From Aporia: Alexander’s Iron Gate
Standing like the appellant god at the crossroads-gate, the initiand now surveys a puzzle with no solution—an aporia: one road for the good citizen, and another for the scum of the earth, the dirty-lowdown-dog. In his Myths of the Dog-Man David Gordon White situates the dog as an ubiquitous mythological image for the undesirable, exotic, and inferior races. The image presents its loathsome apex in the miscegenic, cynocephalic—dog-headed—man. The complexity of just why the dog is given this slanderous distinction will be explored shortly; in the meantime, it is enough to know that the dog-men were originally thought to inhabit the wastelands at the edge or threshold of the world. On civilization’s terms this situation is “just fine”: so long as the monsters do not transgress the boundary. However, as imperialism expands toward the outlands, and with the occasional invasion of “cynocephalic hordes,” protective measures must be taken to ensure the continuous purity of social structure.
Keeping the dog-man separate from civil society is synonymous with keeping one’s personal “defects” walled off from consciousness—and especially walled off from the visible public persona. A Great Wall, then, is erected to be the first and last line of defense against all that is “outcast and vagabond.” This ideological wall has its most potent precedent in the legendary Iron Gate, built by Alexander, to hold back the barbarian tides:
“This image, of a hero plugging the sole gap* between the civilized and savage races and worlds, was undoubtedly a very powerful one given the perenniality of this account across a wide array of legends and over several centuries. . . . [T]his episode of the Alexander Romance . . . [appears] in a fourteenth-century Persian miniature entitled Iskandar Builds the Iron Rampart. In this miniature, it is the break between civilization and savagery that is most evident. On the near side of the wall are men in brightly colored clothes manning forges, machines, and other tools used in the wall’s construction. On the far side of the wall are grey desert mountains with ragged underbrush in which crouching, hairy semi-human creatures may be made out, their bodies quite difficult to distinguish from their natural surroundings.”1
Of course the world has changed since the time when this portrayal was taken as fact: instead of the finite flat-earth, we now have a round globe with no apparent edge; boundaries shift daily; the great exoteric walls are demolished. Civilization—Alexander’s side of the Gate—has now overrun the entire surface of the earth.
The term “civilization” or “mass-civilization” as used throughout this work, includes not only all varieties of state and pontifical rule, but also, and more particularly, the tyranny of “civil society.” In its devotion to the one-sidedness of structural status and public persona, civil society must be seen as the tool of oppression and exploitation, a tool bent on upholding the ideal of an individuality with no actual association to the depths of the implicate shape. Consider the buoyant contemporary argument: that civil society is “a social sphere of freedom, voluntary association, and plurality of human relationships, identities, differences, and values” and, more grandiosely, “Civil society [is] upheld as the key notion required to conceptualize the potential for freedom and liberation which this arena contains.”2 These assertions are, to be moderate, absurd; yes, in civil society we are granted many options— freedoms and liberties—to choose from a thousand kinds of breakfast cereal; unwittingly the good-citizen is kept busy, as Michael Meade says, with “choices that don’t count.”3 The half-heartedness of civil society is clearly a contrived seduction to the superficial life of the public persona, the imposition of “structural superiority” as the measure of human value, and, at bottom, an anesthetic to interiority and a conquest of “what the soul really sees.”
Mass-civilization is not community. A mature community valorizes and confirms the initiatory passages/deaths of each individual’s personal/ cosmic identity by its whole-hearted participation in both structure and anti-structure; whereas, civilization renders the implicate individual alienated, devalued, and anonymous. Civilization is structure decreed for structure’s sake; as the words of anthropologist Stanley Diamond make so profoundly clear: “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and oppression at home.”4
Something from the Other-side of Alexander’s Gate—something of primitive consciousness—has been lost; yet there can be no rallying cry here to idealize primitive or tribal society—obviously the tendency to ostracize abnormality is as old as life itself. Nevertheless, it would be naïve in the extreme to overlook the fact that this inherent predisposition to exclusion has reached its pinnacle with the advent of mass-civilization.
Most good citizens have long since decided to let Others carry their strangeness, and so to live half-hearted, to keep the world-gate safely locked and bolted. Upon this it may be inquired: “Well what’s so bad about that? Why not live and let live?” But Alexander’s side of the Gate has overrun the whole earth and the soul-laden dog-man has nowhere left to go. This fact—that there is no longer any “edge of the world” to which deviants may be exiled—has brought about the everincreasing implementation of institutional wastelands, “structures of exclusion” for incarceration of the dog-man in prison, asylum, or zoo. Thus, for the structurally inferior, the paths of exclusion are laid out and seemingly unavoidable. Seduced down into the bowels, they often simply disappear.
If life is understood to be a seamless progress from one structural status to another, then whatever structure we are living in—whether Pentagon or penitentiary—will be the only reality; and what departs from that reality presents the abysmal death-threat of anti-structure. Now the Evil Empire is personified as the Other Within: the exotic dog-man among us.
