Column: the Woman in the Refrigerator and the Girl with Two Mothers

At the beginning of this semester, students in my undergraduate college course on Grimms’ Fairy Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen) read the prefaces to the two volumes of the first edition. In the preface to the second volume of 1815, Wilhelm Grimm responds to criticism of the first volume of 1812 after asserting that the collection of tales should serve as an “educational primer” (Erziehungsbuch):
Objections have been raised against this last point because this or that might be embarrassing and would be unsuitable for children or offensive (when the tales might touch on certain situations and relations – even the mentioning of the bad things the devil does) and that parents might not want to put the book into the hands of children. That concern might be legitimate in certain cases, and then one can easily make selections. On the whole it is certainly not necessary. This argument is often heard today.

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 …

Comic Book Gods: The Wicked + The Divine

Almost from the beginning comic books have lent themselves to repurposing mythology in order to tell stories. Usually this process was indirect, with new characters like Superman and Batman acquiring mythic resonances over time. However, the riches of ancient cultural myths and stories were far too tempting to simply borrow elements from, and soon you had figures like Thor and Hercules fighting alongside more down-to-earth heroes. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s this dive into ancient myth and religion took a more serious turn as writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano, and Grant Morrison grappled with increasingly complex notions regarding the narrative reality of fantasies they were producing. Comic books, many started to argue, were the conveyers of the new mythologies.