The Blood Sacrifice
~ its symbolism and psychology ~
Priest holding a human head in one hand, a stone knife in the other. Pre-Toltec stele from Santa Lucia Cozumahualpa (detail).
Victimization as a form of sacrificial ritual is discussed. It
is understood as an inferior and archaic method of ego emancipation by which the
transgressor’s unconscious suffering is transferred to the victim. Transfer of sin and guilt occurs. As a consequence, original wholeness is disrupted. The blood sacrifice originates as a defense against the fear of an
overwhelming unconscious. Power over life and death is imparted to the
institutions of consciousness. Identification with collective
consciousness is promoted, which serves to strengthen feeble individual consciousness. The regressive
bond to the unconscious is temporarily disrupted, but the sacrifice must be
renewed. It is the real impetus behind Freud’s death drive and also the
destructive narcissistic relationship.
human sacrifice, rite of passage, self-mutilation,
primal transgression, apocalyptic sect, ego wholeness, flagellants, amputation disorder, sin
transference, St Paul, Tezcatlipoca.
In Aztec theology, as long as men
could “offer blood and the hearts of captives taken in combat, the power
of the sun god would not decline, and he would continue on his course above
the earth.” It was necessary to “keep the sun moving in its course
so that darkness should not overwhelm the world forever” (cf. Koenigsberg,
2004). Apparently, the world was threatened with destruction, and that’s why the bloody
carnage must continue uninterrupted, as a preventive measure. M-L
says that “[the] sun in general represents a male principle of
collective consciousness, the unknown psychological factor which creates
collective consciousness” (von Franz, p.143). If the sun here
represents the luminosity of general consciousness, then the ominous
darkness would represent the unconscious.
Individual cognizance was
unripe in Aztec civilization. Ancient civilization was plagued by a fear
of unconscious invasion and the resultant dissolution of personality. It comes to
expression in apocalyptic dread and fear of darkness. Indeed, ego
disintegration, to the individual, is no less fatal and terrifying than the
demolition of the world. Since the inchoate personality remains identified with the collective, the spirit of commonalty also enveloped civilization. Thus, the
Aztec priest did not lie when he said that the Aztec world was threatened with
Rites of passage
Mircea Eliade explains that primitive
man, in the initiation rite, attempts to pass beyond and to abolish “natural” humanity. The rite of passage involve agonizing ordeals and symbolic death and
resurrection. Among some peoples candidates are buried, or laid in newly dug
graves. Novices are exposed to physical suffering; every so often mutilations
occur, like circumcision, tattooing, and scarring. Sometimes teeth are knocked
out or fingers amputated. In this way the novice passes beyond “natural
man” and enters into the
community of adulthood (cf. Eliade, 1959, pp.184-92). It implies that individual awareness and knowledge is now obtainable. In the continued initiation he is taught the concepts of cultural tradition: “During his training in the
bush he learns the sacred secrets: the myths that tell of the gods and the
origin of the world, the true names of the gods, the role and origin of the
ritual instruments employed in the initiation ceremonies…” (ibid.
The practice of male circumcision in modern society is connected with the rites of passage among aboriginals, which might
include scarring, etc. In amputation disorder (see below, here
), cutting off a leg has arguably the same
castrative quality. To do damage to one’s original nature is to die
to the old life of youthful wholeness and to emerge into the life of culture,
where one is bound to be maimed, and where one cannot give full expression to
one’s potential, but must submit to the societal ideals. It’s like the deity
wants his own devotees to damage themselves so they can fit into male society.
Although the rite of passage is initiatory it seems to
overlap with the blood sacrifice. In general terms, it serves to keep the sun in its course, that is,
to underpin the general mindset and maintain cultural beliefs. Every sacrifice is, to greater or
lesser extent, a self-offering, pertaining to the natural state of
unconscious identity with the victim. Self-laceration, as a means of
destroying natural man, would also serve to revitalize the old sun god.
The medieval flagellant movement is a
case in point. A fourteenth century friar gives an account of his own
One night this man shut himself up in his cell and stripped himself
naked… and took his scourge with the sharp spikes, and beat himself on the
body and on the arms and on the legs, till blood poured off him as from a man
that had been cupped. One of the spikes on the scourge was bent crooked, like
a hook, and whatever flesh it caught it tore off. He beat himself so hard that
the scourge broke into three bits and the points flew against the wall. He
stood there bleeding and gazed at himself. It was such a wretched sight that he
was reminded in many ways of the appearance of the beloved Christ, when he was
fearfully beaten. Out of pity for himself he began to weep bitterly. And he
knelt down, naked and covered in blood, in the frosty air, and prayed to God to
wipe out his sins from before his gentle eyes (cf. Cohn, p.124).
The flagellants had chiliastic expectations. God threatened the world
with apocalyptic destruction if mankind didn’t repent. This called for
Each day two complete flagellations were performed in public; and
each night a third was performed in the privacy of the bedroom. The
flagellants did their work with such thoroughness that often the spikes of the
scourge stuck in the flesh and had to be wrenched out. Their blood spurted
onto the walls and their bodies turned to swollen masses of blue flesh (ibid.,
The flagellant movement soon turned militant. The German flagellants
in particular ended up as uncompromising enemies of the church who condemned the
clergy and denied that the sacrament of the Eucharist had any meaning.
Flagellants would disrupt the sermon at church, and declare that any priest who
contradicted them should be dragged from the pulpit and burnt at stake. At one
occasion two Dominicans ventured to dispute with a band of flagellants, but
they were stoned and one of them died. As usual the Jews suffered
along with the clergy and on a far greater scale. Through large areas of the Low Countries the flagellants, aided by the masses of the poor, burnt and drowned all the Jews they could find,
“because they thought to please God this way.” After the massacres of
1348 and 1349 there were very few Jews left in Germany or the Low Countries
(cf. Cohn, p.132ff). The flagellants could be denoted a medieval terror
movement. The motif of offering to an angry Germanic god was brought to
completion in Auschwitz, Belzec and Treblinka. It’s as if the old sun god demands
human blood to reassert himself.
The Aztec priest
The blood-stained Aztec priest, a
specialist in sophisticated methods of torture, was no less fearful than the
devoted flagellant. There are noteworthy similarities. The priests would always
bellow aloud for more sacrificial victims, and urge on their superstitious
sovereign by the denunciations of celestial wrath.
Every day he must make sacrifices of his own blood to the gods, not
only from his ears like the common people, but also by piercing his tongue to
offer blood. On all the greater ceremonial occasions he cut the calves of his
legs or pierced them with cactus spines, so as to have blood to offer to the
gods. His foreskin was pierced by cactus thorns, and torn until his penis was
surrounded by a fringe of strips of flesh from which blood could easily be
taken. Naturally, this implied, and was meant to assure, a celibate priesthood.
The importance of virginity, both for the priests and among the women helpers
of the temple, was absolute.
