Penelope Grundle is a life coach, New York Times best-selling author and twice-Editor of Australian Vogue. She is also NUPSA’s resident advice columnist, in accordance with the terms of her Community Service Order (Crimes [Sentencing Procedure] Act 1999).


By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. Welcome to October, my luminous night-children. Such a time it is. Such a time.

By ‘something wicked’, I refer of course to Madonna, whose pungent cocktail of voodoo and macrobiotics I find especially resistible at Halloween. She’s an absolute horror during the gala season: lock eyes with her across a crowded ballroom (even masked), and the woman shambles at you like the risen dead, held together by necromancy and strategic lighting.

I mean, we all cheat death in our own way, darling. I’ve made no bones about my occasional trips to La Forme; the work they do there is nothing short of phenomenal, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. But as for Mz Ciccone, I shudder to think how she achieves it. A demonic pact? A soul bargain? Her own heart, wizened in a canopic jar, to bind her energy to this plane?

Maybe it’s ecdysis: she sheds her own skin and eats it, like a lizard. Or perhaps there’s just a portrait of her tucked away somewhere, growing older by the day.

Now, if this all sounds unseasonably harsh for an Ask Penny! column, I do apologise. In truth, I ordinarily despise women who tear shreds from each other (particularly on the basis of appearance), as men would have us do. And believe it or not, Madge and I were once dear friends! We met in New York in the 1980s, and for many years made a game of reinventing each other publicly. She helped me select my now iconic black frames (and my first husband, Dmitri), and I introduced her to Gaultier and his splendid geometric breastwear.

I even defended her earlier this year, when Elton John attempted to strangle her at an Oscar de la Renta dress fitting.

But the sad truth of it, mes enfants, is that she stabbed me in the back. Quite literally. With a salmon fork, at my own winter solstice gathering. I was pouring a generous libation to Persephone at the time; she tripped over a dining chair (if you believe her side of it) and ‘inadvertently’ plunged the utensil into my shoulder blade – causing me to spill half a bottle of Cabernet all over Colin Farrell, who was twelve years sober at the the time. Russell Brand, already naked, attempted to mop it up with his own hair, and… well… things all went downhill from there.

And she told me that my lawn furniture was tacky. I can’t forgive her, darling. I just can’t.

Now she haunts me like a poltergeist from party to party, hoping to win back my trust. She also sends me an endless supply of ‘yin/yang’ fruit baskets each week; tomato is quite yin and mushrooms exceedingly yang, apparently. (Or is it the other way round?) Whether I’ll ever forgive her is impossible to say. Even I have trouble letting go sometimes.

But enough about my problems, mes chats noirs. What demons, emotional or infernal, are vexing you this Hallow’s Eve?


Hi Penny,

I have a little sister who is very cute but also, quite frankly, seems demonic at times and makes me concerned. Recently, my mother woke up to her standing over the bed watching her intently, and when asked what she was doing, she said, “They wanted to take your eyes but I said no.” She then turned and went back to her own room.

She has seriously bitten another girl in her kindergarten class (no stitches required, but close!), the family pets are terrified of her and she has several imaginary friends who she talks to late at night and plays games with. As someone who clearly has their finger on the spiritual pulse, do you think my sister may be possessed? Should I arrange an exorcism (and is this something you may dabble in if requested)?

Penny please help!

Sister of the Damned


Dear Sister of the D,

I’m so sorry to hear about your sister’s predicament, and the obvious distress it’s causing both you and your mother. Possession is a gross inconvenience, and enormously troubling for children; twins, especially, are susceptible to it, and you’ll often find them holding hands and staring vacuously into the middle distance.

Unfortunately, an exorcism is all the more difficult to procure these days. Even the Americans seem to have lost their appetite for the practice (despite their Biblical predilections), as they’re firmly opposed to the idea of casting an unwelcome entity from a woman’s body, regardless of the pain it’s causing her.

Thankfully, darling, I do a great deal more than dabble in it. I’m well versed in the arts of demonic extraction, as you might expect from one who routinely advises the wealthy and powerful. There are several options we can explore, and a great many psychopomps we can appeal to – but first, it may be prudent to examine your sister’s behaviour a little more closely, just to establish the precise nature and degree of the problem.

Her nocturnal observation of your mother, for example. If she really did say, “They wanted to take your eyes but I said no,” that may not indicate a demon at all, but some other psychic entity entirely. Demons are notoriously fond of human eyeballs and hearts (possessing neither themselves), so it’s inconceivable that your sister, under the control of one, would stand in the way of their being harvested.

Unless, of course, she simply said no because she intended to pluck them out and eat them herself. But that implies a certain wit and subtlety of wordplay, well beyond the grasp of a simple hellspawn.

Such a curious basket of symptoms she presents… The bitten child and terrified house pets scream werewolf to me, while the imaginary friends are indicative of something spectral. A wight, perhaps? Lycanthropy is easy enough to test for: just slip some aconite (wolfsbane) in her cereal, and if she begins to snarl and convulse at the breakfast table before crouching on all fours and bolting out the door at an average speed of 50-60 kilometres per hour… well, you’ve got your answer.

Alas, the only reliable way to test for spectral possession is the presence of ectoplasm, which most commonly appears in the stool. How you go about collecting that is your own business – but as the symptoms progress, she’s likely to twist her own head backwards and start spraying the walls with excrement, which should (at the very least) make it easier to retrieve a sample.

The real thorn, as you can see, is identifying the actual host. From there, the treatment is relatively straightforward: silver for a werewolf, salt and iron for a ghost, Roman liturgical verse for a demon, and so on. Religion is as prescriptive as science, in its own way. As a precaution, however, I’d advise against applying these treatments yourself; contact me to book an appointment, and we’ll go from there, darling.

Of course, it is quite possible that your sister is simply a burgeoning psychopath, and possessed by nothing more than her own catastrophic madness. This may come as either a relief or a concern, depending on your own perspective; is it worse to feast on human flesh at your own behest, or someone else’s? In a world of ghosts and demons, everything’s relative, I suppose.


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