Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cut To The Chase: Eating, Fucking and Dying

By James Curcio

Much ink has been spilled about the relationship of sex and death. I've contributed to it in some small measure—if we can call pixels "ink"—although I don't think any intellectual or academic investigation has ever fully cut to the heart of the matter, and I doubt any ever will. Because, quite plainly, it would be impossible to do so in a satisfactory manner. 

The sex-death connection lies outside the realm of dialectical ideas, although we may choose to come at it from the angle of biology or religious symbolism, the interrelationships of iconography and psychology, and so on. 

But the truth of this connection still seems to lie somewhere in the visceral. Our ideas are in our biology but not of it, which is a turn of phrase a friend used recently that I found memorable. So, like much of our awkward relation to our own sexuality, at least in public, we also find an awkward relationship with death. And when we see that there is a juncture between sexuality and biological sex, a juncture that transcends reproduction, that links in fact into eroticism itself—which is an activity that has transcended its own function, if we are to consider sexuality to be functionally a reproductive act—then we really have to admit our blind ignorance in the face of what must either be taken to be fact, or not. It is said there is a link between sex and death, and it has been spun a million ways, but what can we actually trust in this relation? Who can entirely rule out that there is no link between sexuality and death beyond reproduction, and we're all just incredibly perverse? 

So, as seems to be my inclination, I find myself wanting to throw another variable in the pot when I've realized I can't even come to grips with the two that are already floating around in there. (Look, I like threesomes, alright? Shoot me, but it really helps to have an extra pair of hands. Slender, female hands. Because a pair of bear claws popping in there out of nowhere would be really—Wait, what were we talking about again?) That's just my way, and it has always been. Who am I to question what it is that I am? 

I've been thinking about this recently because I have seen a further linkage in here, I felt it, chewed on it, worked it around my body. These ideas only came up after the fact. This is the rare kind of idea I'm more prone to trust. There is a connection between sex, death, and food. Not just a one-to-one relationship. Many have noticed the connection between food and sex. Or sex and food. For some reason I've rarely seen the complete chain actually pieced together when it is really quite obvious. It is between all three of them that we see a clear picture of primal life. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Red Riding Hood: Neurology, Narrative & Storytelling

By Mr. VI

Once upon a time, half-way back and a little off to one side; this is where the stories live. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin:

Stories are a form of communication, and they open doors. Doors to understandings and concepts that are unbound in time – their relevancies shift according to circumstances, environment and culture.

'To understand and remember stories, readers integrate their knowledge of the world with information in the text. Here we present functional neuroimaging evidence that neural systems track changes in the situation described by a story. Different brain regions track different aspects of a story, such as a character's physical location or current goals. Some of these regions mirror those involved when people perform, imagine, or observe similar real-world activities. These results support the view that readers understand a story by simulating the events in the story world and updating their simulation when features of that world change. ' - Psychological Science August 1, 2009 vol. 20 no. 8 989-999

Read that again.:

Some of these regions mirror those involved when people perform, imagine, or observe similar real-world activities.

Certain parts of your brain do not discern between 'reality' and 'fiction'. They simply create and act. Further:
'Verbal communication is a joint activity; however, speech production and comprehension have primarily been analyzed as independent processes within the boundaries of individual brains. Here, we applied fMRI to record brain activity from both speakers and listeners during natural verbal communication. We used the speaker's spatiotemporal brain activity to model listeners’ brain activity and found that the speaker's activity is spatially and temporally coupled with the listener's activity. This coupling vanishes when participants fail to communicate. Moreover, though on average the listener's brain activity mirrors the speaker's activity with a delay, we also find areas that exhibit predictive anticipatory responses. We connected the extent of neural coupling to a quantitative measure of story comprehension and find that the greater the anticipatory speaker–listener coupling, the greater the understanding. We argue that the observed alignment of production- and comprehension-based processes serves as a mechanism by which brains convey information.' -PNAS August 10, 2010 vol. 107 no. 32 14425-14430

Before there was written text or visual media such as film, stories were the primary method of cultural transmission:

'The speaker's activity is spatially and temporally coupled with the listener's activity'Let these two statements combine in your head for a moment; see what they point to – scientific evidence that a story can draw you in, change your perception and have an affect on you.

Suddenly the idea of the magic word doesn't seem too far fetched, does it? Immerse your listeners in a narrative and it becomes their reality. Expose them to it every day to reinforce it – this is the province of politicians and news anchors the world over.

If you go deep enough, the statement 'It's not real' loses potency. Of course it does, because your brain is modelling it 'as if', and some stories are extraordinarily old.

From a 2009 article in Britain's Daily Telegraph:
'A study by anthropologists has explored the origins of folk tales and traced the relationship between varients of the stories recounted by cultures around the world.
The researchers adopted techniques used by biologists to create the taxonomic tree of life, which shows how every species comes from a common ancestor.
Dr Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist at Durham University, studied 35 versions of Little Red Riding Hood from around the world.
Whilst the European version tells the story of a little girl who is tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, in the Chinese version a tiger replaces the wolf.
Contrary to the view that the tale originated in France shortly before Charles Perrault produced the first written version in the 17th century, Dr Tehrani found that the variants shared a common ancestor dating back more than 2,600 years.
The original ancestor is thought to be similar to another tale, The Wolf and the Kids, in which a wolf pretends to be a nanny goat to gain entry to a house full of young goats. '

Let's think about that:

Red Riding Hood is a modern iteration of a story that's older than the Christian religion. Its themes and characters have inhabited the human consciousness for longer than the dominant religious narrative on this planet of approximately 7.2 billion human beings.

Here at Modern Mythology, we've been talking werewolves, witches, zombie apocalypses and vampires lately. We've given nods to Twilight, to Buffy:The Vampire Slayer, True Blood and more; pop-culture narratives, flirtations with the shadowy Other – these are wildly successful in capturing money and attention.

Millions of people the world over have synchronised their brains in similar ways as they've been drawn into the narratives, and so I find myself wondering – is this actually modern at all? If our brains become spatially and temporally coupled with the tales, are we in fact moving in myth-time, sacred kairotic time?

If stories can be modelled on taxonomic lines, then familial structures apply – then each generation partakes of some of the others.

This year, we see a new iteration of Red Riding Hood – a film released in March, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, of Twilight movie fame no less.

As the second trailer for the new film states in blood red letters:


Gary Oldman's werewolf hunter Father Solomon makes much of what we've discussed about the terror of the monster, explicit in the trailer:

“The real killer lives here, in this village – it could be your neighbour.”

And even this current version owes much to an earlier predecessor – its structure and plot appears to be strongly influenced by the 1984 film The Company of Wolves.

“The worst kind of wolves are hairy on the inside and when they bite you, they drag you with them to hell.”

Contagion and the Outsider on the Inside – the deepest fear of any community. Is it any wonder that deception is often classed as morally reprehensible? Consider then what seemingly innocuous actions might somehow become imbued with a sense of the sinister if a strange affect occurs.

Imagine what would happen if that which forms groups - the act of communication, of coming together at a fundamental, even neural level – can be used to alter and manipulate individuals and the group itself?

