The Red Champion
What has been won by our liberation from these outdated delusions? What has been gained? Are we free? Are we at peace? Even by the standards of modernity, twisted and obscene, we are undoubtably the poorer. Without the gods, now there is only ourselves to fear.
From Ramon Elani
Let us accept the vitality of blood, or rather the identity of blood and life, as a fact which antiquity never doubted and which has been acknowledged again today; another opinion as old as the world itself was that heaven grew angry with the flesh, and blood could be appeased only by blood…How then can we fail to recognize that paganism could not be mistaken about an idea so universal and fundamental as that of sacrifice, that is to say, of redemption by blood? Humanity could not guess at the amount of blood it needed.—Joseph De Maistre
I call to the goddess Cerridwen to guide my hand! Cerridwen, the Old White Sow, The Crooked Woman, Mother of the Bright One, the Black Screaming Hag, the Lady of the Wolf, the Cat, and the Pig, Cauldron Stirrer, who devoured her Golden Child.
I call to the Morrigan to grant me victory! The Nightmare Queen, Consort of the Dagda, Raven Goddess, Pursuer, Destroyer, Subduer, the Sovereign, Battle Crow, the Devastation of Ulster, the One who Washes Bloody Armor in the crystal stream.
The Druid, the Oak-Seer speaks and says:
I am the wind over the deep sea (for depth),
I am a tempest of the sea (for weight),
I am a roaring of the sea (for horror)
Blood is pouring down my face. “Your nose is broken,” says my coach. “It’s fine, it’s fine,” I reply. Across the ring, my opponent is panting and holding his ribs. A look of agony on his bruised face. I don’t feel any pain. This is why I fight: to feel alive, to give my blood for something ineffable. A lifetime of dry books has given me the thirst for the vitality and magic of blood. And I have understood that in this wild desire there is something of terrible and earth-shaking importance.
Techno-industrial society has severed humanity from the gods of the earth. In our modern isolation, we have not only lost the power that bonded us to the earth but we have become a grotesque mockery of what we once were. The human soul has rotted. The gods have turned away from us. And everywhere we walk we spread desolation over the earth. We no longer see the faces of the gods, our ancestors upon the barren hilltops and in the green woods. We no longer hear their whispers in the streams and rivers. We no longer draw strength from them through the stones and the soil. Where once we knew to avoid cursed places, the homes of faeries, and ancient burial mounds, now we have absorbed demons into our own hearts.
No one, perhaps, has understood this as well as Carl Jung: “after it became impossible for the demons to inhabit the rocks, woods, mountains, and rivers, they used human beings as much more dangerous dwelling places.” For whatever modernity teaches us, we have not dispelled the mystical forces of the earth, we have merely swallowed them and forgotten. Or to put it another way, Jung again: “You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.” Meanwhile the soul and body of human-kind withers and sickens and the body of the earth is ravaged and degraded. And be assured that nature, the wild world, is full of demons. The spirits and gods of the earth are not the benign protectors as some envisage them. Yes, they may protect us and bless us with their favor. But they will just as well cast us into an eternity of horror and madness.
I am a fierce ox of seven battles,
I am a proud stag of seven horns (for strength),
I am a griffon on a cliff,
I am a hawk on a cliff (for deftness)
The psychic and spiritual life of humanity was once writ large upon the world. The “autochthonous demon” or the “sparks of the World Soul” was once felt in all things. We saw it while we sat upon the river bank, lost in thought or reverie. We heard it in songs, in smoke filled halls, surrounded by our kin-folk. We felt it in the thrill of battle. Then came the juggernaut of modernity and techno-industrial society as its apotheosis. The so-called illusions of the past were denounced and those who kept to the old ways were butchered. The technician and the scientist declare the horrors of the dark past to be mere superstition, nonsense. Jung:
What happens to those figures and phantoms, those gods, demons, magicians, those messengers from heaven and monsters of the abyss, when we see that there is no mercurial serpent in the caverns of the earth, that there are no dryads in the forest and no undines in the water, and that the mysteries of faith have shrunk to articles in a creed?
