This essay is a part of the Animist Blog Carnival of October 2013. To read other animist perspectives on death, please visit the Earth Animist Blog.
A short story about a psychopath, from Wikipedia:
Èṣù is a spirit of Chaos and Trickery, the deity with the power over fortune and misfortune, and the personification of death…and plays frequently by leading mortals to temptation and possible tribulation in the hopes that the experience will lead ultimately to their maturation.
In this way he is certainly a difficult teacher, but in the end is usually found to be a good one. As an example of this, let us look at one of his “patakis” or stories of the faith. Èṣù was walking down a road one day, wearing a hat that was red on one side and black on the other. Sometime after he entered a village which the road went through, the villagers who had seen him began arguing about whether the stranger’s hat was black or red.
The villagers on one side of the road had only been capable of seeing the black side, and the villagers on the other side had only been capable of seeing the red one. They soon came to blows over the disagreement – […] the two halves of the village were not stopped short of extreme violence; they actually annihilated each other, and Èṣù laughed at the result, saying “Bringing strife is my greatest joy”.
Èṣù is involved within the Orisha-Ifá system of Yorùbá religion as well as in African diasporic faiths like Santería/Lukumi and Candomblé, developed by the descendants of enslaved West Africans in the Americas.
What do you think?
As you read this blog post, remember, I definitely don’t intend that you consider psychopathic behavior harmless, or something we can blithely tolerate, or anything of the sort.
Psychopaths test us, they test our individuality and the strength of our village, and unfortunately in the modern era, they find the strengths of our souls and villages severely lacking. We ourselves give them the language to abuse us, the anonymous landscape in which to hide, the needy codependence that prevents us from holding strong boundaries like adults.
I mentioned before that wisdom in this arena would lie somewhere in the natural world, and said I couldn’t find it. Well, I actually did have a trail to follow, a glimmer of a suspicion. Inside me a story has begun to spun out, another way to rewild our relationship with an oft-times terrifying, and always beautiful world.
I strongly believe in a loving, life-affirming universe. And yet, that doesn’t mean the suffocating love, security and comfort promised by civilized lips. That means the brutal, testing, beautiful life-affirming forces of a fully alive world. Burning cold and heat, carnivores hungry for the children of all species.
The storms of life don’t judge your degree of naughty or nice before they blow your house down – Hurricane Sandy killed and injured, and rendered homeless, anyone in her way. The storms of life prune trees, churn landscapes, roll the dice to create more fertility and possibility growing out of a completely rearranged ecosystem.
Do we consider this psychopathic behavior? I deeply believe in the loving force of a storm, and yet the storm will take your children if you don’t pay attention. Doesn’t a psychopath do the same thing?
Within the body of these people-without-a-conscience, their cells and organs take care of each other, celebrate and feast each other, and yet at the human-to-human level this consideration and conscience disappears. Perhaps it appears again at the village-to-village level, where the psychopath acted as an original trickster force pruning and testing human communities to continually grow themselves into more aware, wise people, readying them for the greater storms of the world, for the larger tricksters that range and predate across ecosystems?
The Christmas-time whip-wielding Krampus in Austria, the Sacred Clowns of Pueblo indians, Coyote in the Northwest US native culture, the dice-playing Lords of Death of the Tzutujil, don’t these all display “psychopathic” behavior, a lack of conscience, a willingless to lie and manipulate to get their way, no matter what the context?
The Cooper’s Hawk plucking one chirping Robin chick after another out of the nest, only leaving the one that finally learns to stop loudly begging for food (read Jon Young’s What the Robin Knows for more on these dramas of the bird world), while the rest of the terrified bird community weeps silently in terror.
In interacting with those playing with rewilding, or reconnecting with indigenous ways of thinking, I’ve often run into the “I’m a coyote, love me or hate me baby” gambit – where an individual defends a cruel streak by painting themselves in the holy colors of the Coyote. Depending on the native tradition that they want to use as a “call to authority” to excuse their behavior (native peoples have many diverse stories about coyotes, some more noble, some less so), this also then means we can consider them a ridiculous shit-eating son of a bitch. Literally, according to the stories of the NW trickster Coyote. Which they themselves might feel okay with – but it reminds us that though Holy, we don’t want to embody the manipulative cruelty and helplessly self-defeating ways of the trickster Coyote. We want to learn from him, walk through the world as clear-eyed adults ready for the appearance of this teacher. Ready for Èṣù.
What do you do before a storm comes? You prepare.
What do you do while a storm rages? You endure, using all the wisdom you can muster.
What do you do after a storm passes? You pick up the pieces – grieve what you’ve lost and praise what you still have. And perhaps most importantly, you reflect deeply on the lessons you’ve learned to prepare you for the next storm.
These answers all work just as well for human psychopaths, for Storms-in-human-shape, as it does for these natural forces.
These answers all work just as well for humans wearing the skin of a psychopath, such as the psychopath-skin uniforms of soldiers and police officers, or bureaucrats.
Anytime someone says, “It’s nothing personal”, you know you’ve met someone wearing the skin of a psychopath. A storm doesn’t mean it personally either. If we think of the civilized world as an array of toxic natural forces, of storms borne from human psychopathic culture, that we must prepare for, endure, grieve, and learn from, celebrating the continuance of a people sufficiently magnificent and wise to justify their survival.
What do we do when our culture itself seems propped up by sheeple in psychopath-skins, wherever we look? In this culture that has digested the values of a psychopath – the lust to win, the lust for power, for control,the hunger to know “how to win friends and influence people”, what can we possibly do?
If we pick up the lance to defend our families, does that cause us to don the skin of a psychopath?
I suspect that the problem lies with the urge to “win”, an abstraction and part of the matrix of psychopathic values that civilization perpetuates. Humans don’t want to win – like all living things, they want to live, love, and fight well. In a worthy way that justifies the food they must kill to maintain their own life, to justify their own body.
Perhaps we can defend our families safely, sanely, if we just say “Today is a good day to die”, and fight whether or not we can possibly win.
Perhaps we best defend our people regardless of whether any of us will survive – to show our love and the greatness of our hearts by sacrificing our bodies, “winning” whether we win or lose.
I continue to carry these questions. I don’t believe in one answer; how will you live in a world where a roll of the dice means the death of your children? Where lone predators parasitize your friends, and where Presidents justify the murder of distant villages while they cry crocodile tears over the tragedies in our backyard?
Whatever else, I know we must all endeavor to improve ourselves as clear-eyed adults, make ourselves stronger and wiser, and our families and communities too. Most of the living community adores a natural human being just as they adore each other; they adore our tears, our songs, our gifts. They feel affection when, to eat, we kill them with respect and compassion; they bring us our stories and dreams, they raise our children when lost in the woods.
But the Lords of Death don’t care about our tears; they only care about turning our bodies into mud, the substrate of all life. A dirty job; but someone has to do it.