Thursday 17 February 2011

Gently Johnny; Sex, Sacrifice and the Wicker Man

If you go to my profile page here you will see that I’ve listed The Wicker Man as one of my all-time favourite movies. I do stress that this is the 1973 original directed by Robin Hardy and written by Anthony Shaffer, not the ghastly 2006 remake with Nicholas Cage. The movie recently came up in a discussion on Blog Catalogue in a post by my friend Yun Yi. So, taking my cue from this, I thought I would say a little more on the subject, really just to clarify any confusion that might remain.

To begin with I’m not quite sure exactly when I first came across it. It was on television, certainly, but how, where or when I simply can’t remember. What I do remember is that I made a huge impact on me (I was just beginning my flirtation with witchcraft and paganism), particularly the ending, when Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is sacrificed by a modern-day pagan community, anxious to appease the gods of the earth and thus ensure a fruitful harvest. I’ve watched it dozens of times since, and that is not an exaggeration.

The movie has an interesting history. It was made in the days when cinemas offered two features in a single sitting, the main dish and a minor starter. The Wicker Man was the minor starter. No matter: the studio executives in both Britain and the United States were so perplexed by the movie and its themes that they insisted on quite hefty cuts, which had the effect of completely distorting the time sequence as well as removing some superb scenes.

The movie was shown in a bowdlerised version and that was that; it was expected to die, the usual fate of the B feature. It did not; it grew and grew, catching the imagination of horror fans everywhere, until it acquired a huge cult following. Now fully restored in the director’s cut, it holds a 90% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, an aggregate of all reviews, not bad for a film made almost forty years ago.

As I said in a previous blog, so far as I am concerned The Wicker Man is the best pagan-themed movie ever made, full of drama, sexuality, ritual and song. The sacrifice at the end recalls the fate of the Roman captives after the Battle of Teutoburger Wald in 9AD, when many were allegedly burned to death inside huge wicker effigies.

For those who don’t know the movie, or who are confused by its themes, as I said on Blog Catalogue it’s essentiality about the cycles of life; about sex, death and reincarnation. The community of Summerisle, a remote Scottish island hidden away from the world, lives by its produce, apples principally. They also worship the old gods and are completely free of any form of inhibition or Christian concepts of morality. Sex is not just practiced, it’s celebrated as the generative force in nature, represented by the Maypole, the image of the penis.

A crisis comes when the crop fails. A sacrifice is needed and that sacrifice has to be a male virgin, Sergeant Howie, a policeman from the mainland, lured to the island on the pretext of a report about a missing girl. He arrives two days before the great festival of May Day and is steadily manipulated to the point where he takes on the guise of Punch, the great fool victim, in a procession. He is king for a day, and who but a fool would take on that roll? In the end the virgin, Christian policeman is led to his appointment with the Wicker Man.

Everyone should be satisfied; firm in his Christian beliefs, Howie is accorded a martyr's death; he will sit in heaven among the elect. Firm in their pagan beliefs, the islanders look to a renewal of their fertility, though whether the gods are listening or not is never revealed.

Apart from the story I just love the mystery, the magic and the music. My favourite scene is that which features the singing of Gently Johnny, as another virgin is sacrificed, this time to Aphrodite in a living form. Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee), the community leader, offers a boy, Ash Buchanan, to Willow Macgregor (Brit Ekland), the daughter of the pub landlord, the community’s sexual vamp. Willow and Ash fuck, the people in the bar sing, Lord Summerisle muses;

I think I could turn
and live with animals.

They are so placid
and self-contained.

They do not lie awake in the dark
and weep for their sins.

They do not make me sick
discussing their duty to God.

Not one of them kneels to another

or to his own kind that lived thousands of years ago.

Not one of them is... respectable
- or unhappy
all over the earth.

This is cut to a scene with Howie praying by his bedside, as the sounds of Willow’s sexual encounter come through the wall. These are scenes of innocence and guilt, I’ll leave you to decide which, but the pagans will know, yes, they will know. :-)

I put my hand all on her knee
She says to me do you want to see?

I put my hand all on her breast
She says do you want to be kissed?

I put my hand all on her thigh
She says to me do you want to try?
I put my hand all on her belly
She says to me do you want to fill 'ee?

Gently, gently, Johnny,
Oh gently, gently, Johnny,
Johnny, my jigaloo!


  1. Harder,Johnny,Harder!Pound it!

  2. Ana: if you haven't read these already, there are a few books you might like:

    The Golden Strangers - Henry Treece
    The King Must Die - Mary Renault
    The Bull From The Sea - Mary Renault

    I saw The Wicker Man when it first came out, but I was already a lot deeper into the past in those days, having started digging my ancestors (literally) some years before. There are magicks and then there are magicks and some are less innocent than the simple quid pro quo depicted in the movie.

