‘Pharaoh is the Bull of the Sky,The Cannibal Hymns of Unas, Utterance 273
who shatters at will,
who lives on the being of every god,
who eats their entrails,
even of those who come with their bodies
full of magic from the Island of Flame’
Predation upon other organisms for sustenance is not at all uncommon, a harmonious act of violence which facilitates evolution by weeding out those who are unfit to survive, while also ensuring the continued existence and reproduction of those specimens who, by practical demonstration of their ability, have earned the right to survive. The prey organism is typically of a different species, however, this is not always the case, and there are many naturally-occurring instances of cannibalism, such as with the genus of jumping spider known as Portia, which preys on both web-building spiders and its own males after copulation. Portia, despite its diminutive size, shows complex social behaviours and a sort of intelligence one might expect of much larger predators, using particularly devious tactics to lure its prey – other spiders typically several times its own size – into vulnerable positions. Preying on one’s own kind is far from exclusive to the delightfully sinister Portia, and the apes which we share common ancestry with have been observed to carry out very similar acts, albeit in very dissimilar contexts, such as the consumption of infants or, particularly in the case of chimpanzees, the eating of young snatched from other families in very deliberate acts of primal warfare – a precursor to the tribalism they will no doubt later develop.
Humans, for all their moral posturing and delusions of separation from the horrors of the natural world, are not exempt from the above, as both history and its psychic shadow of mythology are rife with instances of cannibalism – the subconscious traces of a ghoulish racial memory, one which is alive and well in the dark corners of the earth, and even within the boundaries of ‘civilised’ society, the forbidden act of consuming human flesh is not unheard of.
Early humans displayed cannibalistic tendencies for largely the same reasons as their ape cousins did – sheer practical need. A body no doubt lure predators to the rest of the tribe, and so it stands to reason that the best and most efficient way to dispose of the material was to eat it, which just so happened to address matters of nutrition as well. While a human body might not be the most ideal source of nutrition, it was remarkably accessible besides, as defending one’s area from invaders would no doubt result in a surplus of freshly killed meat lying about. Furthermore, hunting larger prey is dangerous if done by a group and near-suicidal if done alone, many animals taking quite a bit of abuse from primitive tools before going down, and not before injuring a member of the hunting party or two. A person, however, could be inncapacitied with comparatively little work – a rock in the temple, for example – and yield a sufficient return besides. This type of primitive efficiency is seen in the modern day as well, as various tribes of Papua New Guinea (including the infamous Asmat, who supposedly killed and ate Nelson Rockefeller), Africa, and throughout the Pacific islands.
As human societies grew more complex, evolving from the most rudimentary kinds of proto-culture to something more recognisable, the exact reasons for acts of cannibalism grew more abstract, as there was no longer as immediate a need to capitalise on any and all opportunities to eat, nor was there as much of a need to avoid luring predators with corpses. Many of the tribal cultures still practicing cannibalism do so for magical-religious reasons, such as to take on the power and attributes of a foe – the African warlord humourously known as ‘General Butt-Naked’ is said to have partaken in cannibalism for precisely these reasons! Another good example of post-primitive cannibalism for spiritual reasons more than practical is the practice of the Indian Aghori sect, a Shaivite tradition which has become infamous for its rather morbid rites, including eating the flesh of the recently deceased. However, unlike previously mentioned examples, they do not kill or harm anyone for their strange communion, and such practices are intended for them to truly know God – after all, how can one say they love and respect creation if they only accept the parts which are pleasing to the senses? Are not the deathly and grotesque also a part of nature, and the rot which feeds life? Furthermore, exposure to such unpleasant stimuli takes no small amount of willpower to override a feeling of revulsion towards the act, and it is through willingly taking part in difficult practices, such as eating the recently deceased, that they develop a state of absolute domination over the lesser parts of themselves which might feel fear or disgust.