What has been won by our liberation from these outdated delusions? What has been gained? Are we free? Are we at peace? Even by the standards of modernity, twisted and obscene, we are undoubtably the poorer. Without the gods, now there is only ourselves to fear. And who would have imagined that the vileness and cruelty of humanity could so greatly surpass the gods themselves? As Jung observes: “In the olden days men were brutal, now they are dehumanized and possessed to a degree that even the blackest Middle Ages did not know.” Even an ardent humanist would be forced to acknowledge that the most vicious crimes of the past pale in comparison to what has been wrought upon humanity and the earth in the techno-industrial age.
I am the shining tears of the sun,
I am fair among flowers (for clearness),
I am the ruthless conquering boar (for valor),
I am the salmon in the pool of knowledge (for wisdom)
The covenant between humanity and the gods, which held for thousands of years until the birth of the modern world, was written in blood. Blood shed by heroes and warriors during the joyful madness of battle. Blood shed by those who stand within the square of twigs and face the shadow of themselves in their opponent. Blood shed by dark eyed priests through grim sacrifice. But this is not all. The blood given to the gods in exchange for their favor can be understood symbolically as well. The blood or vitality given by men and women to the land they work. The energy and labor given to the gods in harvest offerings. All these gifts of blood and more served to bond humanity to the gods and through them to the earth. These acts represented a relationship between humanity and the cosmos. An acknowledgement that we are small and weak and frail and that we are surrounded by powers and forces beyond our understanding. Blood, literal and symbolic, represents what we have to give.
When we stopped paying for our fortune with blood, when we stopped acknowledging how little we are and how contingent our lives, we stopped hearing the voices of the gods and we fell from their favor. Modernity makes war upon the mother, upon the Great Goddess. Indeed, it may be that modernity and the techno-industrial world it produced is not constituted, in the final analysis, by anything other than the fundamental rejection of the Great Goddess, and the image of the mother which represents her.
When Carl Jung wrote his Red Book, when he stepped into the realm of dreams and ripped open the door between the worlds what did he find but the image of the mother: “Communion gives us warmth. Singleness gives us light. At immeasurable distance stands one single star at the zenith. This star is the God and goal of humanity. In this world one is Abraxas, creator and destroyer of one’s world.” The essence of the mother. The twin powers of creation and destruction. The meaning of the Great Goddess. Hermann Hesse saw her too wandering the shadowy corridors of the seminary. When she appeared to him, his mind shattered into a thousand fragments: “The mother of life could be called love or desire; she could also be called death, grave, or decay. Eve was the mother. She was the source of bliss as well as of death; eternally she gave birth and eternally she killed; her love was fused with cruelty.” If we do not believe, as all once did, that the gods of the world demand blood, it can only be because we have lost the wrathful aspect of the Goddess or mother. The most vile myth of modernity is that of a benign cosmos.
I am the flooded lake upon the plain (for dominion),
I am the hill of poetry,
I am both the oak and the lightning that blasts it,
I am the spear of woe to such as wish for woe (to slay therewith).
And what is at stake for modernity in the vision of a divinely ordered cosmos, kindly disposed, and gentle? Fear not! Cries modern man. The world can be made an earthly heaven by my hand and my technics. There are no gods to fear. There is no demon in the woods painting her bare breasts with blood. Thus, there is no beast that longs for blood in your heart. As the stars beyond are placid and obedient, so you to are in essence a docile thing. The stones and rivers and plains and forests are without soul, they exist for our pleasure. The image of an ordered and compliant humanity mirrored by a domesticated nature and a world without blood or gods. A world that demands nothing from us can be used as we will. The very terms we use to describe the world around us reflect this emptiness. As Jung famously wrote
today, for instance, we talk of “matter.” We describe its physical properties. We conduct laboratory experiments to demonstrate some of its aspects. But the word “matter” remains a dry, inhuman, and purely intellectual concept, without any psychic significance for us. How different was the former image of matter—the Great Mother—that could encompass and express the profound emotional meaning of Great Mother.
A cosmos denied of its divinity becomes mere material for the engines of progress. But as we have seen above, the gods and the Goddess cannot be so easily vanquished. For Jung, as we have said, they will lay siege to the human soul itself and poison it until it turns on itself and gives birth to unheard of horrors. For the earth, the forces of the gods and the Goddess will rise up against this fragile edifice we have constructed and obliterate every idol we have constructed. Our cities, our factories, the air we breathe, the soil we stand upon will turn to ash and desert. The Goddess will have the blood she deserves, one way or another.
