New Gods vs. Old Gods: The Juvenile as Divine Elder, or foil. Tammuz = Yesod she b Malchus
Jack Kirby, in his fixing of Super-hero Mythology for DC in the 70′s, conveniently avoids the war between the Super-modern and the inaccessibly ancient by having the Old Gods, obsolete and yet eternally important, enshrined in the Source Wall, out of commission as is truly the way of the Ancient of Day שביתין ושבקין / חבילין דמעקין.
The challenge is of this: who is satirized out of power, in the freshest story? Who is lionized into the spotlight as the moral of the story gives him the torch of grace? Part of the pop problem is the great parent-punch, where the wicked old gives way to the awesome: how to retell without vilifying the ACTUAL patriarchy of beloved family? This is the ultimate challenge of any non-dualistic narrative, religion, or experience of the schism that makes the world.
Narratives find ways by splitting the distinction between Good Parent and Bad Elder. Note with curiousity: The Angelina Jolie vehicle-version of Malificent takes the Evil Queen and spins her into grace as the Raven Fairy who only loves and is betrayed by the man that turns out immediately to be the Lame King, father of “Sleeping Beauty.” The infinite purity/ecstatic naivety of princess Aurora is very contrasted with the wounded and knowing of Malificent, but the movie REFUSES to be enlightened enough to overcome the need for a villain, and so the Lame Father dies unrepentant for his crime against the goddess, falling out of a building. His daughter never appears, even for a moment, to mourn his death.
The Illumination is coherent, and one god must be sacrificed for the rest to live. This is a fundamental part of Old Egyptian religious covenant, Set-as-Joker: one of the royal family must be villain in order for the heavens to be whole. Because informed masonry demands sacrifice, and cosmic order depends on the self-sacrifice of the highest angel-turned-enemy. The is the friendly gnostic Satan; Leviathan co-operative.
This is the secret of the moon of Tammuz, who is also Adonis, the aspect of Who Knows but Alas! And Woe! For the great king is lost, fallen. But good news! He returns every few months and so does life. Why does he die? According to ld Sumerian myth, it’s because he rules oblivious to the damnation of his beloved Innana. She’s dragged to Hell by Irresistable Cosmic Forces that demand sacrifice for the sake of existence. Accepting this and yet still demanding to return to the earth, that there might be love, life and delight, she is given permission on condition that she bring down someone of equal stature.
She returns to Earth in search of unfamiliar kings, but they are all humiliated, dressed in sackcloth and mourning her absence. Not so, her beloved Fisherman, King of the Satisfaction, Tammuz. He sits on the high throne, joyful and fruitful, so that there would be bounty. This offends Innana/Ishtar so, and she casts him down to Sheol/Hel, where he remains until his twin sister convnces Innana/Ishtar to take his place for half the year. So that the world can be. The Romans digest this story, calling Innana “Venus” and Tammuz “Adonis”, de-emphasising his divinity and instead emphasising his beauty and powerlessness before tragedy.
"Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord's house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then said he unto to me, 'Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these." —Ezekiel 8:14-15
Things could always be worse. Ptolemy, strangely, claims that Phoenicians worship Mars as “Adonis” even as the comentary of his translator makes clear that Adonis is to be identified with Phyrigian Atys and Egyptian Osiris. Adonis as an epithet like “Ba’al” could be any number of “people.” Literary readings, specifically of Shakespeare’s version of Venus and Adonis, offer to identify him with the Sun, defeated, which could be why the Crab that cuts down the Herculean SunGod is identified with the Moon, like in the Kabbalistic myth where the Moon indicates the problem in Sun and Moon sharing one crown, a criticism that leads to the weakening of the moon into cycle of wax and wane.
