Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What Makes a Woman? or Birth of a TERF

Testosterone-driven human systems – otherwise known as male bodies – are larger and heavier-boned than those running on estrogen. An average male will quickly defeat an average female in hand-to-hand combat. The same testosterone which gives male-bodied people this advantage also makes them more aggressive: not only are they more likely to win the fight, they are more likely to initiate it. 

Because of this discrepancy the shadow of violence looms constantly over male-female interactions. "Every man is a potential rapist" is more than just an inflammatory feminist slogan: it is female reality. A woman has no way of knowing if or when that uncomfortable date may become something much worse, that third drink may lead to a gang rape, the man she considers a friend will violate her trust and her body. Should she be attacked, there is no guarantee her attackers will face justice or even that her report will be believed.

Life in a war zone is exhausting. Many women have sought comfort and healing by withdrawing from the patriarchy. Amongst their fellow women they have created communities ranging from women's music festivals to domestic violence shelters and lesbian communes. These disparate groups and gatherings had in common their shared femininity, and are now faced with a common question -- what makes a woman?

* * * * * 

In 2011 lesbian pornographer Lily Cade canceled a shoot with Drew DeVereaux after discovering Drew was a post-operative MtF transsexual.  This led to lengthy discussions throughout the blogosphere and Twitterverse, all of which culminated in a workshop entitled "Overcoming the Cotton Ceiling: Breaking Down Sexual Barriers for Queer Trans Women." As the organizers explained:
The term cotton ceiling is a reference to the “glass ceiling” that second wave feminist identified in the workforce, wherein women could only advance so high in the workforce but could not break through into positions of power and authority. The cotton represents underwear, signifying sex. 
The theory of the cotton ceiling is useful in identifying the dynamic trans women are experiencing, and is meant to open up conversation around desirability’s intersections with transmisogyny and transphobia.
Like the fear of violence, desirability casts a long shadow on the female experience. Women are judged largely, often exclusively, on how well they conform to social standards of beauty. Black feminists have talked about how kinky hair, dark skin and non-European facial features impact their lives; fat feminists have called into relief our culture's unrealistic worship of "Barbie Doll" bodies.  Alas, any nuanced discussion was soon drowned out by shouting on all sides.

Rebuffing trans lesbians = Hitler
Cade would later find herself under fire again when she refused to hire nonoperative male-to-female transsexual Chelsea Poe.  Ultimately Poe and several other trans activists called for a boycott against Cade's "anti-trans" hiring practices and against the Feminist Video Awards until such time as they quit discriminating against the female penis.

 Cade remained remarkably even-tempered throughout these exchanges: many of the lesbians watching were less patient.  For them the whole brouhaha was yet another case of males wanting access to female bodies. Like sensitive New Age guys inviting nubile young ladies to cast off their inhibitions, these trans activists were framing sex as a revolutionary act -- and where the women uninterested in SNAG penis were just frigid and uptight, lesbians who withheld sex from transwomen were reactionary bigoted transphobes.

She broke my heart
so I busted her transphobe jaw
Trans activists generally dismissed these objections out of hand: their opponents' "cisgender privilege" neutralized any merit their complaints they might have.  Besides that, as "TERFs" (Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists, a term coined by radical feminist and noted transgender critic Cathy Brennan) they were a hate group aimed at destroying a marginalized class.  As such, they were worthy only of contempt: paying attention to their claims, even to rebut them, would grant them a legitimacy they didn't deserve.

* * * * *

I can't wait until Annamaria is six
and we can buy her a bondage collar
In 2009 Stefonknee (formerly Paul) Wolscht was found guilty of 14 counts of criminal harassment, assault, criminal mischief and uttering threats against her former wife and seven children: she was served with a two-year restraining order forbidding her from any contact with them.  After this Stefonknee moved to Toronto where she stayed at a shelter alongside women escaping domestic violence and abuse.  Stefonknee is non-operative: she is also 6'2" and weighs some 270 pounds.  

