the names change but the murder remains

Prometheus bound, by Jacob Jordaens 1593–1678A common theme in comparative mythology is that of a generation of gods (the offspring) killing or displacing the previous generation (the progenitors). In ancient Greek mythology, for instance, Zeus leads the Olympians into battle against Cronus and the titans.

And then there are divine gender issues, including those related to birth and renewal.


Male gods tend to be "driven", paternalistic, egotistical, prideful, wrathful, jealous, lustful, in a word: patriarchal. Their psychology is that of black or white, either or, yes or no, right or wrong. They employ deductive logic, eg that of the excluded middle, in which something is either true and/or its exact opposite is true, but that there is no truth in the middle.

Digital, quantum, discreet truth vs fuzzy, analogue, continuous truth.

The male gods have a clear and definite straightforward direction, a forward movement, an arrow, from A to B. With A as starting point. And B as destination. For them, there's no turning back. Time is a vector; time has an arrow.


Male gods demand obedience, tolerate no disagreement, inflict punishment. And insist on purpose,telos. They insist that there are purposes, that there is purpose. [but they won't tell us what it is!]

In contrast, the Goddess, the Great Mother (eg the Hindu divinity Adi Parashakti) is the antithesis of the above. Her psychology is that of shades of grey. She employs inductive logic when she employs logic at all. Her style is more intuitive, instinctive than logical or analytical. No purpose. No direction. No starting point. No destination. Her metaphysical expression is that of "the eternal return". [Which is echoed in the "big bang / big crunch" cycle in some modern cosmologies.]

What do you get when you shoot the arrow of time at the eternal return? The eternal spiral of course!

In the mythology of many cultures is the theme of male gods murdering or supplanting the Goddess, the first progenitor, eg Marduk's killing of Tiamat in the ancient Babylonian belief system. [I was going to say "Babylonian mythology" but then decided not to make a judgement about ideas held by people living thousands of years ago.]

The cosmic takeover bid, heavenly matricide one might say, has been linked as wikipaedia puts it, "to the rise of Patriarchal power structures ... and the institutionalisation of warfare...".

(To heap speculation upon speculation, perhaps the shift to patriarchal deity reflects also the shift from hunting/gathering to farming. Though it seems to me that in farming there's a strong flavour of "cyclic-ity" --- eg of the seasons, of rainfall, of reaping and sowing --- that tastes more like "eternal return" than forwardness and purpose.)

The Goddess is an obstacle to the forward direction of the male gods. Her existence refutes the very concept of "direction", of "purpose".

So they kill her. Boys will be boys!

So much for the issues of divine gender and psychopathology.


Another interesting set of globally cross-cultural themes is that of the Flood --- a story told in many of the myths and legends of peoples across the globe. But one should be careful about the application of the label "myth". I believe that there is a kernel of truth at the heart of many myths. Do myths have a heart? Doesn't matter. Move on.

In "Underworld" author Graham Hancock explores the evidence for global "superfloods" destroying prehistorically advanced civilizations in the period between roughly 20,000 to 7,000 years ago.

Note the plural in "civilisations". We're not talking just one prehistoric civilisation here: Hancock is not an "Atlantis hunter". Among the evidence he presents in Underworld are photographs of structures resembling ruined cities that lie beneath tens of metres of ocean. Not just in one or two places, but in many places beneath the oceans and seas of this Planet --- in the waters around Japan, India, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

Underworld also includes the inundation maps produced by Dr Glenn Milne of Durham University, UK. A world-leader in his field, Milne uses powerful computers to crunch mountains of data relating to sea-water levels, glaciation, ocean chemistry and other factors that determine coastline, the place where water meets land.

The inundation maps in Underworld are those of the past, not of today, ie they show the coastline of continents and islands as they would have been tens of thousands of years ago. Hancock compares Milne's inundation maps with maps known to have been used by civilisations that many if not most mainstream historians, archaeologists and paleontologists would describe as the earliest on the Planet. But what's startling about those ancient maps is that they show places and coastlines that those mariners of ancient Greece and elsewhere would not and could not have known about. Hancock makes a convincing case that the maps could only have been drawn by cartographers of civilisations existing far earlier --- thousands of years if not tens of thousands of years earlier --- than the civilisations deemed by the mainstream to be the earliest.


A figure that looms large in comparative mythology is that of the god / godly being who gives humankind gifts of knowledge, and is punished by a literal godfather for disobedience.

In ancient greek mythology, for example, Prometheus gives humankind "the gift of fire" and is punished by Zeus for doing so. His punishment is to be chained to a rock and have an eagle peck at his liver for all eternity. And to make sure Prometheus doesn't get let out early on probation, Zeus makes the relevant arrangements for Prometheus' liver to continually regenerate, so that there's always something for the eagle when it feels a bit peckish.

And then there's Lucifer, "Lightbringer", the rebellious angel, also identified as the serpent who persuades Eve to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. And is punished by Jehovah for doing so.

And on the subject of serpents, the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec entity associated with culture and knowledge, especially gnostic knowledge eg related to priesthood and revelation.