Egyptian Osiris, alternately and meaningfully, was the Sun (Ra) when he was alive but became Saturnine and next worldly upon his castration and defeat by the trickster villainGod Set, leading to the claiming of the Sun Throne by Horus, alternatingly refered to by the Hellenists as Mars or Apollo This Osiris, you’ll recall, is identified by Heraclitis and Plutarch as identifiable with both Saturn, Hades, and Dionysus, all one “for whom they wage and wail”. The Talmud in Avodah Zara further identifies this composite Vegetation, Fertility, and Underworld deity with the Biblical Patriarch Joseph.
Mishnah: IF ONE FINDS UTENSILS UPON WHICH IS THE FIGURE OF THE SUN [or a dragon, they are prohibited].
Therefore the first and last clauses deal with the act of finding and the middle clause with the act of making!
Abaye said: That is so,
the first and last clauses deal with the act of finding
and the middle clause with the act of making.
Raba said: They all deal with the act of finding,
and as for the middle clause it is the teaching of R. Judah.
For it has been taught: '
R. Judah also includes the picture of a woman giving to suck
A woman giving to suck alludes to Eve who suckled the whole world;
Serapis alludes to Joseph who became a prince [sar]
and appeased [hefis] the whole world.
Avodah Zara 43:a
The implication here is profound: There is a difference between the one who feeds the world and the one who creates the world, the feeder being inherently more vulnerable, because he is closer to you.
Friedriche Nietche identifies Prometheus with Dionysus, Sarapis and Tammuz, another face of the tragic hero, in his Birth of Tragedy. All drama and all tragedy, as well as all idealism as to the value of crime-as-liberation-as-concience are expressed through the divinity of theater. The similarity in the Joseph story in the bible is undercut by the tradition connecting Joseph’s death to the Summer Solstice, as well as his Messianic identifcation as the Hero who Appears To Die but Actually Feeds The World. The irony, biblically, is the degree to which he also innovates selling the world into slavery, for his grain, much like agriculture and intoxication make a certain sort of willing slaves out of us all.
Slaves to a good master, are his sheep, happily sacrificed as are all the innocent people killed in the background of every exciting explosive hero moment. Kurt Vonnegut in his pinnacle work Breakfast Of Champions tries to break the cycle, and set his characters (heroes?) free. It’s important to try and break a cycle, if we can. The heroes themselves want to be better, and stop all wrong from being, and for this, we the incapable appreciate them.
One ancient proto-Cinderella is the proto-Buddhist deity Kwan Yin; the poor, righteous orphan worked to death, but then sainted into immortality as the Goddess of Yin. She will not stop from her chores, so she gains the power to set anyone else free. Building merit in the Buddhist narrative comes with the promise that labors will, ultimately, be appreciated. She is the Tammuz here, except even more virtuous.
Biblical Abraham finds a way out of sacrificing child, partly by putting Bull in his place. But sacrificed the child is, the circumcision compels caution and restraint of vision and creative imposition of will. Siegfried and Sigmund, Gilgamesh and Horus are all untroubled by parent-imposed wound; on the contrary it is the Osirian Father and The Wild Man who is castrated, Votun whose spear shatters. This is what is offensive about the civil impulse of Abraham: it's a first step in what pretends to be a trustworthy, eternal stability, relatively likeable over the nightmare of Babylon and Ur. Vonnegut is in a proud tradition.
In one of the first stories published and circulated, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the sacrifice of the fallen lover of the Queen of the Dawn is noted as a model NOT to be imitated. Gilgamesh distrusts the Goddess, because her love destroyed the greatest mythic heroes. This offends her to a fairy tale degree, and he must contend with this hostility/affection. This cannot make him trust her more, but it does keep HIM from becoming a divinity, enshrined in the stars and months as the summertime moon of mourning and tears, “Tammuz”. Also known as Dumuzi “The Sheperd/The Fisherman”
Superman, like Tammuz, is an often dead-and-ressurected Solar deity. He is not failed by love, or made vulnerable by either idealism or corruption-- nonetheless, he is not, and may never be, a father god. To the degree that he ever has children, he cannot raise them, an idea explored in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns and in Greg Weissman's Young Justice alike, both of which treat superman as a very uncomfortable absentee father, unable to take almost any emotional or functional responsibility for the bastard children cloned from or identified with him. The best he can do is rescue and preach, but he cannot devote himself to specific children-- in 1950's superman “imaginary” apocalypse literature, being responsible for wife and child is exactly what finally cripples and destroys superman after all. It's a bit different for Batman, formed from the duality represented by his two horns. Conflicting duality, Black and white, is the very definition of Gothic. Metropolis is not, and can never be, Gotham, even in narratives as inversionary as Kingdom Come or Dark Knight Returns: Gotham is Black & White, Metropolis is gleaming bright gold and steel. And yet-- Both are New York City, just as equally. Or wherever the capitol of the world is.