While there Stefonknee discovered Fetlife, and met the couple of her dreams.  She told two Canadian journalists about her first encounter with the "Daddy" who accepted her not only as a woman but as a six year-old girl.
He ... took my virginity, and it didn't hurt, it felt beautiful.  I felt like a woman.  And like I'm surprised I didn't think I was going to be pregnant from it, I was so much a girl.  I actually have an erection right now from it *giggles* so I’m just going to pull my dress down a little bit
We are left to wonder how Stefonknee's shelter mates felt about her voyage of self-discovery or how many times she had to hide her erections in front of them.  (At least they were more fortunate than those women forced to share living space with Christopher Hambrook, a sexual predator who gained access to a woman's shelter by posing as a transgender woman named "Jessica").  And though she has been the subject of several heartwarming profiles in courage -- and even more stories treating her as the freakshow du jour -- we have also heard very little about any damage done to Stefonknee Wolscht's family.  If they are mentioned at all, it is only as intolerant villains who cruelly refuse to recognize their erstwhile husband and father as a sexually active prepubescent girl.
* * * * *

This posting's subtitle was typed with tongue firmly in cheek.   I have no doubt that my trepidations will mark me a traitor to the cause, and at this point "TERF" is primarily a snarl word like "fascist," "feminazi" and "libtard".   That aside,  I differ with the self-described TERFs on several important points.  One problem is that radical feminism neither needs nor wants input from male-bodied people.  More importantly, I do not believe transwomen are just men in skirts.  I have many trans friends and acquaintances and lived as a transperson for several years.  (I no longer "present female," whatever that means, because I find that living as a full-time parent does more to assuage my gender discomfort.  I hasten to add this is my personal journey and what works for me may not work for you).  I believe that there is more to gender dysphoria than entitlement or delusion.

But I also believe the life experience of a child assigned male at birth is categorically and qualitatively different than that of a child assigned female. This is true whether that child follows those pre-set paths enthusiastically or with enormous discomfort.  Because of this I believe there are reasons why people assigned female at birth might need space away from those assigned male -- even those who believe that assignment was erroneous and who are currently living as female.  And in any event, I believe that women-born-women have the right to create women-born-women spaces.

A few years ago I was one of the louder voices protesting a proposed Z Budapest ritual for "women born women" at Pantheon.   I believed then, and believe now, that such an exclusionary ritual was inappropriate for a public convention.  But I also believed, and still believe, that Budapest had the right to hold such a ritual in a private suite; to accept or reject members for her Susan B. Anthony Coven by any standard she sees fit; to allow or disallow transwomen at her private ceremonies.  The second wave feminists have made their position clear: further efforts to press your way into their spaces only prove you incapable of understanding that No means No.

What is the difference between a drag queen and a transsexual?  RuPaul caught enormous heat when he answered "About twenty-five thousand dollars and a good surgeon." But I'm not hearing any better answers from the legions of offended trans activists.  Many of those same trans activists are claiming Stefonknee Wolscht is an outlier, despite the fact that she is an active and very public member of the Toronto trans community.  And if her interviews are any indication she's also a textbook example of what Ray Blanchard and later J. Michael Bailey called "autogynephilia" -- a man's paraphilic tendency to be sexually aroused by the thought or image of himself as a woman.  (In Wolscht's case this appears to be comorbid with autopedophilia).

The online translesbian community is comprised largely of white transwomen working in academia or the tech industry.  Much as the New Age movement and American Neopaganism re-envisioned religion as a self-help movement, this brand of Social Justice Warfare aims not so much at changing the world as at assuaging white liberal guilt.  Their gender identity disorder allows them to co-opt the sufferings of black and Latina trans sex workers living and dying in neighborhoods they will never visit: they need never worry about the sin of privilege because, as they will happily tell you and tell you and tell you, transwomen are the MOST OPPRESSED PEOPLE EVER.

(It's interesting to note how many trans activists are also active in the BDSM community, and how closely many of their complaints map onto "sissification" and humiliation fantasies. But that is, I am certain, merely a coincidence... ).