Might this skill be viewed with suspicion - the very act of alternative narrative-construction becoming potentially morally dubious, and even synonymous with evil and falsehood? Even the notion of 'a fabrication' seems to imply something less than righteous; an ersatz version of events which gives the concept of myth its general pejorative sense, doesn't it?

And thus myth and mythmakers are at worst reviled as liars, frauds and mountebanks, and at best regarded as irrelevant and perhaps semi-entertaining because of their ability to make people feel emotion. Even spin-doctors and political speech-writers are somewhat derided by the general populace, and they and their siblings in the advertising industry are either ignored or derided as manipulative individuals whose sole goal is money – something which alienates them from the general populace.

Which means, as aliens, they often are perceived as faintly sinister – they operate in the murkier realms of the human psyche, away from the clear and rational. In a sense they are lunar and mercurial – both in the planetary correspondence sense, and the adjectival. They take the enlightened solar construction of language, born of the neo-cortex, and use it to produce movements in the deep emotive dark of the reptile brain.

And what's more they do this in such a way as to hijack the investment in the rational, non-mythic narratives – the same machinery that models 'reality' can be used to create and work with the mythic precisely because, as already noted, parts of the brain cannot tell the difference!

Due to this this investment in the rational narrative, so-called irrational or mythic narratives must be treated as second-class in modern society, because to do otherwise is to suggest that the dominant narrative may also be a made thing – a fabrication in the truest sense of the word.

This would, apparently, undermine an awful lot of important things.

Imagine, if only for a moment, what would happen if all narratives were held created equal. Imagine if Merlin stood shoulder to shoulder with Einstein, or Zeus went for a stroll with Michael Faraday and they met Thor and Benjamin Franklin chatting about super-heated plasma?

Those who prefer a singular narrative might say that such a moment would be a retrograde step, a movement back to the dark ages of superstition. Yet that moment exists every time we spin a tale and immerse ourselves within it – the data seems to confirm what we already know!

We speak spells, we weave worlds from songs and stories. If it's any kind of movement, it's not merely retrograde because it goes so far back as to be beyond any world we can conceive. It's so far back it's looped around and met the deep future, and the only way we can get to that space is to perform an act of wilful imagination.

Beyond superstition lies hyperstition; fictions that make themselves real in the place where the eldest ancestor meets the last child of mankind. Both are creatures so far beyond us that they are literally dreams, which means that every time you step into that dreamtime, you are with them as part of a community which is hard-wired into the very heart of our brains.

And if that isn't a damn good pedigree for a mythmaker -to be standing amongst wizards, sorcerers and shamans and storytellers and poets from the Before and After It All - then I don't know what is.

So think on that, as you browse this blog, as you cruise the corpus of the contributors here, and maybe muse on it if you go to see the latest spawn of Red Riding Hood at the cinema or next time you become engrossed in a story regardless of media.

Then feel yourself carried away by the spell, or admire the lay of the charm with a professional eye.

Because it doesn't matter which you do when it happens; every time you are drawn in, you're only being human, and that's a very interesting thing to be - however you look at it.

I'll leave you with a quote from the introductory voice-over to the wonderfully odd 1974 film Zardoz:

“In this tale, I am a fake god by occupation - and a magician, by inclination. Merlin is my hero! I am the puppet master. I manipulate many of the characters and events you will see. But I am invented, too, for your entertainment - and amusement. And you, poor creatures, who conjured you out of the clay? Is God in show business too?”

Be seeing you.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

A Few thoughts on last night's Supernatural

I hated Supernatural when it started out. Well, not hated.. I'd wander out of the room, though... at least until the first appearance of the Trickster in "tall tales" during Season 2.. After a while, however, I started studying what Eric Kripke was doing in the subtext - the larger themes began to emerge - and what has unfolded is an elegant and entertaining conundrum, at the heart of it a question - is this world of ours devoid of gods and magic?

Sure, that's high-minded and melodramatic. Melodrama is fun. It establishes an ironic detachment between audience and stage where identity seepage can occur, few could be so daft as to allow that seepage to possess them so fully that they act out in violent, irrational ways, though there is always someone willing to believe, and map, the worst possible scenario onto their surroundings, and take up the mantle of hunter in a deeply misguided way (see nunez, brea - two real-world cases which would not have been out of place during Season 5 of Supernatural).

Last night's episode, 'the french mistake' (clearly a reference to Blazing Saddles) firmly planted Supernatural into a twilight space where fans, narratives, and producers can freely decontextualize all elements of the show into personal discursive narratives. Seriously... @MishaCollins (and the rest of the writing and production team) accomplished a nice cross-world paradigm shift in how identity actors public self can seep through narrative space. Utilizing himself as caricature, he timed his first tweet in the show with an east coast live tweet on twitter, and his second tweet in the show to the west coast airing. Breaking the frame in a way that they hinted at in Season 5 - this episode went all the way over into what Misha ultimately called "a parallel universe devoid of magic."

If you haven't seen this episode, you should. Of course, you'll need to watch every episode since Season 3 started for it to make any sense... and you'll come back and thank me once you've finished.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Dominant Species: Last Call

Let me spin a little myth that some of you may interpret as apocalyptic. And certainly, within the context of the original meaning of apocalypse, lifting the veil, or dispelling the illusion - perhaps of an age, or of a conglomeration of myths - it is in every way both apocalyptic and revelatory. 

Consider the increasing possibility that in the next 50 to 100 years, we will see a transition not from peak oil to a superiorly positioned, cheaper solar power, but instead, a massive power-grab for energy resources that cannot possibly keep pace with the demands created by a population that continues to surge with no consideration of such arcane ecological ideas as "carrying capacity." 

Consider optimistic philosophies such as the convergence and singularity of transhumanism blunted and crushed under the heel of the international corporations which have leveraged control not only of slave labor forces world-wide but also resources which are plundered at an increasingly unsustainable rate. 

Consider oceans stripped of fish species to the point where the present "safe" species are themselves nearly fished out of existence. 

Consider corporations wisely buying up the rights to the very necessities of life, such as water, and shipping it out of the places where it is most needed so they can sell it at a ridiculous markup in bottles while the indigenous people die of dehydration or water-born illness because they can't afford it at $1.75 a liter. 

Consider a future where even genes are owned by corporations, and where even the supposed boons of technology, such as crops which produce much higher yields, are simply stop-gaps that allow the creation of yet more humans scrambling for what depleted resources they can manage, while assets are diverted with increasing openness from programs such as education and public health to those which provide the greatest benefits to the corporations themselves. This is the future, and I'm not even painting it as grimly as it could be painted. 

I highly suggest you watch this documentary - The Meaning of the 21st Century -  available for free online, among many others. Like many it tries to put a positive face on the possibilities of the future and for the sake of our species I hope they are right. 

Much of this was covered in several pieces I wrote for The Immanence of Myth, including Pretty Suicide Machine, the early version of which Reality Sandwich ran over a year ago. (I have since refined it though the position is, generally speaking, the same.) 