This is part of the absurd theatre that the city becomes. Age plus success equals implication in the eternal crimes of the city, or increasing merit in the construction of that which is beloved about it. Superman's and Spider-man's eternal youth is partially their innocence and alienation from the source of the problem. Batman is different-- he is not a solar deity except in the context of his own internal cosmology; barring that, he's as lunar as it gets. One of the main mythic responsibilities of the Moon is to literally second guess the Sun, with a question that divides the kingdom but restores wholeness and insists sensitivity to the failure of the normative order. This is the moral advantage that Batman tends to have over Superman-- although in Grant Morrison's post 52 Action Comics, this order is inverted-- with Batman being the super-mainstream expression of society's natural beneficence, and Superman as the radical socialist, come to critique and overcome the corrupt excesses of the Great City. This will not last, hardly lasting into Morrison's brief run, any more than the original populist Superman of 1938's Action Comics #1 was able to be anything other than a cheerleader for the American Way, once exposed to the wider airwaves.
Superman is also categorically NOT a child, but most Superman villains for all intents and purposes are; it's the nature of tyrants. Superman's presence, and functional stasis, are in the space in between the super maturity/responsibility of a new adult, freshly but firmly out of his parent's home, but not building a life of his own. Numerous brilliant efforts at writing the story of Superman as father have been written, but none allowed to be canon. The Super child of Kingdom Come appeared once, and then becomes unavailable, the great Kurt Busiek “Birthright” treatment could only occur in distant earth prime, a reality conspicuously destroyed in the Infinite Crisis. Contrast this with Batman, who is defined by his pack of children and lovers.
The problem of lovers and sidekicks: First, it's meaningful how easy it is to confuse the two in relationship to Batman, as opposed to Superman. A lover, a ward, and a friend, all of whom can share the occasional title of “partner” if they're so graced, but generally come to play the part more of some kind of a cavalry; a children's crusade as training unit to take care of peripheral missions (which often tend to wind up being crucial situations that the kids get stuck in.) There must be a pattern, occult logic hopes, to how these peripheral helpers form naturally off the sweat of the overwhelmed human hero. First is Robin. Notably somewhat gender neutral in impression, or at least too young to feel overtly masculine, the role has been taken by a range of kids over the generations.
Two girls, four boys, not counting the myriad alternate realities, Robin is the defined First Supplement to the super-competent Batman, and traditionally, the stand in for the reader themselves. All Robins, unlike Batman himself, must be trained to some degree before the traumatic event that leads them to abandon normative childhood to become child soldier vigilantes. Compare this with the Batgirls-- similarly trained before the signal to masked vigilantism in some variety of acrobatics or combat-- in either case, it is the existence of something like a Batman that pulls these boys and girls out of the wood work to support the Batman's apparent mission. This is powerfully satirized in the film Super, where one man's psychosis, borne out of a combination of some kind of brain damage, sexual frustration, weird religious fundamentalism and exposure to pop-television, inspires him to become a ferocious vigilante, dealing out justice to anyone he witnesses offending him somehow, with his chosen weapon: a wrench. This inspires the girl who works at the comic book store to want to come along, help in whatever (violent) capacity, which can be as simple as screaming at a defeated foe, and at a crowd surrounding the action, about how fucking hot they are.
