Contrary (to popular belief)

Ever have one of those days?

It seems as though EVERYone I encountered today has been all about the argument.  (Interestingly this phenomenon of contrariness is confined to the real world.  The interworld has been a kinder, gentler place today- LOVING my interworld peeps extra-specially hard today).

If I say ‘up’ it is, in all actuality, ‘down’- or so I’ve been told.  Black?  Nope.  Gotta be white.  Happy becomes miserable.  The good is really the bad.

So let’s go with that last one shall we?  If I’m to be contrary, let’s go all out.

In my continuing defence of all things Devil-ish, let’s flip that dichotomy on its head and view that contrary-ist of all contrary creatures from a slightly different mythological perspective.

If you’ve seen television shows set in NYC or holiday photos on Instagram, chances are you’re familiar with this sculpture that graces Rockefeller Centre:

Paul Manship’s gilded bronze portrayal of Prometheus giving fire to humanity is pretty recognizable as an icon of Americana and the American Spirit.

On the wall behind the fountain is a quotation from Aeschylus:

Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends.”

I spoke briefly about the Watchers of the pseudipigraphal biblical literary tradition as one of the major influences on the development of the mythology of the fallen angels/Satan/demons and their leader.  I noted then that Azazel shared common traits and actions with the Greek Titan Prometheus.

The biblical Azazel and his followers were vilified and accused of negatively influencing humanity and setting us all up for eternal damnation since we accepted the gifts of science and learning the Watchers offered us.

Bad Azazel, and bad us- for taking those things that would help us out, keep us warm and fed, and drive us to discover more and more about this here world we live in- and the universe beyond.

Yet the Greek Prometheus has long been viewed as an archetypal hero and trickster figure.  He was responsible for the creation of humanity to begin with, and, in an effort to protect his creation, he disobeys the will of the leader of the Olympian gods (Zeus) and returns/gives the gift of fire to humanity.

As Aeschylus noted, Prometheus was responsible for teaching humanity the arts, science, technology… all those things that freed us from the servitude that Zeus would have had us labour under indefinitely.  Assuming we survived without fire.

For this protection and enhancement of the human condition, Prometheus was eternally punished.

Why was Prometheus punished?  The same reason that Azazel  (as Satan/Lucifer/Mephistopheles) came to be Evil Incarnate.

They disobeyed the dude in power- Zeus or Yahweh- take your pick.  They represented human development and learning- which was threatening to those in power.  Such knowledge and violation of the social order threatened the very fabric of the society.

So: Prometheus condemned to eternal suffering.

So: Science/technology/progressiveness=evil.

Still, according to Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound (and in contrast to Hesiod’s earlier Theogony in which he is more of a trickster figure than a hero, while Zeus is the wise and just ruler of the universe), Prometheus is the benefactor of humanity helping us to stand against the tyranny of the King of the Olympians.

Like Enki in the Mesopotamian creation epic Enuma Elish, Prometheus created humanity from clay (the same stuff that Yahweh used, incidentally) and continued to look out for our well-being- even in the face of opposition from other, often more powerful, gods.

Part of this care included providing us with technology and the civilizing arts so that we could better defend ourselves against the onslaught of divine interference and inexplicable- and frequently petulant- punishment that was wont to come our way on any given godly whim.

The motif of Prometheus as patron of humanity and the symbol of our ongoing search for knowledge was a favourite of the Romantic era, appearing in literature, art and music.  To the Romantics (not the band, the movement) he was the rebel who defied the institutional and religious oppression of scientific exploration and intellectual development.

That other rebel with a cause, Satan of Milton’s Paradise Lost, has much in common with Prometheus, and Shelley and Byron (to name but two) immortalized the Titan as a benefactor and champion of the human over the divine- and the divinity’s associated institutions- church, state, patriarchy…

Sure, there are warnings about the potential dangers his influence might cause.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus chillingly illustrates the risk of delving into the unknown and remains a cautionary tale that has become a descriptor for anything that eludes our current understanding and for science that has misfired through human hubris.

Seriously, who hasn’t heard of Frankenstein and his monster?  The concept is ubiquitous in popular culture (I saw Young Frankenstein on tv a couple of weeks ago.  Remains classic, and, for all its humour and silliness, retains the overarching tension between progress and the threat of going too far) and is still used by those who would criticize the advances of science and knowledge as ‘ungodly’.

Hey!  Prometheus should be the official mascot of the New Atheists!  I should suggest it to them…  But I digress.  More about those guys later.

Bumbling created monsters aside, the Titan himself remains referenced all over the place: in the recent prequel of the Alien franchise (a film about exploration and science- and the potential pitfalls of both), an episode of Supernatural (‘Remember the Titans’), and as the name for the first interstellar spacecraft on the show Stargate: SG-1 (which was created using technology stolen from a race of aliens who enslaved humanity by posing as gods…).

Prometheus:  Not just for sculpture anymore.

But getting back to the Prometheus/Devil correspondence for a second, there were gnostics (my very favourite heretics) who identified Lucifer- ‘the Light Bearer’- with the Greek Prometheus.  I’ll explore that little morsel in detail after talking more about the biblically-based Devil Dude, but it is in equations such as these that we have the origin of Jungian-based examinations of this particular archetype.