Robert Graves, more poet than scholar, gave himself to the Goddess of War, when Europe was engulfed in flames. He fought in the muddy trenches and saw the horrors of war and the brutality of life and death. His soul was given to her power when shell fragments pierced his lungs. What might he have seen in the bloody death that stood before him? Did he see a vision of the Mother rising up above the warring plains, holding the sun and the moon in her outstretched hands. Upon her lips a smile of unendurable eroticism and terror. Her eyes shining like dying stars in an oblivion of darkness. Her hair woven into a crown of bones and crows. How must he have longed to possess her and be possessed by her. What courageous effort must have been required to resist her embrace. When he came back to life, he pledged himself to Ceridwen, goddess of death and rebirth. And through her, he found his voice:
Cerridwen abides. Poetry began in the matriarchal age, and derive its magic from the moon, not from the sun. No poet can hope to understand the nature of poetry unless he has had a vision of the Naked King crucified to the lopped oak, and watched the dancers, red-eyed from the acrid smoke of the sacrificial fires, stamping out the measure of the dance, their bodies bent uncouthly forward, with a monotonous chant of: ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’ and ‘Blood! Blood! Blood!’
The only path for humanity is the path of the Goddess and her sacrifice, for in that moment of spurting blood is achieved the union of the stars.
I am a god who forms smoke from sacred fire for a head (for inspiration),
Who makes clear the path to the mountains?
Who but myself knows the assemblies of the dolmen-house on the mountain?
Who but myself knows where the sun shall set?
Who foretells the ages of the moon?
In the cosmic union, the Great Goddess presides over the ritual sacrificial death of the Sacred King. Modernity and its logic condemns the world of mythology, the world of superstition, the world of blood, and the rule of the Goddess. In this regard, Graves argues, the modern tendency begins with Socrates, who “in turning his back on poetic myths, was really turning his back on the Moon-goddess who inspired them and who demanded that man should pay woman spiritual and sexual homage.” Thus modernity is in essence, the force of the patriarchy. The tendency in human culture which denigrates the earth, which denies the pursuit of glory and blood, is the same tendency that seeks to dominate the feminine. As Graves writes
Ancient Europe had no gods. The Great Goddess was regarded as immortal, changeless, and omnipotent; and the concept of fatherhood had not been introduced into religious thought. She took lovers, but for pleasure, not to provide her children with a father. Men feared, adored, and obeyed the matriarch; the hearth which she tended in a cave or hut being their earliest social centre, and motherhood their prime mystery.
This is, of course, broadly true outside of Europe as well. For the Selk’nam of Patagonia, the matriarchal Moon Goddess is forever at war with her husband, the sun, who dared to strike her. The continued existence of the Selk’nam people was only made possible by homage given to the Moon-Woman: an entire society built upon the premise of honoring the goddess.
To anticipate arguments made by those who wish to imagine a kinder great mother goddess, we must say that this is merely a failure to properly understand the cycles of life and death. Her gentleness and love is not corrupted or diminished by her hunger for blood. The desire to project a peaceful goddess is born from the desire to dominate her. Graves: “the Goddess is no townswoman: she is the Lady of the Wild Things, haunting the wooded hill-tops.” She will not be controlled. She is untamable and beyond the petty morality of the domesticated world. The conflation of the Goddess with the Virgin is of course another attempt to control her. The virgin is chaste and untouched. She is a mere object, rather than an agent of her own destiny.
We cast down this absurd patriarchal fantasy, following Graves: “The White Goddess has never been monogamic and has never shown pity for the bad, the ineffective, the sterile, the perverted, the violent, or the diseased: though loving and just, she is ruthless.” We insist upon a conception of the Goddess which, precisely because of its brutality and cruelty, utterly resists the yoke. She does not transcend nature, she is nature. And like nature, she is by turns sweet and gentle and barbaric and vicious. If this vision terrifies us, this is right. The powers above us are terrifying. If this vision disgusts and outrageous us, we must recognize that the techno-industrial morality that we have been persuaded by teaches us to reject violence in order to better disguise its own war against the cosmos. We are taught to fear and hate the violence of crushing fists and cutting knives but to blindly accept the violence of industrialism, which threatens the life of the earth itself.
Who brings the cattle from the house of Tethra and segregates them?
For whom but me will the fish of the laughing ocean be making welcome?
Who shapes weapons from hill to hill?
Who but I knows the secrets of the unhewn dolmen?