There is a similar relationship described in many astrological systems between the Sun and Mercury, described in the Talmud as “the scribe of the Sun.” ( Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 155b) The mythic relationship between Apollo and Hermes, between Horus-Ra and Thoth, between Sol and Odin all describe this similar intimacy that all have witnessed in the physical movements of the literal star Mercury (just called “Kochav” in Hebrew, literally “Star” or even “Mark”) in direct correlation with the movements of the Sun itself. The narratives that emerge to describe why and how this arrangement came to be are meaningful whenever they are.
Mercury is known traditionally as the Greco-Roman tradition as the “youngest of the gods,” stealing, working, tricking and charming his way to godhood after most of the worldly and divine order are established. But when Julius Caesar and Tacitus witness the main father god of the Norse and the Celts, Odin, they readily identify him with Mercury, as do all subsequent generations of syncretists. Mercury and Thoth, the gods of intelligence and communication, who teach language to the world-- there's some mystery about how much they are the ones who initiate creation, and just stay aloof enough not to have to rule. This model goes back to African Anansi, who although the most vulnerable in most of the stories, winds up with all the stories, tricking his way to the very beginning of creation, and perhaps made the whole origin possible.
Hebrew Kabbalistic tradition, relating to the biblical Seven days of creation, attributes the creation of divinities in the heavens, stars and angels alike, to the Fourth day. The original light that filled all creation from the first moment was pulled back and hidden away also smaller forces, priorities and characters would shine. Tuesday night at 6pm is already Wednsday in this model (“It was evening and it was morning the fourth day,) and so the tradition makes clear that Mercury was the first amongst the stars, before even the Sun and the Moon, although the sun and the moon are identified with the conflicting primordial masculine and feminine that divorce on the second day of creation, they come not into their minor fullness and place in the heavenly heirarchy until Mercury emerges, followed by Jupiter, and then Venus. Saturn takes it's place at the center of of the week, just as the Sabbath is the center of the weekdays, surrounded by three on each side, on the opposite end of Mercury. Theres a whole game-mystery of reverse-on-reverse, where the attributes of one is expressed only in the other, hence much of the confusion and evolution of the heavenly hierarchy-- who ever acts as if they're in charge must not be in charge, whoever acts as if they're foolish is the smartest one there is. Hence that traditional self mutilation and even partial suicide of Odin, who hangs himself and lets himself be pierced in the side in pursuit of Knowledge, also indenturing himself like biblical Jacob as a shepherd, just to learn, furiously. The fool, the child, stepping blindly, might actually have a plan all along, all the plans even. But it's not clear, because we're being tricked.
Venus, on the other hand is never tricking you-- it's your own will that compels you forwards, and hence the deep confusion about how originative she is. Greek philosophers came up with two distinct Aphrodites: one, the cosmic, celestial and originative, borne out of Uranus's castrated phallus, once it fell into the great ocean, and second, the lower earthly one, “Pandemos” identified with worldly passions, as opposed to originative cosmic yearning. The main distinction between a moon goddess and a Venus is how much they are defined by their wildness and independence vs. civilizing eroticism in the context of consortium chambers. Wonder Woman is not a Venus; she's an Artemis, a Diana. The Moon might depend on the light of the sun, but it's not trying to impress the sun, and that's the dignity of the moon vs. the intoxicating intimate irresistibility of the morning star. Every other plastic come hither is more of an Aphrodite, like Poison Ivy, Catwoman, or Vampirella.
Speaking of the difference between Lovers and Sidekicks: Who is closer? Superman and Batman or Superman and Wonder Woman or Batman and Wonder Woman? Generally the first, as often almost the other two, especially maybe in any given future, as too many World's Finest stories are told (god forbid) and maybe one of the other two. There was some investment in a Batman/Wonder woman romance for a time, and in a Superman/Wonder woman coupling occasionally, both and either treated as almost messianic unions. The child is rarely seen, or used as more of an omen, or future narrator, because he's too perfect to fathom for long.
