A Thought Adventure

Thursday, December 3, 2015

25. How could the Early Farmers Accept Male Sacrifice?

So as not to spoil the spell, the spirit of a religious festival requires that the normal attitude toward the cares of the world be temporarily set aside. Says Campbell in his Primitive Mythology, the very purpose of participating in a ritual is to attain a mental attitude in which one is overtaken by the state known in India as ‘the other mind‘ (Sanskrit, anya-manas, possession by a spirit). I.e., a state of being ‘beside oneself,’ spellbound, or “overpowered by the force of a logic of ‘indissociation’--wherein A is B, and C also is B.” To our prehistoric ancestors such a state is probably familiar, but it also remains alive in some contemporary cultures.

Religious ecstacy in motion. Whirling dervishes
In Eastern thinking human beings aren’t seen as separate from the gods so there’s no conflict between the two; gods are simply the mystery of the depth of one’s own being. The Japanese custom of ritual suicide, e.g., (which Campbell calls the ‘soul’ of both the Orient and the archaic world) demonstrates an eagerness to die that can only be explained as the individual’s solemn identification with his socially assigned role. And eye-witnesses of human sacrifice unanimously report the calm acceptance, even enthusiasm and pride, with which the victim walks to his death--as if it were a special dispensation of grace (compare modern equivalents like kamikaze pilots and suicide bombers).

Religious emotion.
How can we possibly touch the quick of a religious emotion as strong as this? Maybe it can be likened to the unparalleled intensity of our emotions as small children. Our boundless trust in parents and elders (whom we saw as unconscionably far above us), our total helplessness over their commands and our utter terror lest they abandon us. Feelings many of us had rather forget!

Yet if we choose to remember, we may get a peek at how our agrarian ancestors feel having not only to witness a deliberate murder (a son’s ordered by his own mother no less, or a brother‘s by his sister) but also to celebrate it by participating in the sumptuous festivities that precede the marriage ceremony. I think it is a tremendous blow to the newly awakened sensibilities of both men and women; and that it frightens them out of their wits, enough to want to make off and hide in a hole in the ground--even if (or perhaps because) they believe the sacrifice is necessary and that the victim resurrects as a god.

To handle a shock of this dimension, one way may well be to regress into magical thinking. Cannibalism often accompanies the killing; and the wish to appropriate the dead person’s qualities is known to be the most universal motive for cannibalism. To believe the sacrificed person has some special powers would therefore be a perfectly logical choice for our ancestors, because to take part in the ritual meal would give them a chance to absorb those powers into themselves.

Another way is to take on guilt for being part of the ritual killing (if only in the sense of not having prevented it). Struggling to keep the cause of their trauma from becoming conscious, they choose to see the young consort's grisly destiny as somehow their fault. And to escape from that heavy responsibility they make another fateful choice: to sink back in the previous pre-conscious thinking patterns of the ‘law of participation‘ (where everything is part of everything else to the point of identification). 

Trauma and self-destruction.
To me this readiness to accept blame (though they were blameless) is the first masochistic symptom in history. And the need  ever since to reenact the murder is clearly a compulsive phenomenon, an effect of the serious trauma inflicted on humanity by the horrendous institution of ritual regicide and a collective version of the disorder Freud' called 'repetition-compulsion.

What I think happens as time removes us further and further from the initial event--and as religion becomes more entrenched in our minds--is that we begin to accept responsibility not just for the murder but for everything that goes wrong. Everybody ends up thinking that to be human means being born bad and predestined to suffer eternal punishment for unpreventable sins.

To better understand this development, let's try to transport ourselves into the mindset of human beings at the earliest stages of consciousness and see what it may tell us about the origin of the male inferiority complex. See next post. 

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