Welcome to the second installment in my examination of the acclaimed first season of the HBO series True Detective. In the first part I briefly gave a rundown of season one's primary characters, detectives Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), as well as the actors who played them. I also touched on the importance of two numbers, 17 and 5, that appear throughout the season from an esoteric perspective.
|Rust and Marty|
The show opens with Hart and Cohle, in separate interviews, recounting a bizarre murder investigation they conducted in 1995 to detectives Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Papania (Tory Kittles) in 2012. The investigation began with the discovery of the body of prostitute Dora Lange in Vermillion Parish, LA, on January 3. The date of January 3 is significant to Cohle as it was the day his daughter died on several years earlier in a tragic accident. Written numerically, the date of January 3 is 1/3. This could be an allusion to the number 13, which of course has a host of nefarious associations about it. 13 has some compelling links to cycles of time in some traditions, however, and time is certainly a notion speculated upon throughout the first season of True Detective. They are:
"The Aztecs considered thirteen to be the number of time itself, the figure which stood for the completion of a temporal series. It was associated with figure fifty-two, the Aztec age (13 × 4), the 'bond of the years' during the course of each of the Aztec 'Suns.' The first and fourth of these Suns each lasted for 676 years and were the most perfect since they comprised these two numbers only – 13 × 52 = 676.
"An Aztec week, too, lasted thirteen days.
"The thirteenth major arcanum in the Tarot, death, does not mean an end, but a fresh start after the completion of the cycle – 13 = 12 + 1 – and to this, generally speaking, the number would correspond. It does, however, carry with it the pejorative hint of being less a completely fresh birth than starting the same thing all over again. It would, for example, stand for Sisyphus' unceasing efforts to roll the rock to the top of the hill or the cask which the Danaids could never fill to the brim."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 989)
|the Thirteenth Major Arcana|
The sequences involving the Lange crime scene have been much celebrated and rightfully so for its ritualistic presentation is quite striking. Perhaps the most eye grabbing aspect of this sequence are the deer antlers placed upon Lange's head while she was posed as if kneeling in prayer. As Cohle later notes, this use of antlers is in reference to a crown. This allusion echoes what the legendary poet and mythologist Robert Graves refereed to as the "stag cult" of antiquity.
"The fate of the antlered king – of whom Cernunnos, 'the horned one' of Gaul, is a familiar example – is expressed in the early Greek myth of Actaeon whom Artemis metamorphosed into a stag, and hunted to death with her dogs. She did this as her anodos, or yearly reappearance, when she refreshed her virginity by bathing naked in a sacred fountain; after which she took another lover. The Irish Garbh Ogh with her pack of hounds was the same goddess: her diet was venison and eagles' breasts. This ancient myth of the betrayed stag-king survives curiously, in the convention, which is British as well as Continental, the gives the cuckold a branching pair of antlers. The May-day stag-mummers of Abbot's Bromley in Staffordshire are a keen to the stag-mummers of Syracuse in ancient Sicily, and to judge from an epic fragment concerned with Dionysus, one of the mummers disguised as an Actaeon stag was originally chased and eaten. In the Lycaean precinct of Arcadia the same tradition of the man dressed in deer skins, who is chased and eaten survived in Pausanias' day, though the chase was explained as a punishment for trespassing. From Sardinia comes a Bronze Age figure of a man-stag with horns, resembling the foliage of an oak, a short tail, an arrow in one hand, and in the other a bow that has turned into a wriggling serpent. His mouth and eyes express an excusable terror at the sight; for the serpent is death. That the stag was part of the Elysian oracular cult is shown in the story of Brut the Trojan's visit to the Island of Leogrecia, where the moon-oracle was given him while sleeping in the newly flayed hide of a white hart whose blood had been poured on the sacrificial fire.