In other words I am painting a picture where it is only technological advance, itself, which keeps the population growth we presently consider the norm possible, and in fact it is the race of technology against the reality of resources which will spell the future of humanity. It seems inevitable that there must come a point when, no matter the advances made in terms of the genetic modification of food or our own genomes, we will have to as they say "pay the piper." 

I'm not sure who this piper is, but if we imagine that he is like a bookie with a big bat, the longer we dodge him, the harder he is going to slam it into our knees.

There is a rather poignant picture painted in the anthropology book Cannibals and Kings, a resource that we utilize on several occasions within the Immanence of Myth, which deals a great deal with cultural taboos and practices and how they tie into the distribution of animal proteins across the bulk of a society. It also makes a strong case for the unsustainability of capitalism, a system which both promises and depends on the idea of a never-ending increase of profits in the name of sovereignty. Growth and progress are not good unto themselves. Progress and growth cannot outweigh sustainability. 

At this point, most of this is not news to you - which in itself is a form of news, that we can look at this kind of bleak outlook and nod our heads with a sort of complacent, "yeah? So it goes." Alright, but coming out of this is a sense of guilt, and that too gets leveraged into our consumer society because, let's face facts, you need to go out to the store to get food, you need to get work, you need to survive and you haven't the time to consider such global problems if you want to just get by and survive. 

So we make what we consider to be "little concessions." We "go green." We try to buy into "fair trade." Maybe we shop organic. We do "what we can." Zizek has a video about this, "First As Tragedy, Then As Farce" and how capitalism has included capitalist guilt, as part of its marketing scheme for the future

Name a major industry you want to support, after you've looked into who owns them, who owns the company that owns them, and how they factor into the global politics of the countries they've entrenched themselves in. Look at where they buy their materials and how those materials are procured. Look at how the workers are treated at all levels through the supply chain. Dollars to donuts, the cheaper these things can be procured, the better. And to hell with all the middleman in the name of God profit. So we "do our best" we pick our pet corporations or industries that we avoid like we're doing a "good deed" and then go across the street and do business with another devil. Fuck it. Unless someone is living off solar energy on a mountain top, growing and raising their own food, it's just a means to offput that "consumer guilt" I was talking about. 

What drives me nuts is the high horses these people climb on, so they can posture themselves like they are morally superior to you because they picked supplier X over supplier Y. Look, I buy almost all of my meat and produce from local farms. I do it both because it is slightly better than going to industrial farms - Monsanto is one of my "personal blacklist companies" - and I do it because the meat just plain tastes better. But if I was to dig in their dirt deep enough, I'm sure I'd find all kinds of things I couldn't get behind from an ethical standpoint. The whole system is based on faulty premises that can't be avoided by nibbling around the edges. It's not that its not good to look into where your food or products come from, and it is certainly good to look at consuming less, and purchasing more locally and to buy things with less packaging. But it's not going to change the world. Writing and creating media is how I enter the world, not changing the nature of industry singlehandedly. Nor am I doing a "good deed" by shopping at Wholre Foods or picking a fish that just happens to not yet be overfished. Give it time people. They'll be next on the chopping blok. We eat them and move on to earthworms if we can find a way to make it palatable. There are 2x as many humans on this planet as there were when I was born, and there will likely be 3x or even 4x as many by the time I check out. 

Here is the final point, and this is where I'm really going to piss some of you off so thankfully I've buried it beneath the fold of the attention span of the average blog reader: no one is talking about the reality here, and the fact that NPR and PBS and Planned Parenthood are on the chopping block too is a really, really bad sign for the future of anything except for a world of uneducated worker drones. (Read that link. I fucking dare you.) 

This is not a Swiftian satire, though I am prone to those. For once I am being, sadly, dead serious. Let me paint it very clear: the ONLY, and I mean ONLY, way we are going to survive as a species is if we either implement some serious restrictions on reproduction, or if we or nature herself kills a lot of us off. I mean a lot. I mean, half the world population, or more. And if that isn't done along with a considerable overhaul of our technology and societies which fall in line with coming into accord with the environments we live in, I hate to say it people but... even a student in ecology 101 knows what happens when a single species far outstrips its role within an ecosystem. It does kill off some of the other species but you know what happens after that? They die off. Not just some of them. All of them. A population growth that looks like a straight line up quickly turns into a straight line down, and it doesn't end until there isn't a goddamn member of that species left. And then stasis slowly returns. 

In other words, since we are now a species that does not naturally operate within a stasis with our environment, we either need to plan for it, or we're going to have to pay the highest price for our Hubris: our own extinction. 

Call me alarmist if you want. That's fine. God, I hope you're right. But I don't think I am. It's last call folks. And I'm not talking about for planet Earth. The Earth has weathered plenty of die-off events. Smoke 'em while you've got em. The clock is ticking. 

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Twilight Selves: Cannibalism, Werewolves and Identity Part #3

By Mr. VI

(This is the third and final post in a series. Part 1 and Part 2.)

We've talked about wolfish behaviours in previous articles, and of the apparent admiration they garner from the general populace, despite the supposed moral outrage. Topically, at the time of writing, the Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi is due to be placed on trial in April on charges of having sex with a minor.

As writer and thinker Jasmina Tešanović put it in a post on the widely read Boing Boing blog:

'Silvio Berlusconi will be the first head of a G-7 state to be arraigned in court on charges of paid sex with a minor. '

The G-7 are seven of the largest developed countries whose finance ministers meet once a year to discuss economic and financial policy. In terms of elites and finance, such a group is surely an exemplar. These 'developed' countries are supposedly world-leaders, they literally have provided other nations with something to aspire in terms of wealth and power.

Yet one of their leaders allegedly performed an act which, amongst others, might be seen as a few inches above the ultimate crime in the West – that of paedophilia:

'The Church as well as Catholic believers are divided. It's not about sex, says one of the high ranked church officials: hardly any Italian anymore confesses those misdeeds as sins. It's his way of doing it. Then there's the hardcore of Italian machismo, who aspire to that level of misbehavior themselves, and frankly admire Berlusconi for his orgies.


So what did Berlusconi do so wrong in his unfortunate dalliance with Ruby, and the numerous other girls that he invited to his home and paid generously? The court in Milan issued 27 pages of evidence. Ruby was a minor when she was partying "bunga bunga" style at his place, and he knew it. Ruby was caught stealing from friends, and he freed her from the police although the cops had her in custody as a minor. Ruby was an illegal immigrant, and he smilingly promised to forge her papers for her.

Finally, he arranged to deceive the Italian police by absurdly claiming that Ruby was the niece of recently deposed president Hosni Mubarak, in order to set her free.'

Yes, that Mubarak. The former de facto dictator of Egypt who was ousted by a popular insurrection after 29 years. Currently, a wave of unrest is sweeping the Middle-East. Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Bahrain – all these places are writhing against the status quo.

All these are protesting against the current power-dynamic in their nations, and they are doing so by banding together, becoming a pack which may very well topple regimes through sheer force of numbers and will.

