How much of Christianity was lifted from the pre-Christian world?

Sorry to keep you waiting with this post. I guess I should’ve mentioned that the second semester of my third year at university is now in full swing.

In this post I’ll attempt not just to outline how many of the main points of Christianity are borrowed from pre-Christian/pagan belief systems, but by the end establish what that means, focusing on some of the key points found in popular Christianity as it is imagined today.

 

God himself

We already know that Yahweh/Jehovah, the supreme deity of the Bible, was originally a minor Canaanite deity of war, who ascended in status within the Hebrew pantheon as the chief deity of their people (in other words the God of Israel), the context of which transitioned from that of a merely henotheistic tradition (that is the belief that there are many gods but the practice of worshiping just one; i.e. on the basis of tribalism) to that of a full-blown monotheistic tradition. As time passed, Yahweh also accrued many characteristics associated with other deities such as El or Zeus, and became the far more warlike and supposedly omnipresent and loving version of both. And after the Jews were exiled from Babylon, Yahweh transformed from just the God of Israel to the ruling deity of everything.

Yahweh himself is just another deity in a long line of supreme deities with slightly similar characteristics. Ahura Mazda in Persia, Aten and Ra in Egypt, Ba’al and El in Canaan, Marduk in Babylon, Indra and Varuna in India, and of course Zeus in Greece. And we know that before the ascent of monotheism, Yahweh was in direct competition with other deities. Among his biggest rivals was a deity named Chemosh (or Kemosh), whom the Bible refers to as the “abomination of Moab”, a deity that archaeological evidence points to as being not so different from Yahweh.

Kemosh (aka Chemosh)

Kemosh (aka Chemosh)

 

The messianic archetype

Jesus himself was not stolen from paganism, contrary to what Bill Maher and Peter Joseph would have you believe. However, the role he plays in the Bible is that of an archetype that has been passed down throughout the ages. The archetypal role assumed by Jesus is of course the role of a dying and rising deity, or divine being. One of the most familiar examples of this in Mesopotamian mythology is the deity of vegetation known as Tammuz, the deity to whom the origins of the Christian cross are sometimes attributed. Tammuz was believed to have died at the hands of the spirits of the underworld or his wife Inanna/Ishtar, and descended to the underworld only to rise again every six months. Then there is Osiris, who was killed by Set only to be resurrected by Isis and go on to become the lord of the Egyptian netherworld. Among the deities worshipped by the Phrygians was a deity of vegetation and fertility named Attis, who went crazy and mutilated himself only to, depending on who you ask, either resurrect or reincarnate as a pine tree. In another sense, Ishtar’s descent into the underworld is sort of similar to the descent of Jesus into Hell, except that Ishtar dies and resurrects while in the underworld while Jesus is crucified to death and then goes to Hell in order liberate the souls of the damned. In the case of Ishtar, her mission was to save Tammuz who had apparently been dragged to the underworld by Ereshkigal’s spirits.

There are other aspects associated with messianic archetypes that I’ve covered in my post about the “Divine Individual“.

 

Some familiar public holidays

I’ve talked about this before in the early days of my blog and I plan on covering this subject in greater detail in separate posts dedicated to the eight holidays associated with the Neopagan wheel of the year, but we’ll quickly go through the holidays popularly celebrated in the West. The timing of the Christmas holiday season is based on Saturnalia and other winter solstice festivals and is found nowhere in the Bible, the premise of Easter hinges on a myth that, as was just explained, derives from pre-Christian archetypes and storytelling, and while the modern Halloween is largely shaped by Christian and American tradition, the date of the Samhain celebrated by Celtic pagans is, perhaps coincidentally, near to the date that Halloween is celebrated now, and the theme of monsters and night terrors associated with Halloween was also found in European pagan traditions which hold that time to be either Samhain, Walpurgisnacht or both.

 

Heaven and Hell

The belief in an afterlife divided in terms of a blissful kingdom of light versus a dark nether realm filled with demons or monsters has been traced to as far back as ancient Egypt, as has the basic concept of the individual soul being judged after death. The Duat was the ancient Egyptian version of the underworld, filled with all manner of monstrous figures and daemonic beings and the site of the regular journey of the solar deity Ra. It is even documented within Egyptian lore that a serpent bent on mankind’s destruction slithers through the underworld, waiting for the opportunity to strike at Ra whenever he journeys into the underworld, which is similar enough to the Christian view of Satan as the adversary of mankind who also appears as either a dragon or as “that old serpent” intent on striking down Jehovah/Yahweh. However, for the ordinary Egyptian, being trapped in the underworld was not the main fear, rather the prospect of being annihilated in the jaws of Ammut if the soul was found wanting by Anubis. The equivalent heavenly realm is Aaru, a prestine field of reeds which resembled life in Egypt, which the Egyptians felt was the greatest thing on earth and wanted to continue living for eternity. And if the soul was deemed worthy of passing into such a beneficent afterlife, then it would indeed be allowed to pass on an live forever with loved ones and pets. Does that sound familiar?

Don’t forget that many pre-Christian traditions have their own conceptions of the afterlife, and there are several heavens and hells found in the mythologies of the world. In Greece, for instance, those who lived a good and virtuous life or were heroic in some way would enter Elysium, provided that they were remembered by their peers and their descendants, while more wicked individuals would descend into the dungeon of Tartarus, where the Titans were also imprisoned, and everyone else would go to the fields of Asphodel, a meadow in the underworld where ordinary souls pass on that was neither a heaven nor a hell, all after the judgement of the soul. Oh, and much like how Christians believe that Yahweh reserved a lake of fire for the devil and his angels, Tartarus is the place where deities like Zeus cast down their enemies, such as Typhon.

