“Abashed the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is…” — Paradise Lost, Milton
One of the questions that unfailingly captivate the philosophical mind is that of the nature of right and wrong — good and evil. This fascination is arguably universal — that is, irrespective of culture, and irrespective of social class, this question of morality inevitably becomes a subject of intense scrutiny to the individual who regularly partakes in deep ruminations of thought. It could be argued as an emergent property of human psychology, this ageless fixation — and its ruptures increase in tandem to the increasing number of people within a society who no longer remember how to “live well.”
Misery sharpens and trains the perception of the sufferer most keenly towards ending the suffering, as soon as can be managed. It is that suffering, be it one’s own or of the masses that the most privileged, the least-suffering, can look upon and ponder over, which foments the most basic ideation of this moral quest, conjuring up formulations of what one must do if one wishes to minimise one’s suffering, escape one’s damnation, live “sacredly.” What brings pleasure and happiness without being overly-self-indulgent, what delivers us from evil — this is “good.” What increases the sum of suffering, for oneself and others, what makes the world a living hell for oneself and those dearest to you — this is “evil.”
Of course, one rarely finds this Utilitarian (or hedonistic) conception of “good” and “evil” in such a cut-and-dry form within the philosophical or religious treatises on such. It is something that at first smacks one as strange, for all the “good” that the authorities of such extant texts — men of civilisation, men of good society — often claim their social body or culture stands for. But when we recall what civilisation is, from a socio-biological perspective — that is, an eusocial structure in which the bulk of the society’s members are meant to sacrifice their own fitness for the stunning wealth and extraordinary reproductive success of social elites — then we are granted some answer as to how the mind of the “domestic,” “civil” man loses most or all sight of the simple, concrete, sensual foundation of “good” and “evil.”
It is no simple task, after all, to declare and convince others that “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” and “ignorance is strength” — that a falsehood is truth, in other words, and in this case, that paradoxical falsehood is that civilisation is a universal “good,” a good for the suffering majority. One must go by vertigo and crooked ways to invert logic, and to so denature the human being that it submits to this total inversion of the moral order inscribed into its flesh, this antithesis to the mortal’s own success and interest. Thence comes the plethora of mystifying, droning tomes expounding what is “good,” what is righteous, that are the fruits of much of the civil man’s moral philosophy. There is no shortage of apologies for the indignity, torment, and slavery imposed upon the many; no paucity of praise for the civil virtues of obsequiousness, humility (or, more properly, humiliation), and permissiveness towards the oft-callous whims and will of “authority;” and no scarcity of the black faery tales detailing all the fantastical wealth and rewards that await one beyond the grave, should he deny himself and the fulfillment or even survival of his own kin, to instead be milled into the bread of mighty strangers for the whole duration of his meagre life. Dependency, a loss of agency, the perpetual and inescapable indebtedness/submission to another, and the stupidity that is fatal in the natural, free world — all that is the sensual, sensate man’s evil is hoisted up as the pennant of the good and just in this inversion and perversion of the moral order which is necessary to maintain civilisation and its long but unrelenting march towards totalitarianism and “true sociality.”
If the “evil” of the natural order is deemed “good” in this 1984-esque reality, what then is the “evil” warned of by the Party of elites, those undesirable actions that shall earn you an eternity of suffering in their childish bogeylands in the hereafter? It is not hard to tell — be it European or Chinese civilisation, Meso-American or African, the “truly-social,” denatured, civil man can be found everywhere disdaining the “savage.” This disdained population comes in many forms: the now-mostly-extinct, rural European peasant class, oft-compared by indulgent, Victorian bourgeois to the “redman savage” for their impolity, unruliness, and/or superstition; the natives of the American continents, with especial and continuing disdain for the more “primitive,” like the hunter-gatherer or horticulturist tribes of the rainforests; the Aboriginals of Australia, deemed by European bourgeois observers as some of the most “degenerate” or “animalistic” of mankind; the Ainu of Japan, condemned as sub-human for their “primitive” ways, inferior to the imported, Chinese civil forms; the Gaelic Celt, similarly smeared as “primitive,” embryonic, child-like by an advancing English elite; and many more that can be enumerated besides.
Some such groups — the Gaelic peoples or the Incan natives, for instances — had a civil social organisation themselves, highly hierarchical and with divisions of labour and reproductive success, as those things go, and they in turn looked upon certain peoples as “primitive” or inferior. What made the intellectual organ of another civil society look down their nose at these other peoples — and which in time made them the object of disdain to another — was their deficit of “goodness” in the inverted sense, compared to the “superior” conqueror. Why, these people still allow their freemen some measure of autonomy?! They are content with a greater margin of the land lying in wasteful wilds and their people living in pastoral dignity, rather than demanding that all things be bent, broken, and whipped into work for the rulers’ (re)productive advantage?! They expect most in their society to have enough personal responsibility and clout to keep the law themselves, to exert violence if need be, rather than depending on and begging for the aid of centralised power?! Lazy, ignorant, unenlightened savages, the lot of them! Bring them the word of God, the lash of Goodness, to beat them further down the path of righteousness — of which the “righteous” man just so happens to be the conveniently-helpless, exploitable, insecure, anchorless, uncertain, slavish specimen known as the modern man. The “better angel of our nature,” according to the Stephen Pinkerite philosophy of modern civilisation, the doctrinal fiction of neoliberal progressivism — the “angel” who has laudingly given up his self and self-interests in service to the vehicle of state/elite parasitism, which now holds a monopoly on self-interest and determination, of the will to maximise its own fitness, and, thereby, a “monopoly on violence.”