    I'm thinking about seeing The Eagle this weekend. I hope it is good.

  3. Thanks Ana!
    I was about to tell you at blogcatalog that I re-watched only a little part of movie and was able to aware of the beautiful music and songs (I am fond of most of falk songs). Yes, there are so much historical contexts inside this simple story of murder I have not yet seen.
    I was too stunned about the ending. I could not get the conversation right (I am still trying to find a video of the movie with chinese subtitle) so I know I missed so much details in conversations. My first understanding this movie was how far a religion can go (no matter christianity or paganism). I still hold this idea regardless the very fascinating pagan tradition.
    I don't know very much about paganism but I believe its spirit never died in western culture. I recently have a revived interest about Hippie subculture and I do see how much paganism still exists and continue to influence the west.
    However, what lies deep inside this murder of chiristian virgin by all pagan islanders male is still puzzles me. I must watch again, better with a Chinese subtitle.
    Thanks again Ana. I love your writing.

  4. Anthony, Inkubus Sukkubus is my favourite band.

  5. Calvin, thanks I'll add those to my list. Yes, I want to see The Eagle to. It won't be released here until next month,

  6. Yun yi, thank you so much and for the inspiration behind the post. If there is any specific scene you would like me to 'translate' for you do please say.

  7. Beautiful Ana! As I said, I'm going to have to check out this movie.

  8. You must let me know what you think when you do.

  9. I had heard of this movie and I will watch it. People must realize that a lot of Christians use the term 'Paganism' to distance themselves from a perceived primitive people. How naive!

    A lot of the so called 'Pagan' rituals are still celebrated today - decorating a tree, celebrating Halloween, Easter etc. You have to delve into the history of Aryans as they emerged from settlements in modern day Turkey and Armenia and colonized Europe, Persia and North India. They even controlled Rome till towards the end of the Roman empire, when one of the last Roman emperors, Constantine converted to the newly emerging Christianity.

    The Aryans that had by then migrated into the Indian subcontinent carried with them some Aryan rituals that survived the onslaught of later expansionist faith systems. With the Druids of Europe and Brahmans of India sharing eerily similar philosophies, it becomes an interesting subject for any Historian to delve deeper and put this jig-saw puzzle together. Because of its antiquity, the only clues that we have today come from our common customs, linguistics and festivals.

    The Shiva linga is the Indian Maypole. The annual burning of the Effigy of the vile king Ravan, his brother and son are the Indo-aryan versions of the Wickerman. Go figure!

    And Yes, the festival of Colors, Holi of the Indo Aryans (North Indian Hindus) is a version of Nau Roz festival of the Persian Aryans (now Iranian Muslims)and Easter of the Armenian Aryans (now Armenian Christians). It all began at Gobekli Tepe. The rest is history. Dig as much as you want. There is a gold mine for a Historian / Anthropologist here.

  10. Yesterday my sister say to me that "Definitely, maybe" with Ryan Reynolds was her movie, she likes cinema and she choice this rom com from all the movies ´s world. In this line I like "The blood of the heroes" of Rutger Hauer, it is not one of the best movie of cinema history but I enjoy too much see it repeatedly, i saw more than four times, i wanted buy the DVD but the sellers from here do not have the movie. I feel "sad" because I do not find this movie in no place . I like the beautiful blonde from "The Wicker Man, sound too much fun fuck her in the middle of a song that say gently, *name* gently, *name*. A kiss.

  11. Hi Ana,
    Very interesting movie.
    I'll look for it (???)

  12. ana, thanks for the already "translation" of lyrics of songs (my head has been full of "gently jonny" since last night:-). i admit that i didn't get most of the story details. i didn't even know that boy was brought for the lady for sex (lucky boy?). i will re watch and possibly write a review, if my energy permits.

  13. I've googled some 'Inkubus Sukkubus' songs - because you just said they were your favourite band - and I seem like them. Could you, please, name a few songs that you think are their best? :)

  14. It's oneof my favorite movie

  15. I live in a "paginized" community, so the film has always been very popular here. Ah, Ana-you're just a free-spirited, skinny-dipping flower girl of the 60s redivivus.

  16. "Everyone should be satisfied; firm in his Christian beliefs, Howie is accorded a martyr's death; he will sit in heaven among the elect... ."

    Hmm... Howie was no suicide bomber Ana.