These are not bloodless revolutions either, and nor should we expect them to be. A vicious response from the power-holding elite is to be expected. Teeth must be shown; the urbane suited figures must shift to strike and strike hard. It is the size and connectivity of the band which is the threat, and thus the bonds must be severed – a reflex which may be seen with the clamp-down on internet access in affected countries.

Terror is therefore the primary weapon deployed by such an elite, that and speed. These things are archetypically wolfish, as mentioned with the Harii and the berserkers in the last post. They are affects, in the Deluezian sense. Communication is also an affect – it's no coincidence that elites often have controlling interests in the media. Berlusconi is the head of a vast media empire after all, and it is standard practice of dictators to control television and newspapers. The transmission of ideas, whether they be open or cryptic, and the way they are received and used by those within the group is also a characteristic of the group itself.

These affects are what shape and maintain the identity. By partaking of the affects they reinforce the identity – by acting wolfishly, they reinforce the perception of themselves as wolf which enhances the potency of the actions taken-as-wolf, creating a feedback loop.

This reinforcement further emphasises the predator/prey dynamic. Mythologically speaking, it is possible to assume wolf-shape by wearing a skin, as mentioned with the ulfheðnar in the previous post, or drinking from a wolf's paw print - to name two examples.

Terror and rapidity of hostility subject the victims to a significant perceived threat which triggers behaviours within the reptile brain in the same way that enforced scarcity may render a 'need' for protection and leadership.

This scarcity plays a large part in many mythological narratives. In the previous post, I touched on Valhalla, and Judeo-Christian and Islamic thought also posits a post-mortem existence where the adherents-as-elect may be freed from scarcity.

late 12c., "Garden of Eden," from O.Fr. paradis, from L.L. paradisus, from Gk. paradeisos "park, paradise, Garden of Eden," from an Iranian source, cf. Avestan pairidaeza "enclosure, park" (Mod.Pers. and Arabic firdaus "garden, paradise"), compound of pairi- "around" + diz "to make, form (a wall)." The first element is cognate with Gk. peri- "around, about" (see peri-), the second is from PIE base *dheigh- "to form, build" (see dough). The Gk. word, originally used for an orchard or hunting park in Persia, was used in Septuagint to mean "Garden of Eden," and in New Testament translations of Luke xxiii.43 to mean "heaven" (a sense attested in Eng. from c.1200). Meaning "place like or compared to Paradise" is from c.1300.
Running throughout these religions is the motif of mankind's fall from grace – quite literally a refusal to abide by the conditions wherein the species may remain in pre-scarcity bliss. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed – these individuals purportedly carried the knowledge of the conditions which would once again return humanity to a place where scarcity no longer occurs.

Those who follow these conditions are able to achieve reintegration, and those who do not are doomed to wander outside the ultimate gated community, until the inevitable forces that engender privation and scarcity destroy the world – literally all that is extant – and it is remade as being perfect.

So runs the standard exoteric interpretation, an interpretation which a variety of fundamentalist sects have taken to heart. Regardless of the iteration of the monotheist stream, they have performed an act of spectacular hermeneutics:

The chosen – chosen by virtue of adherence to practices which form an identity – are due to inhabit this walled garden and are thus apart from the general populace. The world-as-is exists solely to bring about the exteriority of this new environment.

God, or Allah is utterly exterior to the human world – for it is the domain of the Devil, imperfect and lacking in the full grace of co-existence with deity. The prophets and/or Christ are agents of that grace – to Christians, the potency of Jesus is that he is the living embodiment of that grace.

To the fundamentalists mentioned, the world is hence something to be ended.

The environment is thus a resource to be consumed, and the unbeliever to be eliminated or converted. The ending and removal of all that does not acknowledge the utter exteriority of the deity actually hastens a return to grace.

Or to put it bluntly; killing or converting the unbeliever gets your name on the Paradisial guest list. It makes opening time come quicker. This is the doctrine espoused at multiple points through the ages, most notably during the Crusades, and finds its most violent expression in the modern-day suicide bombers.

It is at the root of much sectarian religious violence, and the reflex to sacralise – literally 'to set apart' also echoes this exteriority. To many fundamentalists, they are strangers to the world. It is their job to re-order it according to the precepts of their group. There are myriad religious groups who campaign for certain changes to be made – too many and varied to be discussed here.

This same reflex is often what forms pressure groups, and on a larger scale forms the protests we have been seeing. The urge to break down current structures and change their arrangement is what binds them together and gives them an identity. The protests in Egypt were not designed to kill or destroy the nation, rather they were to cannibalize and re-purpose the structures within it.

But, ironically it is an analysis of the suicide bomber/terrorist as the exemplar of modern bogeyman which lead us to an intriguing proposition. The primary weapon is that of fear, something it shares with many existing power-structures. What is unique, is that the suicide bomber operates from a position of inexorable success because they can induce that affect without an army or police force.

Even if they fail to detonate, do damage or kill people, the mere fact that they exist induces terror. They hold the status quo in a double bind. Even the fact that they might exist has an effect.

What's more, like werewolves, they often appear ordinary until a critical point - until they change into the extra-ordinary. This means that anybody has the potential to be one.

As such, the doctrine of total war occurs when an entire population may become 'weaponised' – everyone becomes a weapon in potentia. Far from it being driven merely by radicals, politically Egypt and other movements prove that a population has a potential to detonate – everyone carries the 'virus' of 'lycanthropy.'

This does not limit itself to politics either – one may argue the potential to form packs is inherent to humanity, and the narrative of the werewolf is one that is inherently liminal. One bite, one contact with a sorcerer, one horrific combat experience and it may emerge.

This is in itself amoral – a simple fact. One event may affect a larger group. The werewolf is inherently a myth about bonding and connection, even when viewed as the outsider or Other. It does not have to be elitist, rather it can be read as a figure in constant flux, emblematic of necessity and change.

Rather than being isolationist, it can serve as an acknowledgement of the very concept of identity itself being shared amongst all; if it stands for recognition of difference, as a borderland figure, it provides entrance and exit.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, St. Christopher, patron saint of ferrymen, travellers and many others, is held to have been dog-headed, while in Egypt the jackal headed god Anubis served as guide to the dead.

Immersion in the archetype provides us with an in-between state of utmost potential, regardless of circumstance. Once again we return to the idea that scarcity need not apply, only this time through utilisation of personal resources applied to whatever environment we encounter.

I've titled this short series Twilight Selves, not because I wished to make references to the novels or films – though it's a useful SEO bonus – but because twilight is the blue hour between day and night.

We all have a mutable identity, a twilight self that adapts to circumstances and environment; as fluid and rich as dreamstuff, able to prosper in harshest of circumstances, and as potent as the Biggest Baddest Wolf There Ever Was.

Be seeing you.
Mark out the points

Build the pyre

Assemble different drummers

Light up the fire

Put on your masks

And animal skins

Illumination, illumination

Listen to the drums

Between each beat, each beat of the drum
- The Death and Resurrection Show

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Occult Sentinel Episode 34 - James Curcio

James is a musician, author, artist, podcaster, and theorist. He joins me on the show to discuss his soon to be released book Immanence of Myth and recently released novel Fallen Nation. He is also the co-creator of and actor in the new Gonzomentary style video series Clark.