"The stag cult is far older than the Cretan Minelaphos: he is shown in paleolithic paintings in the Spanish caves of Altamira and in the Caverne des Trois Freres at Ariege in the French Pyrenees, dating from at least 20,000 B.C. The Altamiran paintings are the work of the Aurignacian people, who have also left records of their ritual in the caves of Domboshawa, and elsewhere in Southern Rhodesia. At Domboshawa a 'Bush-man' painting, containing scores of figures, shows the death of a king who wears an antelope mask and is tightly corseted; as he does, with arms out flung and one knee upraised, he ejaculates and his seed seems to form a heap of corn. An old priestess lying naked beside a cauldron is either mimicking his agony, or perhaps inducing it by sympathetic magic. Close by, young priestesses dance beside a stream, surrounded by clouds of fruit and heaped basket; beasts are led off laden with fruit; and a huge bison bull is pacified by a priestess accompanied by an erect python. The cults of stag and bull were evidently combined at Domboshawa; but the stag is likely to have been the more royal beast, since the dying king is given the greater prominence. The cults were also combined by the Aurignacians. In a Dordogne cave painting a bull-man is shown dancing and playing a musical instrument shaped like a bow."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pgs. 217-218)
"The Lady of Beasts was never a huntress among the Minoans. She and the male deity who would later become her twin brother were originally Lady and Consort, Rulers of the Labyrinth, and their fearful and sinister identities as recipients of human victims there required the most strenuous evolution of myth to isolate the two of them from their Minoan pasts and to remodel them both into their Classical identities as the most perfect examples of Greek female and male pubescent usefulness. Artemis, despite her sexual maturity, was even made into a perpetual virgin, denied forever her former role as Mother..."
(The World of Classical Myth, Carl A.P. Ruck & Danny Staples, pgs. 31-32)
While women are forced to wear these crowns of antlers throughout True Detective's first season a mysterious figure, presumably the "Yellow King" (more on this later), is also shown sporting a massive pair of antlers in drawings that appear throughout the season. Its noted that the cult members who perform these rituals also wear animal masks during the proceedings, which hints that antlers are present on men as well during the sacrifices.
While deer and their antlers are present in folklore throughout the world, such motifs are especially prevalent in Celtic mythology.
"A clear sign of the importance of the stag in Celtic symbolism is its comparatively frequent appearance in legend and iconography. There was a Gaulish god called Cernunnos, 'he whose head is crown like the stag's'. He is depicted on the silver Gundestrip Cauldron, seated in a Buddha-like posture, holding a torque in one hand and a serpent in the other, and surrounded by animals of all descriptions including, most notably, a stag and a serpent. Perhaps the antlers which crowned the god's head should be regarded as a radiation of heavenly light...
"Another notable monument is that from Rheims, on which Cernunnos is depicted as the god of plenty. And other monuments, too, are known. Despite this, it would seem that the god really should be regarded as the Lord of the Beasts. In Ireland the son of Finn, the great hero of the Ossian cycle, was named Oisin (fawn), while St Patrick changes himself and his companions into stags (or deer) to escape the trap laid by the pagan King Loegaire. He succeeded in so doing, thanks to a magical practice called feth fiada, normally used to confer invisibility. In the Celtic world the symbolism of the stag is widespread and undoubtedly goes back to the dawn of time. Lacking an overall study, one must provisionally confine the symbolism to its relation to longevity and plenty. The Celts used stag-horn to carve many of their charms and, in burials in Switzerland, the Alemanni interred stags alongside horses and humans. Comparisons have been drawn with the stag-masks found in fifth- and sixth- century BC horse-sacrifices in the Altai. The Breton St Edern is depicted riding a stag...
"Like reindeer and hinds, stags seem to have played the part of conductors of souls in some European traditions, especially Celtic. Morholt of Ireland, Yseult's uncle, slain in single combat by Tristan, was shown lying wrapped in deerskin..."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 922)
|the Gaulish god Cernunnos as depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron|
Its interesting to note that one of the families revealed to be involved in the cult Hart and Cohle pursue is named Tuttle. The Tuttle's have been a powerful and influential family in Louisiana since Colonial days and it is hinted that they originally settled there so as to use the Gulf region as a hideaway for their piracy. Tuttle is an English name dating back to the Norman Conquest but it has some ties with Ireland as well. Ancestry.com notes:
"English and Irish: from the Old Norse personal name þorkell, a contracted form of a name composed of the elements þórr, name of the Scandinavian god of thunder (see Thor) + ketill ‘cauldron’. The personal name Thurkill or Thirkill was in use throughout England in the Middle Ages; in northern England it had been introduced directly by Scandinavian settlers, whereas in the South it was the result of Norman influence. This surname and its variants are especially common in East Anglia. In Ireland the Old Norse name was adopted as a Gaelic personal name (Thorcall), which generated the surnames McCorkle and Corkill."As noted above Cernunnos, the Celtic stag-crowned god, was commonly associated with a cauldron. Perhaps we are meant to assume that the Nordic Tuttles learned a thing or two from the native Celts as the pressed on into Ireland?
