Still reeling from the loss of Lou, I had planned on jumping back into the blogging swing of things in earnest with a hard-hitting rant about the continuation of the Senate nonsense (still looking for a response from the PMO that sounds remotely authentic) or the ongoing battles at City Hall (now that I am using the TTC every single morning rather than just occasionally I have even more of a vested interest, and Mayor McCheese is already talking about his re-election campaign. Shudder), or actually writing something about mythology or religion or something like that but…
‘Tis the season.
First television viewing of Rocky Horror the other night. I own the DVD (and the VHS) version(s), of course, but I just can’t not watch it when it comes on the telly- which it does frequently at this time of year (it’s not unlike Ghostbusters I and II, in that respect- I also own both of those, yet tend to watch them if I happen to run across them while channel surfing).
I love the film. I missed the heyday of midnight participatory showings (although I did sneak in one night manymany moons ago with a friend when it was playing at the Roxy here in town- was quite an eye-opening experience, for a neophyte), but I have loveloveloved everything about it since I first experienced it at a birthday party decades ago. The enduring songs are a big part of that (I wrote about The Time Warp a little while ago), but as I’ve matured and learned some stuff about some stuff, its value as a retelling of an archetypal myth has resonated and increased my appreciation of the genius of Richard O’Brien. The connections to his love of classic (B-) movies and old Hollywood are obvious, but there a whole lot of mythological thinking going on there too…
(Hey wait. This post IS going to be about mythology! Yay, me!)
Many years ago, while I was completely caught up in the preparation for my comps, the annual RHPS-fest caught my eye and became a
welcome source of procrastination well-deserved break. Since I was in that altered state that tends to overtake me when I’m veryvery focused on something, I noticed something for the first time.
Frank is the demiurge.
The movie is riddled with gnostic mythology. RIDDLED I tell you! Everything about the story fused with the stuff I was working on and, like an illegitimate act of creation in the pleroma, brought one of the staples of popular culture together with my fave mythological system. BAM. Realization. Richard O’Brien is even more a genius than I previously acknowledged.
I have yet to find anything that suggests he has any background in gnostic mythology (or Jungian psychology- Jung loved the dualists), just like I’ve never found proof that he was specifically influenced by that crazy B-Movie Spider Baby, but the language and the themes are so VERYVERY gnostic, I can’t get over it. So much so, I used the film to finish the term when I got to teach a class on gnosticism a few years back.
How had I missed it before?
Gnostic mythology (very generally speaking- since there are LOTS of varietals of dualistic beliefs in the literature of antiquity- and those gnostic imaginings that came after) holds that there is a singular, unknown and unknowable deity out there somewhere- Bythos or the Abyss- which is the source of all things. From him (yes, the originating principle was male) emanated a series of heavenly beings- the archons/aeons- who came forth in pairings of male and female and existed with the awareness of the Unknowable First Principle. One of the archons- Sophia/Wisdom, usually- so loved and missed the FP that she sought to ‘know’ him, independently of her rightly-ordered partner. As a result of this lapse the demiurge came into being.
This singularity (often named Ialdabaoth) sought, in his turn, to make an attempt at creation- outside of the proper order of the pleroma and the plan of the FP. The result was the material universe/world and humanity. The demiurge is variously seen as either stupid/incompetent or downright evil, depending on the source mythology. Since the material is outside of the original plan, it is BAD. Old Bythos felt sorry for those of us now trapped in materiality, so he allowed for a little piece of himself to be implanted in each of us who has the misfortune to be born into this realm of the physical.
This spark allows for the potential of knowledge/remembrance of the FP and the awareness of the negativity of our current lot in life, and through this gnosis we can eventually seek a return/reconnection/reunion with Bythos, at which time all will be good and properly ordered again. From the gnostic perspective, we are to spend the entirety of our earthly lives seeking this reunion through learning and understanding the nature of the world and the pleroma beyond.
Some of the gnostics of the early centuries CE ran afoul of the more ‘orthodox’ (for lack of a better term- there really wasn’t much consensus of belief at the time) Christians, since the demiurge was associated with the creator god of the OT- who made humanity and was considered a pretty good fellow (mass extinctions and the like notwithstanding), so gnostic claims of idiocy and/or badness didn’t go over all that well. Stuff like that led to them being labeled ‘heretics’ and having to bury their stories in jars in the desert (which was a very good thing for those of us who are interested in their worldview) in order to keep out of trouble.
I love my gnostics. They were the focus of my academic life for, what seems like, eons. They are representative of the reality of syncretism in the formation of belief systems, and the Christian gnostics were pivotal in the formation of the early Church. Without them acting as an antithesis, the early Church Fathers wouldn’t have had to work so hard and so fast to codify just what WOULD make up the doctrine and dogma of the developing institution. Plus they’re fun- and some of them liked to party waaaaaay more than those self-righteous martyrs and the like.
With that thumbnail sketch in mind…
Dr. Frankenfurter, a transvestite, bisexual alien, goes against the properly ordered universe and creates- in seven days– a man. He IS Ialdabaoth. Through his hubris, and acting outside of any kind of correct, archonic pairing, he finds the spark that allows for the creation of life.
There are harbingers from the get-go. Brad and Janet (a male/female archonic pairing) see the light, in the distance, and seek its sanctuary and aid. But, as Riff sings, it is a false light- of a false god- and really the dreams and darkness associated with Morpheus rather than the sun and light of the true, unknowable First Principle.
The servants are hostile and suspicious of the new creation, and plot against the demiurge while practicing small acts of insubordination- to Frank’s intense frustration.
Even Eddie/Meat Loaf talks about the suspicious influence of the false creator:
It don’t seem the same since cosmic light
Came into my life, I thought I was divine…
(How can you NOT dance to that song?!)
After Eddie’s untimely death, the rest of the group participates in a ritually-cannibalistic dinner. During the Floorshow, Frank waxes melancholic about his longing to return home- back to the source (Transsexual Transylvania, in this case), especially since the whole creation thing hasn’t gone exactly as planned. As other mythological creator gods have discovered, creatures with free will seldom follow the desires or mapped out plans of their creator.
Riff Raff and Magenta (properly, gnostically, paired as male/female/brother/sister) restore the order of the pleroma (as the archons ‘Christ’ and ‘Church’ are called upon to do in some gnostic Christian myths) by returning Frank- and his creature- to nothingness.
Like 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 their short-comings while playing with elements that are tangibly familiar. Whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, we somehow know the story- and know that it isn’t going to favour the one who messes with the proper way of doing things. Not because of the alternative lifestyles/sexuality/gender roles that it demonstrates and celebrates (which were, at the time, pretty out there for the mainstream culture), but because Frank’s act of creation goes against the mandated order of things.
Riff and Magenta, for example, have a relationship that (seemingly) violates at least one major taboo, yet they come out of the situation ahead of the game- and they are allowed to return to their longed-for source- because they were instrumental in restoring the proper order. They may have committed all kinds of other crimes to do so, but the means is seen as justifying the end.
This is something else our stories tend to do- they support the status quo (or doctrinal/dogmatic rules/laws/commandments) at whatever cost. Even when they are tarted up (in a good way, in this example) as a musically delicious
romp stomp all over cultural mores and ‘traditional’ values.
Something to keep in mind. Especially when our government(s) seem hell-bent on continually doing (or suborning) things that are faaaaaar scarier and potentially dangerous than most Hallowe’en haunts.
We can’t escape it. Myth is all around us. And it isn’t always used for/by the forces of good.
Happy Hallowe’en, boys and girls. Keep safe out there. The veil is thinning and the creatures of myth are trying to return to our world…