Listen to the interview.
Download mp3.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lilith: The Original Vampire

By James Curcio

There is going to be a lot of information for you to delve into on Lilith in the forthcoming Immanence of Myth anthology, as well as a fictional portrayal of her - or someone who thinks she is the present incarnation of Lilith, anyway - in Party At The World's End. (To be released 2014)

Here is a little from the section on Lilith in Immanence of Myth, to get us started:
Lilith begins not as a Goddess, but as a demon, a malevolent force that you can hear when the wind howls in the desert, carrying with it the sharp sting of sand. The distinction between Demon and God is somewhat in the eye of the beholder; it isn't so much a matter of power as of function. Demons are that which is cast out, at the same time divine themselves. I'd like to point attention to the way that Lilith represents forces that are cast out of the social sphere, a force that must be banished to make domesticity possible, at least when conducted within the confines of the paradigm of marriage-as-ownership. From within that circle, she would certainly look frightful. Consider that, moving forward. 
     She appears in the screenplay I working on concurrently (and collaboratively) with this project. Or, at least, we find there a woman who believes she is the modern incarnation of Lilith. When she has led a number of would be initiates (nubile girls themselves) to a hot tub with her, she reveals this, explaining,
Women told tales of me...I would steal the men away from them. I would devour their children. I was an abomination. I lived inside mirrors to seduce the vanity of nubile girls. Can you imagine?
Lilith concept drawing for Party At The World's End
    Lilith, the first Eve, is first recognized by her defiant nature; she is another anti-patriarchal, anti-authoritative symbol. At least, this is the form we encounter her in as she left Babylon with the Jewish exile. 
     So on the one hand we have Lilith as a spirit of the desert, a creature that could slip into your house and devour your children. This is how she would be presented to women, a bogeyman to keep them in place. Of course, this fear tactic isn't often capitulated consciously; it is something that all the members of a cultural domain participate in unconsciously. 
    On the other, there is this idea of her as the seductress, luring men away from their societal commitment to the “good mother.” This is an element which some superficially similar symbols, such as Kali, lacks. Without needing to return to textual source, it's easy enough to typify “this sort” of woman. She has the audacity to do what she wants, and it very well might not be what you or the society wants. There is something impetuous and child-like about her, which can manifest as a resolute defiance when placed within the context of a system of rules. So long as she's cast in the role of villain, this arouses the suspicion and fear of the wives of men, and their shameful observance to whichever force is the stronger.
No, not quite. 

    This is an important point: Lilith often appears in a different guise to men than women. Of course, there are personal and cultural factors. To women, especially within sexually restrictive cultures, we see more of the “devourer of children,” aspect. To men, she appears as the seductress, the dark anima. The kind of girl that you don't take home to mother. But in either case she represents a direct threat to the established social order, especially the order of marriage and monogamy. She is an enemy of stasis, of duty and societal bonds. In modern contexts, the threat posed to women is re-enforced by the ad and fashion industries efforts to increases competition and insecurity, as well as the conflict of the myths of domesticity, “slut shaming,” and so on. In a softer, more romanticized form, it is not surprising that Lilith has re-appeared as a potent symbol in bi-, lesbian, and polyamorous communities, especially amongst those who might have some derision towards “breeders.” However, Lilith is not simply a symbol of liberation. She also represents a point of contention between personal senses of restriction and freedom.  
However, there is a thread I didn't have a chance to cover in either of those books, and I thought it would be interesting to delve into another element of this symbol. Despite many modern vampire myths fixating their origin story the idea of the Brother's myth, either Cain and Able or Osiris and Set, or some cases Judas being the first vampire (not the least of which being the White Wolf: Vampire / World of Darkness setting), it is actually more likely that we can find the very first origins of this story coming from two sources. And one of these, you guessed it, is from ancient Babylon and Sumeria, in the complex of demons called the Lilim, Lilitu, or Lilith, the queen of them all. Though we may not expect to see Lilith popping up in True Blood lore anytime soon--though I wouldn't rule it out--you can't really look at the romanticization of the vampire without her. (This is a process which we all pray can't be taken any further than the glittering-in-the-sun Twilight vampires.)

[Editors note: Season 5 of TrueBlood focused heavily on Lilith! Go figure.]

More Lilith...
Though historical records are scarce on this account, there is a fair amount of research, "Lilith: The First Eve" being a paramount source, that the succubi myth originated with Lilith as well, and in all of these complexes you have the core idea of vampirism: whether through blood, or another vital essence such as semen or breath itself, these beings, or this force, sustains itself through feeding off our own. Definitely check out that book if this is a subject that interest you ("Lilith: The First Eve.") 

Let's not forget, of course, that at the most basic level all life sustains itself off of other life, and the only way to cut yourself out of this web entirely is to slit your own throat here and now. 

But that's not what Lilith is really about, is it? That's not what the vampire myth is about, either. At least not since the 19th century. No, we don't actually care that vampires must "feed" off blood. The vampire myth transformed from fear to lust, from terror to sexual desire, because the feeding that we're actually talking about is sexual. When you tell a lover "I'm hungry for you," you aren't telling them that you plan on feasting on their flesh. (Unless you're from New Guinea.) And what you're talking about can't simply be reduced to carnal desire, although it certainly informs that. It has to do with that unnameable chemistry, that almost uncontrollable pull that attracts two (or more) people. Joseph Campbell recognized that demons, angels, gods and goddesses are all symbols referring to the forces that we experience. To a great extent, these are psychological forces. Then Lilith represents, among other things, that hunger, that attraction, which says, "to hell with the details. I want you now." 

[Take a Trip with us. Mythos Media.]

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Archetypal Emergence & Liquid Dreams

With all this talk of vampires it seems fitting to present an interview I did with a behavioral hypnotist I know who also happens to be a noted vampirologist. In 1977 Martin Riccardo founded the Vampire Studies Society in Chicago, and began publishing The Journal of Vampirism, one of the first journals to focus specifically on the archetype of the vampire.

Through correspondence with various scholars, aficionados, and practicing vampires, Martin amassed an unwieldy amount of materials on vampirism. After conducting a five-year survey of people's dreams and fantasies about vampires Martin wrote Liquid Dreams of Vampires, detailing the mythology of the vampire, and the emergence of this archetype in the collective unconsciousness.

In Liquid Dreams of Vampires you investigate dreams that people experience that involve vampires, how often did this archetype emerge in people that wouldn't normally be thinking about vampires?

In the 1990s, a woman wrote me a letter that contained the following passage:

"I know there is a fascination lately about vampires, a lot of people have it. But I've been having these dreams, dreams of myself killing like a vampire, dreams of vampires coming to me and giving me their Dark Gift. Now, I know I'm not the only one who has has these before, but you have to understand that I'm not that kind of person, never before have I had these visions of killing, or I should say drinking blood. It's honestly been driving me crazy lately, I don't want these feelings."