  17. Lekak, thank you for such an interesting contribution, lots to think about.

  18. Mario, the blonde is Brit Ekland, quite a bit older now, so well past the fuck scenes. :-))

  19. Harry, if you find it you must let me know what you think.

  20. Yun yi, I'll look forward to that.

  21. Duot, what I'll do is add a blog later today, naming a few of my favourites. Keep watching!

  22. Bernard, I'm delighted to hear that. I'll check out your blog later.

  23. NP, I never thought of it like that, but I suppose I must be. :-))

  24. Nobby, suicide bombers would hardly conform to a Christian notion of martyrdom, or even an Islamic one, for that matter. In the Christian tradition martyrdom is surely not deliberately sought; it comes as a by-product of faith, the determination to stand witness to perceived truths. Here I was thinking of Howie's statement to the effect that he believed in the life eternal as promised by Jesus Christ. I'm sure you'll remember Summerisle's response "That's good, for believing what you do we confer upon you a rare gift these days - a martyr's death. You will not only enjoy the life eternal but sit with the saints among the elect", or words to that general effect.

  25. I fully support your latest comment Anastasia,

  26. I do not think that any Christian could be satisfied with dying simply because a pagan or atheist puts them to death announcing that they will meet their God in the afterlife Ana.

  27. "Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done."

    The question is was this meant to be God's will?

    Somehow, I doubt it. But then I doubt whether the film ought to be taken this seriously :-)

  28. Nobby, it’s certainly no longer the fashion, something clearly understood by Summerisle, but the early church was full of people who faced death for their beliefs, even if the exercise of such belief was simply to live alongside a pagan majority. As for God’s will that is a little like His peace, beyond all understanding. :-)

  29. @Lekhak: "They even controlled Rome till towards the end of the Roman empire, when one of the last Roman emperors, Constantine converted to the newly emerging Christianity."

    Actually no, the Roman religion was a proto-monotheist religion that believed the Gods, though linkable to the Greek pantheon for the most part, were essentially forces of nature that could all combine in to a single greater God named Jupiter Optimus Maximus, who was not capable of doing evil. The Roman religion, with its mad insistence on absolute correct ritual, blood, and legalism, influenced Christianity to make it the farce of Christs original words that we see today.

  30. "The question is was this meant to be God's will?"

    I believe Job 38-43 answers that handsomely.

  31. Thanks, Jeremy. I shall refresh my memory. :-)

  32. Theistic evolutionary discourse sets the scene for an understanding of Theology today. This is consistent with most major churches including Catholic, Orthodox and some protestant churches. The Bible provides analogy, metaphor and other literary devices to engage the reader. What happens in the OT stories of Genesis and Job are good examples of this. Nevertheless, there are many things to be taken literally and Christian faith depends on this; especially with regards to the NT.

    Now we have this out of the way Ana I can respond directly to your latest comments. I appreciate what has already been said here about death - or more accurately for this discussion, martyrdom - is not as fashionable as it once was but this is not my point. You used the word 'satisfied' to talk about the outcome in the film where a Christian is put to death by pagans. This act is described as 'satisfactory' because the subject of this story is a Christian and, as far as I can tell ,the argument is that the experience is all the more meaningful because of him being a Christian which is historically allied to martyrdom and a belief in an afterlife.

    However, I dispute this view because we are talking about murder and murder can never be explained away as 'satisfactory' even when it
    leads to martydom and an earlier than expected appointment with the afterlife. The error as I see it in your analysis is to focus attention on the assumed feelings of the Christian rather to than the sin of the act which has been committed.

    I have quoted the words of Jesus in an earlier comment because it tells us that even He did not want to die. But then He knew God's will and accepted it.

    As far as God's will is concerned you are right to say that it is a mystery for most people. Discernment is not and never will be an exact science. However, it seems to me at least that the Christian Saints (The Oxford Book of Saints details some fascinating biographies)knew more than most about God's will. For them God's will was often quite clear. If you read these biographies such a view is self evident.



  33. Nobby, that of course was my spin; Howie was in no hurry to die. But the act itself, one of ritual sacrifice, was surely more than simple murder. Howie remains firm in his witness, even continuing to preach and exhort from within the wicker man itself. As he is consumed by the flames he calls on Jesus. His end would seem to conform to concepts of martyrdom, just as much as those of people, some of them children, who died in the persecutions of Nero. This is just my interpretation: theology is not my strongest subject, to say nothing of the will of God.:-)

    Oh, how are things in Oman? Is there any sign yet of the Arab revolution, or are people more content?

  34. Oman is good Ana. But I recall a week before the uprising in Egypt a BBC interview with a respected Cambridge Professor on the Middle East saying that there was absolutely no chance of any uprising in Egypt or Libya or anywhere else in the region. I also remember Telegraph experts recommending buying shares in Northern Rock a week before the collapse. What does this tell us? That I have no wish to tempt fate :-)

  35. I watched this movie last night, and the Gently Johnny scene was omitted! Will have to find the director's cut version. Apparently, censorship is alive and well in the US, even on an old movie such as this.

    1. Thanks, Kris. The director's cut is available on AmazonUK. I've just checked on They have something described as an 'extended version', though I'm not sure that's the same thing. The price seems outrageous.