I’ve been reading Dale Drinnon’s Troll Skull over at Frontiers of Zoology where he brings up the subject of berserker families with trolls (ie ‘giants’) for ancestors.
Quite reasonably he takes the stance this’s possible evidence of Neanderthals breeding with Cro-Magnons and having once been an avid reader of Stan Gooch I’ve absolutely no problem with the idea nor with Dale’s observation the activities of berserkers “really helped push along the legend of the werewolf.”
The thing that tends to be overlooked about werewolves though’s how utterly unwolf-like their behaviour actually is. As Nick Redfern’s recent werewolf origins piece over at Lair of the Beast clearly demonstrates it’s difficult to separate the antics of werewolves from those of serial killers (and of course if you can’t credit the possibility of werewolves then that’s all they are).
But rather than wolves werewolves resemble nothing so much as house cats which (unlike a community of feral cats I once had the opportunity of observing) kill out of boredom – not hunger.
And of course another thing they resemble’s the berserker.
The thing that tends to be overlooked about berserkers though (for all the indestructibly lethal advantages gained by such warriors undergoing their battle furies or warp spasms) is their complete loss of self-control means they’re just as likely to decimate their own side (including their own best mate in Alexander the Great’s case or own kids in Heracles’) as they are the enemy making one wonder why and how they arose and indeed why anyone would want one on their side.
Which brings me to something else werewolves and berserkers resemble: maenads ie female followers of Dionysus who as a result of their revels become not only supernaturally immune to all forms of wounding but strong enough to tear apart their own kids and eat them raw viz Pentheus and Orpheus.
In fact this’s the abiding image all through Dionysus the idea of humans as a result of supernatural stress behaving like stage hypnotists’ victims believing they’re eating apples only to discover it’s really handfuls of their kids’ brains.
And of course it’s also Dionysus’ own story: an all-powerful thunderbolt wielding baby placed on the throne of Heaven until his carers suddenly tear him apart munching up everything but his heart which’s then used to reconstitute him as a wildly unpredictable moodswinging androgynous teenager who must now use his time among the humans learning to understanding both the new form of godhood he exemplifies and how he can use it to help the humans understand and help themselves.
One of the things that particular baby Dionysus tableau’s alluding to I suggest’s that moment in a kid’s life when one night they go to sleep dreaming of spending the day running round unselfconsciously naked being feted like lords causing everyone to chuckle madly at their comic capers only to wake the next day and find themselves treated as if they’re now stubborn pack mules needing breaking in hence the new regime of all manner of strange new rules and regulations they’re suddenly required to almost instantaneously assimilate concerning potty training or not sleeping in mummy and daddy’s bed or attending nursery schools so complete strangers can ‘persuade’ them to do things no one explains the point of while all the time having their intermittent little ‘successes’ mistaken for inability to see through the ‘carrot’ of insincere praise or their gradual yielding to a superior force as ‘stick’ induced ‘understanding’.
Most people don’t remember the moment when it first dawned on them they were being straitjacketed into society’s latest arbitrary idea on ‘shaping’ children rather than receiving encouragement to spontaneously become what they sense they are – that moment when they first started dreading the word “No!” and learned to tense every muscle in their tiny bodies in anticipation of a gigantic hand walloping the back of their legs by way of ‘encouraging’ them to perform or submit on cue even as they watched in stunned confusion how the giants those hands belonged to’d immediately become outraged if another such giant dared do the same to one of them.
If you have forgotten all this let me tell you it felt like a nightmare which everytime you thought you’d woken from it started over again transforming your beloved ‘carers’ and ‘protectors’ into Them, the Other Ones, gigantic rule obsessed extremely aggressive very unkind self-obsessed strangers seemingly pulling rules and diktats out their arses all day long to ensure endless opportunities to tear you off another strip making you feel less and less You and more and more Them.
You felt in fact as if you were being eaten alive.