I have found that vampires appear in dreams of people who do and people who do not have an interest in them. This comes as no surprise since the vampire is a blatent archetype of the dark repressed urges in humanity.

In many ways the vampire image is an expression of violence, sexuality, death, and many dark passions. It is in dreams that the primal and primitive human drives of the Jungian Shadow or the Freudian Id can find an outlet in the form of the vampire. While the conscious self often chooses not to acknowledge the inner darker aspects of one's own human nature, they become unleashed as vampires in the subconscious playground of dreams.

Was there a common significance that you found when someone was dreaming of vampires? An event or emotion that preceded the dream?

While there is no specific circumstances that always trigger a vampire dream, my research has indicated that they often occur after a person has had a strong reaction to a movie, novel, or something similar. This effect is common to all types of dreams, not just vampire dreams. The emotional connection that people feel to certain characters or situations in film or fiction then carries over into their dream life. It can relate to the fear they experienced, the anger they felt, the attraction they felt toward a character, or many other feelings.

At any particular period in time, many vampire dreams will be an offshoot of the most popular novels, movies, or television shows of that time. However, I have found that one particular film has had a strong effect through several generations. Many people have told me that the 1931 movie Dracula, featuring Bela Lugosi as the Count, had a powerful effect on them when they watched it, and they often had vampire dreams afterwards. While the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker received some acclaim, it was actually this 1931 Universal film that made the vampire into a worldwide sensation. Lugosi's commanding and otherworldly presence in the film seems to evoke a response in people to this day.

Were those who identify as vampires more likely to have dreams about vampires?

Certainly. I believe that some dreams are an outlet for wish fulfillment. The same would apply to those who identify with astronauts, cowboys, or rock stars. Those who told me that they felt they were vampiric in some way usually had vampire dreams of some kind.

How has working so closely with the vampire archetype affected your life?

While I have enjoyed my activities of writing, researching, collecting, and lecturing, I can't say that vampires have had a huge effect on my actual lifestyle. It's always nice to share information with those who are interested in the subject, and I can't say that I've have any major unpleasant experience with the public at large.

However, I do suspect there are those who feel the subject is unwholesome. I often get calls from libraries about the possibility of doing a lecture. Libraries are a perfect place for this since vampires are quite significant in folklore, literature, and popular culture. Occasionally the librarian who called me will call back saying that their superior would not approve the lecture. While I don't get the reasons directly, I sometimes learn from indirect sources that the authority feels the subject of vampires might have a bad effect on a library audience. I not sure exactly what they feel might happen. Perhaps the forces of darkness might possess some of those listening. Perhaps some would choose to convert to the vampire lifestyle. Others might simply go stark raving mad as they heard me talking. For some libraries, it just isn't worth taking the risk.

What do you think of the comparison of unethical corporations to vampires? Insulting to vampires?

In the 1990s my friend Gordon Melton got a poster of President Bill Clinton as a vampire biting into the neck of the Statue of Liberty. Years later he picked up a tee shirt with Presdent Bush as a vampire biting the Statue of Liberty. Just recently I saw a cartoon image on the Internet of guess who? It was President Obama as a vampire biting the Statue of Liberty. Demonizing someone you don't like as a vampire is almost as common as painting on a Hitler mustache, and it shows the same lack of creativity.

It's like the joke--Why won't a vampire bite a lawyer? Professional courtesy.

Do you have any thoughts on the recent resurgence of popularity in the vampire myth? What social factors do you think are at play?

There are a variety of reasons that vampires have surged in popularity. One reason is that since the 1970s there has been a deliberate attempt to focus on the sensual and romantic appeal of the vampire. Another factor is that while novels in general have become more and more sexually explicit, many vampire novels, including the Anne Rice and Twilight novels, have been distinctly nonsexual. The intimacy of blood has replaced sexual intimacy, and this has touched a chord for millions of readers who find this more appealing.

What is different with today's positive portrayal of the vampire in books/movies like Twilight different from the more anti-heroic elements found in prior depictions?

For centuries, the vampire of folklore and literature was always pure evil. By the twentieth century, some vampires, such as Barnabas in the Dark Shadows television series, developed some sympathetic qualities, making them a kind of antihero. It was the comic book character Vampirella, who first appeared in 1969, that may have been the first true vampire hero or heroine in fiction. The kind of handsome, conflicted, and brooding male vampire that we find in Twilight and Vampire Diaries has now become the standard for the good vampire who is focused on protecting his mortal female love interest.

Are there any historical antecedents to the "good" vampire?

Not that I can think of.

What is guided visualization?

Guided visualization is simply the process of directing someone into a mental fantasy as you are talking to them, and it usually includes some relaxation techniques. I have used this in some of my workshops to allow people to experience what it might be like to encounter a vampire or to be a vampire.

Do you think that your guided visualization techniques could be used to help people experience other archetypal forms?

This is commonly done in guided visualizations by some people. It is considered a way to get in touch with various aspects of yourself and the universe, especially higher levels.


David Metcalfe is an independent researcher and artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is author of “Of Dice and Divinity – Some Thoughts on Gambling and the Western Tradition,” forthcoming in The Immanence of Myth. Writing and scrawling regularly for The Eyeless Owl, his illustrations were brought to life in the animated collaborative grotesquery A Serious Enquiry Into the Vulgar Notion of Nature featured at select venues in downtown Chicago during the Spring and Fall of 2010. The Long Now Foundation has made the unlikely decision to include one of his illustrations in their 10,000 year library vault. He also co-hosts The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

Apocalypse, Undercover : Living After the End of History (I)

By Prof Rowan

The zombie apocalypse heralds not just the end, but the annihilation of history. The mutism of the (post) modern zombie signifies the irrevocable loss of language – that fickle mistress that first led human civilization from primordial Chaos to the Cosmos of myth, then from exile to the millinery Kingdom of Judeo-Christian theology, and thence into our times. Of course, the sum total of this inheritance has since passed into and come to give shape to the practices of both history and politics: eschatology – secularized – takes the form of the ideology of progress that has long deluded “the left.” In Germany, during the 1920s and 30s the SPD remained convinced until the bitter end that Hitler and the Nazis represented a temporary aberration and that the country would “come to its senses.” This history continues to repeat: we on the political left in the United States have a long way to go and much work to do so as to reverse the damage done by failing to recognize the stark differences between the Neoconservatives and just about everyone the fuck else. Georges W. Bush and Al Gore were the same so you voted for Nader. Fuck you!