This oppression isn't just great fap fodder -- it's also a convenient Get out of Jail Free card.  That transwoman threatened to kick a TERF's teeth in? You have to understand how angry she is and how horribly they treated her.  (They presumably dragged her to their blogs and forced her eyelids open ala Clockwork Orange). Besides, the TERFs are always making up rape threats -- and if you note that Gamergate says the Exact Same Thing every time a woman files a police report, that's just further proof you're a transphobic TERF bigot and I hope you get cancer and die in a fire in for claiming we're violent....

And so once again we come to the same question we faced in the first paragraph: what makes a woman?  I still don't have an answer.  But that doesn't make the question any less pressing: neither does it make the "gender is all in your head" claim any more convincing. I'm happy to support equal employment opportunities for trans people; to use preferred pronouns; to fight for stronger laws against hate crimes and gender-based violence.  I'm not at all interested in guilt-tripping lesbians to widen the translesbian dating pool. Neither do I think it acceptable to offload the risks of our social experiment onto our most abused and disempowered. And if that makes me a bigot so be it: I can only express my sympathies if the facts turn out to have a transphobic bias.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

To Reign In Hell: Introduction -- Hell is Murky

In a 1991 Rolling Stone article entitled "Sympathy for the Devil: It's not easy being evil in a world that's gone to hell," Lawrence Wright found several of Anton LaVey's autobiographical claims to be wholly or partially untrue. Since that time Wright's findings have been reproduced by many people wishing to "debunk" LaVey: estranged daughter Zeena's "Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality" is probably the most famous example. This has resulted in a widespread belief that Anton LaVey was an inveterate bullshit artist whose every word was a lie including "a," "and" and "the." A man who died in poverty yet refused to monetize Black Masses is scorned as a con artist who was only in it for the money. And Satanism, a philosophy that shows remarkable integrity and coherence throughout LaVey's career, is dismissed summarily as fraud from a fraudster.

As with William S. Burroughs and Andy Warhol, Anton LaVey's persona is one of the most important parts of his oeuvre. Any study of LaVey and his philosophy must touch upon the facts of his life and any serious biographer must ascertain where truth ends and fiction begins – and when that question matters.

* * * * *
Several weeks ago Adam Lanza slaughtered twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Every bedtime since Annamaria has insisted we read Sesame Street's Imagination Song. Every bedtime since I have choked up as Ernie sails off into the sunset.

"And the nicest place is the middle of imagination," I sing, my voice cracking as my daughter nestles heavy-eyed against me, "when I'm there."

Many of my fellow Americans think I have been duped. They have decided those murdered children and grieving families are all part of a plot to take away our guns. James Tracy, a media studies professor at Florida Atlantic University, is claiming that the emergency personnel on the scene were really "crisis actors" hired by the Obama administration and states "one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described." On Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's website, The Daily Paul, staffer vinceableworld writes in a since-deleted post:
So far I've seen dozens of conflicting stories. I've seen some very convincing theories of actors playing roles. I've seen some fairly conclusive evidence of look-alikes... I've watched a police trooper threaten to PROSECUTE people putting out "disinformation." 
I have not seen ONE SHRED of evidence that any kids are dead or that the Sandy Hook massacre even happened. All we have is hearsay - in a court of law that doesn't mean a darn thing. 
So tell me what evidence have you seen that these kids died and haven't been shipped off to... god knows where?
They are just crazies, I tell myself as I wipe my eyes and Annamaria smiles softly and nuzzles her pillow. And of course they are: nobody sane could possibly believe this was a false flag operation. Yet as the debate over gun regulation has continued it has becomes increasingly clear the Powers That Be are taking seriously the loons we've come to call without a scrap of irony "Sandy Hook Truthers." The NRA and its paid politicians have circled the wagons, more concerned they might lose their gun market than that more children might lose their lives. It is convenient for them to act as if those grieving parents are just using it to promote their liberal New England agenda, as if those dead children washed off the blood and went home, as if the whole thing never happened and we can safely ignore anyone who says otherwise.   

I no longer weep for what we have lost.  Now I weep for what we have become.