This dreamchild is a huge issue in comic book apocalypticism, one which, to my knowledge, is rarely translated to Cartoon or film, perhaps because it's too disturbing except for horror. It's certainly one of the stranger parts of Kubrick's 2001: A space odyssey, and it's been coming up more and more: It was the major plot development of Alan Moores LOEG 2009, as well as Jonathan Hickman's extended Fantastic Four/FF run, where the previously similar Franklin Richards, oft hinted to possess invincible power in the future, emerges as a major character, both as a divine child from the chronological present, and as the nigh-omnipotent and apparently immortal that he grows up to becomes, a god over gods, who enslaves Galactus the world eater and fixes time. His introduction and incorporation is a testament to Hickman's narrative ambition, to make the shocking future more accessible; not humanized, but appreciable. This is the aspect of the redeeming child, which is who the old testament ends with the promise of, and in at least a few French and Italian traditions, who the Tarot begins with.
Noted Kabbalist R' Nachman of Breslov tells an allegorical story once about a master of prayer whose mission is, partially, to reunite a shattered royal family, torn apart by a hurricane. Very few of the actors in this family are able to actualize their redemption and reunification except through some degree of personal expression and actualization in the context of being found by those who seek them. The child is both the oldest and the youngest, last found most central. But who is the youngest of the gods? The inevitable answer: whoever is most compelling at their root, is who is infinitely focused on in youth, specifically. This is who can be “youngest of the gods” and oldest of fathers all at once.
R' Nachman tells another story, about sailors on a great ocean marooned on an Island with a great tower. On this tower they find great food and clothes stored away, and upon feasting and relaxing begin to ask each other “what's the first thing you remember?” As they begin to describe progressively more originative memories of what becomes closer and closer to the first moment, the history of expressed kabbalistic exploration is also shared, with the approach to the earliest moment of almost-existence expressing the most innovative mysticism, as well as revealing which amongst the crew is secretly the oldest of all assembled. Naturally, ironically, meaningfully, the youngest amongst them is the one with the access to the most primordial memories, and is revealed by the stories end as secretly the oldest of them all, as the assembled sailors are met by the owner of the tower, the Great Eagle, who leads them out in similar fashion to biblical Joseph's arrangement of his brothers, in age order, with the first and oldest actually being the youngest. It occurs to me something similar occurs with certain Pantheons, where Mercury or Anansi are the youngest of the gods, and secretly the originators of all language and narrative, and, as such, all existence.
The advent of graphic literature came with two directions-- the violent and the romantic. But it started with the neutral gendered Kid. The original image that first spoke with an avian fowl surprising a medium into existence was The Yellow Kid. Although satyric images hewn into stone have appeared since as long as anyone can remember, the novelty of a sequential set of images, creating a popular story medium never before quite possible in the history of graphic literature. Heralded by that bald pre-heroic central pillar of engaged, powerless but invulnerable; infant-king recurs in Windsor Mckay's dream hero Little Nemo, but survives into modern hero cartoon as Kirby-Lee's Uatu The Watcher, The Last Airbender, Mxyzptlk, and even into as a number of specifically Superman Villains, notably Mxyzptlk, Lex Luthor and especially Brainiac, who also parallels a number child-monsters spawned from science or alien world-- the borg/Trelane, V-ger, Ultron, Moondragon assorted children of heroes who were transformed by any encounter with the cosmic. What is this original kid? The first card in the Tarot, 0/Aleph, is called the fool but identified with the divine child, the youngest one in the room who still remembers further back before any one else, even though all appear older than him. It's the very first moment, that remains as innocent and entirely original and revolutionary as it did that very first moment where a stupid blind step was taken out of nothing and no where.
