Sweet Muse of Madness
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Born into a tribe of hunters in the cedar forests of the eastern lands, Hypsistos spent his earliest years appreciating and practicing the sacred dance between predator and prey.  Unfortunately, this natural way was short lived, as logging parties from the city-states intruded upon the forest, seeking the sturdy cedar trees, and literally chopping down the hunters’ world.

Hypsistos’ parents and the rest of the tribe fought to protect their land, but were no match for the soldiers accompanying the logging operations.  The survivors of the tribe were captured and sold into slavery, and so Hypsistos, while still a child, found himself in shackles in the city of Jericho.

After some years as a sex-slave, Hypsistos was purchased by the merchant-priest In-Shushinak.  This was a liberation of a sort, for while Hypsistos remained under the sexual domination of his master, he became an acolyte in the worship of In-Shushinak’s Heavenly Father, and also learned to write and calculate as an assistant in his master’s trading company.  Thus Hypsistos saw most of the known world, as far east as the Tigris-Euphrates, and as far west as the land of Graia across the great World Sea.

When we meet Hypsistos in Sweet Muse of Madness, the youth is about to step  upon the broad Plain of mainland Graia.  Before him, and unknown to him, lies a threshold of transformation as profound as the changes he has already experienced as hunter, slave and acolyte, a threshold involving the bewitching young women, Parthenia and Gamelia, the noble family of Thessalia, the worship of the Great Goddess, the intense festival known as the Maddening and the intimidating possibilities within the Sacred Grove.  Hypsistos’ response to these challenges will alter not only the course of his own life, but the fate of the People of the Plain.


“Hypsistos” is a name or title that emerges out of various times and places in the ancient Mediterranean world.  Basically it means “All Highest,” and can be found in nature worshipping, polytheistic and monotheistic contexts.  The King of the Olympian gods was sometimes referred to as Zeus Hypsistos, but those who acknowledged the existence of only one Supreme Creative Consciousness could have used the word “Hypsistos” as well.

In the first century of our common era, the scholar Philo attempted to tell the story of humanity in terms that described the classical gods as mortal beings.  In this so-called “history,” the character of Gaea is the daughter of a male leader named Hypsistos.  This is interesting because for about a thousand years prior to Philo, going back to Hesiod’s Theogony and probably even earlier, the Earth Mother Gaea was believed to have emerged from Chaos, the unbounded Abyss.  So what we have in Philo’s writings is a hint of a psychological process that is fundamental to the world of mythology;  the personification of natural phenomena.  What is first interpreted by Hesiod as a non-conscious, even non-living “Void,” gradually is re-interpreted over the centuries to become the “All Highest,” Hypsistos.

Even while recognizing that the word “Chaos” did not originally mean confusion, we still can appreciate the human imagination’s use of mythology to bring order to “Chaos.”  Indeed, not merely order, but intent, as the Abyss itself comes to be worshipped as the Supreme Deity.

But we may well ask why this personification of the Source of All Things came to be thought of as male, when all around us living things are born out of the female.  In the patriarchal world in which Philo lived, Uranus, traditionally identified as the starry sky, was the mortal son of Hypsistos and brother to Gaea, but in the much older worldview of Hesiod, Gaea comes into being first, and then herself gives birth to Uranus, establishing Gaea as the Great Mother of the heavens as well as the earth.  In addition, the myth of Demeter and Persephone surely harkens back to a time when the abstract “overseer” function (Demeter), and the material “executor” of seasonal change (Persephone), were both personified as female.  How did the “All Highest” parent who gave birth to the Cosmos transform from an “Eternal Mother” into an “Eternal Father?”

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the world of Goddess worship was also a world of magic.  As it became increasingly apparent in Greece, as well as in any other given part of the world, that magical practices were not very consistent in directing the invisible forces of the world to the benefit of the people, the Great Goddess Herself lost credibility.  But the universal human fear of death remained.  With the Earth Mother, and by extension Nature itself, no longer a reliable source of consolation in the face of our common mortality, the human imagination constructed a nonmaterial superparent, who, by definition, existed outside the undependable corporeal dimension, and indeed, was the creator of it.  The more perfect this Creator, the greater our consolation in the face of death.

This sense of consolation was deepened when mortals further described God as the source not only of the world, but of morality.  When we projected our own codes of conduct, which we had developed from prehistoric times through the struggle to survive, onto the Perfect Parent, we established a spiritualistic mandate that justified the behavior we already had been practicing.  And if that behavior excluded those who were not like us, who were we to question the Infallible Law Giver?
However, it could not have been long before the belief in a flawless deity raised a fundamental problem, that of an imperfect world resulting from a perfect Creator.  Why did bad things happen to good people?  Why were the most ruthless often rewarded?  How could God’s natural forces take innocent lives?

