The Concept of Evil

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Post by Psyche » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Aside from good and bad, when does the idea of Evil appear in mythology, and where?
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Post by Psyche » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

This is a tough one...the best I can think of is around the year 800 - 1000 AD when the "Gates/Jaws" of Hell start to appear in manuscript illumination.

the etymology of the word evil is attributed to the medieval era (yvel).

What is the mythological/spiritual difference between "Good vs Bad" and "Good vs Evil"? Does "Good" take on two different meanings depending on the context? What exactly does Evil then mean?

Maybe a better way to look at this is through rites of initiation in ancient (and probably some contemporary cultures) where in Hell was seen as character building and part of the experience of initiation and transcendence from stage of life to the other. hellish and gruelling experiences were part of these rites. At some point, Greek mythology divides afterlife (hades) into three (2?)parts: only one is for serious punishment. Correct me if I am wrong, but only a few remain being punished forever...others have a finite time and then move to another level? In any case, at some point, Hell became associated with
eternal punishment for wrongdoing/evildoing (sin, transgression, etc). Hell and hellish experiences are seen as something to avoid (at all costs?). And for those who experience hellish events, are sometimes told/justified as 'deserving' them.

I find this whole system absolutely perplexing. It seems to me that rationality is totally out the window - though "rationalization" is certainly at the helm. Rationalization and rationality are two different worlds, perhaps. There is illogic in rationalizing, just as there is logic in the irrational (ever tracked your dreams??!!).

Looking forward to hearing anyone elses thoughts and ideas.

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Post by Satchmo » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I'm interested in the interaction between a hero and evil (or a villain). Particularly, what good can come to a hero as a result of an evil character -- or one who represents evil? Where is the best place to look in the works of Campbell or others for insight on this?
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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

The following i posted just a few days ago on a thread about morality in myth, on the Call to Adventure Conversation. It seems relevant to this budding conversation - but i'm all cyber thumbs when it comes to hyperlinking stuff in this forum, so i'll just cut and paste. Sorry about the duplication for those who recently read this elsewhere - thanks for your indulgence...
On 2003-01-08 23:54, subuddh wrote:

I have just reading a few threads (all very interesting) and was struck by how there quite often seems to be some attempt to look for morality in myths and chagrin if it is not there.
Joseph Campbell points out that morality enters mythology with the emergence of Zoroastrianism in Persia. Prior to that, myths are not inherently moral. The Greek gods, the Hindu gods, the Norse, even Egyptian and Mesopotamian gods and goddesses do not concern themselves with sin and righteousness, nor salvation - they are themselves amoral, even immoral.

Nor, in fact, do we think of Nature as good or evil, but a composite of both (like ourselves):

does a tiger sin when it kills and eats a deer? Does Bambi go to heaven while all Bengals rot in hell?

Indeed, Campbell points out that we live in a world of duality (Time/Space, Hot/Cold, Light/Dark, Dry/Wet, Male/Female, Good/Evil, Macrocosm/Microcosm, Life/Death, etc.), and that every act has both dark and light consequences:

a steak may be a positive good for me, but the cow might have a different perspective.

I'm not sure my cat thinks so much in terms of good and evil, as in pleasure and pain, or fear and desire, though i really couldn't say

...but the abstraction of Good and Evil seems to accompany the development of human consciousness (or at least, so it seems to human consciousness): eat of the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and get kicked out of the Garden (womb?) into the field of duality, the field of existence, of life.

And myths, on the esoteric level, seem to universally point past the pairs of opposites, toward transcending the world of being/nonbeing, life/death, good/evil.

The transcendent does not take sides, for then it wouldn't be transcendent.

"But God does take sides," spake Zarathustra. Zoroastrianism posits two gods, one the ultimate Good and Righteous and Light, and one Evil and Pain and Darkness, locked together in a death struggle, with Good, in the being of Ahura Mazda, ultimately triumphing over evil, in the form of Ahriman the Devil, at the apocalyptic End Time battle.

Sound familiar?