Fortunately, you can lecture people all one likes from the pulpit that this is the “good life” — to paraphrase from The Story of B, however, you can make a man live like livestock, but you cannot as yet utterly convince him such is right, because man yet has a body, and the truths of nature, his nature, are still inscribed deeply on it, no matter how denatured he has otherwise been by the socio-psychological mutilation of modern society. His body still knows it suffers. It sets his teeth on edge, in that primordial thirst towards true salvation, of saving/liberating himself with violent upheaval, whenever his masters heap on him degradation and humiliation. It saps one of vitality and will when it decides, irrespective of the Doublethink of the denatured mind, that these indignities are too much to bear, and life, robbed of its natural fulfillment, is no longer worth the effort — manifesting in the epidemic diseases of depressive mental illnesses prevalent in modern life. Thus the unending instability and upheaval accompanying all civil societies, and their inherently short half-lives, decaying into periods of relatively greater freedom or experiencing wholesale regime changes, for better or worse, as the suffering masses, crushed into total apathy, cannot even be stirred to defend their former masters or themselves before a “barbarian” horde that still has some lust for life, or otherwise rising up in fury to attempt to take the helm of the social machine as their own. Such is the wisdom of nature, that undeniable wisdom of the body — that when it is barred from its success, to bring forth its progeny of flesh or deed, it cries out to its oppressor, “Away with THEE!” And should that desire go unrealised — by the cowardice or confusion of the denatured mind, for instance — then the body, denied all of its creative purpose, cries out instead, “Away with ME!” — and hurries its way back into the material ether, that something more worthy might make better use of the space and matter that was once the self-denying, denatured creature.
We have seen enough of how awful goodness is to whet our interest to what the preachers of death, of civil stagnation, would name “evil.” For if the “good” of the civil man is in fact evil, the bane of man and the rest of nature, then we must turn to what he consistently declares “evil” to find the truly good. We must turn to the long-mortified and denigrated body, the flesh and the mundane that has long been belittled, and quite deliberately for the above reasons, as inferior to the poisonous, abstract gibberish of the mouthpieces of the elite, who would convince you that up is down, black is white, self-denial is fulfillment. If you fight for yourself and your own kin, and the legacy that shall carry you on into the evolutionary future — and, by doing so, you proclaim your fealty and love for yourself, your kith, and this world through which you desire your blood to continue to pulse and flow — this is Evil. If you renounce the Kingdom of Heaven, of the eusocial project of civilisation, of lofty, false promises exchanged for concrete success, of parasites who demand you destroy yourself and your own earthly happiness for the sake of their own — this is Evil. At almost all relevant points of reference, we are dealing with an antithetical moral order, informing and informed by a social and cultural organisation likewise wholly alien to what one might be well-used to as a thrall, a pawn, a worker reared up in the hierarchy of civilisation. We shall here only focus on an aspect of one such point, that of how violence is viewed and employed, with a few illustrative examples of this inverted moral order, either in its purest distillation (of the ancient band/tribal life from which civilisation claims to have saved us from) or in how its principles have remained and been the greatest ally of those members of society (generally the “superstitious” and “brutish” lower classes or the vanquished “barbarians”) who had preserved something of it down to modern times.
The Savage Law
The employment of violence is often roundly condemned in most “civil” political spheres today, excepting when it is permitted by, a tool for state agendas, be it military operations or police enforcement. One must have great need — defined by the state, of course — for other violent allowances, such as for self-defense, and still there is no guarantee that you will not be punished for daring to take unto yourself this responsibility. And like so much else in the inverted moral order, its taboo and vilification points to it being a key to understanding the “good” of the natural order.
Violence is perhaps the most dramatic assertion of selfhood, of living and independent agency. One does not simply “go with the flow,” as so many dead leaves upon the wind or water, or the mindless rock slide with the downward pull of gravity; the living self steps forth, for however long or fleeting a time, torn and sewn from the fabric and thread of inert materia and the slain bodies of prey as consumed by his progenitors for nourishment, to declare, “I AM,” before all the world. And so long as he lives, he is first before all the world — without regret, he tears through the undergrowth or dashes upon the plain, scattering and crushing before him insect and plant life, and every day is a reestablishment, without crippling remorse, of his sacred covenant to himself, in the act of the procurement of sustenance, the slaughter or dismemberment of another life to be consumed and to sustain the self for as long as possible.