The priest was normally painted with a
black, magical ointment from head to foot. On great occasions, his face, at
least, was painted with the marks of the god whose festival was being
celebrated. Even when going into war the priest would wear his magic black
paint. His hair was never cut and it was stained with splashes of blood from
human sacrifices. Nor was it ever washed, so these strange, black figures were
crowned with untidy masses of coiling, clotted locks, which apparently
smelt horribly, and were infested with insects. Yet, in spite of these horrors,
the priest, dressed in his long, black gown with little white crosses on it,
was felt to be somebody holy and powerful… The regime of priestly life
involved much fasting. Long periods of living on only three tortillas and a
bowl of water a day resulted in an austere and dedicated personality. (Burland,
example is from the religious festival of the black-faced god Tezcatlipoca (“Smoking
A year before the intended sacrifice, a captive, distinguished for
his personal beauty, and without a blemish on his body, was selected to
represent this deity. Certain tutors took charge of him, and instructed him
how to perform his new part with becoming grace and dignity. He was arrayed in a
splendid dress, regaled with incense and with a profusion of sweet-scented
flowers… When he went abroad, he was attended by a train of the royal pages,
and, as he halted in the streets to play some favorite melody, the crowd
prostrated themselves before him, and did him homage as the representative of
their good deity. In this way he led an easy, luxurious life, till within a
month of his sacrifice. Four beautiful girls, bearing the names of the
principal goddesses, were then selected to share the honors of his bed; and
with them he continued to live in idle dalliance, feasted at the banquets of the
principal nobles, who paid him all the honours of a divinity.
length the fatal day of sacrifice arrived… He was stripped of his gaudy
apparel, and bade adieu to the fair partners of his revelries… As the sad
procession wound up the sides of the pyramid, the unhappy victim threw away
his gay chaplet of flowers, and broke in pieces the musical instrument with
which he had solaced the hours of captivity. On the summit he was received by
six priests… They led him to the sacrificial stone… On this the prisoner
was stretched. [The sixth priest] dexterously opened the breast of the
wretched victim [and] tore out the palpitating heart. The minister of death,
first holding this up towards the sun, an object of worship throughout
Anahuac, cast it at the feet of the deity to whom the temple was devoted, while
the multitudes below prostrated themselves in humble adoration. (Prescott,
Here, similar to the rite of passage, the original wholeness of
natural man is forfeited. In other words, it is really the unknowing naiveté of
natural man which is forsaken. The Aztec god-man leads an impulsive and
instinctive life, but it was also a life of cultural and social sophistication —
in short, life in the full. It is this very ideal of a youthful naiveté
and manifold lifestyle which is subject to abjuration. When the god thus is stripped of
his regal garment and dies, projections are withdrawn, intensifying conscious focus. It furthers the stability of personality, which in turn promotes industriousness. The threat of instinctual
licentiousness and unconscious invasion are temporarily warded off, but also childlike and
What lies behind this is an archaic form of
substantive thinking. The divine properties are substantive. When the god-man is
stripped of his divinity they fall to the share of humanity, who may also take part in
divine sonship. His splendour and sovereignty is cast off. Stripped of his
divine substance, often symbolized by costly regalia and garments, it becomes a
boon for the worshippers, as it is being spiritually ingested. Often the
sufferer is ritually cannibalized. Prometheus was likewise chained to the rock and
tortured (cmp. the passion of Christ). Victimization finds its justification in the idea of
stealing the luck and the virtuous qualities from another person or people. It
is a ritual attempt of the psyche, being stuck in unknowingness, to acquire
the possessions of the divine, including the light of consciousness.
in all its forms, is of divine origin. Prometheus (whose name means forethought)
stole the fire from the gods and brought it to mankind. Prometheus and his fire
are symbolic of consciousness, connected with an elevated and self-sustaining
state. To the unconscious mind it would appear like a luxuriant and godlike
independence. Consequently, to lay hands on and ingest these qualities ritually
attempts at strengthening the feeble ego. It serves to break out of
unthinking wholeness, a condition which is rooted in the historical infancy of
mankind. When the divinely inspired yet unknowing man is immolated, his
spirit is released, which is the very substance that engenders consciousness.
When naive wholeness is destroyed, the conscious substance is let out like
spirit from a bottle.
We arrive at the surprising conclusion that
victimization of living beings, including the destruction of any orderly
wholeness containing splendour and riches, is driven by a strong motive of
breaking out of an unawareness which imprisons the spirit. For this reason
incomprehension and obliviousness among human beings is a very dangerous condition. Unawareness of
unconscious motives is what characterizes modern politically correct thinking.
Such people appear like aloof god-men floating on the riches of
Western civilization, while trying to avoid contact with reality. This type of
demeanour nurtures a motive of blood offering. People tend to close their
eye’s to the dark shadow of collective mankind, but it is a lesson that must be
learnt for the sake of individuation and growth of personality. Most
importantly, one must be prepared to swallow uncomfortable truths and rid
oneself of the wet blanket of political correctness, which only serves the
purpose of remaining in a state of unthinking protectiveness.
The sun god
The Aztec citizen would have experienced the
blood offering as comforting. It meant that the sun god would prevail
against darkness and rise above the horizon in the next day. Natural man —
the divinely inspired unconscious man inside us all —
is offered for the benefit
of cultural cohesion and directionality. Life in all its spontaneity and instinctuality is
forsaken, so that the sun of collective consciousness, in all its rigidity,
monotony and boredom, can prevail. In pagan theology, the blood sacrifice finds its motivation in the motif of restitution. In order to give rise to earthly life and humanity, the gods had at the beginning of time made sacrifice of themselves or their limbs. So, as restitution, humanity must furnish the gods with life-blood. Blood represents the
divine spirit bound up in earthly creatures, longing to return to its
origin. Therefore the burning of blood offerings was a daily routine.
The Maya and Aztec describe the primordial sacrifice of the gods as
quite a bloody affair, when divine limbs and heads were severed. This gave rise
to everything we see. The self-offering of the maize god produced the maize plant. Hence,
when we eat maize we are eating the body of a god. The Aztec ritually baked maize into
the image of a god, which they subsequently consumed as a form of pagan
Eucharist. The gods gave themselves up for us, as Christ made his
sacrifice for the good fortune of humanity. In the theology of the blood sacrifice the
sufferer is equal to the god during the original act, the function of which is to replenish
the earth with the boons of the divine. Yet, he remains a human being
whose blood is sacrificed to the gods for the purpose of restitution. So both
the gods and humanity are sustained by the ritual.
ceremonies a captive or a volunteer would, dressed as the sun god Tonatiuh,
ascend the stairs to the sacrificial altar (cf. Vaillant, p.196). Martyrs
commonly volunteered during religious festivals. It was a great honour to die
as the dying and resurrecting sun god. This thinking is not in any sense
antiquated. The sacrificial orgy of World War I depended on the
soldier’s notion of an honourable death to the glory of one’s nation. An author
in the midst of war writes: “Oh you young men whose value is so much
greater than ours! They love life, but even were they dead, France will be
rebuilt from their souls. The sublime sun of youth sinks into the sea and
becomes the dawn which will hereafter rise again” (cf. Koenigsberg, 2004).
Sacrifice in the modern world
The practice of ritual human
sacrifice has continued right up to recent days. W.D. Spencer says
that “[today] all around us that burden to sacrifice is being laid on
people again” (Spencer, 1997). In various African countries clandestine human
sacrifices have been promoted following the revival of traditional religions.
Blood sacrifice can be required in, for example, some important Yoruban and
Ghanaian rites, as when a wise Ghanaian woman is expected to preserve the
well-being of a village by sacrificing her daughter at puberty or a niece to
bury under a village’s sacred tree. Or an Akan king might be compelled to
sacrifice a young man to ensure “revival of the king’s spirit” (cf.
Spencer, 1997). When J.M. Hopkins conducted a survey in Malawi he
discovered that contemporary business people, seeking to prosper their
businesses, were often directed to slay a family member, the parts being
used for spells (cf. Hopkins, 1980).
In the mid-nineties the sects of
the Solar Temple and the Heaven’s Gate performed rituals of deadly
transcendence. By a collective suicide the members would supposedly acquire
heavenly grace. Their mystical theology guaranteed that death in this world
would be succeeded by rebirth in another better and spiritual world.
