The Sacrament: A Religious Horror Anthology

The Sacrament: A Religious Horror Anthology

DarkLit Press; Edited by Kelly Brocklehurst & Jamie Stewart; Available Now on Amazon

Review by Damascus Mincemeyer

In its most simplified form, religion is the pursuit of knowledge about who we are, what the world is, and our place in it. While science has largely supplanted religion in that quest during recent centuries. For much of humankind’s existence, tales of gods, divine intervention, and supernatural occurrences were not only vividly real. But often the only explanations available to understand the physical and cosmological phenomena of our primeval surroundings. As time passes and old belief systems fall into the realm of mythology and folklore. So, too, do their ideas and rituals and deities evolve. Consider the surfeit of modern-day works of horror that utilize demonic possession and angels and magic as plot points for entertainment rather than the spiritual notions they once were.

Like religion, one facet of horror is it’s preoccupation with evil.

Films such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist met with protests from overly concerned church-goers upon their original theatrical releases. And one need look no further than the Bible itself for scenes of torture, rape, infanticide, human sacrifice, the living dead, demonic possession, and apocalyptic destruction that make even the goriest splatter flick seem tame. In literature there’s a lengthy lineage of ‘religious horror’ rooted in Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost that continues today. Both the aforementioned movies were adaptations of best-selling novels. Authors like Flannery O’Connor routinely mined Christianity as inspiration for her grotesque Southern Gothic stories. Upholding that tradition is the DarkLit Press multi-author anthology, The Sacrament. Originally released in 2023 and subtitled A Religious Horror Anthology, its twelve entries explore the darker side of spiritual belief with both terrifying and thoughtful results.  

A man’s guilt over a high school bullying incident

That ended in tragedy is the cause of a truly nightmarish afterlife experience in Michael R. Goodwin’s superb volume opener, ‘The Hell That I Deserve’. A family outing to an amusement park haunted by the specter of a malevolent nun serves as the backdrop to Spencer Hamilton’s eerie ‘Smile and Say Your Prayers’. When a priest involved in a forbidden tryst with one of his fellow friars becomes the avatar for a pestilent rat-god. It leads everyone in their remote monastery into madness in ‘Brother Mine’ by Bret Laurie.

The collection’s second half begins with the spicy Cajun flavoring of Christopher Robertson’s ‘A Brother’s Love’,. In which two rough-and-tumble Louisiana siblings conspire to steal a cult’s mysterious tome, only to learn its significance in the impending Armageddon. A fraudulent doomsday prophetess learns the hard way that gods don’t appreciate deception in ‘Vestigal’ by Catlyn Ladd. Amanda M. Blake’s ‘Blood Mother’ follows two teenage girls in an insular Christian community plotting their escape when one of their pregnancies goes horrifyingly wrong. And a woman fleeing a controlling marriage becomes the lover of a very unusual incarnation of the Divine during the universe’s end in Drew Huff’s wickedly amusing closer, ‘The Word of Nellie’. 

With The Sacrament,

Editors Kelly Brocklehurst and Jamie Stewart succeed in assembling a hard-hitting table of contents with nary a poor story of the dozen. Numerous sub-themes exist among the chosen entries. Obsession, fanaticism, repression, acceptance, devotion, denial, love, fate vs free will—each of which highlight a unique aspect of religion in all its profound and sometimes ugly glory. If there is a complaint, however, it is the book’s narrow embrace of largely Christian narrative devices.

This may simply be a reflection of Christianity’s cultural dominance in the Western world. But with the exception of some bizarre cults and the explicit Hindu references in ‘Vestigal’, the overwhelming majority of stories exhibit a surprising sameness. There are, after all, more religions—past and present—than Christianity. It would’ve been interesting to see tales that utilized Jewish, Islamic, or even non-Abrahamic pagan religious ideologies. Where are stories of Anubis or Odin, Wicca or voodoo or the bloodthirsty Aztec gods? It seems limiting in scope not to explore such diverse religious avenues when so many are rife with horrific possibilities. Perhaps a companion installment (or two, or three) could expand those horizons.