To live as an animal, animate, is to be violent, to be ready and willing to employ it against those who would seek to make of you their prey, and for you to make of others prey — all in defense and maintenance of the Sacred Centre, the self. For a species like mankind, evolved to be “primitively-social” (to contrast to the hive-like, “true sociality”), that inviolability extends to some degree to the kin group, the sphere of affections and mutual aid through which his own survival and fitness is maximised, the latter either by his own reproduction or the reproduction of those who carry the highest proportion of his genes (kin selection). He is first amongst peers, then, a locus of sacred, inviolate will amongst a web of such loci, a web that shifts and fluctuates amongst changing relations between the self and his kith and kin. But this dynamic web remains firmly erected at the pinnacle of social considerations, the moral universe, and cultural propagation, for the sake of the “blood” that binds them together, the blood that seeks ever to bear itself forward into the future. Violence is the tool which guarantees that continuity, its use a sign of sentience, of a “will-to-power,” of the singular animal wish to bring forth from itself something beyond itself — and to do this, one must hold his own against all the powers that wish to do exactly that, and need another’s flesh or produce to do so. To kill or be killed — that is the age-old moral ultimatum of life, the Savage Law, if you will, recognised and honoured by the most ancient “faiths” of man, a law the upholds the sacred centre of self, clan, and the land.
This “selfish” moral universe, this natural good, is manifested in as many ways as life comes, via its descent by natural selection, in numerous, diverse shapes and forms. For man, it birthed, in similar, centrifugal fashion, a profundity of different cultures — cultures that, like biodiversity as a whole, are rapidly disappearing in the face of the monoculture of civil society. Though the particulars to these different cultures vary, we can delineate some important commonalities that these particulars are often embellishments upon. One of the particular cases — a microcosm — that we shall glance at this time to enlighten us of this generalisable pattern that is the morality and ritual character of the Savage Law is that of the Navajo, as relayed by the anthropologist, Dr. Mary Douglas, in her work, Natural Symbols.
In it, we are treated to a description and interpretation of the Navajo’s traditional, “pagan” religion, as compared to the newer, post-colonisation “Peyote faith,” with ample quotes in itself from Dr. David Aberle’s 1966 study of the Peyote religion In terms of the traditional faith, we are told that it is characterised by an “extreme,” dedicated form of ritualism that forms as a focal point for cultural cohesion; and in this faith’s mythos and logic, it is not so much a transgression against absolute, moral rules (displeasing the gods, committing a sin, etc.) that invites calamity than it is an improper adherence to the clan’s ritual formulae and taboo:
“The traditional Navajo fears error in his rituals and particularly error in the ﬁxed prayers which chanter and patient must repeat in the course of a ceremony. Error may not only render the ceremony ineffectual but may cause illness to the patient years later…. Navajo supernatural power is likely to harm man when man breaches various taboos, but these taboos have almost nothing to do with the moral order. If a man were to commit murder, he might have ghost trouble – but so might he if he worked in a hospital or happened to burn wood from a hogan where someone had died. His ghost trouble stems from ritual contamination, not from God’s curse or the ghost’s vengeance. Theft, adultery, deceit, assault and rape have no supernatural sanctions…. True, ceremonies are impaired if the singer becomes angry or if there is quarrelling at the ceremony. In this sense there are supernatural sanctions against misbehaviour – but only while the ceremony continues. On the other hand, the Navajo must fear the consequences of many accidental breaches of taboos.
From this position of extreme ritualism a large minority of Navajo have adopted a religion centred on the ritual eating of peyote. The religion of the peyotists differs utterly from the traditional one, in their ritual, their ideas of what “sin” and of “God”. The peyotists value spontaneity in their prayers and insist there is no ﬁxed pattern in them. As Aberle puts it, the traditional Navajo tries to bind power by formulae while the peyotist tries to sway God by his fervour. Their Creator is interested in morality. Confession of “sin” is necessary to gain the Creator’s blessing and aid. ”
This religious system might strike the modern observer as paradoxically strange for its dual characteristics of a strict adherence to ritualism while simultaneously being morally gray. “Theft, adultery, deceit,” etc., are not “evil” in and of themselves — it is only bad if it leads to reprisals or shame before or on one’s kin group, as we are told shortly following this excerpt. How can there be a people who, by the modern standards of the Enlightenment, are so deeply devout, in their unswerving dedication to the performance of rites and maintenance of ritual objects or particular taboos, yet who are strict moral relativists, who lack the “basic knowledge” of good and evil? It is a question often asked, with only slight modification, by the “Good” — the civil or “more-civilised” man — when he encounters the less-good, the “savage” living in a state of nature, for a student of anthropology might readily recognise that the intense ritualism, taken for granted in structuring the sociocultural life, is hardly unique to the Navajo. It can readily be found amongst the Pueblo and the Hopi, the Navajo’s neighbours, with an even more intense character. It is the rule, rather than the exception, amongst many Amerindian peoples. It can be found in some form, however elaborate its diverse cultural trappings, amongst pre-colonial African peoples, amongst the various Pacific Islanders, and amongst a number of indigenous peoples of the Mediterranean, the Orient, and Eurasia. It can be found to some degree also amongst what was retroactively deemed the “barbarous civilisations,” such as amongst the Celtic peoples, who shared as much as being primarily pastoralist, tribalistic (though developing along tribal states), and warly in common with the Navajo.