R.J. Zwi Werblowsky’s 1952 work, Lucifer and Prometheus, delves into concepts of sin (bible) vs. hubris (Greek), and the ‘attractiveness’ of Milton’s Satan.  Werblowsky points out the negative and positive attributes that are embodied in the character, and the overall ambiguity of Prometheus, Christ and Satan in the development of Christian mythology.

This duality is oh-so-very gnostic and oh-so-very out of keeping with the strict dichotomy of good and evil that is usually bandied about in discussions re. God vs. the Devil.  We like Milton’s Satan.  We are drawn to him and his other incarnations (like Alan Cumming’s characterization in God, the Devil and Bob).

Why?  Because, to paraphrase Werblowsky, Prometheus and the Devil represent both the short-comings of the world and humanity and our eternal drive to make sense of and make better (to civilize) our confusing, tragic, complicated and all too frequently un-civilized universe.

How is that EVIL and something from which we should be dissuaded by threats of hellfire, brimstone and eternal damnation?!?!?

Don’t get it.

Unless calling that impulse EVIL and vilifying all those who stand in opposition to the institutions (political and/or religious) and their ideas of GOOD is nothing more than blatant manipulation for the express purpose of maintaining power and control over the huddled masses…?

But then,who listens to me?

Apparently, I’m contrary.

*P.S. Science vs. belief showdown on the telly last night: A show I hadn’t seen before- ‘Body of Proof’- with Brad from ‘Boston Legal’, Seven of Nine and Dana Delany. 

Evidently it’s been cancelled. 

Anyway, the episode in question was about a supposed ‘demonic possession’.  That whole idea pisses me off (unless it’s ‘The Exorcist’- that film is CLASSIC).  While there are certainly more things, Horatio, and all that, this continuing perpetuation of the suggestion of externalized evil…. aaargh.   

I thought that the show did a good job dispelling the superstition as a medical (pharmaceutical, actually) source for the behaviour was found.  But then it ended with a nod- however much in passing- to the existence of the external force again.  Disappointing.  Science had won the day- and then the writers brought the supernatural back into it. 

Poor Prometheus.  Once again, his sacrifice is squandered.  Sigh.

18 comments on “Contrary (to popular belief)

  1. […] examine the origins of this propensity to excuse ourselves from our tendencies toward doing evil here, here, here […]

  2. […] are frequently propaganda.  Propagandist techniques include such things as scapegoating and demonizing the enemy (for a full list see that bastion of all knowledge, Wikipedia) Such myths are means of […]

  3. […] still happening today.  I recently mentioned a television show that featured exorcism-gone-wrong as the crime requiring solution by the […]

  4. […] create our deities- giving them the characteristics of the other humans we encounter- good, bad, mischievous, helpful, indifferent- and that continuing to rely on these external forces (when we should have […]

  5. […] other artistic creations that use the language and themes of myth (Frankenstein and stuff about Prometheus comes to mind), The Rocky Horror Picture Show presents cultural constructs in a way that exposes […]

  6. […] we’re back to the symbol of the satanists being all about the imparting of wisdom- that was outside the […]

  7. lostinmist says:

    I am somewhat frightened of what will happen when google builds it’s AI and it gets its hands on the machines that three d print living tissue and genetic modification technology. Or if the terminator seed GMO somehow gets passed into other organisms.

  8. lostinmist says:

    Ray Kurzweil said he thought we would have sufficient hardware for AI by 2028, and was hired by Google like the next day.

    • colemining says:

      We do love our technology these days- we’ve just lost the accompanying wisdom to go along with it. Largely because we refuse to listen to our (hi)stories and temper our curiousity with humanity. Kurtzweil certainly manages to strike that balance.

  9. […] be honest, he’s never really far from my thoughts (seriously- check out the categories and tags over there >>> to the […]

  10. colemining says:

    Reblogged this on colemining and commented:

    Yes. Another reblog. As I eagerly follow along with Cosmos- and reflect on the opposition to science and rational discovery and discourse that seems to be EVERYWHERE lately (politics, religion, anti-vaccers… to name but a bare few examples), it pains me to note that the equation of ‘evil’ and ‘science’ that we have inherited through the dispensation of our mythological traditions YET persists and is rearing its ugly head in extreme ways lately.

    As I think on the origins of the personification(s) of evil that we have created- and that too many among us still employ as a means of laying blame without assuming any communal/social culpability- I’m feeling a little ‘contrary’ today. It can be exhausting- standing in constant opposition to the views of the vocal power-players and/or just-plain-ignorant (who seem to be granted an INORDINATE amount of media exposure)- by this defence of advancement over holding on to obsolete metaphorical constructs is something in which I believe. Strongly.

    So, call me contrary. I’m okay with that. And I’m okay with reiterating and reinforcing my belief that we need to take a hard look at how we are being manipulated by our myths- and those who are using/misusing them.