In the much older Nature worship, the indwelling Goddess was never expected to be perfect. As Nature itself, She did as She willed, and it was for mortals to engage one another in a consensus driven process by which their common human needs were identified and fulfilled.  But once the disillusionment with magic, and the continued mortal fear of death, compelled humans to perceive the Abyss as a Supreme Being, once the “All Highest,” Hypsistos, was defined as Perfection Personified, and by that definition removed from blame for life’s hardships, a spoiler of God’s Creation had to be found.  What could poison the world more effectively than an entity dwelling at the core of it?  And so, that which was once held most sacred, the Indwelling Female Life Force, was transformed from Goddess to Demon.  Gaea was demoted from Heaven’s Mother to Celestial Sister, and worse, becoming Medusa, Pandora, Eve, Morgan Le Fey and countless other stealers of men’s souls and destroyers of kingdoms in various mythologies the world over.

With the Female Force, and Her maddening mortal avatars, firmly established as the spoilers, the male sex by default became the embodiment of the Perfect Parent, and the “All Highest” became Hypsistos, the Eternal Father.  Even the profound biological event of birth giving was redefined as a mere mechanical function that could be performed just as well by men.  Hence, Hypsistos, as Chaos personified, “gives birth” to Gaea, Zeus “brings forth” Athena from his skull, and Adam “fathers” Eve from his rib.  Indeed, any culture that commits to a collection of myths that includes as its very first episode the story of a woman conspiring with a snake to make life difficult for a man, is a culture in which neither women nor nature is going to fare very well.  (Since prehistoric times, the snake has been one of the primary symbols of nature, as the mobile branch.  Serpents in the ancient symbol of medicine reflect the high regard in which snakes were once held.  The earliest maps depict the ocean as a great snake encompassing and protecting the land.  And when the snake, representing the earth, is snatched up by the eagle, representing the sky, the powers of the universe combine, and the flying serpent, the dragon, is born.  The hero who rides the dragon, or kills it and drinks its blood, attains a true identification with the Cosmos.  In Sweet Muse of Madness, the People of the Plain call their Great World Snake, “Sajet Krulk.”)

I am of the opinion that the above stated inevitable disenchantment with magic, the continued anxiety in regard to death, the construction of the Perfect Parent, the demonization of the Goddess as the spoiler of God’s Creation, were natural aspects of the psychology of human beings everywhere, but the demise of matriarchal influence manifested itself differently in different times and places. The indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas seem to have maintained a deeper appreciation of the world’s indwelling nature spirits, be those spirits female or male, longer than did the peoples of the Fertile Crescent and Europe, where nonmaterial patriarchal deities, both polytheistic and monotheistic, were first institutionalized. But as the Europeans, for a variety of geographic, environmental, biological, cultural and technological reasons, came to dominate the other continents, the “institutionalized” Patriarch went global.

It is my belief that this psychological process was probably well underway by the time irrigation based agriculture came along in Mesopotamia. It could be argued that the very existence of bountiful grain stores, in and of itself, was enough to ignite population explosions on the Tigris-Euphrates, the Nile, the Indus and in the early agricultural/city-sate societies of every inhabited continent, resulting in a race between human numbers and food production and distribution that challenges us to this day. But I would suggest the disempowerment of women also contributed to population growth. As women were increasingly marginalized, relegated to the kitchen and the bedroom, they became subject to the passions of men, and the populations exploded.  With growing population came growing fear of disorder.  There were more people than were required to work the land and engage basic crafts. Idle males became “rogue” males, and uniformed male “enforcers” were organized to contain the “rogue” criminals within the city and to hold off the “enforcers” attacking from other cities.  These enforcement institutions were run by powerful patriarch/warlord/kings whose commands carried the weight of the Law of the Heavenly Father, the “All Highest.”

Such institutions only grew stronger with time, fueled by increasing populations, provided by subjugated women.  Thousands of years after the first city-states, Alexander the Great stood before his troops as they prepared for battle. He reminded them that they were once hide-clad vagabonds tending meager herds of sheep, but that they were now the conquerors of the earth! Whether or not Alexander realized it, the very existence of his army was not the result of too few sheep, but too many shepherds, ripe for recruitment into a command structure of one kind or another; uniformed or not, religious or secular, legal or illegal.

Thus, in my view, the religious and mythological shift from polytheism to monotheism was not as portentous as the psychological shift from Goddess “interaction” to Godly “imposition.”  The nature worshipping trinity of Mother, Father and Child eventually, under the Perfect Parent system, became Father, Son and some vague non-sexual Holy Ghost, with the Female Life Force nowhere recognized symbolically.  “Order” in the “interaction” mindset was nothing more than a tool in the fulfillment of need, whereas in the “imposition” mindset “order” was the ultimate need in and of itself, a need that had to be fulfilled even if all other needs went unmet.  The primary metaphor in the “interaction” worldview was the wheel, with all humans, animals and plants, no matter how powerful as individuals, ultimately equal in the ever turning, churning cycle of seasons; integration to disintegration to reintegration; birth to death to rebirth.  In the “imposition” worldview the primary metaphor was the ladder, a hierarchy of power with the “All Highest” deity by definition on the top rung, followed by kings, men, then cattle, women and children sharing a rung, then all other animals, and finally plants at the bottom.  One might also suggest that the “wheel” perspective included the creative individual whose “craft” reflected an identification with Nature, while the “ladder” perspective included the uniformed citizen whose “job” or “function” reflected an identification with an institution.