* * * * *

When I started this book I used noted American genealogist William Adams Reitweisner's LaVey family tree to trace Anton LaVey's paternal line back to Nebraska and a liquor salesman named Leon Levy. Levy rose to some prominence in Omaha only to run afoul of gangster "Irish Tom" Dennison. As part of Dennison's efforts to gain control of Omaha's saloons and drinking establishments Leon Levi was arrested numerous times on trumped-up licensing charges. Later his wife divorced him, yelling in court "I would rather go to the pen for twenty years than stay with my husband for one day!" and charging him with cruelty and "overindulgence on his part of the cup that cheers."

It was a magnificent beginning. It had family drama and a powerful crime boss who used the law as a club to get what he wanted. LaVey claimed his father had been a liquor salesman: it would make perfect sense for Michael Levy  to continue in Leon's trade. I patted myself on the back, secure I had just figured out a great deal of what made Anton LaVey tick and certain that it would only get easier going forward.

Then I discovered that the "Michael Levy" in question was 15 years' older than Anton LaVey's father.  And that he died in 1931 rather than 1992.

And that I had just wasted several weeks following one of America's leading genealogists down a rabbit hole. 
* * * * *
"I’d rather have my background shrouded in mystery," Anton LaVey told Lawrence Wright. As was often the case, he got what he wanted. I have presented the available primary evidence and attempted to place it in the context of its time and place. When lucky, I have been able to find a newspaper clipping, a census record, a city directory listing or some other scraps of data which confirm or refute LaVey's claims. More often I have been forced to rely on conjecture and speculation, or to admit that it is anybody's guess as to what happened. There is very little certainty to be had when looking at Anton LaVey's life story, only a Rorschach blot to be interpreted as the viewer will. And as with a Rorschach blot those interpretations often tell us more about the biographer than the subject.

In The Satanic Bible LaVey promised "Here you will find bedrock."  There's very little bedrock here, just some guideposts pointing out interesting anomalies in the swamp. Those determined to think Anton LaVey a fraud will not be dissuaded by evidence of his integrity; those convinced he is a liar will not be persuaded by examples of his honesty; those who imagine him a devil-worshipping reptilian Illuminatus will not be silenced by inconvenient facts. Satan has always been misunderstood and those who will take up his cause can expect no better.

But enough from me. Who cares about the porter when you're standing at the Gates of Hell?  Hopefully my words have whetted your desire: enjoy the performance!

Kenaz Filan
Newark, New Jersey, 2015

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Case for Kishinev: More on Anton LaVey's Grandmother (Now With Excerpts!!!)

When I began research on To Reign in Hell, I was trying to figure out the reality behind Luba Coulton's stories to her grandson. It has been an uphill battle.  The Coultons were working-class folk who received little media coverage. The European records were subject to several wars and a well-funded, meticulously organized effort to wipe them from memory.  But by comparing those stories to history and to the scant available evidence I have been able to trace a tentative roadmap of Grandma Luba's early career.

Every available document -- census forms, marriage licenses, birth certificates, etc. -- lists Luba Coulton's birthplace as "Russia." Luba was also Jewish: among other evidence, her August 1955 funeral was held at San Francisco's Sinai Memorial Chapel. Hence she was almost certainly born in the western part of the Russian Empire, as Jewish residence in the Russian Empire was ruled by the Pale of Settlement. With very few exceptions, Mother Russia was "beyond the pale" for Jews so this would place Luba's birthplace in the area of modern-day Poland and Ukraine.

On the 1940 census Luba Coulton tells the census taker she had four years of education. This may not sound impressive but few Jewish girls in 1880's Russia were so lucky. Religious schooling was the only education available for most Russian Jews and that only for boys.  There was one notable exception, the region between the Pnut and Dneister Rivers known as the Bessarabia Oblast.

The Russians won Bessarabia in two of their many conflicts with the Ottomans -- the 1806-1812 and 1828-29 wars, to be more precise. But gaining territory is one thing: ruling it is quite another. Bessarabia was mostly wild, the populace largely Romanian-speaking peasants who were no more sympathetic to the Russians than to the Turks or Austrians. To cement its hold the Empire passed laws encouraging emigration. Farming, inn-keeping and other jobs forbidden to Jews elsewhere within the Pale were allowed in Bessarabia: secular schooling was available to Jews in Bessarabia's main city, Kishinev.  Many found these opportunities irresistible. In 1847 Kishinev was home to 10,000 Jews: by 1897 50,237 Jews made up 46% of Kishinev's population. 

