Monday, October 24, 2011

Devils and Demons

     Throughout religion, good and evil are 'at war'. 'Fallen angel', Satan, demon - these terms all stand in as the metaphor for the worst characteristics that each one of us, as human beings, possesses. The devil and demons (evil) are the enemy of God (good) and humankind.
St. Anthony Plagued by Demons

     The presentation of the 'devil' can take different forms. In Zoroastrianism,  Angra Mainyu is the destructive, evil counterforce of  the force of 'good', Ahura Mazda. 'Mara', the devil-personification in Buddhism, tempts Gautama Buddha with beautiful women. In Hinduism,there are the 'asuras' that cause evil to occur. 
     Christianity's devil is a single entity, a 'fallen angel', named Satan, LuciferBeelzebub (the name of a Philistine god) along with a troupe of other fallen, the 'demons'.
     In Islam, the devil is called 'Iblis', created by God out of smokeless fire along with his lessers, the 'jinn'. Surprisingly different from the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism does not have a specific 'devil' character such as Satan or Iblis, just as there is no 'hell' in Judaism but rather a place of (temporary) purgatory (Gehenna).
Lucifer Expelled from Heaven

     In ancient Egypt, Set(h) was the evil 'stand-in' for the devil (see blog: A Story of Brothers).
     Demons were recognized in Mesopotamia, called 'shedu' (storm demons); in pre-Islamic Arabia 'jinn' (adopted by Islam).
     In ancient Israel there were 2 types of demon, the 'se irim' and the 'shedi' (which could cause 'demonic possession').
     In popular Islamic culture, "Shaytan" is often translated as "the Devil," but the term can refer to any of the jinn who disobeyed God and followed IblīsShaytan and his minions are "whisperers," who whisper into the chests of men and women, urging them to commit sin.

     Some Christian theology claims that demons are the evil spirit product of sexual relations between fallen angels and human women. 
     But not all devils are bad. For the Yazidi of Northern Iraq,  'Malek Taus' is Satan, known as the 'peacock angel' the fallen angel who is worshipped and will, one day, be redeemed.
     All these are surely metaphorical stories that play well with many people but mean to say that 'good' and 'evil' reside in each one of us.
Malek Taus
The Peacock Angel


     *Religious belief: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Did They See?

     Psilocybin, mescaline, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), various alkyloids, narcotics, cannabis...human beings are very adept at finding the naturally-occurring sources of 'mind-altering' drugs (see post: Altered States of Consciousness) in their environment.

Humans with Antelope Heads, Cave Art South Africa
     Today, the use of drugs in rituals and religion is still with us but drug use for non-religious reasons (depression, anxiety, escapism, addiction) is probably the major reason for drug consumption. Human ingenuity has found artificial ways to transform these drugs into more powerful products (heroin) and even created entirely new compounds to produce the same effects (lysergic acid diethylamide-LSD, derived from ergot).
     The images/experiences that the users see or undergo are often filled with color, wide, unending spaces and often the presence of a godly figure. But what else did the ancient users see when under the spell of these drugs? In most cases, in every ethnic group, in every region of the world, whether isolated from or in contact with other cultures, the users would 'meet' therianthropes, beings half-human, half-animal, usually with the body of a man and the head of a beast. Pre-historic cave-wall art in Europe and Africa shows beings, half-human, half-animal.

Anubis-Ancient Egypt
     Pharaonic Egypt is the best known example with several animal-headed gods. In the Mayan culture, Quetzalcoatl was the 'Feathered Serpent' god. Many Greek and Roman gods and mythological creatures were mermaid-like. Scylla was a guardian of the Strait between Sicily and the Italian mainland. Dagon, a god of the Philistines, was half man, half fish.

     Fu Xi in Chinese myth, also half human and half fish, was the inventor of writing, fishing and trapping. The first incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu was named Matsya again half man and half fish. 
     The Dogon tribe of Mali, Africa venerate the humanoid fish creatures called Nommo, said to be ancestral spirit deities. 
     Sedna is a mermaid-like goddess of the Arctic Inuit.

     Paintings created by users of ayahuasca will often show creatures that are part reptile-part human, some part human and part ape. Patients with temporal lobe epilepsy have reported 'visions' of  'heavenly beings' (see post: Epilepsy and the Divine). 
     People who have ingested DMT, whether synthetically made or derived from plants (ayahuasca), recount encounters with supernatural or alien beings.

     But there is one drug derived from the root of a plant from Central Africa that, in terms of vision and 'ecstasy' is very special.
     It is a substance that, when taken in the correct fashion and quantity, is a 'Drug to See the Dead'.

     *Paranormal experience: subject of research for the novel  The Tao of the Thirteenth God - Amazon Kindle.