What these “less good,” “primitive” societies/cultures shared in common, that gave rise to the ritualism saturating everyday life but with a bizarre paucity of absolute or universal moral maxims, is this: the heart of the rite, its focus, is not that of a god, nor the ritualism an expression of worship — of “fervour” — for any such deity. The focal point of the “primitive” rite is the Sacred Centre, the self and the kin group. One might readily object, pointing to the invocation of numerous spirits or deities often involved in such ceremonies. But, with the exception of the invocation of the “All-Father,” the eponymous tribal ancestor ascended to god or guardianhood, or the wily Trickster whose antics playfully established the kin — the roots of the blood itself, the foundation of a culture and people, in other words — these various deities or spirits are rarely anything more but periphery and accessories, conceived of as allies, tools, or enemies whose sole significance lies in how they help or hurt the People or the individual, rather than being objects of cult worship and adoration.
The primitive rite, as such, is the celebration of the tribe, be it in praising its own mythical forebearers or enacting the cultural plays or magical gestures that insure the tribe’s continued material or mental prosperity and unity. It is a triumphal of man and the earth which upholds him, a fete by man and for man, in bringing and bending the heavens, the world, about his will and on his behalf, as he may. It is not of the gods and a universal heaven which all must climb towards in humility and hardship, and there be judged by invariable standards. It is the psycho-social focal point of the Sacred Centre — the man and his kin — and so the deadly consequences assigned to profaning the rite(s). The desecration of the rite is a trespass against one’s own nature and the betrayal of the life-giving nurturance of kith and kin, either the living, the dead, or, in some instances, the non-human.
This is no wild and loose symbolic interpretation — many such cultures who practice such ritualism are or were rather explicit about the purpose of their cycles of ceremonies: to restore or maintain “harmony” to the world; to maintain a perpetual balance passed down to them as their charge from an ancestral figure; to avoid aforementioned catastrophes; or, when all other explanations are lost or not forthcoming, “just for fun” or for a “good time.” Whether imbued with a seeming-grandiosity or a humble this-worldliness, we discern the People — the tribe and the self — as at the relevant, moral epicentre of the universe, in their singular role of being the self-assured architect or upholder (via the mandate of its ancestors, its blood) of all else around them in order that they might preserve and protect themselves first and foremost. Without this, by failing to maintain that “balance” or wisdom acquired over countless generations and especially charged to them as the “real” People, they would perish — the entire, relevant universe would collapse or fall prey to a long or endless evil. Otherwise, it is outright self-enjoyment, the sacred “self enjoyment” of Nietzsche’s earthly “dancer” — as is the case of the African Kuranko, in asserting that their rites were mainly for “fun” as reported to one observer (Jackson, 1983). The tribe as the linchpin of moral and sacred cosmology, and the rite as its defense, whether in exhorting spiritual forces on its behalf or in continuously renewing group solidarity, purpose, and affections — this is the affirmance of the Sacred Centre, the tribe and its individual members which preserves and retains its own godhead. All else — converse and commerce outside of the tribe — is coloured in the grey of moral perspectivism, and adjudged often by its relation to how it helps or hurts the kin group or the individual’s face/reputation within the kin.
Even within the kin group, there is a certain license for moral ambiguity — each member of the tribe being a sacred loci, a centre and incarnate of godhead, a self-interested being, he is in constant negotiation with these other godly peers in asserting or balancing his will with the collective interests of his peers, in an attempt to prove the mettle of his own incarnation of the sacred blood which binds them together. This is, in a word, honour —in the Gaelic, enech, “face.” You are the keeper and accountant of your own tale and reputation, your own manifestation and countenance of the sacred blood of kinship, who must dare and make his own fortunes, before or in conformance to the laws and fortunes of his people and the inhuman nature around him. Preference is of course given to kin, via kin selection, as has already been stated, though it is not invariably guaranteed, depending on the balance struck between self-interest and the survival value to be had in the prestige and mutualisms conferred by the group.