Fallen angels in Hell by John Martin

Fallen angels in Hell by John Martin

 

Angels and demons

Pre-Christian belief systems all had their own varieties of spirits, with plenty of them falling into either the angelic or demonic categories. Mesopotamia had the Shedim, which were largely seen as demonic beings. Other demonic beings included Gallu, Lamashtu and Pazuzu, the baddest of the bunch. Evil spirits were often viewed as the cause of disease and were sometimes capable of bringing harm to humans and abduct their children, particularly night spirits such as Lamashtu and Lilitu, the latter a precursor, at least in name, to the the Biblical Lilith (we’ll get into that in a future Mythological Spotlight, once I get around to writing one). The closest things to angels in Mesopotamian lore were probably beings such as the Apkallu, who were winged sages or demigods who were viewed as teachers and protective spirits. Egyptian, as was already established, was host to several spirits. What we would could demons were viewed by the Egyptians as liminal spirits, frequently either hostile beings or guardians of the netherworld who could be called upon to protect humans, and thousands of nameless demons have been found in depictions on all manner of items from both religious and mundane items in Egyptian society. The Greeks recognized the term daemon – from which we get the nomenclature “demon” – as a general term for spirit, and often these spirits were seen a guiding forces, though there were of course malevolent spirits in Greek lore (a disease spirit named Aerico immediately springs to mind). Romans had a similar belief and believed in the concept of genii, who often served as the spirits of the household. India and Persia observed the similar divide between good and evil spirits. For the Indians, it was the devas, apsaras and sometimes yakshas on the good side, with the asuras, rakshasas and other ghoulish spirits on the evil side. In Persia the devas were actually on the evil camp, identified as “daevas” and the minions of Angra Mainyu or Ahriman, while the good spirits are identified as the Amesha Spentas in service of Ahura Mazda. In fact it’s in Persia via the Zoroastrians that we encounter one of the earliest clear cut incarnations of the concept of good versus evil personified as God versus Satan in the form of Ahura Mazda versus Angra Mainyu.

 

 

Good old fashioned Christian values

The “family values” platitude that is stereo-typically attached to conservative Christians are not especially new. In fact, at the very least it goes back to the Roman Empire. The emperor Augustus instituted a series of reforms aimed at aligning Roman society towards “traditional Roman values” – values such as monogamy and chastity. He even went so far as to criminalize adultery and imposed financial penalties on people who did not marry and have children, which to be fair seems a tad more extreme than the kind of family values politics that Western societies would have to deal with in the modern world.

The concept of marriage, which is often seen as a Christian institution, has been a recognized social and romantic union for longer than Christianity has been recognized as a religion. Marriage rituals have been known to exist in ancient Greece, Rome and China, and the contract of marriage, and divorce, has even been around in ancient Mesopotamian society. In Mesopotamia, marriage was valued for much the same reason we do now – to ensure the continuation of a given family line. Rome also considered monogamy to be the tradition for marriage in society, just as we do now. Of course, the ancient world had a tendency to value arranged marriage, whereas in the modern world we value the choice of getting married.

Then there are some of the debatably more positive values sometimes ascribed to Christianity, which have been observed as far back as the days of ancient Akkad.

 

The influence of the mystery cults

Greece and Rome were home to a particular phenomenon known as the “mystery cult”, which is basically a religious movement characterized by secretive rituals and the tendency to center around a specific deity (like Mithraism for example). There was an Eleusinian mystery cult centering around the goddess Demeter, based around the story of the abduction of her daughter Persephone, the wrath she wrought upon the earth and its fertility and the resurrection of vegetation and thus life. The re-emergence of Persephone was supposed to be representative of the possibility of eternal life through participation in the mysteries. The exact nature of the ritual performed in the Eleusinian mysteries is disputed, but it is possible that the ritual took place in an underground passage or theater and was intended to convey the whole death and rebirth message. It is also said that the Eleusinian mystery participants purified themselves by bathing in the sea. The cult of Dionysus had its own communion, typically described as a sharing of wine (which would be befitting of the deity of wine). The Mithraic mysteries were also known for featuring an oblation of bread and water or wine, at least for initiates of certain degrees, which may have served as either a reminder of their faith or as a means of giving them the power to resist the forces of evil. The Orphic mysteries stressed that only by following their rites, practicing abstinence from sensual pleasures (such as sex) and devoting yourself to the mystery can you guarantee salvation and join the gods on the fields of Elysium for all eternity. And don’t forget the Egyptian mysteries, including the mystery of Osiris which proclaimed “Be of good cheer, O initiates, for the god is saved, and we shall have salvation from our woes”. The promise of eternal salvation through initiation into the mystery cult and performance of its rites very much strikes accord with the Christian idea that you can be saved by being baptized, receiving communion and following Jesus.

 

So what does that mean, exactly?

I do not consider Christianity to be a complete clone of one single religion, as many critics of Christianity are want to do, instead I consider it to be supported by collection of ideas that existed well before both Christianity and Judaism. It started off as an offshoot of Judaism, which itself emerged out of the henotheistic tradition observed in the land of Canaan, and it embraced many ideas that happened to be observed by the rivaling pagan traditions, but in doing so the Christians essentially repurposed them for their own belief system. Many of these old ideas, it seems, are in fact very ancient, and have been with humanity for a very long time. And as much as the idea that Christianity took over solely through violent conquest is an appealing narrative to people more vociferously anti-Christian than I (and believe me I still am considerably anti-Christian; it practically comes with being a Satanist/Luciferian), I suspect many appropriations of polytheistic teachings and those of the mystery cults were more likely either reflective of the religion as a product of its time – remember that the religion had developed in the Roman Empire alongside the other traditions – or as a means of drawing pagans away from their old belief systems and into the new one. I think that when this is understood when dealing with modern Christianity, you can render Christianity essentially harmless for what it is – a messianic Jewish faith that with synthesized pagan beliefs, sometimes the same beliefs that are also present in Judaism I might add.

 

Just as an aside to close this post, I can’t guarantee that I will post as frequently as I would like to, due to university commitments, but I’ll see what I can do.

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Drinking a veritable tankard of demonic knowledge!

I’ve been attending a series of lectures as part of a demonology conference called Demon Things at Swansea University during the last few days. This conference was specifically about Egyptian demonology, that is to say the study of demons and liminal beings found in ancient Egyptian myth and lore, and there were many speakers who showed up to present papers on various subjects pertaining to this theme (subjects such as the role of demons, liminal deities, donkey-headed deities, the nature of “evil”, the status of the deity Anubis, protective deities/demons at specific archaeological sites, and much more). Due to regular lectures happening at my university (the last before the university closes on Good Friday and we break up for the spring holidays), I unfortunately could not attend the last few lectures this morning, but the lectures I did attend had a lot of information. I’m not sure if I managed to absorb or contain it all, but I learned some interesting things about demons from the Egyptian view, and about demons in general, that will probably inspire a lot, and I think may have inspired plenty of things already.

