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Book: “Goddess of Filth” by V. Castro
Publishing Info: Creature Publishing, March 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: One hot summer night, best friends Lourdes, Fernanda, Ana, Perla, and Pauline hold a séance. It’s all fun and games at first, but their tipsy laughter turns to terror when the flames burn straight through their prayer candles and Fernanda starts crawling toward her friends and chanting in Nahuatl, the language of their Aztec ancestors.
Over the next few weeks, shy, modest Fernanda starts acting strangely—smearing herself in black makeup, shredding her hands on rose thorns, sucking sin out of the mouths of the guilty. The local priest is convinced it’s a demon, but Lourdes begins to suspect it’s something else—something far more ancient and powerful.
As Father Moreno’s obsession with Fernanda grows, Lourdes enlists the help of her “bruja Craft crew” and a professor, Dr. Camacho, to understand what is happening to her friend in this unholy tale of possession-gone-right.
Review: I will wholeheartedly admit that I was one of those girls in middle and early high school who fancied herself a witchcraft enthusiast, as me and some of my girlfriends held the occasional spell casting after school. Whether it be at the far end of the baseball fields or in the fourth floor computer lab, we would cast spells, call to the directions, and do our best impressions of the characters in “The Craft”. Needless to say, when V. Castro’s novella “Goddess of Filth” opened with five teenage girls doing a spell while reminiscing about “The Craft”, I felt seen. Of course, the worst thing that happened at my spellcasting endeavors was some spilled non alcoholic wine on my backpack, not a possession from an ancient goddess…
“Goddess of Filth” may be my favorite story from V. Castro, and that is because she has not only hit all the sweet spots in terms of feminist spell casting and/or witch tales, she also subverts the traditional possession tale in ways that I have been aching for for a very long time. The first big win for me was our group of friends, consisting of Lourdes, Fernanda, Ana, Perla, and Pauline. When quiet Fernanda is possessed by an ancient Aztec deity during a seance, it is up to her friends to figure out how to help her. This is a novella, so the pages are limited, but Castro shows the fierce loyalty between this group of friends, and how they all have endured difficulties in their lives due to their race and class in their Texas community. Through flashback moments and action in the present we see how Lourdes and her friends are viewed by the people around them, and how Fernanda has been put on a pedestal that has both buoyed her but also put a significant weight upon her shoulders. They are seen only as Madonnas and Whores, and it hurts all of them, but they always have each other.
But what I loved most about “Goddess of Filth” is how Castro decides to tackle this whole ‘possession’ storyline. Fernanda’s behavior, on the surface, harkens to the classic demonic possession tropes, so much so that her devout mother calls in a priest to try and exorcise her. She becomes wilder, she masturbates, she speaks in Nahuatl, and at first it seems like things have gone terribly wrong. But Castro flips it, and decides to explore this through a lens that is more positive than one might think. Fernanda is now becoming more in tune with her sexuality and her desires. The deity inside of her, Tlazoltéotl, is a ‘Goddess of Filth’, but she is also a cleanser of sins. While Fernanda’s parents and Father Moreno see this as a demon, they are seeing it through a colonized and Western worldview. For Fernanda, Lourdes, and their other friends (as well as a professor of pre-Columbian cultures they seek out), they see Tlazoltéotl not as ‘bad’, per se, but as a necessary, if not sometimes violent, force. One of my favorite lines in this book was when Professor Camacho decides that a better word as opposed to ‘possess’ is ‘inhabit’, as Tlazoltéotl isn’t really doing anything to Fernanda that is oppressive or possessive. Rather, they work together to free people of their sins, whether it be through helping them come to terms with them, or through punishing them if the sins are very, very terrible. This partnership between Fernanda and Tlazoltéotl, as well as the friendships between Fernanda, Lourdes, and everyone else, are so fantastically feminist. And I could rave about the way that the obsessive and dangerous Father Moreno is a representation of violent imperialist religious oppression probably forever. I love how Castro brings in these bits of social commentary and makes them fit seamlessly and without any clunks along the way.
“Goddess of Filth” is an awesome, quick read, and one that fans of witch stories and possession stories absolutely need to look into. If you haven’t picked up anything by V. Castro yet, make this the one. It’s sure to satisfy.
Rating 9: Feminist, fantastical, and witchy to the bone, “Goddess of Filth” deconstructs possession horror in all the ways I’ve ever wanted.