Self-offering is here expressed as a means of transporting oneself to a “higher
plane”, much like the Aztec sacrificial martyr was transported to the
heaven of the sun god. But underlying this is really a call for spiritual
renewal, namely to arrive at a higher plane of awareness.
does it mean when Western teenagers are practicing self-mutilation? Young men
and women are cutting themselves, using razor blades or knives to wound their
limbs and bodies. Eliade notes that “patterns of initiation still survive,
although markedly desacralized, in the modern world” (Eliade, p.188).
By damaging themselves, it seems, they aim to destroy the natural wholeness of
childhood, relieving themselves of the anxiety that goes together with a
consciousness not yet amputated off its mother, namely the unconscious. As in
the Tezcatlipoca ritual, an uncontrolled passion must be curbed. In order to
conform to the monotony of social and societal life, it is necessary to cast
off the ambivalency of primary wholeness. 
The impression of a young woman’s wholeness is wrecked when she puts an ugly
tattoo on her beautiful skin —
it’s like knocking out a tooth.
Comparatively, in order for the Malawian businessman to be prosperous, he
must entertain an hard-working attitude of one-sidedness and directionality,
and avoid running off in the tangential direction, something very
characteristic of aboriginal mentality. So he cuts off a limb, i.e. a member
of the family. The horror of this transgression against the natural Law of
primary wholeness is what generates temporary ego wholeness
and transitory ego
godlikeness. He need not follow the natural law of wholeness of life, but may
devote time to the monotonous work in his business.
The transgression of the ego means that it is temporarily liberated from the
natural law. The vitality which the weak ego tends to lose at every occasion of
misstep or failure is regained when sin is transferred to the victim. The
transgressor is appeased and may continue his work without backsliding
to a natural level of life.
With young persons, and citizens of
backward cultures, identification with the mass mind is often a
necessary evil. The person lacking in individual cognizance must instead have recourse to a collective
mind, similar to the Aztecs:
There was no room for the deviant philosopher in the custom of the
Aztecs, or in any of the nations in Central America. It was essential that all
worshippers conformed entirely to the official beliefs. Even those individuals
who were at the very peak of society might propound important doctrines which
favoured one god or another, but it was unheard of that they should deny the
system. There was no harsh materialist to ‘pervert’ the youth of the nation
like Socrates in Greek culture, and no great teacher to denigrate the gods as
did Plato. (Burland, p.107)
There is a connection between a low level of consciousness and the
sacrificial motive. As long as personality remains in prematurity, it must be
sustained by self-mortification, exemplified by flagellant practice. If the collective mind
is faltering and its creed lacks true power of conviction, then it may be sustained by
institutionalized mortification, pogroms and warfare. What characterizes a weak
conscious function and feeble ego is that it cannot be questioned, since controversy
is experienced as a dangerous threat. Totalitarianism, fundamentalism, and the
amazingly strong force of political correctness, have all the defensive
collective ego as underlying factor.
The sacrificial act is a transgression against the original
law of wholeness. In the manner of vicarious suffering, and the transference of
sin, personality is cut off from the imperfections of wholeness. By identifying
with others and transferring one’s own suffering onto them, accompanied by an act of
victimization, one has built a defensive pattern that relieves the tension for
a while. What is implied by the term sin? In the vocabulary of the
archer, to “sin” is to miss the goal. Shortcomings and
imperfections, mistakes and even silliness, all belong to the whole picture of
man. C.G. Jung says:
[There] is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.
To round itself out, life calls not for perfection but for completeness; and for this the “thorn in the flesh” is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent. (Jung, 1980, para. 208)
Yet only the intelligent modern individual, furnished with a cultured ego, is capable of maintaining both wholeness and ego directionality at the same time. What Jung professes is not practicable at a low cultural level.
Wisdom says that one should beware of perfect people. In order
to remain perfect such a person is prone to use his neighbour as a scapegoat. A
perfect and narcissistic man happens to tread in a puddle of water. This
mistake is a sin which he experiences as insulting to his perfect and controlled
ego, and his ‘unit status’ has been questioned. The stain must now be
transferred onto his wife, who is made to suffer from his bad mood.
Comparatively, the flagellant’s longing to be free of sin evolved into scapegoat
psychology and victimization of innocent people.
self-laceration, as a misguided initiation rite, obtains among youths. What’s
even more disturbing is the bullying at schools. Instead of
lacerating themselves, youths can search out a substitute victim. Young people
often lack the strength to endure the ambiguity of their own nature when
confronted with a diversity of painful and confused experiences. They want to
remain in control and to be “cool”. Hence they resort to the
destructive form of personal emancipation. Arguably, this is the price for
living with an infirm “sun god” and indistinct fatherly principle. Since rigid ideologies have proven both ineffectual and evil, an investment in the conscious capacities
of the individual would be a much better way of solving the problem. Sadly,
psychology and its notion of unconscious motivation is still greatly
The death drive
Sigmund Freud’s notion of the ‘death
drive’ is explicated in ‘Why War?’ (1933), and ‘Thoughts for the Times on War
and Death’ (1915), and elsewhere. According to Freud “[the] organism preserves its own life, so to say, by destroying an extraneous one.” The portion of
the death drive that isn’t turned outwards will work destructively inwards.
In an alternative reading, the portion of ‘sin’ that is not
transferred to the environment will work destructively on ego unity and
vitality. Primary omnitude, as opposed to ego oneness, can keep the
individual in fetters due to the undifferentiated state of personality. For this reason, ego intactness (i.e. narcissistic oneness) can
only be procreated by severing the bond to the unconscious. 
Thus, it seems that the crime against the “natural
law” is purposeful in that unconscious integrality is destroyed (cmp. Cain
Destructive personal emancipation implies that sin and guilt
is cast off, i.e. repressed. The severed limb, or the sacrificial victim, when
destroyed, carries sin and guilt with it, since the content becomes parted from consciousness. It has a temporary emancipative effect on the
fragile ego. The narcissistic personality abandons “the Law of original man”,
replacing it with his own fanatical doctrine. Hence he becomes free of guilt and
acquires a nearly godly stature. The mafioso
adheres only to the code
of honour of his mafia group. From this ego position he can commit a murder
without feeling remorse, because he has followed the rules, i.e. the “anti-law”
of one-eyed consciousness.
The Free Spirit movement
We shall see how this came to
expression in the medieval Free Spirit
movement. The heresy of the Free
Spirit appeared in the 13th century and survived several centuries. Like the
flagellants, they were fond of interrupting church services, impatient of
ecclesiastical discipline. There was no afterlife of punishment or reward, and
the adepts developed into an élite of amoral supermen. One had only
to recognize one’s own divinity and one was resurrected as a Spiritual, a
denizen of heaven on earth. To be ignorant of one’s own divinity was the only
sin. The rank-and-file of the movement was made up of people who gave an
oath of absolute obedience to a member who already had “become God”. In
return they received an assurance that they could commit no sin (cf. Cohn, 1962,
p.192). Cohn says:
What distinguished the adepts of the Free Spirit from all other
medieval sectarians was, precisely, their total amoralism. For them the proof
of salvation was to know nothing of conscience or remorse. Innumerable
pronouncements of theirs bear witness to this attitude: “He who attributes
to himself anything that he does, and does not attribute it all to God, is in
ignorance, which is hell”… “He who recognizes that God does all things in
him, he shall not sin. For he must not attribute to himself, but to God, all
that he does.” — “A man who has conscience is himself Devil and hell and
purgatory, tormenting himself. He who is free in spirit escapes from all
these things”… “One can be so united with God that whatever one may do
one cannot sin”… “The free man is quite right to do whatever gives him
pleasure.” (Cohn, 1962, p.186f)
Their way to self-deification commenced with various techniques,
ranging from self-denial and self-torture to the cultivation of absolute
passivity and disinterest. Then, after a training which might last for years,
they were transformed. “The Spirit of Freedom or the Free Spirit”,
said one adept, “is attained when one is wholly transformed into God.”
