Brenda and The Whispering Vaginal Closet

“The children and or the dog are the first to acknowledge the spirits.” A tiny rule of thumb kind of idiom saying. It’s real interesting to note that two of my roommates requested that I watch Poltergeist for two days; I walk into my Mass Media class and behold, we were going to watch Poltergeist. Part of myself asked what are the chances that we would be watching Poltergeist? But, another thought came along hmmmm, I must really need to watch it. Two class sessions, a whole lot synthesis, and synapeses later. I realized what Poltergeist really is.

Brenda is the name of the spirit/ghost that lives/lived in my old Macomb home. Brenda was a mean old heffer, she broke mirrors, she brought living birds to death, she walked in hallways, she played in the ceiling fan, and even hangout in the high-corners of a room. Brenda happened to alert our dog Prince (inserting a picture of Prince right here just because he’s greatness in dog form,)one time when one of my roommates family was visiting. Brenda was playing this night. She was spinning her self around in the ceiling and catapulting herself in to doorway. Prince began to bark at the ceiling fan, then he’d go over to the doorway where that picture was taken and bark, he’d go by the front door and growl while staring at the corner. Prince barked and growled for 10 minutes and in 2 minute increments throughout the night. We’ll seeing that my roommate’s grandmother was there she said, “hell no, I’m not staying here. Dogs can sense spirits and stuff. I am not staying here!” Rest assured, she stayed, but not before she knew the escape route, the local hotel number, and that Brenda retreated for the rest of her stay at our house. Brenda stayed at bay until the visitors left.

But, as I was watching Poltergeist, midway through, the woman spirit psychology detective said something to this extent. “A poltergeist stays for a few months and is after one person. A haunting happens over years and covers an area.” I then realized that Brenda was not after anyone specific in our house but, our house was her coverage area.  And Prince was just our alarm that knew Brenda was in our presence. But, had Brenda lived in the creepy attic we had. I think we’d have an entire story sort of like Paranormal Activity 2.  But, seeing that we’ve moved down the road, returned Prince, gained three roommates, and a pug dog (inserting picture of the not-so-cool terrified new pug dog.)  I don’t think Brenda followed us. But, it’s only left to know who may/or may not live in our new dwellings. 


Artwork by David “Vyle” Levy

“They’re here…” Our hairs rise at that singsong call of the child co-opted by demons. More than three decades later those words and this film still terrify. The 1982, Steven Spielberg movie, Poltergeist, suggests that a destructive presence lurks outside the realm of human psychology and therefore beyond our capacities to intervene. The Freeling family: Steve (Craig T. Nelson), Diane (Jobeth Williams) and their three children: Carole Anne, Dana and Robbie are powerless once the poltergeist slips through their television set and stakes claim on Carole Anne (Heather O’Rourke).

Might it be that this film shows the unconscious at work, turning emotions into nightmarish images that make them easier to interact with?

When we meet the “Free-lings” they are, as their name suggests, free. They live in a nice home in the quiet sunny suburbs. They are beautiful and loving without being corny or conceited. They are, one might say, enviable. The angelic five-year-old, Carole Anne, with silky blonde hair and big blue eyes is perhaps the most enviable. And so the film begins when she, like any good fairy tale victim, is innocently lured by the dark. Rather than disguised as a grandmother or young woman picking apples, the monster makes contact through a television set; the modern playing ground for the youth. Carole Anne tells the television snow her age and engages in an intriguing get-to-know you game.

Next come the paranormal events, when mom is actually disarmed at how the foreign agent restacks the kitchen chairs and makes a slide in the linoleum for the family to ride. These benign gestures prime the family for attack. Exploiting the Freelings when they are most vulnerable – at bedtime when they are separated and children feel unprotected by their parents – the poltergeist abducts Carole Anne.

It is explained to us by the medium, Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein), why Carole Anne was chosen. The displaced dead, rejecting the loss of their lives, cling to this free-ling child. “They’re attracted to the one thing about her that is different from themselves: her life force. …Something they desperately desire but can’t have anymore.” But there’s more at work here. There is also a demonic force that keeps Carole Ann close and pretends to be a child. Behind the mask is, Tangina explains,  “So much rage, so much betrayal. I’ve never sensed anything like it. It lies to her. …it is the beast.”

The rage and envy that hold the family hostage are depicted here and in scores of children’s fairy tales for a reason. These forces terrify us. Envy frightens us as adults because even though our adult mind can think about it, our child mind could not. We carry with us into adulthood an impression of something horrific that was beyond comprehension. How many gifted, attractive, trusting children are cruelly (i.e. willfully) demoralized by adults? What about subtler versions of attack on a child’s enviable innocence and capacity for life? Most adults as we age envy the young, of course to varying degrees. The very young, though they may not fully understand, feel when they are viewed through a hungry, envious lens.

Visual images of the poltergeist “beast” are consistent with the child’s experience. From the sucking vaginal-like canal with a reaching umbilical cord that Carole Anne and Robbie cling to bed posts and door knobs to resist being pulled into, to the tree that for an instant swallows Robbie until Dad yanks him out, to the ultimate, super-human sized, haggard, skeletal creature with thin, blowing white hair, the poltergeist looks like exaggerated aspects of the envious other. The skeletal creature is life’s shell. Ancient and starving, it is fiercely determined to fill up its hollowness by robbing Carole Anne from her safe and happy family. 

When destructive envy comes from caregivers, it is especially threatening to children. To adapt psychologically, children unconsciously treat it as a disembodied force. It’s not mom, or dad, or grandma, or auntie, or older brother, or the old maid next door, it’s a monster that could get me when someone I trust isn’t taking care of me. This is one of the reasons nighttime is frightening to children. It’s when they are alone and split-off aspects of a threatening adult’s psychology creep back into the child’s awareness.

These mentally immature representations of aspects of adults we encounter as children are in my view the origin of the demonic presence that haunts innocents in films like Poltergeist. Not able to know it as part of the human realm because to do so would make us feel unsafe in the world as we grow, we unconsciously locate destructive envy outside of our world, freeing us to continue to believe in the complete goodness of those on whom we are dependent for survival.



Scarab - Poltergeist (single, 1984)

(sounds like this video was recorded off the vinyl; yet, it doesn't matter about the shitty quality. Kicks ass!)