But just in case you think I’m going all Jungy and Freudy on your arse let me take you back to the dawn of history and the unself-reflectively powerful Enkidu [a possible early Neanderthal or even ‘Bigfoot’ sighting] living in perfect harmony with nature until a certain hunter (and at least one of Dionysus’ ritual titles styles him Hunter) witnesses his traps being destroyed and unleashes the plot to make Enkidu ‘grow up’ by sicking a temple prostitute on him for 6 days and 7 nights until the stink of his new civilized ways means his gazelle mates and other animally chums no longer recognize him as one of them leaving him no choice but to become another forlorn denizen of cities.
And this I suggest to you’s what both Dionysus and Gilgamesh’re going on about: that to the ancients it seemed human beings’re naturally creatures of culture endlessly creating or recreating the latest cultural manifestations but whereas culture and cultures spontaneously emerge and evolve or dissolve to assimilate or yield to newer/older cultural manifestations civilization and civilizations quite unnaturally create and perpetuate privileged hierarchies to ‘persuade’/demand/compel by way of guaranteeing their citizens’ll ‘compromise’/conform thus ensuring the civilizations’ own longevity at the expense of citizen individuality - a situation only exaggerated when populations settle in one place and become cities because as cities’ populations approach critical mass all those wonderful ‘refining’ qualities Aristotle so adores start exponentially increasing their distorting effect on human nature something Aristotle actually warned about even as he observed individuals who start acting independently of their city’s collective polity’re likely to be less than men or more than men eg Aristotle’s own teacher Plato and Plato’s hemlock guzzling mentor Socrates (an idea I suggest’s similarly alluded to by the Old Testament’s obsession with whether or not certain cities have sufficient numbers of ‘righteous men’ to prevent their destruction).
I also suggest the definitively human activity of perpetually culturally reinventing ourselves’s one of the things Jesus’s going on about when he observes "The foxes have their foxholes and the birds have their nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" aware as he surely was of the Genesis Flood and Tower of Babel interpretations which go the Flood was caused by humanity allowing its authentic cultural nature to be ‘flooded’ by a more technically impressive transhumanly degenerative one (symbolised by mankind allowing the Sons of God to ‘marry’ their daughters) while post-Flood attempts to counteract pre-Flood degenerative tendencies with the sort of ‘controls’ provided by city based civilization produced cultural sterility instead of diversity (symbolised by the single language) counteracted by an obsession with technical mastery (building the Tower) and propaganda (the idea we’ll become ‘gods’ entering the Kingdom of Heaven violently) as a way of maintaining monocultural cohesion and hierarchical privileges.
But ultimately Babel fell for exactly the same reasons the Gods created Enkidu to distract Gilgamesh from his boredom with city life to the point he’d become “noisy” (in the technical language of the day devoid of inner silence and therefore peace) his head brimming with all manner of low brow tabloid style conceptuality about him being a superstar and therefore needing to be seen on the town hitting the happening places getting rat-arsed knobbing endless skanks between duking-it-out-to-the-death sessions with any poor ‘lesser light’ who happened to cross his path blinking the wrong way.
Even the way Enkidu gets trapped in the Netherworld’s symptomatic of the deforming effect civilization has on Gilgamesh because as a result of attending what sounds like a pro-am benefit tournament for all the orphans he’s been creating he becomes unnaturally obsessed with a game involving striking an object (puck, ball or drum?) with a ‘stick’ until both objects fall into the Netherworld rendering him so inconsolable Enkidu has to volunteer retrieving them only to get down there and immediately disregard Gilgamesh’s advice not to give himself away with such civilized behaviour as being “noisy”, wearing clean nickers or footwear, ponging himself up with Enkidu For Men or knocking about his wife and kids!).
But here’s Gilgamesh himself (from ETCSL) describing city life to justify why he needs Utu/Shamash’s help in guaranteeing he’ll be remembered by posterity “In my city people are dying and hearts are full of distress. People are lost -- that fills me with wretched dismay. I crane my neck over the city wall: corpses in the water make the river almost overflow. That is what I see. That will happen to me too -- that is the way things go.”