Robert Graves’ theory of the White Goddess, the shadowy goddess that is known to all people in different names, has much to offer us in terms of understanding the relationship between the Goddess and the glorious sacrifices she requires. It has, of course, been demonstrated by scholars that Graves was mistaken in conflating goddesses from around the world. But Graves is not a historian, he is a poet. As such, he speaks directly to the uncanny world of mystery, the world of blood-drenched spirits and forgotten rituals. Who better to speak of the Goddess? This is precisely why he has been chosen. A poet, one who speaks the language of blood rather than the dry facts and observations of the dispassionate academician.
For our purposes, we shall begin our reading of Graves with the combat of the Oak King and Holly King and the stag cults. One of the earliest antecedents is the Greek myth of Artemis and Actaeon, who is taken a lover of the goddess only to be turned into a stag and hunted to death by Artemis and her hounds. This tale is echoed by other from all over Europe and Africa. The consort of the Goddess is chosen for her pleasure. And the consummation of their passion is his dismemberment, death, and occasional consumption by the priestesses of the Goddess. The various bull-cults and goat-cults are a variation of this theme. When the Morrigan appears to Cuchulain in The Cattle Raid of Cooley, she warns the hero that his life is tied to the bull. The king or hero, therefore, chosen as the champion of the Goddess is destined to die for her in blood. The patriarch, or Antlered King, is ritually slaughtered in homage to the Mother. Images from cave painting around the world depict the horned king, in postures of sexual arousal or ejaculation, being murdered. Graves describes the following image from Zimbabwe:
At Domboshawa a ‘bushman’ painting…shows the death of a king who wears and antelope mask and is tightly corseted; as he dies, with arms outflung and one knee upraised, he ejaculates and his seed seems to form a heap of corn. An old priestess lying naked beside a cauldron is either mimicking his agony, or perhaps inducing it.
The gifts of the moon are thus won, through agony and ecstasy. The magic of the moon, its prophecies and powers can be acquired. But only through sacrifice, blood, and death.
The war of the Oak King and the Holly King brings us to the nature of glory in the service of the Goddess. The battle of dark and light. Winter and Summer. Waxing and Waning. Each king reigns for brief time before his rival slaughters him and gains his kingdom. The Oak King is the lord of the Summer. The peak of his power is at Midsummer. The tide of battle turns at the Autumn Equinox. And the Holly King slays him at Midwinter. As such the Twin Kings represent the figure of the Sacred King, the consort of the Goddess.
For Graves, the Greek hero Hercules is used as an archetype of the Sacred King. In his earliest form Hercules appears as a primeval elemental twin god, who commands the rain and thunder. Carrying an oak-staff, a symbol of male sexual power, he is joined in matrimony with the Queen of the Forest. When summer is at its peak, after drinking and feasting, he is placed upon a wooden throne and carried to a ring of stones within an oak grove. He is led to an oak that has been cut into a T-shape and “he is bound to it with willow thongs in the ‘five fold bond’ which joins wrists, neck and ankles together, beaten by his comrades till he faints, then flayed, blinded, castrated, impaled with a mistletoe stake, and finally hacked into joints.” His blood is gathered in a basin and the people of the tribe paint themselves with it to gain his power. The Sacred King’s body is then burned along with the oak tree on which he was hung. Then
twelve merry-men rush in a wild figure-of-eight dance around the fires, singing ecstatically and tearing at the flesh with their teeth. The bloody remains are burnt in the fire, all except the genitals and the head. These are put into an alder-wood boat and floated down a river to an islet; though the head is sometimes cured with smoke and preserved for oracular use.
Hercules’ twin then reigns in his stead until the following year when he is slaughtered in the same manner by his successor. This is the quest and meaning of man: to fulfill his destiny as the Sacred King. To be chosen by the Goddess as her consort, to be her champion, to spill blood for her, and finally to give himself up to her in blood.
Javelins shall be wielded to revenge the loss of our ships.
I sing praises, I prophesy victory.
Now steaming with blood and reeking of murder, the Man Who is a Sorrow to his People comes forth. A butcher of men, a pouting, petulant child whose wounded pride condemned thousands to death. A raging beast, whose anger defied the gods. Achilles slaughters for love and is the son of his mother, a great hero of the Goddess. Like Hercules, Achilles birth and childhood identifies him with the myth of the Sacred King. His six older brothers are burned to death as annual surrogates for the Sacred King. He is spared from the fires at the last moment, though he remains marked. In exchange for his life, Achilles’ father Peleus takes his place on the pyre. When his grief drives him back to war, it is his mother who arms him.
