A movie poster for the 1922 silent film, ‘Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages.’
Like many of you, I share an affinity for topics of interest that involve the guy who should have built your hotrod, Satan. Given the choice between Heaven or Hell, I just want to be where my friends are. And my post today is about as satanic as they come as it involves possessed nuns; witchcraft; grave robbery; cannibalism as well as the occasional human sacrifice. If that’s not dangerous enough for your mind, then consider the fact that the unmistakeable voice of William S. Burroughs narrates the subject of this post—the mind-fucky 1922 silent film Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, a flick full of all the sacrilegious subjects I mentioned above and much much more!
Initially, Häxan is presented as a kind of historical document providing legitimate information about the origins of witchcraft and paganism. It is also widely considered to be one of the very first films to do so in such vivid detail. Director Benjamin Christensen—a former medical student—even cast himself as the devil as well as making a brief appearance as Jesus in the film. However, before Häxan could be officially released in Sweden, Swedish censors requested that Christensen omit several scenes including a rather shocking one involving a newborn baby covered in goo being held over a boiling cauldron. Many of the depictions of witchcraft in Häxan were apparently loosely based on the results of research conducted by prominent British anthropologist, Egyptologist and folklore historian, Margaret Alice Murray in her controversial 1921 book by The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology. Subsequently, after its censored release and being summarily banned in several countries, the film was heralded by members of the surrealist movement—as noted in the 2011 book 100 Cult Films—who called the film a “masterpiece of subversion.”
Christensen’s care in making Häxan look and feel realistic truly knew no bounds. To reinforce its authentic darkness and to help convey the appropriate mood that is required for demonic possession he sent one of his cameramen to take photographs of the bleak, cloud-filled skies of Norway that he used throughout the film as a backdrop. His actors are genuinely terrifying looking and appear to be deeply tormented. In other words, Häxan looks like an actual snapshot taken in Hell.
A disturbed nun surrounded by an equally disturbing array of torture devices from ‘Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages’
Adding another layer of satanic panic related to Häxan is a story attributed directly to Christensen himself regarding actress Maren Pedersen who played “Maria the weaver,” a witch in the film. According to Christensen, when he discovered Pedersen she purported to be a Red Cross nurse from Denmark—though when they met she was a street vendor selling flowers. While they were in the middle of filming Pederson allegedly confessed to Christensen that she believed that the devil was “real” and that she had “seen him sitting by her bedside.” So enthralled was he by Pederson’s diabolical revelation that the director decided to include it in the film’s storyline. Presumably, because the power of Satan compelled him to, of course. In 1968, a condensed 76-minute version of the film was released complete with narration by William S. Burroughs set to a punchy jazz soundtrack featuring the sounds of Frank Zappa collaborator, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. Then in 1990 Häxan was restored to its intended glory along with the questionable scenes that were cut thanks to the Swedish film censors. I must be honest, if all of this hasn’t piqued your interest, I don’t know what would, pal. I’ve posted the Burroughs version of Häxan in its NSFW entirety below. SHEMHAMFORASH! HAIL SATAN!
The 1968 version of ‘Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages’ narrated by William S. Burroughs.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Baba Yaga’: The best ultra-stylish, sexy mid 70s lesbian witch cult film you’ve never seen
A preview of ‘Häxan’ (‘The Witch’) the latest from Swedish psych-prog rockers Dungen
Jeepers Creepers: Surreal illustrations of witchcraft-caused eye diseases from the 16th century
Witches, black metal demons & the devil: Scary illustrations that will become your new nightmares