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Antares said...

Nicely compressed essay packed with meat. The Prometheus-Lucifer-Quetzalcoatl connection is immensely significant. Indeed, I'm inclined to agree with scholars who insist that Prometheus and Lucifer are different names for the same Archetype. Luciferos, after all, means "Light-Bringer" which is precisely what Prometheus is credited with. As for Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent represents a deity in whom the Male (Father Sky, phoenix or eagle) is fully integrated with the Female (Mother Earth, serpent).

masterymistery said...

HI Antares, it seems the more you look the more you discover how deeply we are all connected, at multiple levels. I agree with those you mention. Thanks for your comments.
cheers, MM

Brian Miller said...

dude...excellent is very helpful in something i am writing right now as well....

Alice Audrey said...

So mythology essentially coils around and bites it's own tail even when shooting for some straight-forward, male oriented goal? Or just that Tiamat sneaks in when just when you think she's dead?

puny human said...

Lots of provocative ideas here. I don't know if I'm ready to lay all the world's violence at the feet of the males, humans or gods, but I'm reading an interesting book right now about the rise of the dominators: At the Dawn of Tyranny, by Eli Sagan, which is germane. His contention is that as we moved from kinship clans or tribes to kinship structures to political structures, we created tremendous anxiety, which was expressed through violence. Also, chieftains and kings solidified and justified their power through violence, and were a reflection of the new, kinglike, violent and controlling gods. From those transitional time periods, we get the mythologies and histories of which you speak here.

masterymistery said...

Alice, "bites her own tail"? --- absolutely, as in the Oroboros icon.

But to respond more specifically, as the post says, when you cross the arrow of time with the eternal return, you get the eternal spiral!

Which, if I were feeling more energetic, I could beat up into a piece about how modern cosmologies, eg Hawkins postulate universes that are unbounded but finite, and/or bring themselves into being from the safety or otherwise of their own futures.

Thanks for your comments.

masterymistery said...

Hi Puny, Like the "trickster" beings mentioned in the post, yes I do enjoy provoking, and I tend to go to extremes --- the time honoured and well-loved technique of reductio ad absurdum in which one makes a point stronger by reducing the counterpoint to absurdity.

Dawn of Tyranny sounds like an interesting read. The "tyranny" part we've touched upon briefly in this conversation and others. But more contentious is the "Dawn" part, specifically in relation to when, roughly, the dawn is supposed to be / have been.

Mainstream archaeologists and palaeontologists cling to the axiom (ie something not proven and believed not to require proof) that we're talking 5 or 6000 years ago, max.

But there is evidence (referred to in the post) that mainstream may have gotten this horribly wrong, as usual. That's what mainstream is for.

Thanks for your comments.

Hobbes said...

I don't know that much about very early pantheons (or lack thereof). But is there any evidence that the sort of Goddess figure killed in the myths was ever widely worshipped?

masterymistery said...

Hi Hobbes, being a mere blogger and not a professional archaeologist / anthropologist I have the luxury of making sweeping generalisations without having to back them up.

Putting facetiousness to one side, I must admit that I've not made a detailed study of this subject, nor read extensively the academic literature.

But the impression I have from what I have read is that the answer is "yes".

I understand that many neolithic cultures feature a fertility goddess or two at the top of the pantheon.

But really I just enjoy speculating...

If you can throw any more light on these issues I would be most interested to hear about them.

thanks for your commment

Karen said...

As an aside, Wikip(a)edia also says, "Karl Marx, the founder of Communism, was greatly influenced by the story of Prometheus, and called him 'the greatest saint and martyr of the philosopher's calendar;' since then, Prometheus has become a general symbol for socialism and communism."

Karen said...

Oh, and I could have sworn your Turn Left at Africa post was here yesterday under the title, "The Flandrian Transgression."

masterymistery said...

That's a great aside, Karen, thank you. One wonders whether Marx saw Lucifer in similar terms.

masterymistery said...

Karen, your eagle eye is on the money, to mix metaphors with gay abandon. But I decided I should ask first, before publishing.

Faycin A Croud said...

Old Jehovah/Yahweh is just another male war god with ego issues. The god I believed in during my childhood naievete was a compassionate father. I'm not sure who he was, but he certainly was not Jehovah/Yahweh, who seems to be naught but a giant celestial megalomaniac.

masterymistery said...

Faycin, your characterisation of the Big J. is spot on, (ie I agree with it!). And he's completely shameless and unabashed about admitting to being wrathful and jealous.

Thanks for your comment.


mgeorge said...

According to Arthur Clarke, the late futurist and SF author, one of the greatest tragedy in all history may have been religion hijacking ethics.

masterymistery said...

Hi mgeorge, smart man, Arthur C. Clarke: one of my favourite authors. Great to hear from you again. Thanks for your comment.

PS You may care to visit my new blog, Pandemonium for Dummies, at cosmicrapture dot blogspot dot com dot.

Featuring a new, lighter, skin, Pandemonium will republish revamped and freshly edited content from the old blog, Cosmic Rapture.