Demons in ancient Egypt weren’t necessarily like the concept of “demon” that most are familiar with. For most people, demons are hostile and inherently malevolent beings. And demons often could be hostile beings in ancient Egypt, and some may have been malevolent, but in Egypt a lot of them actually served a protective role. In ancient texts demons were held to guard the afterlife against the souls who were not meant to pass through – if you did not have a certain password (for lack of a better word) that the soul would utter at certain points in the journey to the realm of the afterlife, then you would not be allowed to pass through, leading to the total annihilation of the soul. They were often considered liminal beings, due to the fact that they guarded the threshold in the netherworld through the afterlife. For the layfolk in Egypt, they were defenders and played a vital role in their culture. This basically means that they have a generally ambivalent role in Egyptian myth – they were a potential threat to the deceased (or rather, the unjustified dead), but they can be protectors of the living, and in general they already are charged with protecting the underworld from the negative forces. Their role may have been very morally relative – if you knew how to propitiate them in the trials leading to the realm of the afterlife, or if they were invoked as protection, then they could be seen as good, but if you were crossing the netherworld and were unprepared. Often, demons were under the control of deities such as a Ra, Sekhmet, Anubis, and others. Some deities may have been identified as demonic, or demons as deities, like Bes, Tawaret, Tutu, and a deity named Meneh – the last two are identified as master or lord of demons respectively.

Egypt also seems to be, to my knowledge, the only culture where entities are depicted with weapons on their feet!

The logo of the Demon Things conference, depicting an example of one of the demons found in Egyptian depictions.

Egypt also seems to be, to my knowledge, the only culture where entities are depicted with weapons from their feet!

I realized that the Egyptian notion of demons was largely as ambivalent aggressive/protective beings, and it reminded me this role was actually fairly common in many world cultures before the rise of monotheism. You have in Mesopotamia demons like Pazuzu, who was so powerful that every other demon feared him and so was invoked as protection from other demons. In Tibet, wrathful and/or demonic beings fight and repel negative or evil influence in order to protect the practitioner as well as remove obstacles of spiritual practice and enlightenment. It is similarly true in esoteric forms of Japanese Buddhism. In Bali, the demon queen Rangda is simultaneously seen as an evil and protective force. In Greece, images of chthonic beings like the Gorgons adorn temples in order to ward off evil.

The nature of “evil” was also discussed in one lecture, and within that lecture we got round to discussing the notion of the 42 “judges” that appear in the Book of the Dead, and how they guard the netherworld by feeding off of “evil”; or at least one of them does – a judge named Dwdw=f, who I think may or may not have been a manifestation of Apep.

I was also enticed by a symbol from the Egyptian texts called the Black Ram – an image of something referred to as the “Lord of Power”. It seemed to represent a liminal power, or a hostile power of the netherworld. The ram character may have been connected with a solar being, the liminal state, danger, darkness, hiddenness, injury, and death. There was mention in the same lecture of a Black Sun that appears in the Tomb of Irunefer that devours evil. The ram’s role may have been morally relative just like the other demonic figures, depending on your position in the Egyptian underworld. I have found in that Black Ram a new personal symbol, one that to me at least appears to combine the powers of the sun (and fertility) associated with the ram, with the powers of darkness and the netherworld – it seems to me like a black ram would make for a powerful demonic totem, as the ram symbol gains more personal prominence.

The Black Ram

The Egyptian interpretation of the demons is one that I would definitely mix in with the other interpretations of the demons, even with the modern idea of the demon. When I run this in my head, I envision passionate, mysterious, “dark” spirits, embodying the nether of the human being, and mostly ambivalent, whose aggressive/protective nature in the past makes them seem like rajasic (as in one of the three gunas) and I seem to like that. That a lot of them have animal aspects reminds me that they are animalistic beings – remembering what Anton LaVey commented about the deities that represented the animal in Man, and Michael W. Ford’s talk of demonic deific masks typically being bestial or animal. And who knows, over the centuries the demons may have gone through transitions . When they once served the deities in the heavens, in the modern age those deities are no longer in control, or the heavens have rejected the demons. And now they’re rebellious, chaotic spirits, making their own rules in the absence of divine masters. That may be just the fire of inspiration those lectures set off in me, one that I think makes me appreciate the demons ever more, and because of the way I think of demons I feel more excited about the kind of “animalistic” spiritual path that I prefer to follow – in conjunction with my prior reading of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible.

In my opinion, the lectures were a smash hit and you simply had to be there. But if you missed them, it’s possible that the Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project may publish proceedings from the Demon Things conference in due course.

What is our logic?

I was visiting my dad yesterday, and I decided to take a book about demons with me to read. Specifically, it was Nanditha Krishna’s The Book of Demons, a book about demons from the perspective of Indian mythology (I may write a few posts about that later on). I didn’t think anyone would notice, but my aunt did, and wondered why I’d be reading about such scary things as demons. To me it’s pretty strange that demons are treated as something to be scared, as something that can twist your mind, and in modern culture we still basically treat demons this way and make them the monsters of our horror flicks even to this day, but I hardly think demons are worth fearing.

To me, demons are no scarier than the myriad of horrors inflicted by mankind upon mankind. You know: genocides, drug abuse, coercion (especially coercion of children), deceit, sexual abuse, and everything else that happens with a total lack of regard for human life involved. And people still turn to this idea of demons, let alone the idea of Satan or Hell, being scarier than all the horror inflicted upon Man by Man, to the point what we still treat them the way we do in horror flicks.

Night of the Demon (1957); picture things like this and then think about modern horror films about demons, and I bet you’ll agree that we’re doing something of a disservice to demonkind. The problem with that, of course, is that a demon can be anything you picture it to be…

And why stop there? For many people demons are horrifying, but what about Saw: a series of films that, from my outside perspective at least, seems to be centered around nothing more than a guy torturing people in all sorts of ways, all while apparently thinking he’s doing something good for his victims. And yet the Saw franchise is popular, and one of the most successful horror franchises in history, we even treat Jigsaw as a mascot despite the fact that Jigsaw’s character consists of nothing more than sadism. Saw and other horror movies are seen by many people as entertainment, but demons and occultism as an actual subject matter are seen as a source of fear for those same people. It just baffles me what people’s priorities are in terms of what’s “evil” and “scary” and what’s not.