Sister Catherine calls out to her confessor: “Rejoice with me, I have
become God!” “Praise be to God!” he answers. “Now leave all people,
withdraw again into your state of oneness, for so you shall remain God.”
The woman falls into a deep trance, from which she emerges with the
“I am made eternal in my eternal blessedness. Christ has made me his
equal and I can never lose that condition” (cf. Cohn, p.183).
The “state of oneness” attained by Catherine is, in fact, what I have
termed ego (egotistic) wholeness. By casting off naive wholeness,
which binds the adept to the natural ideals of humanity and ‘original sin’, he
or she can attain an ego position above and beyond morality. She may even “indulge
in sexual promiscuity without ‘original sin’”, as an infamous libertine made clear.
[One] expression of this attitude was [a] promiscuous and
mystically coloured eroticism. According to one adept, just as cattle were
created for the use of human beings, so women were created to be used by the
Brethren of the Free Spirit… [For] the “subtle in spirit”
sexual intercourse cannot under any circumstances be sinful. And it was held
that one of the surest marks of “subtle in spirit” was, precisely, the
ability to indulge in promiscuity without fear of God or qualms of
conscience. Some adepts attributed a transcendental, quasi-mystical value to
the sexual act itself, when it was performed by such as they. The “Homines
intelligentiae” called the act “the delight of Paradise” and “the acclivity”
(which was the term used for the ascent to mystical ecstasy); and the
Thuringian ‘Blood Friends’ of 1550 regarded it as a sacrament, which they
called “Christerie”. For all alike adultery possessed a symbolic value as an
affirmation of emancipation. As the Ranter Clarkson put it, “till acted
that so-called sin, thou art not delivered from the power of sin”. (Cohn,
Evidently the transgression of the law of God was, in fact, regarded
an “affirmation” of personal emancipation. Primary fullness is destroyed
to create ego intactness. Clarkson is explicit in saying that the way of
deliverance from sin is to commit the “so-called sin.” The most
abominable among transgressions is murder, and therefore it seems the most
powerful tool of narcissistic emancipation. This accounts for the prevalence of
the blood sacrifice in history. There exists a description,
written in mid-fourteenth century, of a Beguine reciting her catechism to the
heretical Beghard who is her spiritual director.
“When a man has truly reached the great and high knowledge”,
she says, “he is no longer bound to observe any law or any command, for
he has become one with God. God created all things to serve such a person,
and all that God ever created is the property of such a man… He shall
take from all creatures as much as his nature desires and craves, and shall
have no scruples of conscience about it, for all created things are his
property… A man whom all heaven serves, all people and creatures are
indeed obliged to serve and to obey; and if any disobeys, it alone is guilty”
(Cohn, 1962, p.188).
The practise of ritual nakedness and sexual promiscuity implied,
according to one inquisitor, that they believed to be restored to the state of
innocence which had existed before the Fall (cf. Cohn, p.191). Fraudulence,
theft, robbery with violence were all warranted. John of Brünn
confided having committed them all and said that they were normal among some two
hundred Beghards of his fellowship. Should anybody die in the struggle of
robbery, that was no matter. There is evidence that these were in fact
common practices among the Brethren of the Free Spirit. “Whatever the eye
sees and covets, let the hand grasp it”, was one of their maxims. This
attitude persisted right down to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (cf.
The primal transgression
We can better understand, then, why
ego perfection is always connected with the most obnoxious side of the human
soul. The fanatic, the fundamentalist, or the terrorist, upholds ideals of
perfection, cleanliness, and obedience to the rules of collective
(literalism, ideologism, etc). Yet at the same time he
endorses the most horrid form of criminality in the victimization of the
innocent. Tezcatlipoca, or the devil, is the dark side of ego unity. A
modern example is the apocalyptic sect, Aum Shinrikyo, which in
1995 released deadly nerve gas in the Tokyo subway. The movement adhered to a
similar principle of moral disengagement.
To administer poa, one required what was called in Aum “a
sacred carefree mind,” a particularly radical form of Buddhist
nonattachment. In Aum practice, it meant an absolute separation from any concern
about the outside world and an equally absolute focus on carrying out the will
of the guru. In effect, the sacred carefree mind was a form of psychic numbing
in which one freed oneself, joyfully, from all moral restraint. As one close
observer explained, ‘It meant caring nothing if you harm me or if I harm
you.’ In Aum, the “if I harm you” was the more significant part of
this spiritual equation, one of the many ways in which disciples came to
withdraw their empathy from the world outside themselves. (Lifton, 1999, p.67)
In 1994, the guru said in a sermon: “So we must kill as soon as
possible those opposed to the supreme truth.” This is the well-known formula
of blood offering as a way of reinforcing collectivity and undividedness. It originates
as a defense against the fear of an overwhelming unconscious. Accordingly,
Lifton explains that “[the] psychological point here is that the guru’s
murderous paranoia covered over his terror of personal annihilation”
(ibid. p.68). The language of the Beguine Catherine, above, is still
employed in Christian congregations of a more fundamentalist hue. The unredeemed
person, having lived in sin, is in one stroke transformed into “oneness”
with Christ, and becomes a shiningly new person. Again, this conversion relies on total adherence to group ego doctrine, i.e.
to yield fully to the will of the congregation and the letter of the bible.
As always, sin is in one stroke sloughed off and the person becomes
shiningly clean. But the oneness attained represents only ego wholeness.
It is achieved by severing the wholeness of personality, by denying parts of the
self which keep personality tied to the original fullness of life.
The destructive method of personal emancipation generates psychic energy. It has
temporary redeeming qualities, especially if it regards an alcoholic, for
instance. But this is not what St Paul meant. Paul is concerned
about knowledge (awareness) of sin, and about carrying moral pain, amounting
to a crucifixion of the soul. He does not speak about quick fixes.
the rite of passage (see ‘Rites of passage’ above), the aborigine concedes to the
rules of communal culture being taught to him during initiation. The
imparted knowledge involves a transgression of the former law of wholeness. He
leaves the primary state of completeness behind and becomes a “criminal”
of sorts. (This is not in the sense of a terrorist, of course, but there are
psychological parallels.) He must be capable of cruelly killing an animal during
the hunt, and his fellow human being in war.
follows the Australian aborigine story named The
Southern Cross, shortened by me:
[The] first humans, two men and a woman, walked the earth. They ate
only plants. But one day during a famine, one of the men broke the rules of
Baiame, the sky king, and killed a kangaroo rat. The woman ate of it, but the
other man would not eat though he was famished for food. Weak as he was he
walked angrily away towards the sunset, while the other two still ate hungrily.