Russian primary schools of the time were open to students 8-11 -- a four-year curriculum. Only a small fraction of the Russian Empire's children received even that much schooling. Luba could read and write in several unrelated languages which each used different alphabets. In 1894 only 21% of the Empire's subjects could read and write at all. Those four years of schooling suggest that education was deeply important to Luba's parents. And they also suggest that her family was of relatively modest means since they could not afford further private education for their daughter.

In Secret Life of a Satanist  LaVey recounts Grandma Luba's accounts "of bloody battles fought against Turkish and Russian invaders [and] between Hungary and Romania over the rights to rule." The Ottomans and Russians fought yet again in 1877-1878, when Luba was nine. Kishinev was a major staging area and Luba would have seen Russian battalions and artillery parading through the streets. But though there was a large Romanian population in Kishinev there were few ethnic Hungarians, certainly not enough to fight for the right to rule.

Still, there is linguistic and other evidence linking Grandma Luba to Hungary. LaVey talks about his great-uncle Laszlo and claims he took "Szandor" to honor a relative: both names are more Budapest than Bucharest.  And in the Chicago Sentinel we find entries linking Gertrude Levey's older sisters to activities at Agudas Achim, a synagogue for Chicago's Hungarian Jewish community.  It is difficult to explain these anomalies.  But one of the more plausible answers lies in a location near the Empire's border which had a sizable population of Hungarian-speaking Jews -- a wooded land the Hungarians called Erdély and the Romanians Ardeal or Transilvania.

At the end of the 17th century the Austrian Empire won Transylvania. There as in Bessarabia the ruling Austrians faced a restive Romanian population: there they also encouraged Jewish emigration as a buffer against unrest.  In 1785-86 there were not quite 9,000 Jews in the Transylvania region (the Principality of Transylvania plus the neighboring counties of Partium and Banat): by 1867 there were over 100,000.  These Jews spoke Hungarian -- one of the official languages of what became after 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Empire -- and typically identified as Hungarians of the Mosaic faith.

This made them especially unpopular with the Romanian peasants. Anti-Semitism was already deeply ingrained in Romanian culture: in 1716 Demetrius Kantemir wrote the Moldavians (Romanians) "considered it hardly a mortal crime to kill a Turk, a Tatar, or a Jew."  Throughout Europe ethnic communities were coming together to demand recognition as the age of empires gave way to the age of nations.  In October 1784 an uprising began amongst Romanian serfs in Transylvania: it ended in February 1785 with Hungarian authorities publicly torturing the rebels to death. To Transylvania's Romanians the Jewish newcomers were agents of their oppressors, devils who broke Horea and Cloșca on the wheel like they had broken Jesus on the cross.  

But while tensions were high in 19th-century Transylvania, Luba Coulton's parents might have left for other reasons. Transylvania was a remote part of the Austrian Empire with little in the way of industry and little opportunity for advancement. Kishinev, by contrast, was a booming town strategically located along the route to Odessa and the Black Sea. This excerpt from Pinkas Hakehillot Romania (Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Romania) might explain how Hungarian-speaking Jews wound in the Russian Empire:
In the 1850s and the 1860s the [Russian] authorities encouraged trade with Romania, Austria and Russia. The Jews who came from those countries were permitted to reside in Kishinev and other places and to deal and trade and be craftsmen. The permit was good for one year and could be renewed. Many Jews who were foreign citizens were able to deal in trade and to establish industrial plants and craft workshops. 
The case for Kishinev is largely circumstantial, but it is the best explanation I can find for the data at hand. Anybody with evidence that would contradict or confirm this narrative is urged to contact me:  I also welcome alternative explanations which better address the available information.  In the meantime, I leave you with an excerpt from the actual manuscript itself -- a few paragraphs from Chapter 4: The Dogs of War (1938-41).

