Gods are great. But the heart is greater. From our hearts they come, and to our hearts they return…
Gods are great. But the heart is greater. From our hearts they come, and to our hearts they return…
Ah, the Old Gods.
We’ve discussed them before – their immense power, their destructive natures – how they are the very opposite of divine. Invaders, some Poets claim. Demonic entities from another world, whose unending hunger was an abomination.
Humans were the logical fools to fall prey to the Old Gods – having never battled them, as the Ancients had – and afflicted by a poverty of spirit unmatched by even the most crude animal. How easily fooled they were by such otherworldly magnificence, whispering empty prayers, making blood sacrifices to demons that would consume them in a heartbeat if they were able.
I’ve been behind on my reading and writing, mainly because I was on vacation and drove across the United States. So this particular installment of the Monstress series has been on my desk for a while, and I finally got around to it the other day. As with all previous installments, this issue brims with stunning artwork and exquisite writing; but it was the postscript section, which I shared just a short excerpt of here, that floored me.
In our current age, there is a romantic vision of the “old gods.” Neo-pagans rejecting the monotheistic faiths scour the past for remnants of gods and religions that have long passed. These old gods are resurrected, often outside the context of when and where they existed. As such, we do not really know much about the old gods. Only the few myths and stories that survived the ages. And that is what this passage symbolizes for me—the recognition that deities long dead may not be the glorious beings we imagine them to be. It is something to consider.
I’d like to close with a quote from the short-lived TV show “Witchblade”:
“Gods come and go… It’s the myth that’s eternal.”
And that is all we truly have of the old gods, their enduring myths.
My friend Miriam told me this was her favorite book in the series, and I can see why. The story is excellent. Essentially, Lucifer decides to vacate Hell and gives Morpheus, the Dream Lord, the key to Hell. What ensues is a pantheon of various deities all trying to convince the Dream Lord that they should be given dominion over Hell, and making their various cases to support their claims. The result is a highly creative view into the personalities of various gods and goddesses across diverse religions.
The book opens in the Garden of Destiny. The opening passage explores the labyrinthine paths which symbolize a human life, the choices we make, and how upon later reflection, the realization that many of the choices that we make in life are not really choices at all.
Walk any path in Destiny’s garden, and you will be forced to choose, not once but many times. The paths fork and divide. With each step you take through Destiny’s garden, you make a choice, and every choice determines future paths. However, at the end of a lifetime of walking you might look back, and see only one path stretching out behind you; or look ahead, and see only darkness. Sometimes you dream about the paths of Destiny, and speculate, to no purpose. Dream about the paths you took and the paths you didn’t take… The paths diverge and branch and reconnect; some say not even Destiny himself truly knows where any way will take you, where each twist and turn will lead. But even if Destiny could tell you, he will not. Destiny holds his secrets. The Garden of Destiny. You would know it if you saw it. After all, you will wander it until you die. Or beyond. For the paths are long, and even in death there is no ending to them.
When all the deities converge on the castle of Dream, Odin tasks Loki with observing and noting the activities of the other deities. Loki’s thoughts on the angels I found particularly interesting.
And above all, I watch the angels. They do not eat, or flirt, or converse. They observe. I watch them in awe, All-Father. They are so beautiful and distant. The feet of the angels never touch the base earth, not even in dreams. I can read nothing in their faces, much as I try. And what they are thinking, I cannot even imagine.
As I read this, it reminded me of the Wim Wenders film, “Wings of Desire.” If you’ve not seen it, it’s a classic and worth watching.
As many of you know, we are often burdened with things that we do not want, but letting go and getting rid of those burdens is not always easy. Art and literature abound with metaphors about people clinging to their unwanted baggage, dragging it painfully through life. Think of Sisyphus with his stone, or Jacob Marley dragging his chains. In this book, Dream echoes this sentiment.
They all want it, and I don’t. I never thought that disposing of the unwanted could be so hard.
Possibly my favorite passage in this book is where the angels tell the Dream Lord of God’s decree regarding the existence of Hell.
We… I will relay the message. It is from my Creator… There must be a Hell. There must be a place for the demons; a place for the damned. Hell is Heaven’s reflection. It is Heaven’s shadow. They define each other. Reward and punishment; hope and despair. There must be a Hell, for without Hell, Heaven has no meaning. And thus, Hell must be —
This is very Taoist, in my view. There must always be darkness to balance light, a yin to balance yang. It also makes me think of Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow:
Carl Jung stated the shadow to be the unknown dark side of the personality. According to Jung, the shadow, in being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else. Jung writes that if these projections remain hidden, “The projection-making factor (the Shadow archetype) then has a free hand and can realize its object—if it has one—or bring about some other situation characteristic of its power.”
The concept of Heaven and Hell, as Gaiman expresses it, then becomes a metaphor for the our human consciousness. Our divine consciousness cannot exist without the shadow. There must always be a balance between the light and dark within the psyche.
Anyway, this series is amazing. The writing is brilliant and the artwork if outstanding. I highly recommend this to all you readers out there. Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff.
