Fall is here, and we are rapidly moving towards the final harvest, Samhain.
In years past, my Samhain articles gave information about historic observances in Pre-Xtian times, including historic sites. I always include a working, and some personal anecdotes as well.
This month, I had the opportunity to talk about ghoulies, ghosties, long leggety beasties, and things that go bump in the night with horror writer, and director Michael Williams.
He and his team just released a fun, and creative horror called The Atoning, which I reviewed, and highly recommend all of you watch. I would like to thank Michael, and his team mate David for arranging the very engaging discussion I will share with you below.
Being both a Pagan, and a witch, I covered topics of personal views on the Otherworld, spirits, and communication with them, psychics, and witches, and what terrifies human beings.
I hope you enjoy reading our conversation.
I will also share a working after the interview.
Saoirse-Thank you for chatting with me today, and thank you for doing this via internet.
Michael Williams- No problem! Thanks for having me. I appreciate your interested in The Atoning.
S- Horror is my favorite genre, so when Jennifer asked who wanted to review and interview, I was excited! First, I would like to say I read your professional bio, and noted this is your crossing over into horror. This means you hope to do more horror?
M- I am definitely open to doing more horror as long as the script and concept is something that excites me. I’ve always done films with a genre twist, so for my 2nd feature, it made sense to explore horror. However, I had to make sure it was a story that fit into my own sensibilities as a filmmaker.
S- Absolutely. This was a very creative story. Even for horror, which I like to call perhaps the most creative genre. You started out showing a haunting, and it turned out the family being told about WERE the ghosts. That is not something you see often. What made you decide to tell the story from their viewpoint?
M- Well, that was the basic premise that lead to the whole story that followed. I wanted to make a film that felt like a genre-bending horror film that was grounded in a compelling story about these characters. The film literally, and metaphorically deals with Hell. The initial premise was how horrific, and hellish it would be to be stuck in purgatory with the man who killed you, and your son. The main exploration of Hell in the film is Vera’s personal Hell of being in this situation. To me, the real horror of the story is what is going on within the family. The other elements are added horrors to help facilitate the deeper story of our characters.
S- Yes. What is your personal religious or metaphysical background, and how does that shape your concepts of portraying in the film what hell is?
M- I’m a Christian, and I always tend to make films with a religious subtext. However, I don’t like overtly Christian films and don’t want to make those. I would rather make films that can be enjoyed by people of all types. My previous film, OzLand, is a about a lot of things. However, the heart of it is about coexisting, loving, and respecting people with different points of view than you. Because I don’t make overtly Christian films, and leave a lot of room for interpretation, and self-discovery. I often am surprised by what people take away from the films, or even the complaints I get about them not aligning with other people’s Christian beliefs. In a way, I like that. I think it proves that religion isn’t so clear cut. Some people can watch OzLand, or The Atoning, and get various religious interpretations, while other people can completely miss it. First and foremost, I want to make films that entertain people. However, I always want to make films that stick with people after the credits, and allow them to think deeper about its story, and how it can apply to their own lives. As for The Atoning, I never intended to make a film that explored any real doctrine, or idea of afterlife. Instead, I wanted to create a world with its own rules. I have received some flack for not exploring the afterlife in a Biblical way. However, that was the point. Vera is unsure of her faith and beliefs, because the afterlife wasn’t as she expected. Plus, she feels like she is being punished by something she doesn’t deserve. While this isn’t Biblical, it all stems from a lesson I learned years ago. I had a preacher who gave an amazing sermon about how you can’t put your faith in people, or things because those things will ultimately disappoint you. You have to put your faith in God. The next week, he was arrested during VBS. This was a great lesson, and he knew we needed to hear it. In our story, Vera and Sam are both held back from their destination, because of the ties, and unresolved issues they had in life. Vera holds on to the facade of a marriage, and loving a man who doesn’t deserve it. Sam see his dad as a heroic figure. They both have misplaced faith in something that has, and will disappoint them. It’s a metaphor for how some worldly things can hold us back from our potential, or from a Christian perspective, hold you back from salvation. I am not trying to say that our film’s exploration of this scenario is Biblical, scientific, or anything. I merely created a fable in which other themes, and ideas can be explored. The “neo-purgatory” that we explore in the film is something that I made up, and is presented through the writings of our fictional character Charon Lilith. It is a whole new set of rules of how the souls are trapped, and the process for which they can be released.
