A.D. Constantinople had a lot of belief in the power of demons. A lot of Orthodox converts are not familiar with the secret history but orthodox in the old country are, if they were some might not convert since Justinian and Theodora who Procopius made out as demons are considered Saints in the Church.

    Interesting article on folk belief in Eastern Orthodox Christian country.

Back to Top