Column: Animism and the Eternal Recurrence of Myth

The fourth century C.E. Neoplatonist Sallustius, a friend of the Roman Emperor Julian (who revoked Christianity’s status as state religion and attempted to revive polytheist worship), wrote in On the Gods and the Cosmos that the myths told in religious initiations “never happened, but always are,” and that “as the myth is in accord with the cosmos, we for that reason keep a festival imitating the cosmos, for how could we attain higher order?” (section 4) Sallustius wrote that myths which mix both psychic and material interpretations particularly “suit religious initiations, since every initiation aims at uniting us with the world and the gods.” As an example of a “mixed” psychic and material myth, he cites the story of Kybele and Attis, putting forth the interpretation that Kybele “is the principle that generates life,” that Attis “is the creator of all things which are born and die,” and that “the creator who makes these things casts away his generative powers into the creation and is joined to the gods again.” Kybele’s priests, the Galli or Gallai (the latter term, of feminine linguistic gender, found in a fragment of Callimachus), were known for re-enacting Attis’ self-castration in their own ecstatic rituals. There is also a cave in at Hierapolis in Phrygia, of which Daniel Ogden writes in Greek and Roman Necromancy: “The …

Column: To Make the Voice of the Criminal Audible

Jean Genet’s text “The Criminal Child,” previously unavailable in English, was translated and published in December 2015. An anonymous commentary on the text, included as an afterword within the same pamphlet, reads “The Criminal Child” as an intricately coded set of instructions for magical initiation and ordeal. “The Criminal Child” was originally written in 1948 as a speech to be read on a radio show in order to address reforms to France’s youth prisons that had been proposed at the time. It was rejected and never read on the air. When Genet published the censored text the following year, he wrote in his introduction, “I would have liked to make the voice of the criminal audible.