I believe that as the city-states developed into nation-states over the course of at least six thousand years, the growth in human population, the accompanying fear of disorder, the continued alienation from nature, the on-going discomfort with merely thinking about death and the clinging to the Perfect Parent have all contributed fundamentally to the Patriarchal character of modern civilization.  In our time there have been both secular and spiritualistic, atheistic and theistic God-Kings, men who proclaimed an unwavering faith in an abstract political ideology as fervently as those who invoked the name of a deity.  And all these relatively recent God-Kings demanded an unquestioning commitment from their followers.  In that sense were the Super Patriarchs of the Twentieth Century, from Hitler to Stalin to Mao Tse-Tung to Pol Pot to Saddam Hussein to Osama Bin Laden, the absolute centers of their own “religions.” 

Art, science and technology, all children of the “interactive” psyche’s desire to fulfill the needs of the human heart, mind and body, have advanced in spite of, not because of, the prevalence of male dominated hierarchies. We will never know how far civilization might have progressed by now if both sexes had been allowed to participate fully in the arts and sciences. And in those times when the patriarchal hierarchies have turned to science and technology, it has been with the objective of pursuing knowledge not for its own sake, but rather to develop instruments by which the patriarchal institutions could be protected, often by placing in harm’s way “expendable” citizens whose multitude dwarfs the number of human sacrifices of antiquity.

The demonization of “spoilers” has become more sophisticated over the millennia; anyone who is not in the majority is eligible for the dubious honor.  However, women, although half the human population, have remained the oldest and most consistently scapegoated group.  Can we change this reality?  We know that the higher the education of women, the greater their participation in society, and the fewer children they have.  Thus education is the key to female empowerment, which in turn is the key to human-regulated, rather than government-regulated, population control.  If we truly can cap the number of humans on planet earth, and perhaps even reduce the population, then there may be hope of also reducing our fear of disorder.  As that fear dissipates, might our reliance on “imposition” driven thinking also be reduced, and could that reduction signal a return to a “needs fulfillment” mindset, with the “wheel of life” once again our primary metaphor?

Both the “wheel” and the “ladder” perspectives are present in the ancient Greek imagination, as is both Goddess and Eternal Patriarch worship.  Present also is the acknowledgment of both material and nonmaterial realms; the material realm as explored at first through magic and later by science; the nonmaterial realm as explored at first by the belief in deities and later by classical idealistic philosophy. In the early Sixteenth Century the Renaissance artist Raphael painted his masterwork, The School of Athens, which presently hangs in the Vatican, and in which Raphael depicted the major thinkers of classical Greece.  At the center of this esteemed gathering stand the great philosophers Aristotle and Plato, deep in conversation.  Aristotle has a hand reaching forward, as if emphasizing the importance of investigating the material world before us, and Plato is pointing upwards, as if emphasizing what was for him, the perfect dimension of abstract Forms, of which the world we experience was only a shadow.  We may be certain that if some modern Raphael were to expand that monumental painting to include the great thinkers who have come and gone since classical times, Aristotle and Plato would remain at the center of it, for it is that conversation regarding the true nature of reality, and how we should go about exploring it, that still rests at the core of modern scientific, religious and political discourse.  Do we build a truly just society by first addressing material human needs, or by first somehow determining how to conform to some Perfect Abstraction, be that abstraction Deity, Form or Ideology?

We began this essay with the acknowledgment of Hypsistos, an obscure title arising out of the mists of antiquity, and discovered that within that word, meaning “All Highest,” was a journey through magical thinking, the fear of death, the need to be embraced by a Perfect Parent, the necessity of redeeming that abstraction by blaming the ills of the world on a spoiler, and the perceived need to erect power structures in order to contain and control the spoiler; a journey that has brought us to the relatively recent realization that there are no spoilers, only human beings entitled to dignity and justice. (One might add that another recent realization, or at least an intriguing suggestion, is that the prehistoric idea of a non-living, non-conscious Chaos, the unbounded nothing from which time and space emerged, is not so far removed from modern sub-atomic particle theory, in which some kind of timeless, non-intending “fluctuating vacuum” may have caused, as a mere by-product, our own and any number of other universes to “happen”.)

In a sense, the youth Hypsistos in the novel Sweet Muse of Madness, is taking this same journey, and wonders which way is the wisest path; toward the “wheel,” the Goddess, the “interaction,” or, as his mentor In-Shushinak would have it, toward the “ladder,” the Patriarch, the “imposition.”  Only Hypsistos himself can answer this question.

The same is true for each of us.  If we turn to the study of mythology for definitive answers, we will be disappointed, but mythology can provide a framework, through the telling of stories, that clarify the questions themselves.  Furthermore, mythology reminds us that it is almost always the case, that hidden within the thing we had assumed to be an absolute given, is another opportunity to humbly acknowledge our ignorance, and begin a new adventure toward enlightenment.  As every hero ultimately discovers, in order to begin your quest, you need only ask.