Mythological Spotlight #1: Dairokuten Maou

This is the first of a new kind of post that I call a Mythological Spotlight, so let me explain how this is going to work. Mythological Spotlights are posts that are devoted to mythological figures, almost always deities or demons. Mythological Spotlights will be similar to the Deity Pages, except the Description section before the History may be much shorter will focus more on the general description of the mythological figure, whereas my opinion of the figure will probably appear after the History section. Mythological Spotlights will be posted infrequently rather than in a regular pattern unless I have a strong motivation to do so, though it may or may not occur that I post the first few Spotlights once a week since I have a few candidates in mind.

Anyways, let’s begin with Dairokuten Maou.

Dairokuten Maou attacking the Buddha and his followers, as depicted by Katsushika Hokusai

Description

In Japanese Buddhism, Dairokuten Maou is the personification of delusion and the demonic ruler of the sixth heaven. The sixth heaven refers to the realm known as Takejizai-Ten, the realm of Free Enjoyment of Transformations by Others, and is the sixth heaven of the realm of the devas, one of the six desire realms into which reincarnation is said to be possible. Dairokuten Maou is said to make free use of things created by others for his own pleasure, and his role is said to prevent conscious beings from escaping from the cycle of metempsychosis or Samsara by tempting them towards worldly life, desires, and goals while tempting them away from Buddhist teachings. He is said to have innumerable minions under his service and enjoys sapping life force from others. Nichiren Buddhism identifies Dairokuten Maou as the heavenly devil and classes him as one of four devils that afflict practitioners and obstruct Buddhist practice, the other three being the devil of the five components of life (or the five aggregates or skandas), the devil of earthly desires, and the devil of death.

History

Dairokuten Maou seems to be the Japanese iteration of a being named Mara, who is sometimes referred to as “the Evil One”. Mara is seen as a personification of distraction from the spiritual life and from pursuit of enlightenment, as well as unskillfulness and spiritual death. In fact, his name seems to be a reference to death itself. Usually Mara is a representation of internal vices and impulses that lie within the mind, rather than an external demon. In the story of how the Buddha achieved enlightenment, Mara tried to distract Siddhartha Gautama with temptations in order to prevent him from achieving enlightenment. Like Dairokuten Maou, Mara was also said to distract people from practicing the Buddhist teachings with temptations.

It was also said that Mara referred to four obstructive forces: Skandha-Mara, Klesa-Mara, Mrtyu-Mara, and Devaputra-Mara. Skanhda-Mara is said to be the embodimenet of the five skandhas, or aggregates of existence: form, feeling, perception, formations, and consciousness. Klesa-Mara is said to be the embodiment of attachment to “unskillful” and negative emotions, and the patterns that pertain to them. Mrtyu-Mara is said to be the embodiment of death and the fear of death and impermanence, also known as the Lord of Death (not to be confused with Yama). Devaputra-Mara is said to be the embodiment of great attachment and craving, particularly for pleasure, and is also referred to as a child of the gods. Some refer to Devaputra-Mara as the literal Mara. These four Maras seem to be the basis of the four devils described in Nichiren Buddhism.

Dairokuten Maou was also a nickname attributed to Nobunaga Oda, a daimyo (fuedal lord) who conquered a third of Japan until his death at Honnō-ji in 1582. Nobunaga actually adopted the title for himself,  and it seems to have started after Nobunaga was sent a message from rival warlord Shingen Takeda, who proclaimed himself Tendai Zasu-Shamon Shingen (protector of the Tendai sect and its leader) in a letter sent in response to him burning down Enraku-ji, which was based in Mt. Hiei and was also the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Buddhism (and still is today). In response, Nobunaga boasted that he was the Demon King of the Sixth Heaven, and he continued to do so in missives sent to his enemies (according to his confidant, the Portugese Jesuit missionary Luis Frois). Presumably, this was done to try and inspire fear in his enemies and discourage them from opposing him, but to this day Nobunaga is often depicted as villainous and even an actual demon king, and this has not always been down to him adopting the title of Demon King of the Sixth Heaven for himself. Nobunaga had been infamous for his brutality and cruelty and for committing various atrocities. One example is how, after his campaign against the Azai and Asakura factions, he apparently took the skulls of his rival Nagamasa Azai, his father Hisamasa Azai, and Yoshikuge Asakura, and made them into cups for drinking sake out of. Another is how he burned Buddhist temples, such as Enryaku-ji which was home to warrior monks who were independent and allied with the Azai and Asakura factions, and killed even innocent people in the siege of Mt. Hiei. Such actions were likely done in order to strike fear into his enemies and discourage them from opposing him.

Nobunaga was not always known for being cruel or villainous, however. He is also remembered as being one of the three unifiers of Japan during the Sengoku period that lasted from 1467 to 1603 CE, a time were many fuedal lords fought each other for land and influence and the influence of the Ashikaga Shogunate that governed the land had declined. For better or worse, Nobunaga’s actions set the foundation for the end of this period of civil war, and after his death, the land would eventually be united by one of his successors, Ieyasu Tokugawa. He is also remembered for changing the way war was fought in Japan with the introduction of firearms, and for modernizing the economy. Yet, many works of faction to this day, particularly works of anime that lean to towards fantasy and action, depict Nobunaga as supernaturally villainous, and chances are when you’re in Japan and you think Nobunaga Oda, you’re also thinking of the Demon King of the Sixth Heaven.

Conclusion

In my opinion, Dairokuten Maou seems to be the closest thing in Buddhist theology to the Christian interpretation of Satan: a being who personifies delusion, temptation, and/or evil, a being with innumerable minions serving under him, and a being who leads humans away from a given religion (in this case Buddhism) and its teachings as well as obstructing religious practice. But, unlike the Christian Satan who resides in Hell, Dairokuten Maou resides in a heavenly realm, and unlike the Christian Satan who is attested to have fallen from heaven where he was once an angel, Dairokuten Maou pretty much remained in the heavenly realm his occupies and there’s no information that attests to him ever having fallen from any sort of heavenly realm and being in the good graces of any particular deity or deities. At any rate, Dairokuten Maou is an interesting character, and his attachment to a historical figure (in this case Nobunaga Oda) seems to make him all the more so because of the prospect of a powerful heavenly demon getting himself involving in a war on Earth, even if it was never anything literal.