On Thursday, May 27, 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge opened: some 200,000 pedestrians made their way over the 6,450-foot bridge spanning San Francisco and Marin Counties across San Francisco Bay. Though he did not cross riding a unicycle, tap-dancing or walking backward as some did, Howard Levey was among those making the crossing. He and his parents would soon cross again. Ninety years earlier fortune-hunters came to San Francisco to strike it rich: in 1938 the Leveys left San Francisco for a comfortable life and home with a back yard.

If Mike and Gertrude Levey hoped things would get better so too did Mill Valley. The Great Fire of July 2-5, 1929 burned 2,500 acres and 117 homes: a few months later came the Great Depression. The town's businessmen hoped the bridge would bring new families to their community. Perhaps they were discussing prospective townsfolk over breakfast at Espoti's the morning the Leveys moved in.  Mill Valley needed people more polished than the WPA workers slurping coffee at the counter, they might say, but more sensible than those artists and Bohemians taking over summer cottages San Francisco's ex-wealthy could no longer afford. Had they known of the Leveys as the sun drove the last of the diaphanous redwood-scented fog from Mt. Tamalpais they would have certainly declared the family just the right sort.  

As America was gearing up for the horrors of war, Howard was perusing horror novels like Bram Stoker's Dracula. He combined the Gothic imagery therein – and later the peasants and pitchforks of Universal films – with Grandma Luba's tales. The Transylvania she knew only from her parents' accounts was re-envisioned as a dark wellspring of magic, a place where he could set himself apart from the suburban blandness that surrounded him.  Like many first-generation Americans of the day, Gertrude and Michael Levey were products of the melting pot. They showed little interest in their heritage or in what was transpiring in the Old World: neither were they affiliated with any of the local synagogues or Jewish organizations. While Howard knew little about Judaism and felt little affinity for his Jewish heritage, Count Dracula was a far more accessible and welcoming presence. And because Luba came from Vlad Tepes's kingdom her grandson could claim a link to the vampire prince and his power. 

Friday, May 1, 2015


It's been at least a decade since I could write off my failings as youthful indiscretions, and at least a decade before I can start blaming them on second childhood.  But though I have still not learned how to act my age, neither can I ignore it.  Statistics say I have more days behind me than before me. Whether the curtain has just opened or is about to close, I am in the third act of my life's 3-Act Play (Spoiler Alert: I die at the end).

A recent physical garnered me a clean bill of health. I am in excellent shape for 50. I only notice the bad shoulder when I move a certain way, feel the bum knee when I'm walking up a steep incline, lose my breath on the fourth flight of stairs. My capacity for love has only grown: my libido is another story.  I'm not (yet) a doddering old man but neither am I a virile young stallion in peak physical condition. And over the coming years those little problems will likely become bigger ones.

I know now that many of my childhood hopes will go unrealized. I will never become a great musician; never gain fluency in any language save English; never become a physician, lawyer or college professor.  Those dreams died before the dreamer and won't be resurrected. While I'll surely learn new things as the years progress my days of Bowie-esque self-reinvention are over.  The toolkit I have acquired to date is what I carry through the years ahead.

But amidst my losses I remain keenly aware of all I have. There may be other lovers and the light between us may die but the partnership Kathy and I have created will never be duplicated.  For fifteen years and counting we have transmuted each others' failings into strengths. We have stayed together through good times and bad, at our best and at our worst:  always we have acted from a place of love. No one else will shape my soul the way she has and no one else will be mother to our child.

November 28, 2011 marked our last great Transmutation, as we shed all my other masks and became parents to Annamaria Sigyn Estelle Filan.  Since that time I've struggled mightily with who I was and what I was to become. Caring for Annamaria has goaded me past all my limits. The years since her birth have been in many ways an Ordeal:  my writing interests have been put on indefinite hold and I remain unsure where, if anywhere, they will go from here  Yet though "Daddy" may sometimes drive me to my knees, it is far and away the best role I have ever played.

