A Thought Adventure

Friday, October 23, 2015

13. Ritual Regicide

Scholarly interpetations
Because coercing the spirits to fulfill man’s needs is a central ingredient in both magic and religion, the early farmers probably feel a genuine and imperative need to coax the powers-that-be to promote the fertility of the earth. Maybe they regard planting and harvesting as a mystery comparable to the process of impregnation followed by the birth of a child, and need a ritual to express it. Maybe they relate their own destiny to that of plants, which some scholars believe, like Campbell and German anthropologist Leo Frobenius, (author of Childhood of Man); and maybe--because to them harvesting is a killing--the farmers simply accept death as a natural part of the eternal cycle of growth and decay.

Or, as suggested by British anthropologist Sir James George Frazer (author of  The Golden Bough), perhaps they believe that the rites of marriage, death and rebirth will magically bring about the annual cycle of growth and decay. This is an idea derived from the primitive ritual of sympathetic magic, according to which you can produce the events you desire by using objects or actions that resemble or are associated with it.

For all these reasons the farmers are well prepared to accept the matriarchs’ brilliant idea to make vegetal seed (‘dying’ in the earth to give rise to a plant) a metaphor for male seed (‘dying’ in the womb to beget a child), and to celebrate it in a sacred marriage. Nevertheless, if it’s the ‘death’ of the seed in the ground and its ‘rebirth’ as a plant they want to imitate, wouldn’t a simple marriage and birth ritual be more appropriate (to celebrate the transformation of the male seed in the womb and the birth of a new human being)? Isn’t it to wildly overplay it when the siring process winds up bumping off the sire? Besides, what could be more contradictory to a ritual meant to enhance life than murder?

Moreover, in every study I’ve come across of preliterate societies, murder is never a normal event and death is always sad, something to be avoided. Neumann means it’s precisely because of the elemental bond with nature that the primeval mind has always regarded killing as an outrage on the world order. And Mumford admits to being puzzled how a ceremony that begins by invoking a more abundant life can turn into its very opposite.

I’m astonished that none of the scholars raises an eye-brow at an institution as appalling in its brutality as male sacrifice (and one so dismissive of men’s pivotal role as initiators of new life). Instead  they all seem to accept it as somehow logical. As if the standard for human mating behavior were set by the praying mantis--the insect whose female after copulation bites the head off the male and eats him!

I’m equally shocked that nobody asks how it may affect the early farmer to be exposed, repeatedly and with great fanfare, to such merciless killings of men. Wouldn’t his reactions be akin to those of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)--heightened states of rage and vigilance, distrust of everyone, a profound sense of guilt and aloneness? And since these feelings had to be repressed, wouldn’t they have grown increasingly explosive with time?

My interpretation
In my interpretation the spring festival is not a feast in honor of renewed life, and fertility is not the reason why men have to be ritually sacrificed. The reason is another altogether. It’s to ensure that the female sex retains its superiority over the male. It’s to drum in that woman is and remains the principal creator of new life. And it’s to engrave on the collective mind that woman alone has the divine right to dispense death as well as life.

I therefore conclude that ritual regicide--this four-headed hydra sanctioning incest, castration, murder and cannibalism--is a contrivance of the women rulers in the first farming villages when their authority is under attack. It’s not born of religious fervor but of a specific intention arising in these women’s minds: to block all expressions of fatherhood beyond the purely biological and to crush any sign of equality between the sexes. As the first trauma inflicted on newly conscious man, male sacrifice is, I contend, the spark that sets ablaze the discord between the sexes--one that simmers in matriarchy, flares up in patriarchy and is still raging. And as such it’s the prime motor of both the male inferiority complex and its corollary, the practice of misogyny.

But what motivated the matriarchs to create an institution like ritual regicide? To lead up to an answer I first need to describe how I think the matriarchy developed. See next post.

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