S- Well, I have no complaints. Let me talk about my publication I personally write for.
PaganPages.Org. Our eMag is an online Pagan publication, and you won’t be judged by any of us.
We come from many different traditions, and have varying beliefs. We do not believe any one person’s beliefs is right, or that anybody else’s are wrong.
M- Exactly! No one can really know. It’s all about faith in what you believe in.S- Yes! As for creating fables. In some ways, some feel that is what the religious myths are anyhow. Just some become dogma, and some become awesome films.
M- And fables always have a message worth exploring.
S- Exactly. Human beings explain things with fables. The sun is a god that gets eaten, and is given birth to, for example.
M- Our lives, and experiences are so complex. Sometimes, fables can help us simplify it, and make it easier to explore, and understand.
S- Yes, they do. This article is going to be about the Sabbat of Samhain. Have you heard of that?
M- I haven’t.
S- This is what inspired Halloween, and we believe the veil between the world of the living, and the Otherworld is thin, and communication with the dead is stronger. That is why you see séances a lot at that time. It is also a time to honor the ancestors. So, themes I am bringing in are about the Otherworld and spirit communication, which your film dealt with. Your psychic was a lot of fun.
M- Oh nice! Yeah, I really enjoyed exploring that character, and working with Dorothy Weems to realize it. That is another area of the film where we have seen some flack from reviewers. However, I think a lot of people are missing how she fits into the bigger story, and her actual intentions/actions. We developed a lot of backstory, and a whole world around her, and how it works within our story.
S- She works with what I call The Power of the Witch. On one hand, she was not completely realistic. On the other, hand, she is the one who makes the atonement start.
M- Well, she isn’t what I would consider a witch. At least, she isn’t just a witch. She is more than that. She is an agent of the devil. We liked to say she received “brownie points” from the devil for every soul she claimed for him. She is more demonic than I think people realize. On the surface, and to the family who hired her to cleanse the house, she is just a medium who came to cleanse the house. She puts on a big show, and gives the family what they think they need to see. However, she merely uses these opportunities to find lost souls she can reclaim for a darker purpose. She can’t touch the souls destined to heaven, but she can reclaim those destined for Hell. With the rules in which our film works, these souls are stuck because of “destination confliction”. These souls are stuck in purgatory with conflicting destinations. They’re held together because of unresolved issues in life that keep their souls connected. Charon Lilith performs a showy seance to appease the family, however, she comes back later to summon her demonic minions. Each of these demons have a specific personality and purpose for “partitioning the souls”, and allowing them to find their ultimate destination. She knew what the family’s issues were, and used her minions to play to those issues.
S- Yes, she was demonic, I agree!
M- We liked to think she receives extra-long life for each soul she claims. The film is all about facades. Perhaps, she is centuries old, and continues to keep up this facade of a medium to prevent herself from dying, and ultimately having to atone for her lifetimes of demonic deeds. It was a really fun character to explore. I wish we had more room in the film to explore it. However, all of that exploration helped dictate how we see her in the film.
S- She was the one who did bring in the demons yes, but had that not happened, mom and kid could not have moved on. I am, and know a lot of psychics who are hired to go into homes. We talk to dead people, and some have done exorcisms.
M- Exactly! For Sam, and Vera, she wasn’t a threat. Instead, she was the catalyst to finally freeing them. For Ray, well, she was not the person he wanted to see. The more he read into the book, he realized what was happening. He worked to get closer to Ray, and Vera to keep them from “partitioning”. Even in life, he manipulated them to keep them on their side. In death, he had more incentive to keep them on his side.
