Monday, October 10, 2011

Human Demonology: Salome

By P. Emerson Williams 
And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.
And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
- (Mark 6:21-29, KJV)

The story of Salome is a familiar one in Western culture, the climax of wich with her lascivious dance and the severed head of John the Baptist has fired the imagination of artists, writers and composers for hundreds of years. Then there's Dracula as an allegory describing Victorian men's fear of female sexuality, Lilith in legend and art... The mythical Salome can be seen as both a product of and a window into the minds of those who told it. Salome was a real historical person, born EV 14, the daughter of Herodias and the stepdaughter of the Emperor Herod Antipas. Though she is unnamed in the New Testament, Salome is named in the writings of the historian Josephus.

There's a flavour to the tale that feels more like one from the old testament than the new. Her role in the book of Mark continues such tales of women and men's desire for them leading to degradation and murder as in the tale of Athaliah, who established the worship of the aggregate of all heathen gods Baal in Judah. Women are shown as leading men into sin from the very beginning with Eve, and before her, the lack of subservience in the uncontrollable Lilith has her cast out and transformed into a demon, stealing the children of Eve and seducing men in the night. Salome's actions combines the gruesomeness of the two mothers who, during the siege of King Ben-hadad in Samaria during a famine, conspired to boil the son of one to eat him with Jezebel, the proto-femme fatale, murderer, prostitute and enemy of God, though in her seduction of Herod, Salome is not leading a righteous man astray.
No longer was she merely the dancing-girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old Vice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs her flesh and steels her muscles, - a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning.
-J. K. Huysmans
It may be enlightening to consider whether the image of Herod lusting after his stepdaughter, is implied by he biblical text, (something not explicitly written), or if it is inferred by the reader. The only image more popular in the culture than Salome holding John the Baptist's head is her performing the erotically charged and iconic Dance of the Seven Veils.This dance originated in Oscar Wilde’s play and later in Strauss’ opera, and the first performances of the play was seen as outrageous at the time. In the popular imagination the players in this tale are demons in human form, but in the visions of artists, they are akin to the wrangling and sceming of gods. To see Wilde's play or Strauss' opera performed is like witnessing the machinations taking place on Olympus. They occupy a dreamscape that is truly poetic in its decadence. And in what might be seen as the bizarro world equivalent, John the Baptist's severed head itself has been linked symbolically with the head of Baphomet that templars were said to worship in their blasphemous rites.
"The representation of the egregore as bust recalls the ancient literary tradition of animated statues or Salome, who wanted the head of John the Baptist, probably to master his visionary powers.....The classic prototype of such an egregore is Baphomet, the alleged egregore of the Templars, who was (as the Roman Emperor of the Gods) likewise worshipped in the form of a bust. In the secret statutes of the Templars, Baphomet was besought with the introduction to the Qu'ran and dismissed with the 24th chapter of the Book of Sirach."
- P. R. Koenig, from "Too Hot to Handle"
As for Salome holding and kissing the severed head, causing a shocked and disgusted Herod to order his soldiers to kill her, all historical accounts contradict this. In the writings of Josephus we find Salome marrying twice, giving birth several times and dying of old age. The image of Salome as a femme fatale can largely be traced back to Wilde’s play and to the decadent artists if fin de siecle Vienna, at least in the poopular mind, these creative minds didn't pull this out of their own minds fully formed.The historical facts about Salome (as far as we know them) differ from the legend in almost every detail and how the legend is what's known.
What is more interesting to me is how receptive the collective mind of Western culture was to the myth, and how it became a cultural touchstone at the time Bram Stoker tapped into the Victorian male's fear of female sexuality with Dracula. I would posit that Salome's tale as it evolved through the nineteenth century is a parable designed to convey that such a headstrong nature and unchecked sexuality in a woman of any age is a threat to the entire structure of society. The thread of stubborn, rebellious and non-conforming women in mythology and literature could have a link to how any behaviour and sign of assertiveness on the part of every one of can be linked to mental disorder and therefore "clinicized" and needing to be drugged into submission.
It is quite fitting that the tragic dream of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard is to write and star in a film based on the story of Salome. The archetypal hero of film noir is on a runaway train to hell and disaster from the moment the femme fatale shows up.

We're pretty apocalyptically minded around these parts lately. Maybe that's because the personal, financial, national and international narrative right now looks like a bare-fisted steel cage death match between 1984 and A Handmaid's Tale over the battered corpse of Brave New World. We've found out the deceased didn't have enough insurance coverage to be kept alive for the sake of subduing independant thought and action among the populace of the developed world. 

P. Emerson Williams is the host of the Necrofuturist Transmission on Nightbreed Radio, editor and producer for Music Tuesdays on, core member, sound design, actor, artist and composer with FoolishPeople and product development manager and art director for Weaponized , the publishing imprint of FoolishPeople. He is also a visual artist whose work has graced book covers for Original Falcon, Weaponized and Westgate Press, the pages of magazines including Culture Asylum, Isten 'zine, Ghastly, Esoterra and too many more to list, album and CD covers for Rat King, a Primordial/Katatonia split 10" EP on Misanthropy Records, SLEEPCHAMBER and his own bands Veil of Thorns, Choronzon and kkoagulaa. He has worked with Manes and John Zewizz and is currently recording two albums with SLEEPCHAMBER.
FoolishPeople | Veil Of Thorns | Chronzon | kkoagulaa   | weaponized | nightbreed

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