Zoroastrianism was the dominant faith in the empire of Cyrus the Great, who conquered the Babylonian empire shortly after Nebuchadnezzar the Great had carried off thousands of the nobility, intelligentsia, and the priesthood - the literate leadership of Judah - after sacking Jerusalem.

Cyrus liberated the Jews, and eventually allowed them to return to Palestine to rebuild their nation. This happened in several waves under Cyrus and his successors, particularly Darius and Xerxes.

During the seven decades before the first wave returned these leaders were exposed to Zoroastrianism's sharp dichotomy between good and evil, with its emphasis on the need to choose the side of Good for salvation from the coming conflagration.

This is the emergence of morality as the mythic context of the Faith, which was transmitted to Judaism and her daughter religions, Christianity and Islam.

Ezra, Nehemiah, and the other post-Exile leaders were favorably disposed toward Cyrus and his successors for their kindness and tolerance - so it's not surprising that they were influenced, however subtly, by their benefactors' religion, finding in it a resonance with their own experience, believing their nation's devastation and defeat must be a punishment for straying from obedience to the one true God -

which flies in the face of the polytheism actually practiced during the periods of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, as documented in the archaeological record and in scripture.

(Toynbee speaks of the "Syrian prophets" who appear in this region - a phenomenon not limited to just those whose writings appear in the Old Testament, but in Byblos and the Fertile Crescent as well - issuing jeremaiads and preaching obedience to the local God. Zoraster is of this tradition, but is the first to identify the local god with universal, transcendent deity, claiming obedience to that god identical with the universal good.)

Ezra is the leader of those who, upon return to Judah, kick out the Samaritans who have displaced them, rebuild the temple, and "find" the book of the Law, the writings of Moses (the Torah). Theologians credit Ezra and his comrades with compiling and editing the Hebrew Scriptures - or the Old Testament - in the form that comes down to us today. Theologians and historians are able to identify multiple parallel (and, at times contradictory) tales that have been patched together, and can identify which versions were born when (Joseph Campbell explores this biblical scholarship in Masks of God: Occidental Mythology). The shift in emphasis before and after the encounter with Zorastrianism is apparent.

Prior to the Babylonian captivity, Yahweh is as amoral as other gods. After outlawing murder ("Thou Shalt Not Kill"), Yahweh orders the Israelites to slay the male infants of the nations they defeat: that will teach the Moabites, Midianites, Amorites and Amalekites to sacrifice their children to Moloch ... er, wait a minute there...

and then, whenever Pharaoh is on the point of releasing the Israelites, God hardens Pharaoh's heart, and Moses is forced to call down another plague. Sure would have spared both sides a lot of grief if God had allowed Moses to take advantage of Pharaoh's grudging generosity, rather than stiffening the monarch's naturally stubborn resolve.

In the book of Job, Yahweh and Satan (whose name means "Adversary" - more a title, an official court role) hang out together in heaven, wagering away Job's wealth, health, and the lives of his children, somewhat reminiscent of the Olympic pantheon's disputes spilling over to life-and-death events before the walls of Troy...

and it is Yahweh, rather than the Devil, who sends an evil spirit from heaven to repeatedly torment King Saul.

Later, when God is holding council in heaven, seeking the death of King Ahab, a lying spirit speaks up. Ahab, has been praying and sacrificing to Yahweh to learn God's will as to whether or not he should engage in battle - and the lying spirit volunteers to convince all the prophets (save one - need to preserve a legal loophole) to inform Ahab God will ensure victory and preserve his life.

Ahab is killed and the army defeated: were Yahweh a national leader or mafia head, he could be charged with conspiracy to commit murder under the RICO act, or at least risk becoming an unindicted co-conspirator - but since he's God, his actions transcend good and evil.

In fact, In Isaiah 45:7, God proclaims "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."

Similarly, in Isa. 54:16, Yahweh avers, "Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an insturment for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy."

By the New Testament period, the polarization has already occurred: the Judeo-Christian deity is no longer claiming to have created the waster, is no longer the source of evil, its origins transferred to Satan, the Devil.