S- So she POSED as a psychic. That actually makes a lot of sense.
M- Yep. She was just putting on a show!
S- Which I could see, but the family being haunted could not.
M- Yep! Towards the end of the seance, the family starts realizing something isn’t right, and that this woman might be doing more than they hired her to do.
S- Have you, personally ever had exposure to actual psychics, or anybody else who could speak with the dead?
M- I haven’t had the opportunity.
S- Have you ever had experiences where you felt the presence of spirits?
M- I haven’t. I have always wanted to see a ghost, or have an encounter with something unexplainable, but never have.
S- Aaaah. Anybody you know who did?
M- Not that I’m aware of. I have had some friends who have had experiences, but they were more than likely night terrors.
S- I see. You have quite a good understanding of the reality of spirits despite having no experiences.
M – Really? Glad you think so! I just imagined “what if” in a lot of these scenarios. I also wanted it all to be based on reality. I had to think, what was the other family doing and why would these things be happening. The noises or ghostly encounters were just for the genre. They were pulled from everyday actions the family on the other side could’ve been doing.
S- Yes, they were. Now I always say, fictional writers are not responsible to be realistic,
and one thing I love about horror is they sky is the limit to what can be portrayed.
M- Exactly! That was one fun aspect of the genre. There are so many aspects of the genre we could explore.
S- Yes. For me, being metaphysical, seeing fiction is fun.
M- Most definitely!
S- But I get disappointed in the public sometimes, because people see on TV or a movie, and assume it is fact.
M- I understand that. I hope people see our film as fictional. That is why I am disappointed to see people missing the message, and thinking we are promoting a belief that is false. Moreover, we hope people don’t think we are portraying psychics, or mediums in a realistic manner. I hope they see that she is putting on a façade, and is a more sinister character. Our character isn’t intended to represent psychics, or mediums. Ours is evil with purposes beyond just conversing with spirits, or cleansing houses. I hope people realize that. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to talk about that, and clear it up!
S- Honestly, some people don’t, and that is not writers or filmmakers fault. I realize that the horror is not meant to be realistic. It is meant to entertain! And it does!
M- And it can always do more than entertain! It can be a catalyst for messages, and themes that apply to our own lives.
S- True! I just like the scary! Which brings me to the topic of fears. As human beings, we are scared of so much. Things that could threaten us, our wellbeing, lives, and freedom, and horror takes those themes, and explores them.
M- Exactly! Monsters are scary, but they’re even scarier when they represent, or feed on our fear of more realistic things.
S- YES! And I think that is one thing film accomplishes. It helps us explore what terrifies us. Only we get to watch somebody else dealing with it! What terrifies you, personally?
M- Hmm, one of my biggest fears is losing my memories, or losing my sanity. Ever since I was little, I would collect, and hoard things so that I had a reminder of it. I’m terrified of losing things that mean something to me.
S- That is a pretty normal fear. Without your sanity, or memories, how could one function?
M- What about you?
S- I am agoraphobic. I am terrified it will take over. It has not, but the fact it COULD scares the hell out of me.
M- Most definitely!
For More information on The Atoning & Michael Williams, visit them at:
I very much enjoyed this engaging interview. In it, we learn about his creative process with concepts such as spirit communication, and the Otherworld we observe for Samhain. Belief in ability for spirits to communicate with the living is so widespread, even people who have had no personal experiences create films about it!
One topic that is debated often in the Pagan community is how film and TV portrays humans who have spiritual gifts. I’ve heard a lot of people com plain shows don’t portray things realistically, and the public makes assumptions about us based on fiction. I don’t understand this viewpoint.
How somebody could believe one human being could raise denizens of hell, fly on brooms, do immortality spells, eat babies, etc. as some shows portray is beside me. People who would believe such things would likely believe it all even if shown only the facts.
But believe me, if I could fly a broom, I absolutely would!