Through my life with Kathy and Annamaria I've come to understand something of what Pietas entails. I have a responsibility to protect my child as I am able from this world's dangers and to teach her what I can about its wonders.  This is not just a legal fiction but a fierce all-consuming call  that resonates not only through my being but through all of Being.  I act in the sacred Love fueled by Fear, the love of the wolf for cubs and the herd for calves, the drive to protect and propagate the species. It is a power which reaches from the base of the animal kingdom up to the Gods who celebrate, rescue and mourn Their children.

That love is its own prayer and its own immortality. The past can be rewritten to glorify the villains and demonize the victors: it can be forgotten altogether; it may crumble into dust and fade into heat death and meaninglessness. But it still stands before Eternity no matter how odious our stupidity or how pretty our lies.   There is and was and ever shall be this moment when I am lying here beside my daughter, always the soft rhythmic thumping of her feet against my side as she soothes herself, always the warm soft darkness whispering to us and to all that we love and we are loved and we must sleep.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Impietas V: Omnis

[Artaxerxes] therefore gave orders that Mithridates should be put to death by the torture of the boats (σκάφη, skáphe).   Now, this torture of the boats is as follows. Two boats are taken, which are so made as to fit over one another closely; in one of these the victim is laid, flat upon his back; then the other is laid over the first and carefully adjusted, so that the victim's head, hands, and feet are left projecting, while the rest of his body is completely covered up. Then they give him food to eat, and if he refuse it, they force him to take it by pricking his eyes. After he has eaten, they give him a mixture of milk and honey to drink, pouring it into his mouth, and also deluge his face with it.  Then they keep his eyes always turned towards the sun, and a swarm of flies settles down upon his face and hides it completely. And since inside the boats he does what must needs be done when men eat and drink, worms and maggots seethe up from the corruption and rottenness of the excrement, devouring his body, and eating their way into his vitals. For when at last the man is clearly dead and the upper boat has been removed, his flesh is seen to have been consumed away, while about his entrails swarms of such animals as I have mentioned are clinging fast and eating. In this way Mithridates was slowly consumed for seventeen days, and at last died.
Even today scaphism is considered the apex of human cruelty. The idea of binding a man in his own wastes while vermin devour him alive fills us with horror.  But if this is a grievous crime against humanity, how much greater is the wrong we have done the Gods?

Like Artaxerxes we have bound the Divine fast. All the multitudinous Deities, all the Powers of Fire and Ice, all the spirits of sparkling stream and rushing river, of storm and sunshine, mountain and plain -- we have shoved them into a single boat and labeled it "One God."  We have buried Their holy places under cathedrals and churches: we have declared Them mere masks, empty images to decorate the Truth we torture.

We have gorged our captive with sweet praise. We declared him Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibenevolent. Where have claimed our captive God mighty beyond all comprehension, beyond all measures, beyond all limits.  And yet even as we declared his might we tightened the bonds, leaving Him and His Church an ever shrinking arena while claiming more and more for a god-free society.  And given this treatment it is not surprising our captive has rotted.

An all-benevolent God could not stand by and allow suffering; an all-powerful God could accomplish any goal without causing suffering; an all-knowing God would be aware that this is an imperfect and unjust Universe.  A Creator possessede of all these powers who threw us into this world would be a bloodthirsty sadist, the Demiurge of the Gnostics with a particularly nasty imagination. He certainly would be nobody worthy of worship -- and it is such a short and easy step between One God and none at all.  And so it is that today we find people seeking to understand Deity through these lies, then turning away in disgust when they find only a fly-blown corpse.

If we are to move beyond this we must understand that our Gods are as bound to this World and this Wyrd as we are. Like us They must fight tooth and nail to carve out a place for Themselves and Their loved ones. Like us They err, like us They struggle, like us They create meaning where no meaning existed before.  Let us call Them powerful beyond our understanding and declare Them worthy of honor and respect (what the Anglo-Saxons called weorðscipe).  Let us give Them the veneration They deserve and honor that which They achieved through heroic effort.  But let us understand that we can only know Them by acknowledging both Their strengths and Their flaws; let us know that we do Them no kindness by poisoning Them with absurdity.