Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep were
vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
These mystic centers, often circular in design, are separate from the ordinary world surrounding them and are, therefore, potentially sacred, integrating “space at several significant levels,” including “global (cosmic), state (political), capital (ceremonial), and temple (ritual).”
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Jerusalem is an example: “The heavenly Jerusalem, the historical Jerusalem, and the coming Jerusalem are all reflections of a city already found in the mind of God.”
When religious faith declines, religious centers are replaced by secular surrogates, a point made by Zepp in his quotation of Eliade: “To the degree that ancient holy places. . . lose their religious efficacy, people discover and apply other geometric architecture or iconographic formulas.” In the larger community, that of the nation, such surrogate centers include Washington, D. C., the political center, New York City’s Wall Street, the economic center, and New York City’s Broadway and Los Angeles’ Hollywood, as prominent cultural centers.
In addition, various other centers, universities, sports arenas, national and state parks, military bases, state capitals, town halls, railway stations--are scattered, as it were, around the country, at regional, state, and local levels. Many of these serve the general public, but some are more or less the exclusive provinces of those who work in them or frequent them--trucks stops, shopping centers, research laboratories, factories. Zepp lists several such centers in his essay, identifying facilities for conferences, civics, medicine, agriculture, shopping, senior citizens, recreation, and students, all of which incorporate the term “center” as part of their designations.
Much of Stephen King’s fiction takes place in American small towns. In some of these towns, the church is still active as a sacred center. In Needful Things, ‘Salem’s Lot, and The Cycle of the Werewolf, the church, in its Catholic or Protestant version (or both versions) is active, if relatively ineffective. The Catholic and Protestant churches in Needful Things are both unable to resist the temptations of the devil, as he appears in the person of Leland Gaunt, and, in fact, literally take arms against one another in a riot of violence, death, and gore. In ‘Salem’s Lot, Father Callahan’s religious faith is so weak that the priest is easily overcome by the vampire Barlow, who transforms him into one of his followers, a member of the brotherhood of the evil undead, and, in The Cycle of the Werewolf, the local Baptist pastor, Reverend Lester Lowe, is the story’s antagonist from the very beginning of the story.
King, like Dean Koontz, Dan Simmons, Robert McCammon, and other contemporary horror writers, tends to relocate the sacred center not in surrogate places, but rather in the solitary holy individual or the consecrated few. In some cases, these individuals are not religious in the traditional sense; other times, they are. In Desperation, David Carver is the religious protagonist whose faith carries the day against the demo n Tak. In Koontz’s The Taking, Molly Sloan and her husband Neil fend of the onslaught of Satan and his minions. In Simmons’ Summer of Night, altar boy Mike O’Rourke leads his peers against the ancient evil that attacks his hometown. In William Peter Blatty, Father Damian Karras exorcises the legion of demons who have possessed pre-pubescent Regan MacNeil. These characters are more or less religious in the traditional sense.