Boredom with conspiracy theories

In the past I have sometimes talked about conspiracy theories involving Satan, devil worship, the occult, and pagan gods, and made artwork that flirted with some of the ideas presented in those conspiracy theories. At those times, I thought they were fun, even though I did not believe in them. I even played with conspiracy theories on various levels. What was I thinking?

I feel fed up with conspiracy theory, becasue not only are those conspiracy theories mere showcase the ignorance and utterly closed minds of fundamentalist Christians, but the fact that this is the case eventually shows, especially if you question the whole point. For the average Bible-worshipping fundamentalist Christian conspiracy theorist, everything that is not Jesus Christ and/or is outside his/her particular brand of Christian belief is actually affiliated with Satan, or part of some Illuminati/Masonic/NWO conspiracy (the latter kinda moot when you consider that often this very conspiracy is believed to be Satan’s plan for the earth). And often times, even more absurdly, they accuse the symbols, myths, and holidays closely tied to their own religion as originating entirely from some ancient monolithic “pagan” religion bent on world domination, probably as per Satan’s will. Some of them believe that there was an ancient monolithic religion devoted to the worship of Nimrod (a king of Shinar depicted in the Bible) and Semiramis (an Assyrian queen), and that Nimrod and Semiramis are the sources of the gods and goddess respectively, which is all just laughable at best.

Like this shit right here. How fucking spurious can you get.

And the problem with all this is that it gives a really bad image of everything pagan, occult, and satanic because, if you really believe that stuff or even fiddle with it, it partially derides from the gods, the symbols, belief system, and even knowledge of such things for what they really are, and when you get a better and more mature, informed, or at least refined understanding of those things then all this conspiracy shit starts to crumble.

And speaking of the occult and the satanic, I forgot to mention about demons supposedly being in everything. It’s not just neoclassical symbols that dot Washington DC that supposedly contain the power of occult forces, it’s fucking everything according to these people! Pokemon (among other video games), Santa Claus, Coca Cola (for Muslim extremists anyway), energy drinks, Disney, every popular musician and their music videos, the Super Bowl, sign language, even saccharine cartoons intended for little girls. Every innocuous thing imaginable, based on nothing more than the crazed and distorted imaginations of some people and their utterly closed beliefs, themselves pathetic excuses for religious beliefs to begin with.

The fact is, it’s all from the point of view of not just Christianity, but some even more twisted and paranoid version of Christianity, more times than not designed to suit some delusions and/or extreme agendas to deceive and/or divide ordinary people. And if it has any influence, that is worrisome. But for the mind that is open, perhaps mature and refined too, then these ideas will eventually become worthless, and hopefully that will lead to a correction, an ability to understand the symbols, gods, and belief systems of the world for what they are, not to mention Satan and paganism. And if that leads to either acceptance or rejection of any of those things, it doesn’t matter, so long as whatever you do is based on a better understanding of things, and your true connection or relation to things.

The rich symbolism of my alter ego

Over a month ago I have been writing about my alter ego character in a notebook. Apparently I’ve given him a lot of rich symbolism pertaining to his character and his purpose in the world he is a part of. I write about my character on this blog for the pleasure of it, and because I feel the stuff I have written has been insightful enough that it merits mention. I have been working on this character for a long time, and through this time I have also found things about myself and my beliefs, so this character is very important to me. And I apologize in advance if it’s too long for you to read.

First, some background: He is a warrior, adventurer, treasure hunter, and protector of the world he lives in from the  has the power of fire; both the fire that brings light and the fire of demons. He also has the ability to stay underwater as long as he wants so that he can swim like a free spirit beneath the waters, can eat a lot without getting fat, he has red eyes glowing in the dark, can open up a third eye for discovering hidden presences and pathways, and is abundant in spiritual energy. He can also access a kind of demonic super form. His birthmark is the Aum symbol written as a Siddham letter. He uses the powers associated with Satan and Chaos for the sake of righteous and heroic cause, and he always tries to do what’s right but also what he pleases. He’s a passionate, confident, and energetic young man who manages to never lose his youth, but he has a soft side if brought out by the right people, and lives in both indulgence and honor. Although he is also an intense and emotional character, he never seems to brood. He fights not out of any sense of duty or obedience, but out of his own instincts and because he wants to do it and believes in his actions. He’s basically a lot like me, or the kind of life I want to live. He’s one with that force of passion and chaos, and the primal fires, and he lives as a warrior with heat and light in his heart and the fabric of his being. He also shares my own ideas and beliefs, naturally, and looks like me except his look is perfectly executed. Aside from fighting and adventuring, he likes to eat, swim, love, treasure hunt, and rock, and he seems to get along well with wild animals.

Now that that’s over with, the symbolism and meaning that has become attached to the character.

Exhibit 1 – The birthmark

As I just mentioned, his birthmark is the Aum written in Siddham script. According to Hindu belief, the Aum represents infinite energy, God, and the divine. It also representsthe cycle of  life, death, and rebirth from Hindu belief, as representing by each phoneme A, U, and M respectively, though there is also A for life and Um (or Un) for death. The latter is represented by two varieties of Japanese temple guardians: the komainu (lion-dogs), and the Kongorikishi (wrath-filled muscular guardians of the Buddha). In both cases, one has its mouth open and the other has its mouth closed. The open mouth is A, and the closed mouth is Un or Um, which together mean life and death.

It’s meant to connect to the characters abundant personal energy, a trait which was also inspired by Ichigo Kurosaki from the anime Bleach. May also represent a connect with timeless energy and force. It’s also meant to denote my alter ego’s role as the protector of his own world. Take from that what you will…

Exhibit 2 – The colors red and black

Alex’s two colors are red and black, which naturally are also my favorite colors. To many, they mean either evil or anarchism, but those connotations are not present here. It started with Shin Megami Tensei, where they were the colors of the Chaos faction, which I aligned with, and they were also colors of another favorite video game character, Shadow the Hedgehog (who I freely confess made machine guns look cool). But since then more symbolism got attached to it.