That minor misgiving aside,

Five authors deserve special blessings for their storytelling superiority. A one-time priest becomes a forlorn vampire struggling with the idea of faith and whether a blood-hungry creature can find atonement in Elizabeth Sparrow’s thought-provoking metaphysical piece, ‘The Patron Saint of Monsters’. Even sloppy editing can’t dilute the disquieting tension in Milan Kovačevic’s ‘The Sanguine Rails of Greedon’. About an isolated Midwestern town forced to the brink by a drugged-up devil-worshiping sect that’s appropriated its seedy train station and one man’s attempt to drive them out. A foreboding atmosphere and careful plotting highlight the Lovecraftian motifs in Jake McCormac’s sublime ‘Seminary’. Which sees a young deacon sent to a remote island community to retrieve a missing priest. 

While several entries in The Sacrament center on cult activity, none show the destructive consequences. Such groups can have on an individual with as much unflinching, uncompromising detail as Kay Hanifen’s ‘The Testimonials of Lana Blue’. A startling, strange, and heartbreaking transcript of an indoctrinated female cult member so brainwashed she turns her back on everyone who loves her. The simple fact that the titular character expresses occasional regret is what makes her ultimate decision all the more gut-wrenching.

Yet without a doubt,

The compilation’s crowning achievement is ‘DandyAndy Fitness’ by Caitlin Marceau. When twenty-something Adriana deifies a social media exercise coach, it edges her into increasingly irrational, extreme (and extremely violent) behavior. The power in this story lies in its ultra-realistic premise and bone-chilling depiction of a person’s radicalization through personal belief. Adriana becomes so ensnared by her calling she develops a mindset no different than that of a medieval Crusader of modern-day suicide-bombing Jihadist. That so many give themselves so willingly to others on social media is perhaps the most potent warning in Marceau’s vision. A meditative expansion on what, exactly, constitutes belief in the twenty-first century. 

With a roster of authors prepared to delve into the mysterious, chaotic, and sometimes frightening realm of religion, The Sacrament is a satisfying and intriguing volume that earns a well-deserved 4 (our of 5) on my Fang Scale. Here’s a prayer to the DarkLit gods that future volumes to this are published.

The Sacrament: A Religious Horror Anthology (DarkLit Horror Anthologies) 

The Sacrament: A Religious Horror Anthology (DarkLit Horror Anthologies)

THE SACRAMENT is a collection of tales that will take you to the depths of terror and despair. It delves into the unknown and the unseen, revealing a world where the higher power has gone awry, and all that’s left is horror. Each story in this anthology is crafted by a diverse group of authors. Each bringing their unique voice and perspective to the theme of religious horror.

THE SACRAMENT is not for the faint of heart. It’s a must-read for fans of religious horror and for those who want to explore the darker side of faith. This anthology will leave you questioning your beliefs and wondering what really lies beyond the veil of our understanding. So, if you’re ready to face your fears and enter a world of darkness, then you must take the sacrament. Beware, for what you’ll find within these pages is not for the weak-minded, it is a journey into the abyss.

Included are stories from Michael R. Goodwin, Spencer Hamilton, Bret Laurie, Jake McCormac, Milan Kovačević, Elizabeth Sparrow, Christopher Robertson, Caitlin Marceau, Kay Hanifen, Catlyn Ladd, Amanda M. Blake, Drew Huff with a special introduction by Ross Jeffery and edited by Kelly Brocklehurst and Jamie Stewart.

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Author

  • Damascus Mincemeyer

    Damascus Mincemeyer was exposed to the weird worlds of horror, sci-fi and comics as a boy, Damascus Mincemeyer was ruined for life. Now a writer and artist of various strangeness, he at one point drew comics that appeared in Heavy Metal magazine, but now spends his time conjuring cover art and writing far-out fiction that’s appeared in over thirty anthologies. Including Fire: Demons, Dragons and Djinn, Monsters Vs Nazis, Satan Is Your Friend, Wolfwinter, Hell’s Empire, Hear Me Roar, The Devil You Know, No Anesthetic, Trigger Warning: Hallucinations, Appalachian Horror, Thuggish Itch: By The Seaside, and many, many more.His first horror novel, By Invitation Only, is currently with The Rights Factory literary agency awaiting submission to publishers. Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A, he enjoys music (including, but not limited to, metal, punk, gothic rock, industrial, ’80’s New Wave, and techno), horror and science-fiction movies, books, comics, and most of the time he can be found lurking about on Instagram @damascusundead666

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