Empathy for the Serpent

I’ve been binging on Hellboy comics the last few days–what a marvelous series! I have the first 10 or so books, and every few years I go through and read them again. So, I currently have a head full of monsters, witches, devils, shamans, ghosts, and other folks who are guaranteed to be fun at parties.

“Chaos monsters” in the mythology of City/Civilization cultures are frequently represented as serpents of some kind–dragons, etc. For example, Marduk, the first god/priest king of Mesopotamia, created the first government/state/civilization from the remains of his slain mother, Tiamat the chaos dragon.

The serpent is also the spiral, the Milky Way, the snail shell, the gene codes, the great and small manifestations of the miracles of cosmos and life. The chaos serpents in old myths are usually female, the cosmic mothers.*** They must be slain in order for the man-rule of grids, temples, and banks to take over. And so they become the first villains in the New Story, the story of triumphant empire. In modern times, we see this most prominently in the story of Adam & Eve, where Eve screws everyone over by surrendering to temptation by the devil-snake in the Garden of Eden.

The serpent is life and cosmos, untamed, uncontrolled, wild and free. And so it becomes the enemy of The Civilized, whose ideology is based on control of life–the ordered grids of farm fields give way to paved streets, caste systems, slaves and masters, debt peonage, human sacrifice, ecological destruction, Total War, and all the other dubious accomplishments of civilization.

Chaos, in both the old and the new myths, inevitably gets a bad rap. It is experienced as “evil,” and in the Christian mythos as “satanic.” The feminine, the wild, the flesh becomes that which must be conquered and overcome. Chaos as disorder, as destruction. Horror monsters of chaos and the abyss–Cthulu in Lovecraft, giant squids in Verne, the Ogdru Jahad in Mignola’s Hellboy stories–become the ultimate evil.

This is what I think: I think that this so-called “evil” is really The Fear. It is The Fear the civilized have of that which is beyond their control, or that which threatens their control; their Fear turns “chaos” into “evil.” They look into the abyss and see a mirror that reflects all the horrors of civilization–the destruction, the rapaciousness, the cruelty, the sheer anti-life malice of the Citygod. This is their own reflection, but they experience it as something separate, something “out there,” some mysterious and hostile force that threatens their precious order.

The truth is that “chaos” is not evil; it’s not even disorder. There are an infinity of “orders” that grow naturally out of the great mysteriousness (Lakota – Wakan Tanka) of existence. The golden mean writes itself into the macro- and microcosm. The bird knows where to migrate, the spider knows how to build a web, lions know how to hunt, the moon knows how to wax and wane. All of these different “orders” are part of the same grand song of creation, “the harmony of the spheres” as Pythagoras called it. Chaos, then, is the totality of all orders. It’s the whole song. And therefore, it is terrifying to the tone-deaf android mutants who are obsessed with controlling the song.

So, we get evil chaos dragons in our stories. What the tellers of these stories fear is life, the female, the flesh, the earth. They fear wildness, they fear mortality, they fear what they cannot dominate and control. They commit evil to gain power-over, then externalize that evil–monsters in the void, dark skinned savages, etc. Their own sense of the existential meaninglessness generated by industrial society emerges from the collective (un)(sub)(?)conscious as old, evil, hungry, maddening monsters who dwell in ocean depths or in the void of outer space. These are the imaginal gymnastics of the civilized, the way they resolve their cognitive dissonance. The dreamtime fantasies of assholes.

One thing that makes Hellboy such a good series is the main character’s (and therefore the story’s) ambivalence about this entire model. Hellboy is supposed to be Anung un Rama, the Beast of the Apocalypse, but he makes the choice to reject that fate. And yet, he is still a part of the spirit world, the realm of faeries and gods; he is kin to everything that goes bump in the night. He is human and monster, united in the same body. He journeys across realms and dimensions, he fights battles to protect others, or to protect himself against those who would use him for their own purposes. He searches for knowledge and meaning. He is a shaman-warrior of the modern era, reluctant and weary but devoted to living and choosing his own path.

Meanwhile, some of the “villains” of the stories make a strong moral case for calling down the apocalypse. They know that the “End of the World” is only the end of this world–they know that the end of this world is the beginning of the next world. Their goal is not simply to destroy; they desire rebirth. Can you blame them? Could anyone with credible knowledge of this culture and society possibly desire anything other than its total destruction and the birth of something new?

“What I will do tonight can never be undone. I will open a portal, and awaken the Ogdru Jahad–the Seven Gods of Chaos. Our enemies will be destroyed. And from the ashes, a new Eden will arise.”
-Rasputin, Hellboy: The Movie

If you took all the victims of industrial civilization–that is to say, everyone who lives, from the mitochondria to the gray whales to the human child rape-slaves–and proposed a vote, I’m guessing you would get a landslide victory for Rasputin’s platform.

Yes, wipe it away, please and thank you. Yes, give us back the land, our freedom, our song and dance of living. Give us back the cycles of the seasons, our connections to our ancestors and the rest of the living world. Destroy the machines, destroy the systems, destroy the humans who build and defend them–they are our enemies. Please, an end to the Abrahamic sky-daddy/lord/king of Judgement and Envy. Bring forth the new Eden, we can wait a few hundred thousand or a few million years. Heal the poisons, dissolve the concrete shell, eliminate the citygod infection. Better death than eternal enslavement.

Heathenous? Yeah.


Ask the buffalo.

***Note: “Chaos” is also commonly represented as an egg, which is also implies the female (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_egg), or as water/fluid (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundun)


About DZAtal

The true and living
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