The “savage,” as such, is highly-pious, to quote Clastres, zealous in his rituals, taboo, and adherence to honour, precisely because of his living in or near a “state of nature,” of having to stand as his own law and for his and (usually) his kin’s interests before the beautifully-brutal, natural garden of the world. Ironically, as such, it is not the excesses and supposed leisure of civilisation, the “liberation” and “uplifting” of man by the rigid, moral edifice of civil society, that brings forth the “angel” in man, his best possible self; it is the necessity of nature, “savagery,” that brings out the most moral and upright of men, which should scarcely be surprising, given it was the navigation of this complex and wild world on his evolutionary track that brought about man’s moral intellect. His will to power, his self-realisation, is the fount of his virtue, his flesh allowed to realise, by their most concrete — carnal — manifestations, the meaning of moral lessons. To help his kin, or be isolated and vulnerable to beasts and foes; to do good unto to others, for they may do good to you in return; to hold sacred and dear only a relative few, the few who carry some portion of your blood, for to genuinely care for more exceeds the bounds of any human sympathy, and as that excess increases, the real returns and means to reciprocate decrease just as swift; and, if need to be, to fight for yourself, in preserving your life and mastery of your destiny, for a failure to fight or to escape is an inevitable forfeiture of either.
Thou Shalt Not
This forfeiture, this negation of human life and nature for all but a few, is the desired condition the elite wish to enforce upon their subjects. And to do this, it uproots the original source of divinity, desecrating the altar of family and tribe, and breaking the sinew and strength of the self until naught but a creeping, weak — but oft-obedient — vassal remains. One such way the state has broken the tribe historically is, complementary to any accompanying genocidal oppression, also succinctly-expressed in a passage from Douglas in regards to the Navajo case:
“Clan cohesion was impaired as the possibility of mutual aid was reduced. Fear of loss of support in the community also became a lesser threat. And fear of loss of face or shame depends on the degree of involvement in the face-to-face community. Not only was intra-community interdependence lessened and enforcement of morality impaired, but extra-community dependence on wage work, and familial economic autonomy, was increased.” (ibid.: 200–1)
This one example suggests that when the social group grips its members in tight communal bonds, the religion is ritualist; when this grip is relaxed, ritualism declines. And with this shift of forms, a shift in doctrines appears. The social experience of the traditional Navajo man conditioned him to automatic response to his community’s demands. Abstract right or wrong, internal motives, these were much less important to him than knowing to which vengeance group he belonged and to whom he was bound in a web of reciprocities.”
If necessity is the mother of morality, then when the tribe’s power is lost— its ability to help furnish its members with reciprocal needs, be they material or emotional — then the honour system is abandoned, the importance of kinship is eroded, and with it, morality loses its concrete base. Once the state emerges or breaks into this close, communal style of living, the locus of sacredness, morality, and concomittant “spiritual” thought necessarily changes. One need not maintain good relations with one’s kin and neighbours when one does not need to (or cannot) rely on them for the bare necessities — the modernised man beholds only to the state structure, whether in its private, corporate incarnation or in its public, administrative branches. But with this loss of responsibility to and from peers goes also the discerning eye, the ability to assess or otherwise be an active part in the enforcement of law and morality. That power, and its inherent sacredness, is robbed by the state — and so instead of evaluating how one’s actions affect the sacred community to which he is a member, or how it beautifies one’s own “face,” his honour, the individual instead looks on high, to others who are often not his peers but impersonal superiors, to arbitrate for him, of whom he in turn worships in servile obeisance.
Right and wrong as such become more abstract, rather than contextual and visceral, if for no other reason than it is because the law, the power, that dictates what is right or wrong has been abstracted — far removed — from its tangible source, the Sacred Centre, oneself and the kin. Thus, rather than it being a dynamic and immediate part of one’s personal experience, whether in trying to judge one’s peers or determining what best course of action to take in regards to one’s reputation and the benefit for one’s kin, morality is at best reduced to the breadth of a child’s perception; an often-unquestionable authority tells you what to do, and one obeys without the burden of having to think it through or just how much it actually benefits you, either out of love or fear for this parental figure who commands you.
With it comes a tendency to be more absolutist — arguably another feature of the infantile mind. In the moral considerations of an individual, it is no longer, “Murder is only wrong if it is against a tribe member who you had no declared feud with, or no grounds whatever to take vengeance on as known by your peers;” it is, “murder is wrong, period,” as an example. One sees as much exemplified in the Navajo case, of the people shifting away from tribal “ritualism” —where honour rules— because of the breakdown in communal dependencies or obligations, and in its stead, there arose the popularity of the peyote religion. The sacredness of the tribal centre reduced, and the self-esteem of the proud, godly warrior relinquished, the people place sacredness and law high above themselves, in unearthly figures of “god(s)” and in universal (rather than tribal and particular) “thou shalt nots,” as we are told of the peyote faith by Douglas.