In this issue, Shadow finishes his work at the funeral home of Jacquel and Ibis, who are representations of the Egyptian gods Anubis and Thoth, respectively. The installment contains some brilliant reflections on death that are worth contemplating.
Shadow drove carefully down the street. It seemed right to go slow in a hearse, although he could barely remember the last time he had seen a hearse on the street. Death had vanished from the streets of America, thought Shadow. Now it happened in hospital rooms and ambulances.
People in modern society are terrified of their mortality, so the tendency is to shield the public from what is a natural part of every life. The terminally ill are usually sent off to hospital rooms to die, or if they are lucky, spend their last days in hospice. To face a dying person is to stare into the mirror of your own mortality, and I sense that a lot of people don’t want to do that. They want to stumble or charge through life, oblivious of what is coming nearer with each passing moment. Personally, I feel that there is something very spiritual about reflecting on your own death. It makes you realize just how precious each moment is. In fact, I recently read about some Eastern traditions where monks spend time meditating while gazing upon the body of a dead person. I can only imagine the profound impact that must have on an individual.
The issue concludes with another great passage describing Shadow’s exit from the house of the dead.
Shadow realized it had only been a temporary reprieve, his time in the house of the dead; and already it was beginning to feel like something that happened to somebody else, a long time ago.
What I like about this short passage is that it succinctly expresses that death is only a very brief moment, essentially a portal into another level of being. Our consciousness does not linger in the house of the dead. It is quickly prepared and then sent on its way, and all that is left is the vague impression of that fleeting moment in the long journey of the soul.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing in my musings. Have an inspired day.
This graphic series continues to impress me. A lot happens in this installment, and I could certainly write extensively about it, but will focus on the two aspects which stood out most prominently for me.
While Shadow is driving, he picks up a young woman named Sam who is hitchhiking. As they are driving, they get into an interesting discussion regarding Herodotus.
Shadow: It’s like he’s writing these histories, and they’re pretty good histories. Loads of weird little details. And then there are the stories with gods in them. Some guy is running back to report on the outcome of a battle and he’s running and running, and he sees Pan in a glade… and Pan says… “Tell them to build me a temple here.” So he says… “Okay.” … and runs the rest of the way back. And he reports the battle news, and then he says… “Oh, and by the way, Pan wants you to build him temple.” It’s really matter-of-fact, you know?
Sam: I read some book about brains, how five thousand years ago, the lobes of the brain fused, and before that people thought when the right lobe of the brain said anything, it was the voice of God. It’s just brains.
Shadow: I like my theory better.
Sam: What’s your theory?
Shadow: That back then people used to run into the gods from time to time.
I had read Herodotus back in college and remembering liking his histories. Probably something I should read again at some point. But what struck me the most about this section is how, in the past, people did have more interaction with their gods than they do today. I think it is because we have become more distracted by the trappings of our manufactured societies. We have replaced our old gods with new gods, gods of science, technology, commerce, and so forth. Which segues nicely into the next section I want to share.
In this scene, Shadow is watching television in a motel room, and a goddess manifests as Lucille Ball on the TV. She intimates to him that she is one of the new gods, who are the future.
Look at it like this, Shadow: we are the coming thing. We’re shopping malls, we’re online shopping. Your friends are crappy roadside attractions. We are now and tomorrow. Your friends are yesterday.
As I pondered this, I recalled sadly when my wife and I recently went to Cherokee. We went into some of the “Native American” gift shops, and they were all filled with manufactured garbage from China that was supposed to capture the power of what was once a mighty spiritual system. It was depressing. I could not find a single item that was actually made by a Native American craftsperson. I ended up buying only some locally roasted coffee.
This issue, as with all the previous ones, is steeped with symbols. But I would like to focus on one in particular: the carousel.
What is it that draws people to a carousel? It is not a thrill ride, nor does it take you up to heights where you can look out across vast vistas. It just slowly goes around and around while carnivalesque calliope music is pumped out in an endless loop.
At the end of this installment, Shadow climbs aboard a carousel populated with mythical animals. The lights, the music, and the circular movement coax Shadow across the threshold of consciousness, resulting in a transcendent experience.
The rhythm of the “Blue Danube” waltz ripped and sang in his head. And for a heartbeat Shadow was a child again, and all it took to make him happy was to ride the carousel. He stayed perfectly still, riding his eagle-tiger at the center of everything, and the world revolved around him. Shadow heard himself laugh over the sound of the music. He was happy. It was as if the last thirty-six hours had never happened, had evaporated into the daydream of a small child riding the carousel at Golden Gate Park, his mother watching him, proudly hoping that the music would never stop, the ride would never end. Then the lights went out and Shadow saw the gods.
The carousel is symbolic of a mystical circle, a gyre with no beginning and no end. The animals represent the myths and symbols that populate our collective consciousness, which circle continuously throughout our history. And as you go around and around, in the cycle of life-death-rebirth, you eventually attain the childlike bliss and become aware of the divine presence.
As I meditate on this imagery, I cannot help but feel the desire to find a carousel and take a ride. I suspect my next spin will be quite different from all my past experiences.