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Reply To: wounded king and Trumpism


I have to agree it is so difficult to not look at current events from a mythological perspective, which does so much to deepen and enhance understanding. Unfortunately, considering all the shadow projections that can call up, it is playing with fire to go there.

The dynamic you describe re ritual regicide is one that was followed by god-kings as conscious self-awareness evolved over time and a sense of ego (me, myself, I)  became more sharply defined. By today’s standards, I can’t really fault someone for deciding to step back from doing one’s duty by voluntarily submitting to death, and instead substituting a stand-in (though the earliest replacement sacrifices were other humans; the Apis bull in Egypt and similar bovines elsewhere are much more acceptable to 21st century ethics).

However, though in the case of King Minos there is a substitution involved, it’s not to save his own skin, but something a bit more sinister (and, re current affairs, perhaps more on point – definitely a profit motive involved):

“The bull in question had been sent by the god Poseidon, long ago, when Minos was contending with his brothers for the throne. Minos had asserted that the throne was his, by divine right, and had prayed the god to send up a bull out of the sea, as a sign; and he had sealed the prayer with a vow to sacrifice the animal immediately, as an offering and symbol of service. The bull had appeared, and Minos took the throne; but when he beheld the majesty of the beast that had been sent and thought what an advantage it would be to possess such a specimen, he determined to risk a merchant’s substitution — of which he supposed the god would take no great account. Offering on Poseidon’s altar the finest white bull that he owned, he added the other to his herd.”

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (3rd edition © 2008)

Campbell zeroes in on the exact nature of the transgression:

“He had converted a public event to personal gain, whereas the whole sense of his investiture as king had been that he was no longer a mere private person. The return of the bull should have symbolized his absolutely selfless submission to the functions of his role. The retaining of it represented, on the other hand, an impulse to egocentric self-aggrandizement. And so the king ‘by the grace of God’ became the dangerous tyrant Holdfast — out for himself.”

I’ll leave it to anyone so inclined to connect the dots ( a case can be made this is nothing unusual for many rulers in today’s world, though some are more egregious than others).

Your reading of the myth of the Wounded King expands the story so it works for you, which is not necessarily a bad thing. From my perspective, though, that still seems one heck of a stretch that requires projecting assumptions grounded in contemporary culture back into another time and era to find correspondences where none explicitly exist. Kings, for example, didn’t have followers (especially in those pre-Magna Carta days); they had subjects. Choice isn’t really part of it – if you are born into that land, you are stuck with its king, for good or ill.

Amfortas’ subjects aren’t depicted as seeing him suffering in their name; yes, he suffers, but as a result of his own arrogance and action – and, as a result of his failure, all his subjects suffer too (as opposed to Christ, who is blameless and lifts the suffering of his followers by taking their suffering on himself).

A case could no doubt be made today that the nation is in dire straits because of poor decisions by an ego-centric leader, but I seriously doubt “the base” knows (as it seems does everyone in the bewitched castle in the Amfortas tale) that their leader brought that suffering on himself. The wounded Grail King never once tells his subjects how he suffers mistreatment at the hands of everyone against him; he suffers in silence (way at odds with current events!), and waits patiently for another to relieve him of his pain – and the person who does arrive and heals king and kingdom is received as the new Grail King (rather than Amfortas protesting that the throne remains rightfully his).

But then, that’s my perspective, which is bound to differ from yours; myths aren’t like sacred scripture, where there is only one inerrant interpretation requiring a Hundred Years War over whether communion mass is transubstantiation or consubstantiation (either way, one still drinks the wine and swallows the wafer). If your interpretation helps you make sense of the strange, surreal circumstances playing out today, particularly the behavior of the multitude, who am I to argue?

In contrast with the Grail myth, I do find some correlations between King Minos and contemporary actions of some political leaders – but the mythic archetype I find most useful in processing what’s in play today is that of the Trickster – specifically, Coyote. Though we sometimes think of him as relatively benign (perhaps shaped by the kind-of-cute, persistent, ultimately incompetent Wile E. Coyote who launches elaborate schemes yet never succeeds in catching, killing and eating the Roadrunner – reminding me of Barney Fife if he were an animated feral carnivore), many of the myths throughout the southwestern United States  where Coyote plays a central role portray him as anything but a sympathetic figure.

Only on rare occasions does Coyote come off well (e.g., stealing fire – or the Sun – for humankind, and even then he exhibits problematic behavior). For example, of 66 traditional Coyote tales collected from Jicarilla Apache storytellers by anthropologist Morris Edward Opler, only two portray him in a halfway favorable light. The rest depict him as self-absorbed, regularly guilty of deception, adulterous, lascivious perversities, grabbing women by the p****y, luring culture heroes to their death, stealing babies, cheating innocents and strangers, hoarding, self-gratification galore, and more. He regularly persuades individuals and whole communities to trust him, pretending to look out for others to get what he wants and then screwing everyone in the process (no principles – wholly transactional, come to think of it). He is especially gifted at fomenting conflict and confusion.

And yet, what he does to disrupt the cultural status quo ultimately works out (though only rarely for Coyote, and not always for those who cooperate or are conned by him).

That last bit is what I take refuge in … lots of chaos and conflict in society right now, a lot of excrement being stirred up and brought to the surface. It very much feels like trickster energies have been in play, especially the past four years as traditions are ignored, institutions damaged, and norms overturned – and yet, despite all that, feels like we are in the birth of something new.