I am the womb of every holt,
I am the blaze on every hill,
I am the queen of every hive,
I am the shield to every head,
I am the tomb to every hope.
Robert Graves understood exactly what was at stake in abandoning the worship of the Goddess and turning away from the bloody sacrifices she demands. Having embraced the figure of the Glorious Apollo, the archetype of the Masculine, we have lost ourselves on the path of technology and domination of the world. Apollo and the Christ-Worshipping tree fellers that followed him, has wrought a world of artifice, of technics, and of delusion. Apollo, sad in love and spiteful for never having been chosen by the Goddess, leads us to catastrophe. Humanity will not voluntarily turn back to the Goddess. The Goddess does not beg, she does not ask to be loved. Hers is to command. Graves writes “there seems no escape from our difficulties until the industrial system breaks down for some reason or other… and nature reasserts herself with grass and trees among the ruins.” Do we imagine that we stand upon the earth by the might of our own hands? No, we are here only by the sufferance of the greater powers. And only once all the horrors we have wrought following the tragic fool Apollo have been scrapped from the face of the world by the raking claws of the Goddess, may we be given another chance. And who now may stand as a champion to the Goddess, to offer himself as her consort and her sacrificial victim? None comes forth and so we doom ourselves. Graves again:
But the longer her hour is postponed, and therefore the more exhausted by man’s irreligious improvidence the natural resources of the soil and sea become, the less merciful will her five- fold mask be, and the narrower the scope of action that she grants to whichever demi-god she chooses to take as her temporary consort in godhead. Let us placate her in advance by assuming the cannibalistic worst.
Yes, we must assume the worst and blood must run for her once again. And it will, whether we offer it freely or not. The true face of techno-industrial society has shown us plainly that blood will come. No matter that it is the blood of those we choose not to see. We will unknowingly sacrifice the world itself before we find ourselves alone upon a hill of bleached bones. There will be nobody left to offer but ourselves.
The things we have done to escape from ourselves. Humanity will undergo any trauma imaginable to avoid its own shadow. How is it that denying blood, we are choked by it? How is it that the narrative of peace, modernity, and progress has ended in nothing but horror? It is simple, of course. We have never wanted any of these things. They have been thrust upon us for the banal pleasures of deluded old men. None of us were given an option to live in a world we chose. The Goddess, cast aside to rot and grow musty with forgotten years, is a story, they tell us. So instead we are left with a world that doesn’t make any sense. Jung understood this better than anyone:
the god of war is restless, we must propitiate him, let us sacrifice to the god of war. And then every country would be going to the temples of the war god to sacrifice, perhaps it would be a human sacrifice, I don’t know, something precious, they might burn up a lot of ammunition or destroy cannons for the god of war. That would help. To say that it is not we who want it would help because man could then believe in his goodness. For if you have to admit that you are doing just what you say you are not doing, you are not only a liar, you are a devil, and then where is the self esteem of man? How can he hope for a better future? We can never become anything else because we are caught in that contradiction, on the one side we want to do good and on the other we are doing the worst. How can man develop? He is forever caught in that dilemma. So you had better acknowledge the evil, what you call it doesn’t matter. If there were priests who said that the god of war must be propitiated that would be a way of protecting yourself. But of course there are no such things, so we must admit that we prepare the war, that we are just thirsty for blood, everybody.
After years of dreaming of land, a home in the forest, my family and I came to our smallholding in the mountains of Western New England. I work the land, I give her my blood. I build a cairn for Woden and Eorce. When it is time, the blood of my sheep will be poured over the stones and I will offer gifts to the gods and the earth. I will seek, in my own small way, to restore the lost covenant between humanity and the earth. I will invite all the madness and horror of the Goddess into the world, for it will mean the restoration to a world whole and unsundered. I will tear down the Solar Apollo, with his intellect, his machines and his patriarchal domination of the world and the spirit! I will give my glory to the Moon Goddess, to blood and intuition and wildness!
Ramon Elani holds a PhD in literature and philosophy. He is a teacher, a poet, a husband, and a father, as well as a muay thai fighter. He wanders in oak groves. He casts the runes and sings to trolls. He lives among mountains and rivers in Western New England
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