While Neoconservatism has fallen out of favor and is scarcely taken seriously outside of a few remaining enclaves, its theoretical underpinnings and fundamental myths have not. The political philosophy and philosophy of history to which Neoconservative thinkers and politicians have subscribed are in truth a particularly theatrical and shamelessly bare-assed instance of the dark inverse of the ideology of Progress, by means of which many cling to the wreckage of Modernity and the Enlightenment project. While for the progressive, justice, utopia, apocalypse, etc, etc, are thought to be part of an inevitable future End of History – a Last Judgment that will brook no more delays, the Neoconservative, begins with and builds upon the extremely ideosyncratic reading of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit developed by Alexandre Kojève in his 1933-39 lecture course at the Sorbonne, later published as “Introduction to the Reading of Hegel,” in 1947, as transmitted through Leo Strauss, Francis Fukuyama, etc, etc. According to this line of reasoning, the vanguard of humanity has, in fact, already reached the end of History, and all that remains to be done as a political task is to bring the rest of the world “up to speed” (c.f. Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, etc. Now that all went according to plan, right?)
Kojève was, in fact, a spy in the French government
Here, Kojève's words are every bit as intelligible as my own:

The disappearance of Man at the end of History... is not a cosmic catastrophe: the natural World remains what it has been from all Eternity... it is not a biological catastrophe either: Man remains alive as animal in harmony with Nature or given Being......the end of human Time or History – means quite simply the cessation of Action... the disappearance of wars and bloody revolutions. And also the disappearance of Philosophy; for since Man himself no longer changes essentially, there is no longer any reason to change the (true) principles which are the basis of his understanding of the World and of himself. But all the rest will be preserved indefinitely; art, love, play, etc, etc; in short, everything that makes Man happy.
- A. Kojève – footnote to the first edition of Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, pp. 158-9.

Post-historical humanity would thus be “happy zombies,” as it were. For, with the cessation of Action, the disappearance of Philosophy and the end of Becoming, language would become superfluous, mere glossolalia.

According to a footnote added to the second edition, which happened to appear during that fateful year that saw both Kojève's death and the release of Night of the Living Dead, this apocalypse signifies the post-historical epoch during which the Lion of American Capitalism shall lie down with the Lamb of Soviet Marxism (or vice-versa): One can even say that the United States has already attained the final state of Marxist “communism,” seeing that, practically all the members of a “classless society” can from now on appropriate for themselves everything that seems good to them, without working any more than their heart dictates.

...I was lead to conclude that the “American way of life” was the type of life specific to the post-historical period, the actual presence of the United States in the World prefiguring the “eternal present” future of all of humanity. Thus, Man's return to animality appeared no longer as a possibility that was yet to come, but as a certainty that was already present. (161)

Now, I am absolutely exhausted. My next piece will pick up precisely where I leave off today. For now, I need sleep lest I begin to crave sweet, succulent brains.

Hey, James, old Kojevnikoff says that Philosophy is over. He's wrong, but he makes a damn good case.

In the idea of classless society, Marx secularized the idea of messianic time.” -Walter Benjamin - “Paralipomena to 'On the Concept of History,” XVIIa, Selected Writings, Vol 4, pg. 401.

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

The Many Uses of Honey Bees: Marijuana Sniffing

"Here's a nerve-wracking notion. Let's say you have an illegal plant in your garden or even in your home. And let's presume this plant (because it's marijuana, or some genetically altered vegetable that's illegal in Europe) will get you in trouble if the police find out.

Now imagine that your local police have their own bees, bees they release each morning to scour the neighborhood looking for illegal plants."

Also see: Wax Or How I Learned Television Amongst The Bees

Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

Twilight Selves: Cannibalism, Werewolves and Identity Part #2

(This is Part 2 of a series. The first is available here.)

So, have you been thinking on the things you know that others do not? The mysteries of code, the runes of circuit and mechanism, the rituals of spreadsheet and year-end? All these and more are incomprehensible to many.

How do you accept such things as normal, as easy and mundane? There are things in your life which appear arcane to those not living as you. Whether it be a hobby, or occupation, take a moment to examine the things in your life which you perform and may sometimes use as an identifier.

I, for example, write things like this. If you look at my profile, you'll see 'writer' there. Not particularly arcane, you may think. Except I spend a good portion of my time stringing together words in varying combinations in order to affect *you*, the reader. I could no more cease stringing these words together than you could stop your heart beating without risk of damage.

Take away a keyboard, and I'll write with a pen and paper. Take those away and I'll compose pieces in my head, use my tongue and lips to form words and speak them out loud. It's like breathing to me. I cannot cease playing with language.

Thus I identify as a writer. Rhythm, language, communication; I love these things, I really, truly do. To me, there is glory and ecstasy in it; to evoke a response in the audience and lead you in a certain way to show you things - this is what I do.

For others though, the idea of choosing to write words on a page is a chore, a necessary evil rather than an attempt at art. It's not a matter of glory and and wonder, it's simply utilitarian.

And that's fine, because it illustrates the point we're making here; there is a difference between the two groups I have outlined. I could say that writers and thinkers will intuitively understand the compulsion I am speaking of. I might say that non-writers will not understand the brutal horror of the blank page, or conversely, are incapable of experiencing the thrill of possibility that same brutality engenders.

Of course, that would be elitist. A cadre of writers, artists and poets who intuitively understand the world in a unique and important way, vital to the rest of humanity; this would be the narrative I would be situating myself within, rubbing shoulders with all others who've identified as a writer.

But in the last post, I promised you I would show you how mythic analysis can help you to parse the seeming contradiction of the wolf-pack and cannibalism:

On my personal blog, I've discussed the Germanic conception of luck and might and how it ties into the notion of kingships, heroes and power. Such things were held as transferable properties, able to be lost or stolen, and more importantly, won through great deeds.

Whereas most feudal monarchies claimed their authority from the Divine Right of Kings, wherein God ordains the lawful king, pre-Christian Germanic traditions often claimed descent from the gods directly – by blood and affiliation rather than dogmatic assertion.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives the following genealogy for Penda, a pagan 7th Century King of Mercia, in a time when most rulers had converted to Christianity:

'Penda was Pybba's offspring, Pybba was Cryda's offspring, Cryda Cynewald's offspring, Cynewald Cnebba's offspring, Cnebba Icel's offspring, Icel Eomer's offspring, Eomer Angeltheow's offspring, Angeltheow Offa's offspring, Offa Wermund's offspring, Wermund Wihtlaeg's offspring, Wihtlaeg Woden's offspring.'

Both the Chronicle and the poet Snorri Sturlson mention such divine genealogies within the Angle and Saxon tribes. The latter, although a Christian, is mainly responsible for the preservation and recording of the tales which we know as Norse mythology.

Snorri was a renowned poet, historian and politician. Twice elected to the highest legal office of Iceland, he was influential enough to be a thorn in the side of King of Norway, which indirectly led to his death at the hand of a chief named Gissar.

History records that Snorri received a warning letter informing him of the intent to kill him, but as the runes were ciphered, he could not read it. For all his influence, it was the arcane and specialised form of writing which prevented him taking steps.

Those myths preserved by Snorri present the god Odin as the chief deity of the Norse – pater familias of a pantheon of gods including Thor, Loki and Freya. This arrangement appears to be something of an attempt to model the old gods along Classical lines.

However, regardless of any such attempts, archaeology seems to indicate that the majority of Icelanders honoured Thor in their pagan days, while Odin was reserved for poets and the aristocracy.

Often sinister and nearly always morally ambiguous, Odin shares a root name with his Anglo Saxon and German counterparts – Woden and Wodan respectively. This Proto-Indo-European root is *wodh which is variously glossed as madness, fury, or poetic inspiration. The suffix implies a mastery thereof, and so it is no surprise that Snorri, as a poet, might seek to place the god in his proper place.