Campbell touches on this difference between Western and other religions. On page, 78, he is discussing with Moyers the destructive aspect of Vishnu:

Such experiences go beyond ethical or aesthetic judgments. Ethics is wiped out. Whereas in our religions, with their accent on the ethical - God is qualified as good. No, no! God is horrific. Any god who can invent hell is no candidate for the Salvation Army. The end of the world, think of it! But there is a Muslim saying about the Angel of Death: "When the Angel of Death approaches, he is terrible. When he reaches you, it is bliss."
So even in Islam, with it's accent on hypermorality, there are images in the myth which point to transcending opposites.

Campbell continues:
In Buddhist systems, more especially those of Tibet, the meditation Buddhas appear in two aspects, one peaceful and the other wrathful. If you are clinging fiercely to your ego and its little temporal world of sorrow and joys, hanging on for dear life, it will be the wrathful aspect of the deity that appears. It will seem terrifying. But the moment your ego yields and gives up, that same meditation Buddha is experienced as a bestower of bliss.


So here the experience of "evil" is a function of ego clinging to the temporal world ... and there does seem some resonance between that stance - "the wrathful aspect of the deity" - and the experience of god in the Levantine faiths, particularly the more fundamentalist of the Christian and Islamic sects.

Not to say that Campbell believes there is no place for ethics in religion (somewhat different from the religious morality in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, a morality rooted in revelation).

Moyers points out to Campbell that "myths deal with metaphysics," but that religion "deals with ethics, good and evil, how I relate to you, and how I should behave toward you and toward my wife and toward my fellow man under God. What is the role of ethics in mythology?"

Campbell's response, on page 281:

We spoke of the metaphysical experience in which you realize that you and the other are one. Ethics is a way of teaching you how to live as though you were one with the other. You don't have to have the experience because the doctrine of religion gives you molds of actions that imply a compassionate relationship with the other. It offers an incentive for doing this by teaching you that simply acting in your own self-interest is sin. That is identification with your body.
This is the essence of the Golden Rule ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" - or, in Bill Moyers' formulation, "Love thy neighbor as thyself, because they neighbor is thyself"), common to all major religions.

The difference Campbell finds is that religions codify a morality (e.g., the Ten Commandments and the Levitical code), a pattern of behavior that approximates the actual experience of the unity of all Life - whereas mythology propels us past revelation, to the experience of unity itself

and once we realize this Truth, this recognition of my Self in the Other, morality does not need to be externally enforced, but is etched in one's heart.

Many more twists and turns to the topic, i'm sure, but that's all i'm willing to bite off and chew for the moment.

Thanks for bringing it up!

Love Thy Other
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Post by maxnoon » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I've worked out an idea that states that the primary element for the Universe is darkness. Most creation myths, predominately the Biblical one, states that the first thing created was light, i.e. "Let there be Light". This implies that there was only darkness to start with.

TheBig Bang Theory and String Theory both have in common that light was created, thereby darkness must have existed before creation.

Now darkness has always been associated with 'evil', or forces connected to what is viewed as 'negative'. But if you think about it, does your view of what has been said and written about change if you view darkness as the primeval condition before creation? Can what is good and what is evil merely be qualified as to what does us good and what does us ill?
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Post by ALOberhoulser » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Campbell on Marxism eons any?

I'm in a joycean nietzchism thankx o .
t

it is --~infinitely~-- funny
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Post by Jamieson » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Under the general vein of this topic, I'm doing research on Lucifer of Christian lore as the 'light bringer' as opposed to his role of 'prince of darkness'. Has Campbell touched on this subject, or is there anywhere else I should look? I have Paradise Lost to start with, but where else could the topic of a possibly benevolent Satan be addressed? Many thanks!
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Post by Mark H. » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