He continued to walk until he fell down dead under a white gum tree. The death
spirit Yowi, a black figure with huge fiery eyes, appeared and dropped the man
into the hollow centre of the tree. Then was heard a terrific burst of thunder
and the gum tree lifted from the earth towards the southern sky where it
planted itself where the Southern Cross is now seen. Two of the shining stars
are the eyes of the death spirit, and the other two are the eyes of the first
man to die. When all nature realized that the passing of this man meant that
death had come into the world, there was wailing everywhere. So is the first
coming of death remembered by the tribes, to whom the Southern Cross is a
reminder. (cf. Langloh Parker, 1973, p.9f)
The cross is the symbol of the original man
who is faithful
to God. The conquistadors were surprised to find that it is the symbol of
Quetzalcoatl, too. His self-mortification coincides with the disobedient act which
actualizes personal emancipation in its pristine form. With disobedience comes death
into the world. But original man, the god-man, is also the future ideal of
psychic economy. He is the once and future king, the prototype of a new
The narcissistic cycle
It appears as if
personality frees itself by breaching the Law. The ego has thereby prepared
its own fall, and will again fall prey to the unconscious —
it’s Mother. The directivity
created, and the restored ego powers, will in the end lead him into greed and
sexual indulgence, to become much like the Brethren of the Free Spirit. The foremost
characteristic of the ego is its insatiability. It grows into a voracious
monster, and personality again risks dissolution in licentiousness. It
is reminiscent of the well-known story of the successful man who has managed to acquire a
fortune by hard work. Now he is going to enjoy life. He sets about
squandering his life by splitting up his personality on diverse amusements that
lead nowhere. Then he proceeds to beat up his wife. The Malawian businessman succeeds in
becoming rich, but then he can afford to be self-indulgent and satisfy all his
needs. Comparatively, Oedipus is to be understood as a tendency in the psyche to
gain conscious capacity by the heroic divestiture of unconscious (divine) completeness.
The hero sacrificed his father, in a manner of speaking, and went on to rescue Thebes whose
people was haunted by the Sphinx. But then he unwittingly married his own
mother. Oedipus is then back at his own beginnings. So the Sphinx got the better
of him, after all. Jocasta commits suicide and Oedipus puts out his eyes.
Psychoanalytic authors have thoroughly researched motives of
victimization, self-laceration and idealization in the narcissistic (NPD)
patient (vid. Kernberg, et al.). Pathological narcissism implies that a man might, for instance, treat his spouse as a princess, and then turn to
victimizing her (vid. Forward & Torres, 1986). The first phase relates to
the symbiotic condition of identification. It will strengthen the effect of the
sacrificial act, as in the Tezcatlipoca festival. Without identification the
subject would suffer no real loss, and the psychological reward of
self-mortification is not forthcoming. The idealizing form of identification
corresponds to the Oedipal symbiosis with the Mother. Such immoral
relationships employ the well-known patterns of vicarious suffering and
projective identification, themes that run in circles by way of a repeated
idealization and destruction. In the above example from the
Tezcatlipoca festival the sacrificial victim was being idealized. With the
reservation that these phenomena are far from identical, certain religious
sacrificial acts seem to institute a form of narcissistic
victimization. From a psychoanalytic point of view it seems like the
well-known patterns in the interpersonal domain repeat themselves on a
collective level. Pagan religion places the transformative mystery in a
cosmographical context (see also my discussion below, ‘The metaphysics of destruction’, here
I have argued that the solution of ego wholeness
is self-defeating, and that’s why the sacrifice must recur. The
liberation of conscious power accomplished by the Aztecs explains their
rapid rise, from very humble origins to immense power. But their greed and
grandiose delusions precipitated their downfall, something which they tried to
delay by repeated rites of offering and priestly self-mortification. Ego wholeness implies
either unwitting or witting identity with divine authority, as exemplified in the Free
Spirit movement. It means that members have acquired a collective ego, strongly identified
with the group. Psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, uses
the term ‘unit personality’ for the same condition. I maintain that it is an
abnormal ego, a pathological merger of ego and Self (the archetype of psychic wholeness),
from which stem the typical grandiose delusions (cf. Winther, 2003,
One cannot make psychic
wholeness conscious and anchor it in ego consciousness. In that case, the
abnormal ego would harbour opposites that really belong in the
unconscious fullness of personality. The individual is then forced to transfer
the internal conflict upon others; to expunge the very people he has
identified with. Winnicott, almost like an Aztec priest, upholds the unit
personality as ideal. In order to attain unit status the symbiotic
subject-object relation must be broken by way of destruction of the object, coinciding with an accumulation of
hatred. The process is cyclic. On a theoretical level, he
creates the same programme of sacrifice to strengthen the fragile ego as did the
Aztec priest, although the latter performed on a societal scale whereas
Winnicott functions in the analytic setting (vid. Winnicott, 1999 and
I contend that Tezcatlipoca, the god of destruction, is the
god of ego intactness, equal to the unit personality. He demands human blood and
thereby violates the founding civilizational law of Quetzalcoatl (“Feathered
Serpent”). Thus he maintains egoic power in a form wholly
dedicated to collectivism. Tezcatlipoca, very fittingly, is a
one-legged god. The leg was sacrificed in the jaws of the Earth Monster (the
unconscious) whose back never again sunk back into the water, and on which all
tribes of men now live (cf. Burland, 1980, p.55f). In the Tezcatlipoca myth is
demonstrated how the forfeiture of a limb will conquer the unconscious and
acquire conscious territory. Thus Tezcatlipoca is a cripple, since he has
forfeited original unconscious wholeness.
Mental amputation and physical
Interestingly, there exists a much debated personality
disorder which involves an obsessive desire for limb amputation, one that drives people
to cut off healthy arms and legs, and sometimes even both legs. It is called apotemnophilia or body integrity
identity disorder. It involves an amputation fetishism and frequently an
erotic target preference for amputees. Alternatively, the person pretends to be
an amputee, i.e. is using wheelchairs or crutches. The most common wish is to
amputate the left leg above the knee, the least common is a finger or toe (cmp.
‘Rites of passage’) (cf. Marantz Henig, 2005, and elsewhere). The “Tezcatlipoca
syndrome” would be a fitting name for this disease. The afflicted person is eager to
follow the example of Tezcatlipoca, where the completeness of natural man is
ritually destroyed in an attempt to discard sin and procure conscious territory.
The underlying motive would correspond to the rite of passage, above. The symbolic leg amputation
carries such associations, whether or not it can explain the disorder.
What is signified is really the “mental
amputation” occurring in people when wholeness is forfeited and
awareness of sin is renounced, as they come to repress moral pain and inadmissible sides
of personality. Arguably, pathological self-laceration and amputation disorder
would occur when personality is incapable of “mental amputation”,
as it were. At the same time, culture, on the social and societal plane,
would expect of the individual a streetwise worldliness and directionality, so
characteristic of the one-sided and narcissistic ideal. A person in this predicament,
who is not capable of harming others, might harm himself instead, following the
principle of Freud’s death drive.
As a representative of the ideal
among pagan Germanic tribes, the war god Wotan (Odin) sacrificed his eye.
Regardless of the mythological differences, it mirrors the achievement of
Tezcatlipoca. The sacrificial act to bring about one-eyedness is performed in
order to confer conscious directionality and ego power on humanity. Crippled
gods, whether one-legged or one-eyed, probably represent the ideal of crippled ego
unity. The ideal is the riddance of sin, because this is the enemy of ego
oneness. Powerful as it is, it is not true wholeness achieved. From
a bad painting one can cut out the part which is good, but to do the same
operation in the psyche is quite a different thing. It is a crippled psyche,
although swift and capable in its limited range. Overestimating himself, to the
border of megalomania, the ‘unit personality’ refuses to see his own crippled nature. Due to the
repressed contents the unconscious has a higher potentiality, and the ego
must needs create a bulwark against the unconscious by blowing itself up.