In Balinese folklore, red, black, and white are the colors associated with a powerful witch demon Rangda, who was believed to be the queen of demons. Rangda’s colors are also attached to Kali, the Hindu goddess of time, change, destruction, and power, and Rangda is also believed to have been linked with Kali and Durga, the latter of which was the warrior mother goddess of victory over evil. Funny enough, while Rangda is seen in Balinese folklore as an evil demon, she was also seen as a protector in some parts of Bali, similar to Kali’s occasional representation as a protective goddess.

The demon queen Rangda

Speaking of demons, in Buddhist lore, the asuras (borrowed from Hindu lore) are depicted as red-skinned and the rakshasas (also Hindu in origin) are depicted with black skin, and both are vicious demons who, in Japan, were also tasked with protecting the Buddhist law. In Christian-influenced Western belief, Satan and his demons are commonly represented by the colors red and black, presumably because of their connection with sin, evil, lust, aggression, mystery, and darkness. It’s probably because of this that red and black have become so attached with Satanism (after all, it wouldn’t be Satanism without any conception of Satan now would it?). But there is still so much more to red and black here than just demons and Satan. In fact, the chief symbolism here is actually from Taoism.

In Taoism, there are the two natural principles of yin and yang, yin being the dark, passive, and mysterious principle, and yang being the bright, assertive, and magnetic principle. Yin is black and yang is white, but yang has also been represented as red, presumably because red represents qualities attached to the yang principle. Anyways, for Taoist belief, yin and yang must exist in harmony and as complimentary forces and do not exist as opposites that must triumph over each other. With that in mind, the key meaning is formed. Red means heat, force, and dynamism, while black means mystery, darkness, and space. Together, they actually represent energy in its most primordial form, and in the twin forces of heat and darkness. It could also represent light and darkness in union too, since fire brings light as well as heat.

Yin and yang

Black is generally associated with the occult, demons, the left hand, disaster, mystery, death, and chaos, but in some cultures it represents life. In Japan black means life, while white actually means death. In China, black is the color that represents the element of water for some reason. Black also points to Kali and the Buddhist Mahakala, who was a Buddhist incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva.  Red means heat, fire, vitality, passion, but in Japan it is also the traditional color of the hero and the color for expelling demons and illness (a bit ironic considering all this talk of demons from before), as well as the sun and summer. For my alter ego, red and black are the simplest symbols of his dual affinity for the bright power of fire and the dark power of the demons, for righteousness and vice, for the union of moral integrity and animal instinct, and for the directing of dark power and heat towards the pursuit of a just cause.

The theory of his color scheme is also evocative of Baphomet, not to be confused with Satan (though Satan does have influence here). Baphomet is a symbol of the union of or harmony between forces that are either opposite or mutually distinct. Thus Baphomet brings together the forces that I have mentioned throughout this section.

Exhibit 3 – The power of demons and chaos as a sword of righteousness

While the idea may have started with playing video games like Devil May Cry and Shin Megami Tensei, there are actually links to mythology and religious belief.

In Egypt, there is the god Set, who was the god of the desert and storms, and later evil and chaos. Even before the people of Egypt turned Set into a god of evil, he was seen as a wild, tumultuous, and sometimes hostile deity, but it is Set who protects the sun god Ra in the daily battle against Apep, the serpent of entropy and annihilation. Funny enough he was also seen as the lord of the red sands and Horus was the lord of the black soil. Set was also linked with the Semitic god Baal (or Hadad). In fact, there was a time when people from Western Asia, referred to as the Hyksos, ruled Egypt. They worshiped the storm god Baal, who became linked with the Egyptian storm god Seth, and they were both worshipped as Seth-Baal, sometimes in an almost monotheistic fashion, until the Hyksos were driven out of Egypt. Also, a friend and personal spiritual teacher of mine (who I remember as The Desolate One) told me a theory that when Set defeated Apep, he took on the power once linked with Apep, and that this is how he become the god of darkness, reviled as the god of evil. I think we both followed with the idea that Baal did the same after defeating Yam.

Set and Apep by badgersoph on Deviantart

As usual though, much of my inspiration comes from Asia, and there’s a lot of symbolism to be found in Buddhist lore. In Tibet, there are deities who seem vicious and demonic, to the point that those who first look upon them unaware of their role in the Buddhist faith would construe them as no different to demons. But in truth, they represent the violent reality of both the cosmos and the human mind, and they serve the purpose of protecting the Buddhist faith and practitioners, and  helping the practitioner attain enlightenment by clearing away the obstacles to enlightenment (at least from the Buddhist point of view). These beings are referred to as wrathful deities. They are based on violence and power, they have a violent nature and a demonic appearance, but they are not necessarily evil at all. In fact, they also symbolize the tremendous amount of effort and force needed to vanquish evil. In Japan, a similar term is Kishin, which means “fierce god” or “demon god”, and they are guardian gods.

vajrapani19

Vajrapani, an example of one of the wrathful deities

They are actually supposed to be benevolent, but their appearance is meant to instill terror into the forces of evil and drive them back, much like the appearance of gorgon heads on Greek temples or gargoyles on medieval Christian churches. It’s also interesting to note that some of these deities, according to tradition, were once the native gods or demons of the land prior to being defeated in magical combat with the guru Padmasambhava and converting to Buddhism. The only problem is this does mean these beings serve the Buddhist faith as a result of being defeated and subjugated by someone else, rather than by being convinced that it aligns with their own convictions.

The concept of demonic beings enlisted to protect the Buddhist faith is further expressed in Japanese Buddhism, though often it is after the demons are defeated or captured (such as with Fujin and Raijin). But that is not always the case. There is a story of a goddess named Hariti, who used to be a yaksha demon from Pakistan who killed human children in order to feed her hundreds of children. Siddhartha Gautama wanted to stop this so he hid one of her sons under a bowl, then he told Hariti that her suffering from losing one of her children cannot be compared to the suffering of all the mothers whose few children became her victims. Realizing the depth of her actions and feeling remorse for them, she converted to Buddhism and pledged to be the protector of children and childbirth, and promised to eat pomegranates instead of human children. Another story is the story of Atavaka, or Daigensui Myo-O as he is known in Japan. Similar to Hariti, Atavaka was once a child-eating yaksha demon, but after encountering Siddartha Gautama, he converted to Buddhism and become a yaksha king, protector of the southwest direction, and a vassal to the warrior deity Bishamonten. Atavaka was also considered the chief of all the spirits and demons protecting the land.