I also wanted to touch on the part of our discussion dealing with concepts of the afterlife. I think the reason people are so defensive of their belief system’s dogma about what happens after death is people need to feel like they KNOW for certain what will happen to us once we die. Otherwise, the unknown is too overwhelming for people. Not knowing what is going to happen to you or where you go is too much for some to bear.
In regards to fear, I polled some friends to see what terrifies them.
The answers are not in order, but here they are:
Swarms of bugs
Large, dark, enclosed spaces
The Xtain Right
Trump and out government
Worry about your kids
Being in line at the pharmacy
Forgetting your money
The Passing of time
Drunks with shotguns
Losing your vision
Leaving he house alone
People who hurt others
These are all things that can threaten our safety, health, and wellbeing, our lives, or our freedom. These are things that make our survival mechanism kick in, and tell us to protect ourselves. The very thought of these awful, threatening things are enough to send us into panic mode sometimes!
Then there are the individuals, such as myself who love to watch all this in movies, and finds it highly entertaining!
Another thing on the topic of fears, realistically speaking, is that there are two kinds of fears. There are fears that are rational, and then fears that are not. If you don’t want to go out clubbing because there is a tornado spotted nearby, that is understandable. If you decide to never go clubbing again because one time there was a tornado warning right before you almost went, that isn’t helpful. There is a time to push past fears, and a time to listen to them, because they are warning us of danger.
The trick is, to know which kind of fear it is!
I am not one of the people who thinks everybody should be brave and go out and do EVERYTHING with no worries. I don’t think that is positive thinking. I think that’s downright stupid.
Some fears are learned slowly over time and are ingrained in us so deeply, they shut our minds, and bodies down completely. This is called conditioned fear. A lot of fears are based on bad past experiences, and those fears are ALWAYS going to be there lurking in some capacity.
The trick isn’t to just make them go away. The trick is to learn to function despite them.
When fear takes hold of the human body, certain biological things are triggered. Hormones including epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisone are released. These cause your heartrate to raise, and your blood flow, and blood sugar levels to rise. These make you ready for ACTION! They give you an extra boost you need to defend yourself or run. Reaction to fear can also be freezing, or fainting.
So, what do you do when you are in a situation where you cannot avoid that frightening thing you deem a threat to your safety, survival, wellbeing, or freedom?
Long term, a solution that has been effective in treating 90% of people suffering from fears is something called cognitive behavior therapy. That is, gradually exposing people to their fears in non-threatening ways so they learn they will be okay.
I found a lovely quote. “The fears we don’t face become our limits.” A Robin Sharma is credited with saying that. Another nice quote is “Feel the fear and do it anyways”, which a Susan Jeffers said.
I , personally deal with phobias, which are severe fears on a daily basis, and it was all triggered by an illness that started a few years ago. The result is a battle to even leave the house sometimes. NEVER leaving this house in just not an option. I hate that I have become this way, and I hate that I have limitations I never had before.
I have not defeated the fears, by any means, but every single day when I leave this house, I have to do certain things to function, and I’m pretty certain there are other people who could do the same thing to get through a frightening situation.
I will be doing a second Samhain article for the November article, and I’ll include a more magical working, and topics dealing with The Otherworld there. For this month’s working, I’ll share some steps I recommend to take when facing a fear that have worked for me, and if you think they might help you out, give them a try.
Saoirse’s Steps to Facing Fear
- I tell myself I am stronger than my fear– Most times I absolutely am. Sometimes, I’m not. As words have power, I have to talk to myself the times I feel weakest. I tell myself that I CAN do this even if I think I can’t. The more I say it to myself, the more I believe it.
- I tell myself it is not worth it to let my fear hold me back.
- I tell myself I am worrying about nothing.
- I tell myself it will be over soon– And that when it is finished I will see I was scared over nothing.
- I tell myself the good things about what I am doing– If it’s a car trip I am dreading, I remind myself of who I am going to visit. If it’s a gathering I am dreading, I remind myself the people who I look forward to seeing.