Built for posterity, the monument of the Iron Gate still stands strong. Between the known and the unknown—the locus of Alexander’s wall is precisely where it has always been: in the center of the human heart. The cosmic split, “the break between civilization and savagery,” between the village and the forest, denotes the ontological gap; a gap that by now the reader will easily recognize as the crossroads of identity: “the seat of the soul.” Standing thus divided by the ancient wall, there are amputated parts of us scattered on both sides. The aporia faced by the out-sider stranded on the in-side of Alexander’s Gate adds another dimension to the plight of the Other Within. One yearns to “leave the herd” and escape structural inferiority by returning through the “sole gap” to some forgotten homeland—however savage and bizarre. And at the same time one wishes for “membership”; yet the Gate confronts incessantly: barring each bright avenue to inclusion the galling sign reads “no admittance.” The double-bind of this circumstance throws the wanderer betwixt the clashing rocks of no-entry-into and no-escape-from. Consequently, the Other Within will need both resistance and resilience, to face the conundrum of Alexander’s Iron Gate; for the spell of its damnation will fall when least expected and where most vulnerable. As Clyde W. Ford—a mythologist who is also an African American—recounts:
“With a deepened interest in mythology and especially in the hero’s journey, I was excited to turn to the contributions Africa has made to world mythology. But what a surprise it was to consult The Hero with a Thousand Faces by the late Joseph Campbell, perhaps the most famous modern text on mythology, and read this opening phrase:
“’Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse.’
“These words were my Symplegades—the ominous clashing rocks through which the Greek hero Jason had to pass before reaching the Sea of Wonders en route to recapturing the Golden Fleece. I closed the book with a heavy heart.”5
To his profound credit Dr. Ford persevered and made passage between the “clashing rocks” of this betrayal going on to give us The Hero with an African Face.
Dismissive “aloof amusement” is just one civil trick, among many, in the massman’s unconscious defense against the terror of Otherness. As already indicated, maintaining structural purity by keeping the dogpeople separate from “civil society” is synonymous with keeping one’s personal defects walled off from the inner-sanctum of ordered consciousness—and especially walled off from the pure and bright public persona.
In self-defense, the egocentric identity, quite rightly, recognizes that the crisis of rapport with Otherness will mean its certain death (it is hard to abandon even the thinnest illusion that we are normal). Still, if one hopes to survive as the Other Within, it will be vital to accept and exercise the poetic-power in the deep ambivalence evoked by “the symbol of the dog . . . at one and the same time a guardian and benign spirit and the object of God’s curse [contraries which] make it the preeminent example of the ‘fallen angel.’”6 After all, is it not the “fallen angel” within us and amongst us, whom we most fear?
“The ‘Hounds of Herne the Hunter,’ or the ‘Dogs of Annwm,’ which hunt souls across the sky are, in British folklore, also called ‘Gabriel ratches’ or ‘Gabriel hounds’ . . . Gabriel, whose day was Monday, ran errands for Sheol (the Hebrew Hecate) and was sent to summon souls to Judgement. . . . This was Hermes’s task, and Herne, a British oak-god whose memory survived in Windsor Forest until the eighteenth century, is generally identified with Hermes. Gabriel and Herne are equated in the early thirteenth-century carvings around the church door at Stoke Gabriel in South Devon. The angel Gabriel looks down from above, but on the right as one enters are carved the wild hunter, his teeth bared in a grin and a wisp of hair over his face, and a brace of his hounds close by. But Hermes in Egypt . . . was the dog-headed god Anubis.”7
The dog-man, then, is a Devil inspiring both awe and dread. Herne the Wild Hunter of souls, as Graves shows, is another face of Hermes, the angel Gabriel, and the dog-headed god Anubis. Thus, a visitation from this cynocephalic deity confronts the human soul at the cusp of life and death. Just so, the dog-man threatens the structure-bound with the looming corruption of Hell:
“Guardians of the gates of hell, hellhounds, and the souls of the dead themselves are often depicted as canine. In fact, it is not so much that the dog’s role extends beyond the world of the living into that of the dead, but rather that the dog’s place lies between one world and another. . . . the place of the dog in nearly all that it does in its relationship to man is liminal.”8
“Guardians of the gates of hell” summoning souls to judgment and damnation! No wonder the structure-bound are so anxious.
Even if “the divine energies are isolated in the archetypal world” association with such evocative images must still be handled with caution. Over-identification with the mythic-personage, or archetypalpresence, of Death would be a huge inflation, potentially displacing one’s implicate identity. Nevertheless these mytho-logical explanations for the massman’s irrational reactions—of awe and dread—instill a sense to the senseless and meaningless suffering of imposed inferiority. In spite of the insult one may understand that there is an archetypal “presence” or resonance in the imposition, and hence a potential influx of divine energies. Here again, put in different terms, is that same difficult coincidentia oppositorum: where comprehension and acceptance of the efficacy and burden of the archetypal-imposition—the mask of the dog-man—provides a refuge and a theater for the implicate life.