Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Warding off evil in The Exorcist

I saw The Exorcist (1973) for the first time on Halloween. I hate scary movies and this one is consistently voted onto "Top Horror Films" lists across the film community, but it was the price I paid for wanting to be social on Halloween.

It is scary. And gross. I could have gone my whole life without seeing it, but the rest of the night was fun, so I guess it was worth it. I tried to keep my mind off the scary parts of the movie by focusing on little things and came across a piece of Judaism almost right away.

In the movie the little girl, Regan, gets possessed. Sorry if I just ruined the movie for you, but I promise that will be the last spoiler and the movie is so ingrained in popular culture that you really should have known that part already. In several scenes at the beginning of the movie, Chris, the mother, is seen wearing a particular necklace.

Regan (before possession) and Chris. Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of
You can't see Chris' necklace that well in this picture (though it's clearly visible if you're looking for it in the movie), but it is a hamsa hand necklace. The second photo should give you an idea of what her necklace looks like. The hamsa hand is a symbol found in many ancient and modern religions (including Judaism) and it is thought to ward off evil. I'm not generally a superstitious person, but there was this one week where a bunch of little things kept going slightly wrong and I seriously considered getting a hamsa hand necklace, in part because of the superstition and in part because I wanted an everyday Jewish necklace and hamsas come in millions of designs. In the end, I went with a Mogen David/Chai combination that I posted a few months ago. Probably a good idea, since the hamsa didn't seem to work for Chris and Regan in this movie.

Here is a better picture of my new necklace than I originally posted. The Mogen David (or Star of David) is a typical symbol of Jewish identity. The symbol in the middle is a chai, which is Hebrew for life. The chai is an important part of Jewish life; we shout "L'chaim!" ("to life!") at weddings, b'nai mitzvot, conversions, holidays, and any occasion that celebrates and affirms life. If you've ever received a monetary gift from a Jewish friend and noticed that it was a multiple of 18 instead of a multiple of 5 ($72 instead of $75, for example), you can attribute it to the chai as well. The practice of giving in multiples of 18 is based on a Kabbalah (a mystical part of Judaism) number system, which assigns numerical values to each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  The word chai is made up of the letters chet (8) and yud (10), making 18. Thus, the number 18 and its multiples stand for life and giving in those amounts means you are giving a wish for life. I hunted for a Jewish necklace for a very long time trying to find one that I would want to wear every day and that would outwardly symbolize the profound meaning that I find in Judaism. This necklace has worked out perfectly.