‘Hereditary’: The ritual of decapitation and the cult of the devil in Ari Aster’s film

In ‘Hereditary’, his first feature film, Ari Aster understands that nothing better captures the horror and spectacle of death than beheading as the first step towards the materialization of an ancient ritual in honor of the demon Paimon.

While is true that Ari Aster throws items into Hereditary: The Devil’s Legacy (2018) to talk about illnesses and mental illnesses suffered by Annie’s familyplayed by the splendid Toni Collette, within the imaginary of the film the possibility is established that the bodies of their children, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff), pay the price for the sins that Grandma Ellen chose, recently deceased.

Expanding more on this film that you can see on HBO Max, and taking advantage of the fact that Jordan Peele is one of the filmmakers who retake biblical passages in his work, we can say that at this level there is little evidence on the subject of the family demons.

God clearly describes the effects of “generational sin” to Moses as he gives the Ten Commandments: “You shall not bow down to them, nor honor them; For I am the LORD your God, strong and jealous, visiting the wickedness of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” [Éxodo 20:5]. This wrathful God promises to punish children up to the third and fourth generation if they do not comply with his commands. Although this would be seen as a religious superstition, the idea of ​​the repetition of patterns associated with traumas, fears and demons that are transmitted from generation to generation within a family nucleus is tempting.

Returning to the film, it is precisely the death of the matriarch the event that marks a sharp point in the relatively settled and normal fabric of Annie’s family, which from that moment begins an exhausting odyssey into dark and macabre territory. This journey, which could even be classified as a descent into hell, is marked by two ancient beliefs that are recovered and reinterpreted by the director of midsummer (2019):

The ritual of beheading

Due to the unequivocal way in which beheading signals death, beheading was a common practice in the ancient world, especially in the context of war. The story of David cutting off Goliath’s head [Samuel 17:50-51] is one of many biblical beheading accounts that describe how armies used to carry the severed heads of their enemies back to their capitals as proof of victory.

Aware of the forcefulness of the beheading message, Ari Aster crafts a key moment in the story, as well as one of the most shocking scenes in the entire film: Charlie’s death, a tragedy that had to occur to fulfill a very elaborate plan initiated by Ellen and the sect she led., and that triggered a series of terrifying events for the rest of the family. One night, Peter lied to Annie to go to a party, telling her that she was going to a school event, so she forced him to take Charlie with him.

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Ants as a symbol of putrefaction and loss of identity.

At the party, the brothers split up, Peter going upstairs to smoke weed, and Charlie staying in the kitchen, where a chocolate cake was baking. Charlie then ate a piece of the cake, but unbeknownst to her, there were nuts in it and she had a severe nut allergy. Peter grabbed Charlie and ran to his car and crossed the road to get to the hospital as soon as possible, but Charlie’s situation was getting worse by the second. Charlie leaned out the window for air, and when Peter swerved to avoid a deer on the road, he collided with a telephone pole, decapitating Charlie in one of the scariest scenes in horror movies.

Thus, In both the ancient world and today, nothing better captures the horror and spectacle of death than beheading. Unlike other disarticulated body parts, the sight of a severed head leaves no doubt about the identity of the deceased. In addition to its grotesque and perverse charge, the fact of separating the body and the head is usually associated with a tragic death that eliminates the personality, the particular features of the corpse. A representation that you will not find in Zack Snyder’s zombie movies or Robert Kirkman’s series (The Walking Dead).

Concept art of the beheading in the movie.

Provides the clearest possible proof of death, more forceful. Decapitation is also the last act of extinction of life. The ancient battlefield produced many non-lethal injuries. It was possible to survive being stabbed with a sword, shot with an arrow, or impaled (but with a technique you won’t see in House of the Dragon with his character Craghas Draghar) with a spear. However, beheading always has the same consequence.

The cult of the demon Paimon

Charlie’s beheading obviously broke the family and unleashed a series of supernatural events that led to Peter being possessed by a demon named Paimon (not even the Winchester brothers in Supernatural managed to hunt him down). In the infernal dictionary (1818), from Jacques Collin de PlancyPaimon was considered a god of the desert: “He is one of the kings of hell who, if he shows himself to the exorcists, does so in the form of a dromedary, wearing a shining diadem of pearls on his temples, with the face of a woman. Two hundred legions obey him.”

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Interpretation of the demon Paimon.

It is also reported that sometimes appears with the head of an owl or other bird, which explains Charlie’s obsession with birds. In particular, the scene where the girl cuts off the head of a bird that she flies into her classroom window to use as a trophy for one of the many statues she builds, later revealed to be statues of the King Paimon. And, to be honest, this mythology would attract the attention of Robert Eggers considering his work in The Witch and The Northman.

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Another reference to this demonic entity is found in The Lesser Key of Solomon (Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis), an anonymous grimoire from the 17th century. He is described as “the ninth king of hell, ever obedient to Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie, in Sandman), appearing in the form of a man sitting on a camel with a glorious crown on his head.”. This is the source that Aster picks up in the scene where Annie, searching through her late mother’s belongings, finds the book containing the rituals honoring Paimon: “When successfully invoked, Paimon will possess the most vulnerable host. Only when the ritual is complete will Paimon be locked in the ordained host of it. Once locked away, a new ritual is required to unlock possession.”

This scene also reveals that for the demon to reach its full potential, it must be contained in a male body., so, after the death of the grandmother, the sect intends to assassinate Charlie to free Paimon and use Peter as a container. Ah, the classic guest story we love so much in James Wan stories; in Stranger Things or even The Exorcist.

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Peter’s final possession as Paimon is accomplished through a series of ritual inscriptions that Aster introduces throughout her tale. The first one is “satony”a word used in ancient necromancy rituals to communicate with the dead that appears in the Grimorium Veruman 18th-century grimoire attributed to Alibeck the Egyptian of Memphis, who supposedly wrote in 1517.

also appears “zasas”a term used by the famous British occultist Aleister Crowley when he summons a demon named Choronzon. And finally lliftoach pandemonium is a combination of a Hebrew word meaning ‘to open’ and the familiar word pandemium, which in the context of the Lost paradise of John Milton he was referring to a place where Lucifer and the fallen angels exist.

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Behind the head of the bed, right on the wall, the inscription “satony” appears as part of the ritual.

The inscriptions are accompanied by incantations and invocations pronounced by the character of Joan (Ann Dowd), the woman who approaches Annie to offer her séances and cure her mourning, but who is actually part of the sect. “Satony, degony, eparigon”, Joan shouts this phrase at Peter as part of a necromancy spell that the reader is supposed to recite after having summoned a spirit to the world of the living. Reciting these words would send the conjured ghost (or demon) back to the spirit world.

It’s unclear why Joan would yell this at Peter, but it could be a way of wearing down his soul to make it easier for Paimon to enter his body, just as he describes. Tertullianone of the fathers of the church in the second century, in his work The Apologetic: The demons attack the bodies with diseases and fatal accidents; to the souls, with violence and disorderly temptations; the subtlety and agility of their spiritual nature serves them marvelously in harming souls as well as bodies.”

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This is how Peter, at the end of the story, suffers a permanent possession that, according to the book Demonology: realities, truths and dangersof mario fumero, It occurs when a person becomes totally possessed, annulling his “I”, so he is not aware of the events that have occurred, he is totally deprived of reason. In this dimension the evil forces have taken full control of Peter’s personality. Aster will return with the film Dream Scenario with Nicolas Cage as the protagonist.

‘Hereditary’: The ritual of decapitation and the cult of the devil in Ari Aster’s film