Almost as if the practice of devouring one another is hard-coded into human nature, cannibalistic acts are not limited to the carnal and fleshy. Ideas are subject to being preyed upon in this way, the growth of mythos rarely, if ever, being a spontaneous phenomenon. As cultures interact with both each other and themselves, their various memes undergo changes to reflect the very real movement of people. Most immediately relatable in a broader Sinister context is the way in which folk European traditions were adapted as the region underwent its conversion to Nazarene practices. Instead of merely erasing the native ways and mythos of a given area, they were instead devoured by the Christian organism and thus, made part of it in such a way as to strengthen the organism and help it to adapt to its environment. This is seen in the transmutation of local deities and spirits from mostly benign entities to ghouls, devils, and evil things which snatch away children and livestock. For example, the Devil in modern popular culture is often shown with decidedly goat-like features in the form of cloven hooves and horns, while also possessing very carnal appetites and a certain mischievous inclination. Imagery of the Devil as an anthropomorphic goat-man is not canonical to any sect of Christianity, and is rather the product of demonising, quite literally, the ancient god Cernunnos, who was worshiped by the Celtic peoples, and similarly, the Fauns, Satyrs, and their lord Pan, who were part of the Hellenic cultures to the southeast. Both Cernunnos and Pan shared a similar horned man-beast appearance, as well as their considerable hunger for all manner of sensual gratification – quite possibly the most literal, archetypal depiction of that which is considered ‘Pagan’ – and so the deities previously revered by a people were ‘cannibalised’ as they transitioned from the old ways to their regional flavour of Christianity. Other folk deities across Europe underwent a similar process, such as the north’s Allfather Odin, who formed the basis for the modern archetypal witch, and also from the north, the underworld place of the dead known as Hel, whose later inclusion in Nazarene mythos is obvious. It was not an outside force that endeavoured to suppress old-world traditions in this way either, but elements within each of the cultures, those who swallowed up their own gods, regurgitating them as the politically necessary devils of a new religious form. As cultures shift into new paradigms, their old ways are consumed, and absorbed into the younger, thus contributing to its growth – not unlike young spiders devouring their mother after birth.
Just as humans prey on their own mythos to create new ones, the mythos themselves also feature instances of people being killed for the purpose of being eaten. In the Greek tale of King Lycaon, for example, the titular king makes a rather foolish attempt at testing Zeus. Lycaon secretly murdered his own son, and then prepared him as a meal for Zeus. Outraged, whether at the moral bankruptcy of the act or the insult to his divine intelligence, or both, Zeus turned Lycaon into a wolf-man as punishment. This story has both literal and symbolic components, as the Greeks found themselves utterly revolted by the savage religious practices of their neighbors, which supposedly included cannibalism, and so their disgust was reflected in their own mythos as a reflection of their societal values. In addition, one of the themes of many Greek myths is that of arrogance. That Zeus chose to react to this one instance implies it was the specific action of a mortal daring to test him which drew his ire, as the practice had obviously predated the Greeks and indeed all of civilisation – where then are the other Lycaonians?
Another instance of like-devouring-like, this time in Latin, involves the figure of Eumolpus within the Satyricon. Unlike the Greek tale of Lycaon, the cannibalism of Eumolpus was not an act of mortal hubris, but one of necessity for financial gain. Eumolpus is an unextraordinary poet posing as a wealthy individual in order to exploit those who might proverbially bend over backwards in order to gain his inheritance, and indeed, all manner of fawning candidates went to great lengths to appease him. Unable to keep up the ruse, Eumolpus has his will read to the gathered ‘inheritors’, which proclaims that, in order to receive any ‘inheritance’ they must eat his dead body in public. Naturally, the condition of being required to eat Eumolpus’ dead body was intended to ward off those who expected what could not be provided, but it also speaks to the mindset of those who would seek out in some way the legacy of their forebears, as they put on all manner of disingenuous fronts and superficial displays in a shallow attempt at courting approval and thus, assurances of inheritance – and the post-mortem division of assets and legacies does indeed resemble the butchery of a carcass, often done ravenously, as though the inheritors were tearing the corpse apart in the street and swallowing great fistfuls of viscera.
How curiously do we come full circle.