Modern depictions of Odin often focus on his aspect as a god of war and slaughter – legions of metal fans know the name from countless songs. Death, sex, battle and darkness – all these thrill, and more importantly, sell records.

It is Odin who hanged himself for nine nights to gain the runes, pierced by his own spear. It is Odin who is said to have brought the gift of poetry, albeit indirectly, to the world of man. As an exemplar of cryptic wisdom, and even the physical image of the wizard – all long grey beard, funny hat and staff – the god stands squarely in archetypical territory.

But what has this to do with the wolf-pack and the cannibal?

Consider the previously stated fact that it was Odin who was honoured by the aristocracy - the kings and powerful folk in Germanic society. Now, imagine why these luminaries would ally themselves with a figure surrounded by wolves and ravens.

Conjure the images in your mind; the fields of corpses, a veritable feast for the black birds with shining eyes and knowing calls. Or perhaps the speed and lethality of the wolves, acting together to bring down their prey, pitiless in pursuit?

In society where most are illiterate, the power wielded by those who knew the runes as alphabet – quite apart from their purported mystic dimensions – is great. Consider also the notion of Valhalla; a post-mortem existence in which scarcity does not occur, where men may fight, fall, and rise again endlessly, until the final doom of all things where they may perish utterly in one last world-shaking battle.

At first glance this mythological reflex might seem similar to the notion of Paradise or Heaven so beloved by the Peoples of the Book, however it may be examined further in relation to the wolf-pack in ways which are useful to us.

(A subsequent post will address the place of the eschatology of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in relation to these issues.)

First of all, one of Odin's by-names is anglicised as Valfather, literally 'Father of the Slain' implying that all those who fall in battle are inextricably connected to that god. Indeed, though first pick of the fallen warriors passes to Freyja, she takes only half, and Odin the other.

These warriors are hence known as the 'Einherjar', or 'lone fighters' in Old Norse. Bold and valorous, they have attracted the god's attention and are brought to Valhalla by the valkyries. Etymologically, both '-herjar' and 'harry' seem somehow connected:

O.E. hergian "make war, lay waste, ravage, plunder," the word used in the "Anglo-Saxon Chronicle" for what the Vikings did to England, from P.Gmc. *kharohan (v.), from *kharjaz "an armed force" (cf. O.E. here, O.N. herr, O.H.G. har, Ger. Heer "host, army"), from PIE root *koro- "war" (cf. Lith. karas "war, quarrel," karias "host, army;" O.C.S. kara "strife;" M.Ir. cuire "troop;" O.Pers. kara "host, people, army;" Gk. koiranos "ruler, leader, commander"). Related: Harried; harrying.

The former of these two has been linked to the Harii tribe by Orchard, Simek and Lindow, of whom Tacitus writes in his Germania c. 1 AD:

'As for the Harii, quite apart from their strength, which exceeds that of the other tribes I have just listed, they pander to their innate savagery by skill and timing: with black shields and painted bodies, they choose dark nights to fight, and by means of terror and shadow of a ghostly army they cause panic, since no enemy can bear a sight so unexpected and hellish; in every battle the eyes are the first to be conquered.'

Consider the bond between warriors in a given band; an elite grouping capable of striking fear into their enemies; they attack at night and use terror tactics to win their battles, combined with natural skill. By coming out of the night, they defy the usual rules of war, and with fear as their ally they become a feared foe, catching the enemy at its weakest and most unprepared; the victory may be achieved more easily than a straight fight, as proponents of guerilla warfare have found, the world over.

Military hazings, gang tests and ritual initiation – these are born of the same reflex. By ensuring all members are bonded by experience and activity, the individuals identify as part of the group. They are an elite, sharing qualities, experiences and knowledge; identity shifts so that the definition of individual self necessitates partaking of the group-self.

Indeed, the former identity may be destroyed, and the newly initiated pack-member may survive; in short they may 'die' and 'rise again'. Combine this with scenarios which subtly alter the position of consciousness - whether by ritual, ordeal, or entheogenic consumption – and we are presented with a journey of the psyche which may mirror those in other so-called shamanistic cultures.

Indeed, as god of magic, a figure such as Odin may be regarded as having strongly shamanistic overtones.

Plus, the runes themselves are held to be Mysteries, containing more than simple shape and sound values, rather like the notion of the Greek stoicheia - elements – or the mystic attributions to Hebrew letters. The sense of such mysticism is one which is grounded in elitism – only the initiated can comprehend the full utility of the symbolism.

Finally, one cannot invoke the idea of Odin without considering the notion of the berserker. The 9th century skaldic poem Haraldskvæði describes the ulfheðnar 'men clad in wolf skins' as follows, emphasis mine:

I'll ask of the berserks, you tasters of blood,
Those intrepid heroes, how are they treated,
Those who wade out into battle?
Wolf-skinned they are called. In battle
They bear bloody shields.
Red with blood are their spears when they come to fight.
They form a closed group.
The prince in his wisdom puts trust in such men
Who hack through enemy shields.

Further, in Ynglinga Saga, Snorri writes:

Odin could make his enemies in battle blind, or deaf, or terror-struck, and
their weapons so blunt that they could no more but than a willow
wand; on the other hand, his men rushed forwards without armour,
were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong
as bears or wild bulls, and killed people at a blow, but neither
fire nor iron told upon themselves
These two quotes suggest a significant change in consciousness which alters the berserker at the biophysical level, a frenzy which caused the Norwegian King Harald Finehair to make good use of them in battle during his campaign to unite the kingdoms of that country.

All these considered, these facts imply that there is a link between the extra-ordinary and the idea of power, something which is deepened when one considers that ravens and wolves are often eaters of carrion. This motif is intrinsically linked with cannibalism as an ability and desire to consume that which is thought beyond use through social convention.

Truly, when one opens up to cannibalism and consumption of the dead, more food becomes immediately available, removing one from the privations of scarcity. This allows prosperity when others are short on resources, something which is extremely valuable when enmeshed in dynamics of power.

The pillar of the community maintains their position by the employment of wolfish tactics; the state cuts the most vulnerable of services and repurposes its funding. The werewolf bite is contagious, and soon it becomes the case that the weaker packs are cannibalized, gobbled up.

The tactics which make the aristocracy/plutocracy so successful are hence demonised when they are external to it – wolves which are not part of the power-bloc are hunted down and killed, just as all berserkers were eventually outlawed in medieval Iceland – by the 12th century, berserker bands had all but disappeared.

But the nature of a werewolf is literally a wolf in human shape, and thus it might be said that it is difficult to discover their existence. Guerilla strategy and tactical dissimulation are still options, despite indications to the contrary. In the next post, we'll examine how eschatology and warfare combine to form acts of creative resistance – in short, how to remain in the twilight and prosper under seemingly impossible conditions, by being true to that '[O]ther who hides in me' as Machen puts it.

Until then,

Be seeing you.
Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.


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