  11. Glad you reblogged it 🙂

    • colemining says:

      Thanks, Joey. As I’ve been working out some of my thoughts about this whole ‘Devil as devil’-thing, I’ve been realizing that I’ve already had a fair bit to say on the subject. So, rather than repeat myself…

      Thanks for reading!

  12. I think part of the attraction of myth is its familiarity. Messages may be received or conveyed and almost universally understood and misunderstood at the same time. But there is a collective acquaintance with variations of these stories. So much of science is an unknown quantity to many. I include myself in many aspects of that. But it fascinates me. As do the myths.

    I mentioned to you before a book that it turns out we had both read, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. A huge part of the attraction of that book for me, back when I first read it and every time since, is that it recognises the distinct characteristics of those who are perceived as being ‘artistic’ as compared to those who are ‘technologically/scientific’ driven. And then identifies the common ground, the beauty that exists in both. It also addresses, you’ll probably remember, the innate ability that people have to recognise quality/good/evil.

    Cultures rich in mythology and ever burgeoning scientific progress could be, or should be I feel, a marriage of both the traditions that form important parts of early civilization and recognition of ongoing and future advances in science, particularly in the sphere of physics. No, scratch that. In all areas of science. In developing understanding of our world and worlds beyond we hopefully grow and become better beings.

    I still hold true to the belief that we are beings of wonderful physical, mental and emotional faculties that science helps us to understand better but that we have a spiritual awareness or an intrinsic sense of ‘quality’ that distinguishes us from other animals.

    I agree it doesn’t help further the cause of a more just world if people become caught up in those elements of myth and legend that subvert science and undermine, through platitudes, real growth in all areas. It does not do to pass the buck of blame to external forces when we are perfectly capable of discerning right and wrong. In fact, much of what passes for spirituality is religion messed up beyond recognition.

    I have concerns that many areas of science are a too distant field of understanding for many. But also that pure scientific endeavour negates the spiritual element I believe we all have.
    Those programmes we discussed last week go a long way to addressing its accessibility. And I hope they continue and evolve to include other areas.
    As you mentioned in your link, there can be strong opposition to anything that rocks the cradle of familiarity and is easily axed under pressure.

    I think this brings me full circle to earlier posts of yours on the value of the humanities in education. Delving into the collective consciousness and better understanding of our roots together with easier access to understandable scientific facts might go a long way to marrying the old with the new so that real enlightenment that treasures both could be a possibility. Enlightenment that embraces some measure of humility at the wonder of it all and not hubris, for therein I think, lies the ruination of so many governments and individuals.
    Done it again, haven’t I?
    I’d be better emailing you. 🙂 x

    • colemining says:

      Lol! I LOVE your responses- never stop!

      I completely agree (as is usual)- and I can’t over-emphasize the NEED for science and the humanities to work together to continue the furtherance of our collective understanding of the universe and all its wonders- and horrors.

      I don’t claim to be all that scientific by nature- although I ‘dabbled’ as a youngster, and can certainly appreciate those who are experts in their own fields- especially those who are able to express the discoveries/advances in terms that us ‘uninitiated’ can understand and appreciate. Dr. Tyson certainly has that ability- which is one of the reasons why I remain so excited by the show.

      Knowing that we don’t know, yet continuing the search to figure these things out is an incredible and human characteristic. Whether or not I will ever grasp the real nitty-gritty of string theory or dark matter doesn’t matter. My interest in those who can- and who are using such ideas/theories to help explain and educate- is never-wavering. What I will never understand is those who find an answer and then consciously decide to seek no further. When we stop learning, we stop living, in my humble opinion.

      Yet those who seek to maintain the status quo all too often play upon this tendency among some of us- and use it to their benefit and our collective detriment. That makes me furious- and even more inclined to lay culpability for the evils in the world exactly where it belongs- on us. Ourselves.

      It’s symptomatic of the dichotomization that is rampant everywhere. Somewhere along the line believing one thing automatically meant that any and all other options are ‘wrong’. Makes me angry. And sad.

      Thank you, as always, for your insights and thoughtful examination of the things I have to say. I LOVE our dialogues! xo

      • Phew! I’m so glad. When it’s something that I’m really interested in I do tend to get caught up in it all. And this is a fascinating subject. I think it’s particularly interesting that you are a self-proclaimed atheist while I’m a practising Catholic! Emphasis on the practising. I’m still practising life and all it reveals and am constantly amazed at its wonders. And yes its horrors too. There does need to be a new golden age that embraces the best of what we have and continues to strive for understanding of the mysteries while living the best possible lives we can for the good of society as a whole.
        There are answers everywhere and those connections again that make it seemed like a charmed opportunity if we chose to take up the challenge. What a world it could be.
        I’m so looking forward to seeing you and chatting for hours! 🙂 x

      • colemining says:

        You and I are exemplars of this thing I’m talking about- beginning from seemingly irreconcilable premises does NOT have to mean that we can’t find shared ground and begin to strive together to understand the bigger picture. We are the totality of our history AND of the future potential that we can find by working with all the tools at our disposal. Our strength lies in our links- and we are ALL linked- regardless of belief/non-belief or cultural relativity.

        I have a feeling that we’ll be closing down the pub! Have to make this happen!

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