Japanese esoteric Buddhism also has a deity named Rastetsuten, who is considered one of the twelve devas who protect the four directions, the four semi-directions, the sun, the moon, up, and down. Rasetsuten protected the southwest direction of the heavens and was master of the rakshasa demons. In Hindu lore rakshasas were cannibalistic demons who practiced black magic, desecrated gravesites, disrupted sacrifices, and had venomous fingernails, but in Mahayana Buddhist texts they converted to Buddhism and served to protect the dharma. Another Hindu demon who takes on a protective role in Japanese Buddhism is the asura, who in Hinduism were previously considered demonic spirits who fought against the gods. In Buddhist lore they are merely semi-divine beings addicted to various passions, but most especially strife and conflict, though they are also capable of being virtuous and pious. In Vedic lore, the term asura was an epithet meaning “mighty” and referred to power and strength, and was attributed to various Vedic gods.

A rakshasa

Come to think of it, it seems demons have been a force of protection from evil and fighting evil, as well as promoting evil, destruction, and chaos, for a long time in many beliefs outside of Christianity, general Western culture, and Islam.

In some cultures, while snakes were associated with healing, wisdom, and fertility, even before Christianity they were also associated with danger and darker and more chthonic forces. This was the case in ancient Greece, where serpents are most classically associated with the chthonic monster known as the gorgon (among whom was the famous Medusa). But in Greece, the oldest oracles were said to be protected by serpents (including the monster Python who guarded the oracle at Delphi), and the heads of gorgons appeared on temples to protect against malign forces. Gorgon masks were also carved to protect from the evil eye. Medusa herself appears in a temple to Artemis in Corfu, where she is a guardian of the temple. In Babylon and Assyria, there is the demon Pazuzu (who some may recognize as the spirit that possessed Linda Blair in The Exorcist). He was an evil spirit of wind who brought plague, disease, famine, and locusts, but he was also invoked to protect humans from plague, disease, and misfortune, particularly the kind brought by a demonic goddess named Lamashtu. Mesopotamian folklore also describes storm demons known as Ugallu, who were also considered beneficial protective demons and were depicted and invoked in charms. In India, the yakshas are sometimes treated as demons, but they are also seen as benign earthly protector spirits. Demons and ghouls are also found as the hosts of the Hindu god Shiva, and those hosts are said to frighten even the gods Brahma and Vishnu. Even today there are believers in the paranormal and the occult who consider demons to be guardian spirits in the same sense that angels are, only that demons come from the darker side of the spirit world.

There is inspiration that follows a similar principle: Tantra. In Tantric Hindusim, things that are considered dark, taboo, even unspiritual can be considered sacred and/or valid pathways to the divine. Most recognized among their belief is the belief that material pleasures can be dedicated to God and that seemingly negative forces can be transformed into positive forces and religious bliss.

Outside mythology, the spirit of the righteous application of demonic power lives on in modern culture. In Japanese video games and anime, demons aren’t always a strictly negative force. And sometimes, in those settings, individuals associated with demons fight demons and protect the world and humans from evil with the help of their power. The anime Blue Exorcist is about a young man named Rin Okumura who is the son of Satan, but he fights demons and wants to defeat Satan (the Christian Satan). In the anime YuYu Hakusho, the main character Yusuku Urameshi is the main protagonist who protects the human world from various supernatural threats and he apparently has demon blood. In fact, he can access a demon form with some wicked long hair! In video games, Shin Megami Tensei lets you use demons and their power to potentially do good depending on your point of view. Demons are categorized by alignments based on the two axes of Light-Neutral-Dark and Light-Neutral-Chaos. For example, Kishin refers to warrior deities, and they are attached Light-Chaos, my personal favorite alignment for demons. Perhaps Light-Chaos can refer to the righteous manifestation of the power of the demons. And who could forget the Devil May Cry games, which feature humans with demonic blood who fight demons with the help of the power of demons. Most famous among  them of course is Dante, who has become a true hack and slash icon and a personal inspiration for me and my alter ego.

Dante, son of Sparda

Exhibit 4 – Heavy metal culture

Probably because of my own interest in heavy metal music, the character I talk about here inherits influence from heavy metal music in his design and background. He has long hair that’s basically a mixture of Nikki Sixx’s hair from Motley Crue and a Japanese hairstyle I found one time.

I often draw him making the sign of the horns with his hands. It’s a sign that was officially introduced to heavy metal by Ronnie James Dio, after he joined Black Sabbath. He claimed he based it on the sign that his grandmother made with his hands: the malocchio. It was apparently used to ward off curses such as the evil eye. Since Dio, the sign of the horns has become a universal element of heavy metal culture, despite musicians of other genre and cultures copying it randomly.

My alter ego has by and large copied my fashion sense, which has absorbed other insignias of heavy metal culture. Among them, the sleeveless denim jacket and the bullet belt, both of them associated with traditional heavy metal, thrash metal, and speed metal, though the bullet belt can be found worn be fans of more extreme metal sub-genres, such as black metal and death metal, and members of such bands. Both fashion items were chosen as nods to heavy metal subculture.

A thrash metal fan wearing a bullet belt and a denim jacket with patches of various metal bands.

My character’s black jacket was initially based on a black long-sleeved jacket I usually wore, which I believe was made of cotton. But this jacket has become replaced by a black jacket made of leather, which is pretty much based on the denim and leather done by many old school heavy metal bands (except that I prefer black denim to blue denim). Denim and leather back then was such a recognized element of heavy metal fashion that it was the title of an album by one such band: Saxon.

But it’s not just the fashion of heavy metal that’s important. In fact, it only makes sense that my character, and I myself for that matter, would associate with heavy metal music. Heavy metal is the only music that represents what I feel I come from. Metal was the music of power and aggression, it’s the only music that has a lot of the kind of lyrical subject matter I like (demons, war, myth, lust, and warriors, among other lyrics) and to such an awesome sound, and it has a subculture that embraces what are in my mind the values of the warrior, the rebel, and the devil. It is aggressive music, raw energy, and the instrumentation channels said aggression to create a sublime sound, and many of my favorite metal bands channel aggressive music to make what is ultimately a positive sound. And the energy and passion I feel from the music is certainly a positive influence. So however you stretch it, metal deserves the influence it has. Because of the tendency of heavy metal to feature lyrics about demons, Satan, and the occult, it can be a good example of channeling inspiration from darkness to create something righteous, strong, and true.