In other words even way back when Gilgamesh right at the top of the social tree experiences the glamorous city of Uruk as a soulless shithole.
And what I’m suggesting therefore’s right from the beginning the ancients observed how the distorting effects of civilization not only increases exponentially when added to the unrelentingly escalating stress and pressure resulting from the ‘convenience’ of packing ever greater amounts of people into ever smaller amounts of living and working space but it leads to BOTH rich AND poor developing the coping strategy of emotional numbing and general desensitization to external stimuli (symbolised by Midas’ “depraved” ears becoming those of a donkey) causing people to ineffectively address the problem of seemingly having less and less energy by overeating (symbolised by Midas’ food turning to inedible gold) until they not only don’t notice themselves stepping over the bodies of strangers in the street but they’re unmoved when those bodies’re finally their own family's (symbolised by Midas turning his daughter to gold).
Nor does this numbing/desensitization process mean people become immune to the consequences of all the stress they’re still unwittingly experiencing because eventually the cumulative effect starts resulting in periodic breakdowns’ of their bodies’ immune systems taking the form of vague recurring ‘conditions’ before the advent of catastrophic then finally fatal illnesses or mental ‘steam venting’ episodes involving chronic bouts of unwarranted escalating aggression eventually catastrophic explosions and finally deadly violence.
In which case why weren’t cities allowed or even encouraged to die the death?
Because one of the clear implications of Enkidu’s story’s that for all their recognised faults cities were viewed on an esoteric level as potential devices for accelerating human evolution – an idea found in Aristotle and even Samhat Enkidu’s sacred whore seductress tells him the reason his animal friends no longer recognise him’s because she’s made him ‘wise’.
But the same idea’s inherent in Adam and Eve Noah and even Moses that artificially isolating a particular group from Paradise Pre-Flood humanity or Egyptian civilization means you get to both cut off their current evolutionary possibilities and accelerate them in totally new evolutionary directions.
In fact all that’s good and bad about cities seems to’ve been anticipated (if not actually engineered) long before they emerged which’s probably why right from the beginning the old shamanic technique of therapeutic ‘theatre’ where shamans cure their client by acting out the actions of their spirits in the other world seems to’ve been adopted all round the world for public consumption by the likes of priesthoods and master narrators such as Homer or by the Lesser Mysteries and dramatists all of whose functions seems to’ve included exposing the unfeeling or emotionally explosive masses to comedy or tragedy to make them laugh or weep or tragicomedy to make them rollercoaster between the two.
It also seems to’ve been anticipated the stress of cities’d lead to an increase in the production of individuals who see and hear things “that simply aren’t there!” What we’d call today artistic religious and psychic types some of whom’d be so deeply affected by their experiences they’d be locked up as psychotic these days.
In the days of the Greater Mysteries though they were viewed as being connected to another realm in a way which either needed strengthening or adjusting to be effective and when this was achieved such an individual was said to be a righteous man – or woman.
The increasing of such sensitivity was induced by a number of techniques including building up the right type of energy by learning to see and hear reality directly without the intervention of any kind of conceptuality including spiritual ones - or in the technical language of the day eating meat raw.
In the case of some individuals the build-up of this energy was gradual as were the stages they went through in their attainment of righteousness but in the case of others it could be a much more haphazard and explosive affair resulting in possession by aggressive low level entities such as animal spirits (eg wolves) though it’s just as likely what was actually happening was unresolved emotional problems got loose in nervous systems being overdriven by unknown evolutionary energies.
One of the signs a city in particular and a civilization in general's reaching critical mass was said to be an exponential increase in reports of the strange and inexplicable aka omens.
If it’s true the entire Earth’s now virtually a global city and it’s certainly true to say it’s virtually a global civilization then the last thing we’d want to hear’s an increase in reports of the strange and inexplicable because that’d mean we were reaching some sort of critical mass and were either about to go up a level or be forced to start from scratch.