- I remind myself what I get by facing the fear is far greater than I have to give up.
- I accept that perhaps I will not be so graceful facing the fear, but I will be proud when I do it anyhow.
- I focus on the achievements, as opposed to the perceived failures– If you focus only on the times you reacted poorly, you will forget the times you did well. Try to remember you CAN do well, and strive for that.
- Try, try again– Say you fall on your face in the mud running away when you see a cat because cats scare the hell out of you. Walk past the cat again in the future just to prove to yourself that you can.
- Get the hell out when you need to– I’m sorry. It’s not a good idea to stick around sometimes. You don’t have to prove your bravery to people sometimes. If you CANNOT get out? Just do the best you can.
Other Things You Can Do!
- Wear a talisman– Talisman’s charged with energy to make you achieve, be brave, or accomplish what you thought was impossible are helpful things to keep on hand when you know you are about to walk into a scary situation. Good luck pieces, or things people you love have blessed are good for this as well.
- Bless Yourself Beforehand– A little good blessing juju can only help. Some cleanse and bless, and some just bless. Remember to banish, cleanse, and bless afterwards as well. Although the positive energy of achievement might be enough good energy, you don’t need a cleansing or blessing afterwards!
- Take a friend along– Sometimes, you have to face things alone, but you don’t ALWAYS have to! It’s okay to have the support of loved ones when you need it. You can always reciprocate another time!
- Research the Fear– The more you know about something, the more you understand it. The more you understand it, the less you have to be afraid of sometimes.
- Make a poppet of it– Bind it, destroy it, or “strip its powers over you away” symbolically through doing so to a poppet representing it. The more energy you put into destroying its power, the less power it will hold over you.
The most important thing to understand about fear is, it’s normal, natural, and everybody has some form of fear or another. It is no sign of weakness, or failure. There are going to be times when you are powerless, or out of commission temporarily due to a fear, and that is human. We have to forgive ourselves in those situations, and try again another time.
Now, I have a blessing for you that you can look in the mirror and say to yourself during times when you are gripped by fear.
“ I look into my eyes, and I see the divine. I see the strength of my ancestors, and the support of all my loved ones, and mentors. I am greater than my greatest of strengths, and no less powerful because of my weaknesses. I am the human embodiment of the creator, and the beloved child of the keeper of eternity. I am the culmination of millions of years of wisdom, light, strength, and love.
That which I fear threatens me only on the physical plane. I transcend that. I have limitations due to this physical body, but that is not who I am. Who I am is limitless, timeless, and ageless.
I have the strength to enjoy the best of things, and I have the power to sustain even the worst of things. I am divinely protected until I am fated to cross the veil, and join the blessed ancestors, where I will watch over my descendants, and loved ones until my return to another physical incarnation. So Mote it Be.”
About the Author:
Saoirse is a recovered Catholic. I was called to the Old Ways at age 11, but I thought I was just fascinated with folklore. At age 19, I was called again, but I thought I was just a history buff, and could not explain the soul yearnings I got when I saw images of the Standing Stones in the Motherland. At age 29, I crossed over into New Age studies, and finally Wicca a couple years later. My name is Saoirse, pronounced like (Sare) and (Shah) Gaelic for freedom. The gods I serve are Odin and Nerthus. I speak with Freyja , Norder, and Thunor as well. The Bawon has been with me since I was a small child, and Rangda has been with me since the days I was still Catholic. I received my 0 and 1 Degree in an Eclectic Wiccan tradition, and my Elder is Lord Shadow. We practice in Columbus, Ohio. I am currently focusing more on my personal growth, and working towards a Second and Third Degree with Shadow. I received a writing degree from Otterbein University back in 2000. I have written arts columns for the s Council in Westerville. I give private tarot readings and can be reached through my Facebook page Tarot with Saoirse. You can, also, join me on my Youtube Channel.