And we are, once more, not examining an exceptional case, in this matter of transitioning from the Savage Law of honour and the sacred centre to the abstracted absolutionism of state gods and hierarchical power. Similar cults and the Native American Church function in similar transitional roles to many other Amerindian tribes; Christianity in general acted as the perfected vessel for the transition of men to sheep in the European context, taming the last of the “barbarian states” and tribes, and it continues to do so, often in its evangelical avatar, across Africa and amongst some of the last tribal peoples of Europe, the Roma gypsies; the modern, fundamentalist/extremist version of Islam similarly threatens remnant tribal factions in the Middle-East; and a number of state cults, from various, modernised forms of Hinduism or Buddhism, have the same function in the far-east. The annihilation of the self, the sacred kin, the ties that bind to allies and land — this is for all, for thee, to be “good,” to be meek and submit to constant sacrifice for the “good” of all. The “evil” of nature, in the meantime, is ironically reserved for the few social elites, just as the rewards it reaps is exclusively for them, exemplified by their characteristic clannishness, marked selfishness, and, of course, their monopoly on violence (in barbarian states, this monopoly came as the upper class generally doubling as martial experts, while latterly, it need only be a monopoly on its authorisation).
To Return Evil for Evil
Those sucked into the vortex of this moral inversion are not entirely unaware of its occurrence. As already noted, if one is suffering, falsehood can only be used as a salve for so long, and even in absence of intense suffering, there is enough discomfiture and glaring hypocrisies in civil living for the unprivileged to allow this inversion to be noted at least on the level of the unconsciousness, which in turn is given expression by myth and folklore. The Judaeo-Christian story of man’s genesis is one of the more renowned examples of such — of man living in perfection, in untainted divinity, at his origin within a state of nature, before his fall into the accoutrements of civilisation. Less-renowned examples can be found in profusion within European folklore — perhaps stemming in no small part because it is/was the lore of the “folk,” the peasants who, up until the past century or so, still managed to maintain some echo of the good, tribal life. “The good die young” is a sentiment expressed in the wisdom of numerous European folklores, and it is not always mere consolation to the bereaved of their unhappy loss of child or sibling. Sometimes, it expresses just that — that the “good” as defined by the encroaching church/state structures are naturally inclined to a poorer or unlucky lot by fault of their goodness, and unsurprisingly so, when we see such “goodness” as a deliberate mental-moral handicap espoused by the state. The world and its nature, after all, is the provenance of “Satan,” evil, some Christians (even today) would readily agree — the helpless, purely-good sheep has little chance to succeed in it (though of course, the modern Christian would be less-likely to implicate their own pastors/priests and their own rulers as the devilish wolves which are harrying them).
Perhaps stemming from this idea (or otherwise as its own unique, formerly-indigenous recognition of the inverted moral order), there comes the interesting folkloric case of the “anti-witch” or “dewitcher.” Detailed in the ethnographic works of Dr. Jeanne Favret-Saada, the anti-witch was a figure unique to a system of witchcraft endemic to the bocage of France. This system survived as late as the end of the 1900s, similar to the late survival of some forms of German witchcraft — and, like those other forms, it came to its end with the final collapse/inviability of the family farm, the resulting loss of the intensely-interpersonal countryside culture, and the gentrification of the rural hamlet. As the author puts it, this sort of witchcraft (and perhaps all forms of traditional witchcraft) is dependent upon people having intimate interactions with one another, and where there is effectively no real social life, as in much of the modern world, with most people being strangers, there is no more ground for said-witches, whether real or imagined, to know enough about anyone to effectively ensnare them in “magical assaults.” That, and the violence inherent in it, is only really possible now by the state/government institutions that have, again, subsumed much of the social interaction and responsibilities formerly handled by and between individuals.
For it was aggression and violence being enacted in this social system via ritual action — a witch, we are told, is one possessed of an inordinately-powerful, magical strength or “force” (referred to as force in French as well), and who uses their supernatural ability to target and sap the strength of a victim, the latter of whom is referred to variously as being “caught” or “taken,” but which essentially equates to a “bewitched” individual. That force is siphoned away from the victim in the form of tangible objects/materials, such that the bewitched or his family suffers a decline in their health, a steady and increasingly ruinous loss to the yield of their livestock or crops, and/or otherwise a string of bad luck and accidents. This lost produce is thought to be transferred to the witch — the sustenance of one person becomes the acquisition and sustenance of another, analogous to the relationship between predator and prey, or prey and parasite. There are many fascinating particularities to this system which cannot be gone into its deserved detail here — it suffices us to say that the bewitched victim was generally thought of, by the time of Favret-Saada’s observations, as “good,” but because of that goodness, they are necessarily weak, and as such defenseless or unmatched against the attacking, powerful witch.