His manifestation as Robot-alien is profound and the ultimate terror, literally. The dynamic relationship between Hank Pym and his two robot “children” (both notably bald) is indicative of this tension: one is profoundly noble, and even humanly capable of devotion, nobility and love, and the other is heartless, monstrously devoted to the death of all flesh, with an alarming tendency towards actual genocides and atrocities-- such is the gamble of blind capricious invincibility, that something wonderful and/or something terrible might emerge. Notice the moral flexibility of the Superman villains in this model too, their tendency to incarnate as heroic occasionally, if not often, bespeaks the degree to which the chaos that Superman is reining in actually can go either way in it's selfish fervor.
The secret truth of the universe is the degree to which we'd rather not acknowledge that the hunger is our own, The great hunger consuming all is the good that surrounds, filled with an astonishing depth of emptiness within. It's tail, it's tale, is the problem of how to end a story that lives to not end: the pickle of pop narrative myth.
What is the earliest version of the end of Herakles? He never does the thing that he's ultimately prophesied to do, that is, replace the father god as Master of the Universe as Zeus did to his hungry horrible father before. Hercules ascends to heaven, and there can be no more stories about him after that-- until the Cartoon serials resurrect him into modernity. The Greeks have no Apocalypse, because their stories, like the Egyptian, Vedic, and Babylonian astro-narratives before them, aren't meant to end; and by the time they might, slipping into mediocrity (Christianity) they lose control of their essential narrative, as the Roman Book of Revelations is written from a Greek island used as a way station for exiles from Judea. The ancient Egyptian apocalypses turn quickly into creation myths, reflecting the suspicions of cosmic cyclicalism reflected by the solar voyage. The exception to this rule is the Trojan War, from whose survivors the literary Romans claim descent as elaborated (or invented?) in Virgil’s Aenid, before he dies and guides Dante through the depths, as Innana was once guided. Story endings are invitations for strangers to pick up the charachters, now literally in the public domain.
The alternative to the Apocalype/Resolution model is a beginning and and end that are ultimately relatively unrelated, i.e. an ULTIMATE end that offers no future. Many characters are born from this scenario, this moment, and then brought back into the present. The X-men are replete with such figures, notably Cable, Bishop and the Rachel Summers Phoenix, who is dragged to the end of history to become the great goddess Askani, before being brought back to youthful modern triviality. Both Cable and Rachel Summers, it must be noted, shared parents, the great noble first couple of the house of X(-men.)
So too with Hercules, Samson, and King Solomon: another Christ child made immortal by his ability to travel into the future. The Legion of Superheroes only really comes back to see one particular hero--Superman, or maybe sometimes Abe Lincoln, or Julius Caesar. Super-villains just go back for Helen of Troy. Hercules comes to New York as easily as he makes it to Hollywood. Inevitably.
Later this week: more about the Divine Julius and the Romulan/Vulcan tension, in the context of Star Trek and Old Roman Religion. Plus: Audio cast about the mystery of Enoch and Markolis (Hermes/Thoth); i.e., how and why does a person become the voice of G-d, identifiable with and representing? Only on
1Kurt Busiek, as opposed to contemporary diamond age adventists like Mark Waid, Peter David and Karl Kesel, suffers on explorations of characters and concepts that are inherently peripheral. This is his genius, and perhaps his curse, an eye that gazes specifically on the pop-awesome from a certain degree of alienation and distance. This is the way he was able to partially intiate the Diamond age of late nineties integration of Silver Age awe into super-modern dark age post-modernism, without the filter of Warren Ellis's cynical cleansing cinematude.
2Dark Knight Returns, at this point in our cultural discourse, might as well be considered cannon of sorts. The pre-apocalyptic vision of an aged Batman returning, somehow not to fight “crime” but to overcome military dictatorship by rallying the gangster children of Gotham into a militia army parrallels the transition from an alienated elite mission to a genuinely populist heroism, an authentically helpful radical Batman, at last on the same page with the people he was ostensibly protecting, but generally more just keeping down. This is the only moral triumph that can ever justify a weirdo like Batman, his personal crusade against the kind of “crime” that killed his parents being naturally extended to a socially intelligent revolution that would unseat the essential alienation that IS the cause of “crimes”.
3 Babylonian Talmud, mesechta Shabbat 155b