Exhibit 5 – The action hero

The action genre is very influential not just from anime and video games, but of course action films. Early on I and one of my art teachers likened my alter ego to characters such as Dirty Harry, who upheld the law and busted criminals by flunking regulations and breaking the rules, thus exemplifying a classic example of the trope of the renegade cop, better known as the cowboy cop. Other well-known examples of the trope include Die Hard, Cobra, Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, Last Action Hero, and Demolition Man.

Cobra. It speaks for itself.

Speaking of Demolition Man, the main character John Spartan and not to mention the film itself have both been very inspirational. Before being cryogenically frozen, Spartan was the baddest cowboy cop in Los Angeles, busting exceptionally bad criminals without regard for proper protocol or concern for collateral damage. After being frozen, he wakes up to find that LA has become San Angeles, a crapsaccharine state without passion and no freedom to do anything other than following the plans Dr. Raymond Cocteau has for your life, and eventually Simon Fenix, the worst criminal Spartan has ever faced, also arrives after being cryogenically frozen. He eventually defeats and kills Fenix, but also challenges and topples the pristine order of San Angeles through the destruction of the cryo prison (though Fenix kills Cocteau before all this happens). Spartan then challenges the people of San Angeles to try and live in a world of both order and wild freedom, thus echoing the idea of a character who fights for freedom and to preserve justice.

My favorite anime characters are pretty much always action character with weapons (albeit swords instead of guns), such as Ichigo from Bleach. Of all of them, Ichigo always had a lot of appeal. He was hot-headed, and hot-bleaded, but he never gave up, never backed down, and always tried to fight for what he thought was right because he wanted to.

Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach

Exhibit 6 – The demonic super form

The alter ego’s demonic super form is ostensibly a combination of Super Sonic from the Sonic the Hedgehog series, which itself was based on the Super Saiyan state from Dragon Ball, and Dante’s Devil Trigger state from the Devil May Cry games. Similar tropes also appear in various other video games, as well as anime. My character’s particular super form also derives from not just Satan with his horns, but also the flaming aura that surrounds the Buddhist wrathful deities of Tibet and Japan.

Fudo Myo-O

The super form also has a third eye, which is ostensibly derived from Shiva. In fact, the flaming aura itself is also a manifestation of the flaming aura of both Shiva and the goddess Kali

Exhibit 7 – Other mythological/religious elements

My character frequently uses weapons that have some link to Asian religious themes, often as bonus weapons, including the vajra and the trishula, which are attached many Buddhist deities, along with the Hindu gods Indra and Shiva respectively.

My alter ego’s jacket is set to have a flaming ram’s head on the back of it, which is an allusion to the Hindu god Agni, the zodiac sign Aries, and the Egyptian symbolism of the ram as the soul of the sun god. In this light, the ram is a symbol of the spirit of the sun, fire, heat, light, energy, and enthusiasm.

Like myself, my alter ego wears a Satanic pentagram, which represents not just Satanism, but the powers of darkness and demons, and in this case the principle of using the powers of darkness to pursue a just cause and righteous ideals.

When my alter ego belt buckle is a monstrous demon head, based on the Kirtimukha and Rahu. Kirtimukha is a demon-like image that sometimes adorns temples to Shiva and halos that surround the Shiva and his family. It represents the hunger that pervades the universe and drives all life as attested to in Hindu belief and mythology. Rahu was a demon in Hindu myth who tried to devour the sun. There is also Tao Tie, a fiend from Chinese mythology who represents hunger. I have also considered using a lion’s head for his belt buckler (possibly with a demonic twist). It was inspired by Isamu Nitta’s belt buckle from Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne (which is based on Azazel from Soul Hackers), but it can also be a nod to the lion as a symbol of the Zoroastiran spirit of destruction, Ahriman, based on the Mithraic depiction of Ahriman or Arimanius.

Kirtimukha

Other things

I must also mention the fan-made Grey Jedi Code associated with Star Wars, which I have already described in full here.

As I mentioned before, my alter ego’s abilities are often based on my own traits. Such as his ability to swim being based on my like of water and personal desire to swim more, and the food thing being related to liking to eat like an animal, and eating a lot without getting fat as a kid. And the animals thing is not just related to Shiva or the Horned One, but the fact that I like to talk about animals as a kid.

In general, his preference of weapons (katanas and machine guns) is inspired by video games, particularly Shin Megami Tensei, Final Fantasy, and Shadow the Hedgehog, as well as my interest in Japanese martial arts and American action films.

And that’s pretty much it. I took way too damn long writing this because I needed to get everything down that needed to be gotten down. Either way I hope this long post can be appreciated as an assessment of my own alter ego and the ideas that shape it, and thus the ideas that actually have shaped me as a person and relate to me as a person to the core of my self.

Is there no real distinction between angels and demons?

This image should give an idea of what I’m talking about. They both have similar things going on, including fire.

Whenever I think of angels and demons, and heaven and hell, in the Judeo-Christian context, I think of fire and light in the same place, and maybe lava/magma, and other sublimeness. That’s one of the few things with Judeo-Christian mythology I can appreciate, it’s kinda sublime, especially from the point of view of imagery and art. The image above really connects the separate traditional images of the angel and the demon. Actually, to the point that I think they’re the same.

In Christian theological tradition, demons were once angels, beings created to serve God who somehow went against their nature to serve God and rebelled against him, only to be cast out of heaven. Effectively, demons are the same as angels, just that they are against God and are “fallen”. But if we don’t look at from the Bible’s point of view, maybe we reach a different conclusion. To me, angels are the same as demons. They’re the same spirit, but with different allegiances. You might even call back to the Greek concept of demon, or daemon, which I talked about in a previous post.

So the way I see it, angels and demons are really the same kind of being, though on different sides. We just separate them so that we have something to associate with pure good and pure evil, neither of which truly exist in any being. Perhaps the Christian tradition towards these beings was their way of splitting the same being into good and evil, just like their splitting of reality. I might even be a representation of isolating of “animal nature” as opposed to “higher nature”. But really, that’s not really what matters here.