Their only recourse, their only way to save themselves from the inevitable conclusion of ruinous decline and/or early death, was to turn to a dewitcher/anti-witch. Like a witch, the anti-witch was thought of as an especially gifted and powerful person, at least as far as enigmatic “force” went, and his/her primary purpose, as implicated in the name, was to stand, as a fairer match, against a witch on behalf of the bewitched. Or so it seems, at first glance. While the dewitcher in some instances might have had a final, ritual enactment of the confrontation with the witch in which they emerged the clear, dramatic victor, it seemed equally-important, if not the true purpose of the dewitching procedure, for the dewitcher to empower the bewitched. As phrased in a description of one of the dewitching rituals that Favret-Saada witnessed:
“The dewitcher elaborates on these images, making inspired pronouncements that the clients are rarely able to resist. Even the most resistant to the call of evil wilt in the face of a particularly elegant rhetorical flight and begin to wish death and torture upon their witch. …The combination of flash cards and metaphors provokes a melee of archaic images in the clients. And at the same time, a stranger who has sloughed all civility and all sense of measure begins to preach vengeance without quarter and terrible death.
As might be expected, the memory often erases this part of the session, as it draws the client too far down the path of violence, forcing them to embrace, quite unwittingly, the dark side.” (The Anti-Witch, 2015)
By urging the victim to take an active, aggressive, and possibly violent disposition, the dewitcher urges the bewitched, who normally lacks magical “force” and is therefore conceived of as weak and helpless before their assailant/the witch, to embrace the “dark side,” the violent agency and initiative that nowadays is almost entirely prohibited and demonised by a supposedly “enlightened” civilisation. By doing so, the bewitched can recover something of his force — a “will to power,” from a Nietzschean perspective — so that he can at last hold his own before those forces that are seeking to tear him down. He is given the courage to strike down his foes, figuratively or literally if necessary, who have been eroding away the very supports of his life and prosperity. This, we are told, has practical consequences, i.e. the confidence and empowering ritual(s) prescribed by the dewitcher lends itself more generally towards helping the bewitched “stand toe-to-toe either with the witch or with their business partners or representatives of the bureaucratic order” (the latter of whom are often scarcely much different from the accused witch themselves, in their shark-like hunger for the blood and possessions of the “weak”).
Contrary to the general progressive disdain towards the “superstition” of peasants and “savages,” the author herself contests it is, if nothing else, a therapeutic tool meant to move the “bewitched” from a mentality and state of victimhood to an aggressive and empowered individual capable of standing up to their misfortune and “fighting back” against their attacker (the “witch”). The betwitched goes from a passive victim of otherwise seemingly-impersonal tragedies, of being “too good,” to an active “force” to be reckoned with, capable of taking his fate and fortune into his own hands. If one does not want to believe in the reality of any such supernatural force, when it is examined from a purely-material perspective, it presents one with a system that bestows a suffering individual with a psycho-social state and means for extreme empowerment. Disease, crop loss, financial misfortune, loss of health or fertility to people or animals — all these things which, from the modern materialist perspective, are merely unfortunate accidents that a man is powerless before, can now be prevented, fought against, in the figure/power of a witch, through aggressive rituals that “return evil for evil,” resulting at times in the witch’s death. One is brought back in reminiscence to the Navajo’s worldview, of binding the world to man’s will with formulae of power and elaborate ritual, and not of binding man to the impersonality of a mechanical world and a bureaucracy of gods and state potentates.
Again, if one desires to deny that these rituals have any direct effects in the physical world, one would be fairly hard-pressed, scrounging up for tautological platitudes about the goodness of “enlightenment” in and of itself, in saying how the uplifting mentality this “superstition” imbues is somehow inferior to the chronic depression and immobilising fear that many a modern man lives with for his own, continuously-beaten-in sense of powerlessness and smallness before the material worldview of the modern man. So, in a culture that was extinguished only in the past few decades, in the heart of the “modern world,” we find echoed out something of the ancient wisdom of the Sacred Centre, a wisdom that was once known by all of mankind, further expressed with:
“..the dewitcher repeatedly stresses the importance of maintaining a firm distinction between the client qua person and the great abstract principles of Law and Truth that she exhorts him to embody. For instance, she might say, “You’re not asking on your own behalf, you’re asking because it’s your right,” or “You’re not saying anything wrong; what you say is the truth.” When she discusses an interview with the bank manager or a buyer for a lot of pigs, she reminds the client that there is something more fundamental at stake: the ethical order of the world. It is this ethical order that he is charged with defending, for if he manages to convince himself that it is not really up to him, qua person, who is caught up in this stressful event, then he will be able to meet his opponent with calm force.”
The “abstract” principle here is mispokenly described; the “Law” that hangs in the balance is nothing short of the sacred blood, the selfish godhead of yore, the tangible individual himself and his own, that needs to be defended, lest one allow one’s own victimisation and manipulation — and the recurrent woes which that civil timidity and insouciance has since blighted upon the world. The dewitcher exhorts the bewitched to do this — recover his power, his agency, his force, and stand against those who would trample over him — because it is demanded of the ethical or metaphysical order of the world. Might makes right — those who do not defend themselves are doomed to endless indignity and oblivion, as evidenced by the “good,” the perpetually poor and downtrodden of civil society, who are deliberately taught to be submissive, to not defend themselves, to leave their “violence” (and ultimately, power) with “authority.” It then truly is a struggle of that irrefutable moral maxim, the dogma of the Savage Law, which it is the anti-witch’s job to preach and instill — either stand, aggressive, proud, powerful, and refuse your domination, or continue to be harried by wolves, whimpering and crippled.