formula of sin transference, deliverance from sin is achieved by making the very
transgression that has caused the moral pain. In a marriage a woman so disposed can
temporarily rid herself of the pain caused by her husbands extramarital affair
by taking part in the same sinful experience. A person whose asset has been
stolen can thieve something from a third party, thus transferring sin to this
person. Similarly, if grief is caused by someone’s death, then obtains an
impetus to violate and kill a preferably innocent person. Accordingly, rape and
murder, ever so topical, was institutionalized as a holy sacrificial act among
the Pawnees (cf. Frazer, ch.XLVII.§3) and among the Vikings. In both cases
a girl would walk from tent to tent and have sexual intercourse with the men. In
case of the Vikings six men would thereafter violate her jointly. After this
ordeal she was executed (vid. Ibn Fadlan).
in a multi-faceted and multicultural society, especially the young
individual is under great strain, since it is not easy to fit the pattern among
a multitude of lifestyles, social mores and customs. Any person will be a
misfit in a multifarious and multicultural society. Awkwardness is a sin which the unsteady ego cannot
bear with. But unfitting sides of personality can be sloughed off. Hence, archaic
motives are activated, such as “cutting off the left leg”, and to
dispose of it. The most extreme reaction is the victimization of innocents in
the terrorist deed. In Sweden today it has become customary among people in
immigrant housing areas to attack and maul the ambulance personnel, or firemen,
coming to salvage the residents’ relatives and friends. The authorities have
started investigations into this wholly irrational behaviour, consistently
disregarding the archaic motives.
The precious substance of life
Historians are clueless as to the causes of World War I,
aside from the commonplace notions of “glory and honour”. I have proposed
that the killing industry served the purpose of extracting from the young men the precious
substances of consciousness and lifeblood. If the essence
of sentience, health and youth are withdrawn from
millions of people, then the same essence must finally befall the remaining
people, hence promoting the sentient life-power of the living. In the
theologies of ancient Central America, the lifeblood of the sacrifices
went back to the gods. This served as a payback for the essence of
consciousness, generously granted humanity by the gods. But the replenished
abundance of this substance gave the gods the opportunity to distribute it again
over the world. The human sacrifices kept the sun
on its route, and thus the daylight principle of consciousness was being
consolidated. The young men slaughtered in WWI ensured that the sun would rise
The incentive to a redistribution of the life essence is the
imminent threat posed by the unconscious against the conscious system.
Healthy individuality depends on a relative differentiation from collective
identity. But in crowded social circumstances where people live on top of each
other, and where there is not much psychological space for the individual, people show
a tendency to regress into group identity. Thus, the unconscious is surreptitiously given
the upper hand, something which gives rise to a subjectively experienced anxiety
of annihilation. The archaic remedy against this is to annihilate the other,
steal the sufferer’s lifeblood, and thus generate a magical increase of one’s own conscious
power against an encroaching unconscious. Archaisms of this sort is what causes bullying at schools
and workplaces. It is also what underlies fundamentalist ideology. As soon as
people begin to loose their individual identity and instead fall back on the collective,
the pattern of the murder of the innocent, and the motif of stealing their power
of independency, flares up in the ruminations of the group. The shining
substance of gold is especially suitable as a symbol of this precious asset of
the living soul. That’s why it is deemed necessary to steal gold and belongings from the scapegoats,
and preferably to place them in concentration camps (cmp. Martin Luther and
his polemics against the Jews).
The argument builds on the idea that very similar archaic complexes are at
work in the unconscious. Obviously, the
grounds for the massive bloodshed aren’t exactly the same in Aztec civilization as in WWI. There are factors of
politics and economy involved, notions of ideology, and also the
collective form of inferiority complex. The last is not least significant. The
argument builds on the deepest and most archaic aspect of the blood sacrifice.
Without this foundational motif the incentive for massive bloodshed would be
lacking. Intellectual ideological motives, alone, aren’t capable of making
people throw away all concern for human life, including their own. There can
exist problems in society and in individuals which actuate the solution of
victimization. This calls up the monster, which in the Mesoamerican religions
was the man-eating earth god —
the dark shadow of humanity.
recurrent argument, among modern politicians and debaters, is that
collective identity serves as a bulwark against destructive tendencies. They want to
promote the feeling of identity of the youth with their own schoolmates,
as well as their countrymen of all races. This will temporarily ensure unity in
the neighbourhood. However, it also amplifies collective identity. Accordingly,
we are only paving the way for the very evil that we intend to remedy.
Comparatively, among North American Indians, young men were obliged to go away
into the wilderness and live alone for a time. This represented an initiation
into adulthood, when the old identity of adolescence is cast off. The evils
that threatened society could be met by the shedding of a youthful collective
identity. But in the crowded civilization of Central America this method was no
longer available. At a Stone Age cultural level men were destined to fall prey to
the utmost evil; the institutionalization of war, torture, and
Although many a modern citizen has acquired a strong and self-governed personality, the mass-societies
of the Western world are facing the same problem of regression into collective
identity. The dark shadow of mankind can overhaul civilization again. I hold
that the reinforcement of individual psychology is the only defense.
Individuation is the answer. Young people should learn to withdraw into
loneliness, and they must be allowed space for this. For a young person, a time
in isolation, when he must fend for himself, is equally beneficent today as it
was for the American Indian.
Beyond legalism and sacrifice
Quetzalcoatl, founder of
culture and the once and future king, represents primary wholeness but also the
advanced phase of the mature ego destined to supersede Tezcatlipoca and the reign of the
‘unit personality’. The modern psychological notion of ‘ego strength’ implies
“integrity to be confused”, that is, a capacity to endure conflict and
pain in consciousness without risk of dissolution and regression. The human
being, while becoming a true individual, acquires the capacity to live in two
worlds, the inner and the outer. The true individual will always find resort in
an inner world when he cannot fully cope with the outer. So he has found an
inner space that is a place of refuge (cf. Winther, 2003,
& 2006, here
The struggle of Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca is comparable to
the struggle of Christ and Satan. St Paul explains that, as
individuals, we may pass on to a superior psychic economy beyond legalism
and the vulgar form of sacrifice. Paul says, “[By] the law is the knowledge of
sin” [and] “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:20 & 6:23). By the realization of sin the
old personality dies and new life is born. Jesus says, “Come, take up the
cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21). This implies the capacity to carry one’s
sins and inner conflicts with the aid of the new form of wholeness personified
by Christ, without risk of dissolution and regression. The old way of sacrifice
is obsolete, for as Paul says, “At God’s willing, we are sanctified through
the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all”
Accordingly, Tezcatlipoca represents destructive ego
emancipation whereas the latter Quetzalcoatl personifies constructive
emancipation. In other terms, it has already been intellectually formulated by
St Paul. The problem of ego omnitude is very topical in today’s
world. It corresponds to the fundamentalist sense of perfection and integrity, predicated on the individual’s assimilation to the group and concomitant
transference of sin. In Western society of today, it appears as if sexuality doesn’t pose a
moral problem anymore, an attitude frighteningly similar to the Brethren of the
Free Spirit. Against this, following St Paul, the strong individual is
prepared to carry sin instead of transferring it to others. This includes
‘original sin’, and what is regarded as transgressions according to our inner
The enlightened individual has the capacity to carry
moral pain. In this, he leaves the psychology of scapegoatism, self-laceration, and collective
identification behind. He can shoulder personal failures by always relating to
the wholeness of personality, without attempting to repress personal sides which are dark,
weak, or unsuitable. However, as is depicted in the aboriginal story of the Southern
Cross, the man who refuses to commit the transgression walks towards his death
on the tree. The wages of sin is death. This implies, as St Paul
explains, a rebirth in the spirit: “For I through the law am dead to the
law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I
live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me…” (Gal 02:19-20).
full-grown ego is capable of carrying the suffering linked with a
true wholeness of personality. It is another form of integrality radically
different from notions of ego purity and the egotistic form of unity.
