Sometimes I have really horrible, nasty, awful thoughts. Violent, even. I’ll close my eyes and see blood, gore, and the most fantastical monsters. Ugly creatures that I couldn’t describe, even if I wanted to.
Why? Why does my mind come up with these things? Why does it show me these things?
I don’t want to think of nasty, horrible, violent things. It’s not a choice; it just happens. It’s always happened, too, for as long as I can remember. There’s nothing specific that provokes it, as far as I can tell. It’s not like it happens every time I drink coffee, or at certain times; by all accounts it’s entirely random.
From an early age, I learned to cope with these images. Well, I tried to, anyways. A monstrous creature would make it’s way into my head, so I would imagine a unicorn in a side-scrolling runner game format. You know the type; where the character is continually running horizontally across the screen and has to either jump over or duck under obstacles. I would imagine this running unicorn picking up the monsters with her horn and just flinging them away, out of sight out of mind. Have you seen the old Pokemon series? The bad guys, Team Rocket, always get thrown off into the distance, and that’s how I would get rid of the thoughts I didn’t want.
The monsters, of course, always came back (just like Team Rocket!). But the unicorn was relentless, she never stopped, either.
I could never control the monsters; only the unicorn. Which I find really rather strange. Why could I decide when she showed up, and have her get rid of the ugly thoughts, but not control the ugly thoughts themselves? Even today, I don’t understand it, but it’s okay because I know how to cope with it.
Wondering over the origins of those ugly thoughts has, inevitably lead me to wonder if maybe their origins aren’t in my head. What if they’re put there by something else? By the Devil? Or by demons? What if they are demons?!
It would be a truly terrifying thought if I believed in that sort of thing. But I don’t believe in demons, or the Devil.
Terrifying though it could be, I think there’s also a level of comfort to be found in that idea. Because if they really were demons, the Devil, or any other type of supernatural what-have-you, well….I win every time. I’ve been stronger than those thoughts since I was 4 years old!
Doesn’t it seem a little uncomfortable, accepting the reality that all sorts of heinous, villainous, offensive creatures could be born of one’s own mind? How much better it is to accept that our minds couldn’t conceive of something so abhorrent, that those images must have been put there by outside sources! Add to that the idea that we can overcome these outside sources? No wonder people are so quick to believe in demons.
You might have noticed that the image at the beginning of this post is of a gargoyle. Well, to be specific, it’s of a grotesque, as gargoyles are a specific type of grotesque that act as water spouts. But that’s just semantics; it’s a gargoyle for all intents and purposes. I’ve been reading about the history of gargoyles (and grotesques!) lately. Not for the sake of writing this post, just because I think they’re neat! Luckily for me, their history really is relevant to today’s topic!
So, a gargoyle is a type of functional grotesque with a wide open mouth that’s used as a water spout. In fact, the name derives from the Old French word for ‘throat,’ gargouille (which sounds very similar to the word gargle). These carved monsters were(and are) made of wood, stone, and terracotta, and direct water away from stone buildings to protect them from water damage. As such, most gargoyles are horizontal.
Grotesques, on the other hand, stand upright, and are purely decorative. Their history (grotesques and gargoyles alike) spans back through the Ancient Romans, through the Ancient Greeks, and to the Ancient Egyptians. In each of these 3 cultures, the grotesques and gargoyles acted as a form of protection.
Grotesques became commonplace in Cathedrals during Medieval times due to high illiteracy rates. They were also sometimes seen as a form of protection, though their main religious purpose was to inspire the fear of Hell within the hearts of the illiterate.
“It’s important to understand that in rejecting the pagan gods—as numerous writings from the early centuries of Christianity make crystal clear—Christians merely demoted them in rank to the level of demons, denying not their existence but their divinity. And since these demons were thought of as holding the natural world in their grip, the old gods were still the gods of nature. It’s just that they had been literally demonized, and nature itself demoted with them“
As the story goes, during the 7th century there was a river-dwelling dragon terrorizing the French town of Rouen. Saint Romain heroically conquered the dragon using the sign of the cross, but only after the townsfolk converted to Christianity. He was able to burn all of the deceased beast’s body, save for it’s head and neck, and so the story goes to say that the head of the dragon was publicly displayed. Some stories say that the head was meant to warn other dragons to steer clear, while others say that it was to remind the townsfolk of the power of God. Then, a heavy rain came and waters poured forth from the beast’s mouth, inspiring a passing architect to invent gargoyles.
Oh, and the dragon’s name? Le Gargouille!
The story of Saint Romain is, of course, a metaphor for converting pagans to Catholicism. It just so happens that gargoyles were used by the Catholic church during Medieval France to attract and convert pagans! The devils and demons of Christianity were largely modeled after pagan deities. Take this quote from Collin Wells in the article titled How Did God Get Started on Boston University’s website:
“It’s important to understand that in rejecting the pagan gods—as numerous writings from the early centuries of Christianity make crystal clear—Christians merely demoted them in rank to the level of demons, denying not their existence but their divinity. And since these demons were thought of as holding the natural world in their grip, the old gods were still the gods of nature. It’s just that they had been literally demonized, and nature itself demoted with them.”
Simply put, we can trace the monotheistic concept of demons and devils back to their historical beginnings! And those beginnings are rooted in Christian propaganda; in an attempt to convert people by vilifying their deities. One of the ways that the pagan deities were demonized was by using their imagery and symbolism to depict Christian demons and devils.
Just take a look at Pan, for example. A Greek nature god who’s half goat, half man. He has cloven feet and 2 horns on his head. Sound familiar?
The Christian Devil, and his demons, were intentionally modeled after pagan deities. There’s evidence that Egyptian deities were demonized in a similar fashion, as well.
And so modelling the grotesques after demons and devils, who were in turn modeled after pagan deities, served a two-fold purpose. Their ugly faces scared the Christians, and their familiar faces attracted the pagans. They were only placed on the outside of churches. Why not inside?
By placing grotesques outside, the Church was signifying that evil and terror is found outside of the Church. And inside the Church? Salvation.
Liberation Lies Within
That symbolism is a neat metaphor, I think. Certainly not something I take literally, the idea that only the Church is safe. In fact, making people believe that the outside world is evil and dangerous, and that they’ll only be safe if they follow xyz rules is emotional abuse, and a tactic often employed by cults to retain members.
But as a metaphor? I am the church, and I can find refuge within. Gag me, I know, that’s almost too cheesy. But there’s another part of the metaphor. The gargoyles and grotesques are a part of the church; my monsters are a part of me. And they protect me, in a sense. They taught me how to divert water, AKA excessive emotions, away in a manner that protects me from damage. My monsters taught me how to cope, and I’m thankful for that.
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