For how different they are culturally, societies that have been classically glossed as “primitive” or “barbarous” share in some fashion this sort of empowering component, to readily return evil for evil, to be the advocate and judge for your own life, and, if need be, the aggressor and defender for your own posterity. It is the psycho-social equipment to maintain mastery — or to regain control, when mastery is pried from one’s grasp — over one’s life in the face of tragedy, social adversity, and/or to appropriately vent one’s frustrations, often through the superb catharsis of actual or magical violence. Either of these are of course now frowned upon, forbidden in the oppressive, modern cultural world of skin-deep sentimentalism, of impersonal, unfamiliar, and oft-insecure interaction — forbidden, of course, to all but the social elite, those who have taken unto themselves, and guard covetously with deception, legislation, and oft-closed ranks, the wisdom and trappings of the Savage Law and the Sacred Centre, and whose cathartic freaks and flights of fancy readily do violence unto thousands, millions, of the defenseless, hapless “good.” In the truly-good society, where all men are peers under the pragmatic blessing of the tribe, the bounty of these natural moral maxims are for and usable by all, and function as intended, as regenerative for the ruptured social conscience or as a safeguard for the fortunes of the individual and his clan.
The Dani of Papua New Guinea traditionally practiced a system of revenge killings, sometimes indiscriminate, sometimes specifically targeting “magic men”/shamans suspected of responsibility for a death, because it was believed by them that if such was not avenged — if evil was not returned for evil — then the spirit of their dead/murdered tribesman would haunt them and bring them greater misfortune (Gardner, 1963). If we were to discount its metaphysical reality — to once more appeal to the a-spiritually mind — that works with superb efficacy as a release from the grief of loss, unleashing all of the pain on one who is actually or can be symbolically assigned responsibility, rather than being left to wonder at the seemingly insouciant cruelty of the world and bemoan your own helplessness. Or so we can assume its efficacy, based on its spontaneous reoccurrence across cultures, this scapegoating-esque practice. The loved one’s ghost, or the ghost of regret, of one’s own powerlessness, is exorcised, rather than tearing one up from within. It also allows an appropriate time and place to enact “evil” — that is, something that the infantile modern mind, codified and made rigid by the laws hung like chains about him, might only ever decry as “evil” and as such unacceptable in almost all instances or outside of state sanction, be it murder, theft, etc., is given far more regular permission to be performed by the average individual, and is even sanctioned as ritually (and, for the materialist, socio-psychologically) necessary for the continuity of society and the mental stability of man.
Evil must be returned for evil, for a far greater evil lies in wait for the one who attempts to shirk the “unpleasantries,” the darker aspects, of nature — evidenced by the increasingly monstrous state of modern civilisation for all but the most privileged, and man’s long fall into this state from his original Eden, before the “knowledge of good and evil,” when moral qualms were coloured by a far more diverse palette. Black — Evil; white — Good; red — Blood, be it the blood of kin and friend, and how they stand in your view, or the blood that must be spilled to sustain life and honour; and all the shades, the complex moral strata, that can be created and justified by the blend of one, two, or all of the three in different proportions. In a world where good and evil have been nigh-entirely inverted, and blood almost entirely forgotten beyond potentates and those marginal few who have not yet been conquered by their hordes of obedient hounds, I would urge you, as Nietzsche before, to seek out and learn of the civil man’s universal evil, the Savage Law, for “evil is man’s best force. ‘Man must become better and eviler’ — thus do I teach. The evilest is necessary for the Superman’s best.” For it is only by embracing that “evil” — by reclaiming all of his nature — that man can save himself, can burn off the leeches that have long sucked him of blood, of force, to use Favret-Saada’s term, can reclaim his wealth and health. And it is how, perhaps paradoxically, he can finally move beyond Good and Evil, to an ochre paradise, a natural garden suffused by tones of Red. It might all be best poetically summed up in a proverb of the Dani in expressing such a state of affairs, the return of evil for evil, the empowerment by “evil” to fight and laugh in the face of evil and misfortune to the very end:
“We kill to save our souls, and when we die, we must die fiercely.”
References and Further Reading:
Clastres, P. (2010). Archaeology of Violence. Semiotext(e).
Douglas, M. (1970). Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. Barrie & Jenkins Publishers.
Favret-Saada, J. (1980). Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage. Cambridge University Press.
Favret-Saada, J. (2015). The Anti-Witch. HAU Books.
Gardner, R. (1963). Dead Birds (documentary). Documentary Educational Resources.
Jackson, M.D. (1983). Knowledge of the Body. Man, New Series, 18(2), p. 327-345.
Nietszche, F. (1883). Thus Spake Zarathustra. Project Gutenberg Online.
Quinn, D. (1996). The Story of B. Bantam Books.