Instead, it builds on the individual’s relation to the unconscious. The
individual realizes the double nature of his own mind, that he is both ego and
psychic fullness, and that the Christ lives inside him. When he refuses to cede
with sin he allows the old personality to go under. In carrying the sin
transferred to him by other people, he is crucified with Christ.
Woe to you when all people speak well of you, for so did their
fathers to the false prophets. But I say to you who are listening, love your
enemies, treat well the ones hating you, bless the ones cursing you, pray for
the ones insulting you. To the one striking you on the cheek, offer the other
cheek also. And the person taking your cloak do not prevent him from taking
your coat as well. (Luke 06:26-29)
In terms of Paul, personality will conquer spiritual death and
acquire a new vitality whose wellspring is a wholeness of a new kind. In the
realization of sanctity here and now
the split between outer and inner
worlds are overcome, “…for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you”
(Luke 17:21). The split between subject and external world is
painfully obvious in the narcissistic personality of modern society. He always keeps looking over his shoulder, frightened of his own shadow. This is what lies behind
overcompensations in the form of collectivistic political and religious ideals
of the symbiotic kind, where “otherness” is simply removed. According
to this ideal, only one single overblown ego should remain, common to all. It is the inferior
solution of Tezcatlipoca, which Quetzalcoatl swore to destroy and supersede.
In the sacrifice, the natural plenitude
of man is repressed and collective assimilation reinforced, directionality and
one-sidedness amplified. The blood offering could be viewed as an ever recurrent
rite of passage, the severing of limbs from the body of society. It is
demonstrated that the individual has not much value compared to the spirit of
the collective. The sufferer is fitted into the role of that particular portion of unconscious
completeness deemed adequate for riddance, i.e. the part which must be cut away to create ego
perfection. Victimization and bullying (also at workplaces and
schools) means that the transgressor’s unconscious suffering is transferred
to the victim.
The inability, on part of the fragile ego, to sustain moral
conflict, leads to the repression of painful moral issues, including personal
failures and weaknesses. As anything unconscious is invariably projected, the
theme of vicarious suffering will immediately surface. A
and therefore conflicted —
society, yet where the
average individual has insufficient cognitive capacity, gives rise to the
theme of human liquidation, whether it takes the form of the blood sacrifice or
the terrorist deed.
Yet, the sufferer also represents a god. The acts of
deicide and ritual cannibalism symbolically represent the integration of an
unconscious content. It points at an inner urge of conscious
expansion. But a drive toward individual emancipation is a disruptive power
which is being placated when the motif of integration is ritually manifested,
rather than individually experienced, something which would pave the
way for an individual personality proper. Thus the stability of an unthinking
lifestyle is maintained. The blood sacrifice represents two
complementary perspectives: firstly, the perspective from the unconscious,
as if viewed with divine eyes. Secondly, it derives its significance
from the conscious perspective, i.e. the way in which it represents forfeiture
of unconscious wholeness. It is as if the archetype, while being
integrated with consciousness, experiences death. However, from the
conscious perspective, new life is born. When the Mayan maize god dies, the
plant of maize is also brought into the world.
The mythic concept of
killing as a recreative instrument to gain new life remains influential to this
day. The notorious suicide sects, such as The Heaven’s Gate,
resort to the same destructive theology. This phenomenon, and many other aspects
of the complex issue of the blood sacrifice, have only been cursorily discussed
in this essay. It seems that the Christian concept is very clever in that
the feast of Corpus Christi has superimposed upon the gross concretism of human sacrifice
and cannibalism. 
When unconsciousness holds sway the
anthropophagous sacrificial motif always surfaces. The underlying motive of
terrorism is plainly to kill people, as it gives “glory to God”. Alternatively, it follows any
idolatrous conviction, such as boorish nationalism. This is a function of the
unconscious having gained ascendancy.
I hold that modern man’s capacity for individual upgrowth can
put an end to the vicious circle of victimization. Unlike historical mankind he
can stand in a personal relation to the unconscious. But the notion of the
unconscious and its ramifications in all human life, including world politics,
is being repressed (sacrificed), since it is experienced as a threat to the sun
god of the collective. Should the individual learn that he is larger
than himself, and extends far beyond the borders of his conscious personality,
then the blood sacrifice will lose its impetus. The experience, although vague,
of self as larger than everyday personality, has a wholesome effect,
because this is what generates awareness of individuality. The danger of
group identification is lessened or eliminated, and personality will be able to carry much
more of suffering and personal failures, without passing the burden onto others.
© Mats Winther, June 2008.
When discussing primary wholeness
, I do not simply adhere to a “biological” explanation. I believe that
mankind in its pristine condition is equally spiritual as instinctual, although
the sacred and the profane are very much amalgamated on a primitive level of
Much has been written
about “splitting” in the Freudian and Kleinian sense, but then it
typically regards splitting and repression of ego contents. However, it can also refer to
as they are attributed to objects in the
environment. But I want to steer clear of the theoretical pother in this paper.
“South Korea finds smuggled capsules contain human flesh”
(The Daily Telegraph, here
There is a difference between cannibalizing your neigbours and ingesting the
eucharistic bread. Yet, at the archaic unconscious level this isn’t experienced as
essentially different. From an unconscious frame of reference, those capsules
containing human flesh are equal to the flesh of the Christchild. That’s why some people
think it has wholesome properties, capable of relieving people of sin, thus curing illness.
In examining the Aztec culture of violence, it seems
compelling to think of this as culture
doing violence to natural and biological man.
However, we have found that this also corresponds to the rituals of aboriginals, when
victimizing themselves in the rite of passage. It seems that man is “dismembering”
himself in an attempt to reshape his own original nature; in Eliade’s words, to
“abolish natural humanity.” The phenomenon has its counterpart in the man
who suffers from amputation disorder and who cuts off his left leg. People damage
themselves by cutting away something that belongs to pristine wholeness, thus acquiring conscious
power in exchange. It is a primitive means of
effectuating the formation of ego consciousness.
People are doing this
to themselves. But why is violence there in the first place (psychological or
physical), and why does it grow out of hand time after time? When violence is
institutionalized, then we may say, along with Freud, that culture and natural
man are antagonists, especially when discussing the Aztecs, the Soviets, Mao’s
China, etc. But what would happen if we removed this overlay of culture? The
answer is that the punitive behaviour would soon begin anew, and people would offer blood, cut scars, sever fingertips, knock out teeth, and organize ourselves in antagonistic clans.
Violence belongs in the human psyche from times immemorial. It’s the mark of
Cain. Only the true individual can leave behind this state of affairs, and throw over the
economy of blood sacrifice.
When investigating “natural impulses”
in primitive man, we invariably discover themes of self-laceration and blood sacrifice.
Clearly, then, it is an implausible argument that the incentive is imparted to him from
culture. One gets the impression that the wholeness of natural man is forfeited
in the interests of culture. Perhaps this is true, but is this culture really
man? It appears as if the primary wholeness of man is sacrificed
in the interest of man himself. The aboriginal mythic ‘man of sorrows’, (here
), who wanders away and dies, must be understood as the
personification of the primordial and unconscious psychic wholeness that must
suffer death as a result of the primal transgression. Mankind thus loses his
innocence (cmp. ‘Tezcatlipoca festival’,
The disturbed man cuts
off his left leg in a ritual attempt at destroying original ampleness, an act that serves to
disengage the ego from Mother Nature. The argument that it is
predicated on instinct, that is, Freud’s death drive, is overly simplistic. Rather, the act depends on an
autonomous archetypal formulation that constellates in the unconscious. In fact, the
blood sacrifice is an integral part of the Oedipus story, as Oedipus
kills his own father Laius —
the old king of Thebes. In the sacred kingdom the
patricide was institutionalized as a ritual (vid. Frazer,
1922). The old king was ritually executed and a young and healthy king
superceded him. The patricide must precede Oedipus’s kingship. The haunting unconscious, in
the form of the Sphinx, can only be overcome by the
divestiture of the old kingship, representing obsolescent order. Thus, the Oedipus narrative is also relevant to a
psychic economy of sacrifice.