If I'm not mistaken, Jewish lore paints Lucifer as an archangel who loved God so much he could not bear the thought of being forced to bow down to man, and in his refusal was thrown out of Heaven. I think Christian lore has done an unusually thorough job in "demonizing" Lucifer, who in many cultures is shown as our "shadow side", or the "trickster". Elaine Pagels has a book out on the Christian history of Satan called "The Origin of Satan". In it she quotes other sources such as Neil Forsyth's book, "The Old Enemy". Carl Jung has wrote quite a bit on the nature of evil and our "shadow side", compiled in a book called "Jung on Evil", by Murray Stein. I find it difficult to think on the benevolent aspects of Satan without turning to sources other than Christianity. The serpent in Christian mythology is regarded universally by Christians as Satan, but Campbell in the first chapter of Occidental Mythology discusses the serpent and it's meaning in a much wider context. Parabola also has volumes focusing on Evil, as well as Light, Shadow, and Demons. Hope this helps.
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Post by sladeb » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

If I'm not mistaken, Jewish lore paints Lucifer as an archangel who loved God so much he could not bear the thought of being forced to bow down to man, and in his refusal was thrown out of Heaven
Mormonism has fully developed this concept. In the mormon belief, we all existed premortally and there was a great "council in heaven" in which two plans were put forward. One plan would obligate mankind to obedience and he would have no agency - the other would give man freedon of choice. The first plan was put forward by Lucifer "the son of the morning" who wanted to ensure by blind obedience that all would return to god. The other was put forward by jesus who wanted everyone to learn and earn the right to be with god.

Lucifers plan was rejected and he was cast from heaven with "a third of the hosts of heaven" to become satan and his angels. Supposedly the rest of us sided with jesus and chose to suffer through the use of free agency.

This is fascinating from the point of view that evil did not exist till then. Which raises the question - if evil did not exist till lucifer fell, then on what basis was mankind to make its judgements between right and wrong if there was noone around to tempt them. Therefore lucifers fall would have been predestined in order to create the field of opposites.

Interesting how the theologists can create these circular loops of reason with no means of resolution expect a fallback to the question being a "mystery". :wink:
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Post by fenris » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Perhaps you should have defined your concepts of "mythology" and "evil".
Some professors claim that "mythology" is a matter of degree of removal from the time of the event. If this is so, that would make it seem that the association of "evil" (if we define it as some thing very bad, from the perspective of any given observer) could be responsible for the development of a percieved need for a religion.
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Post by CarmelaBear » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Wow, Bohdi Bliss! Your command of the subject is amazing. Like you, my first thought was good ol' Zoroaster. Though many mythological ideas helped humanity further along, the notion of dualism and good and evil ushered in a set of human relationships characterized by heirarchy. As soon as you have more than one, one goes up, the other down. Light is good. Dark is bad. ETC. It gave rise to a lot of social injustice, I'm afraid.
Once in a while a door opens, and let's in the future. --- Graham Greene
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Post by CarmelaBear » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

[Don't mind me. I'm mumbling.]

Joe Campbell said that we think our heads are in charge, but it's really the body that dictates much of what we do (though the brain is part of the body, he was probably referring to guiding ideas vs. compulsions). One of the purposes of myth is the explanation of behavior AFTER we behave, a justification or a snap shot rather than a cause. The duality of good and evil may be more a description of what's inevitable than a guiding principle, but once it is taken for granted, it can justify atrocities.
Once in a while a door opens, and let's in the future. --- Graham Greene
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Post by ruffles899 » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

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Post by ruffles899 » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I am new here and this is my first post. I just wanted to add something about good/evil. I read a book by Carl Sagan, Broca's Brain, and in it he points out that the part of the brain that allows us to abstract about good/evil, that is, the part of the brain that makes "moral" judgements, when this part evolved it is then that our brains became larger. He writes that prior to this childbirth was easier for women, the babies didn't have such whopping big heads. I thought it was interesting that one of the "curses" of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was "in pain shall you bring forth children".
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Post by bodhibliss » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Intriguing catch, Ruffles, about women bringing forth children in pain (after eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil), and the larger head accompanying the development of moral centers in the brain according to current scientific understanding of the evolution of our species.

If you haven't read it already, you might enjoy the first hundred pages of Primitive Mythology (the first volume in the Masks of God tetralogy). Campbell grounds mythology in biology, particularly in the body, as it is through the body and its processes that we engage the external world. Though he often alludes to this relationship, in Primitive Mythology he explores the biology of myth. Given the research available at the time, most of his observations hold up today, four decades later.

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