In the paradisal myth, and in
‘The Southern Cross’ story (here
), the principle of death (Thanatos)
arrives in the world at the very moment when personality breaks loose from original
entireness. It is portrayed as a criminal act, in itself. A culture of
criminality, the mark of Cain on our foreheads, is deep-seated in our nature. The
process of destruction starts from inside, and then things go out of hand —
why? Is it due to a culture that fails to relate to the wholeness of man? Or is
it when culture acquires a level of complexity and puts demands on the
individual that he cannot cope with? I have
argued that the Christian myth cannot be circumvented, nor what is related
by St Paul. It regards the quest for the psychic
totality of the individual. Only the individual is capable of making the transformation; to return to true wholeness.
Thus, it is necessary to relinquish the belief that society and culture can take us
back to the paradisal condition. There is no ideal condition in culture. The heavenly
Jerusalem is symbolic. It represents the time-transcendent ideal of the
Self as psychic totality.
When the first humans disobeyed God it resulted in the breaking free of the
ego, and thus death came into the world. At this occasion all the
existence wailed. Since Thanatos (the “death drive”) is involved in
ego formation it constitutes an inner factor that obtains only in humans. The
reason why Freud could not discover a death instinct on the animal level is, arguably, because animals do not
acquire an ego (vid. Freud, 1920). Thanatos has a biological foundation in so far as we are prepared
for ego formation. Nevertheless, it is a factor that prevails in adult life and
in culture, and causes destruction on a massive scale. It is not the case of a
biological drive that wreaks havoc. Thanatos has become an autonomous force and
an end in itself.
The appearance of Thanatos in myth cannot be reduced to “knowledge of death” including the angst
although this certainly carries a degree of relevance. When the
“black figure with huge fiery eyes” enters worldly existence, it means that the
principle of destruction has become autonomous, and acquired an agenda of its
own. Prior to this it was part of the wholeness of life. It was fit into the natural
system of life and never made havoc in the earth’s cycle of life and death.
At the first transgression against Baiame, the sky king, the ego started to
break free, and in this process the Spirit of Death
made his entry.
That’s why all the trees and all the animals lamented because now they knew that
they would become sacrificial victims to the death spirit. The ego in its relentless quest of
proving itself would exterminate the majority of the big land animals. On the
Australian continent many big marsupials, like the giant kangaroo, would soon become
extinct. The trees lamented because the aborigines would burn off most of the
woodland and the shrub land.
Earlier it was not clear whether this
mass-extinction of mammoths, etc., depended on climate changes or human pursual.
Today we know that the human race is the main culprit. In the era of
hunter-gatherers, mass-extinction of living beings became the order of the day.
Thanatos had come into the world, and the bigger the animals the better it was,
and the prouder the newly emancipated ego felt. It is a tragedy and a crime of
monumental proportions. It is so vast that researchers earlier found it hard to
believe that humans alone could have caused this.
When the Spirit of
Death enters existence, it means that Thanatos is become an autonomous
force and an end in itself. This continues to this day, in the form of meaningless wars
(what was the WWI really all about?), mass murder, ethnic cleansing, holocaust,
overfishing, deforestation, followed by extermination of thousands of species.
Most conspicuous of all is the violence we do to ourselves and our peers (cf.
Davis, 2001, here
Yowi, the Spirit of Death and Destruction, is a force that exists among us
today, ever demanding human blood. Thanatos is the generic name for the
dialectics involved in the psychology of destructivity. It signifies a certain
psychological dynamic, involving the interrelations between individual and the
world. It could be understood as having a psychic function, a meaning of its
own, largely explainable (but not wholly, of course) within the psychological
framework. The psychology of death and destruction is one of the most formidable
of all the forces on earth. It seems to have emerged with the advent of modern
mankind, sometime during the hunter-gatherer epoch.
The metaphysics of destruction
When Montezuma, king of the
Aztec, was asked, “why he had suffered the republic of Tlaxcala to
maintain her independence on his borders”, he replied, “that
she might furnish him with victims for his gods!” (cf. Prescott, 1974,
p.59). In the ceaseless wars between the two states, prisoners were taken on
both sides that the angry gods may be pacified. The Tlaxcalans were later to
join the Spanish campaign under Cortez. How does the mutual consent to
war and victimization, in the Tenochtitlan-Tlaxcalan relation, reflect on the
modern Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Is there a genuine wish for peace among
the two peoples? I suggest that, underlying the conflict, lurks the same
archaic thinking that became institutionalized in the Mesoamerican
civilizations. The status quo of mutual victimization and scapegoating fulfils
the archaic need of transferring and abolishing one’s own sins. Thus,
suffering is imparted to the other party, so that one may oneself be delivered from suffering.
primitive way of thought implies that suffering, life and death, happiness and
beauty, are substantive in a metaphysical sense. In a manner which is hard for
present-day people to grasp, the Pythagoreans thought of numbers as
metaphysical entities, i.e. as “4-things” and “5-things”,
etc. In the Mayan civilization the numbers were regarded as divine entities,
i.e. as gods. Archaic logic says that if the “one” has shown up
repeatedly in the latest dice throws, then the risk of throwing a “six”
is greater. The “one” has fulfilled its quota and this particular
number god is appeased. (However, if it has only shown up once, then one could
suppose that the “number one” god is still present, because his
appetite has been whetted). Correspondingly, if another person is subjected to
suffering and death, then the risk of “me” coming to harm is lessened.
The death god has been appeased, for today. Those who think that such archaisms
have no place in modern society, should make a visit to a casino.
the theology and rituals of destruction the Aztec kept the world alive, making
sure that the sun would rise in the next morning. In fulfilling the quota of
destruction, they made certain that destruction would not strike uncontrollably in
the cosmos and in the Aztec kingdom. The Aztec state could be perpetuated this
way, underpinned by the bones of sacrificial victims. By the efforts of
sacrificial priests the forces of destruction were kept in control. The way in
which people, still today, tend to gather around a gruesome and bloody scene, when an
accident has occurred, depends on an unconscious cruel
god that must have his fill. Arguably, in the Israeli and the
Palestinian collective unconscious, an archaic thinking subsists according to
which the state must be replenished and invigorated by sacrifice, much like
the Aztec temples were built over mass graves, and inaugurated by the spilling of human blood. There is no genuine wish for peace because, similar to the
Tenochtitlan-Tlaxcalan relation, the state can only be maintained, and its
glory in the future can only be attained, by way of fulfilling the quota of
suffering and destruction.
The Israeli state could not get along without the
Palestinians. The latter are bound to impersonate the losers that throw a “one”
so that the Israelis may throw a “six”. Psychologically, the
Palestinians could not bear life without the Jews, thanks to whom they can
transfer their own faults, incompetence, corruption and shortcomings. A people
living in collective identification, which allows no real sense of personal
responsibility, is dependent on a nation of scapegoats. The archaic
unconscious rules in the Middle East. Peace initiatives are futile, because the parties lack a genuine wish to make peace. That’s why it’s
necessary to openly admit the underlying unconscious rationale. When the
complex is exposed to conscious light, the mad thoughtway that
unknowingly controls the collective is finally contested.
© M. Winther, June 2008.
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