|a modern depiction of Cernunnos (top), who is associated with the "Horned God" of modern Wicca, and an image of the "Yellow King" from True Detective (bottom)|
"With it dual meaning of contraction and expansion, the symbolism of the spiral is linked to that of the wheel and is found as often or even more frequently in Celtic carvings or as a decorative motif in metalwork, pottery, coinage and so on. Modern scholarship has attempted to make it the equivalent of the Latin fulmen and a Celtic symbol for the thunderbolt, but this explanation is inadequate since the spiral is in fact a cosmic symbol. It was motif which the Celts often carved on dolmens and megalithic monuments."
(Dictionary of Symbolism, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pgs. 909)
|the spiral used by the Tuttle family in True Detective (top) and one type of spiral used by the Ancient Celts (bottom)|
"New Grange is the largest, and is said to have been originally occupied by The Dagda himself, the Tuatha de Danaan Father-god who corresponds with the Roman Saturn, but afterwards by his Apollo-like son Angus who won it from him by a legal quibble. The Dagda on his first arrival in Ireland was evidently a son of the Triple Goddess Brigit ('the High One'); but the myth has been tampered with by successive editors. First, he is said to have married the Triple Goddess. Then he is said to have had only one wife with three names, Breg, Meng and Meabel ('Lie, Guile and Disgrace'), who bore him three daughters, all called Brigit. Then it is said that not he, but three of his descendants, Brian, Iuchar and Iuchurba married three princesses who together owned Ireland –Eire, Fodhla and Banbha. He was the son of 'Eladu' which the Irish glossaries explain as 'Science or Knowledge,' but which may be a form of the Greek Elate ('fir-tree'); Elatos ('fir-man') was an early Achaean King of Cyllene, a mountain in Arcadia sacred to Demeter and later renowned for its college of learned and sacrosanct heralds. The Dagda and Elatos may thus both be equated with Osiris, or Adonis, or Dionysus, who was born from a fir and mothered by the horned Moon-goddess Isis, or Io, or Hathor."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pgs. 101-102)
"On the side of the mountain, diametrically opposite the entrance, a stone was discovered in 1901 which has three suns carved on it, two of them with their rays enclosed in a circle as if in prison, the other free. Above them is a much rougher, unenclosed sun and above that, notched across a straight line, the Ogham letters B and I – which, as will be explained presently, are the first and last letters of the ancient Irish alphabet, dedicated respectably to Inception and Death. The case is pretty plain: the sacred kings of Bronze Age Ireland, who were solar kings of a most primitive type, to judge by the taboos which bound them and by the reputed effect of their behavior on crops and hunting, were buried beneath these barrows; but their spirits went to 'Caer Sidi', the Castle of Ariadne, namely Corona Borealis. Thus the pagan Irish could call New Grange 'Spiral Castle' and, revolving a fore-finger in explanation, could say, 'Our king has gone to 'Spiral Castle': in other words, 'he is dead'. A revolving wheel before the door of the castle is common in Goidelic legend. According to Keating, the magic fortress of the enchantress Blanaid, in the Isle of Man, was protected by one – nobody could enter until it was still. In front of the doorway of New Grange there is a broad slab carved with spirals, which forms part of the stone hedge. The spirals are double ones: follow the lines with your finger from outside to inside and when you reach the center, there is the head of another spiral coil in the reverse direction to take you out of the maze again. So the pattern typifies death and rebirth; though, according to Gwion's poem Preiddeu Annwm, 'only seven ever returned from Caer Sidi.' It may well be that oracular serpents were once kept in these sepulchral caves, and that these were the serpents would St. Patrick expelled, though perhaps only metaphorically. Delphi, the home of Apollo, was once an oracular tomb of this same sort, with a spiral python and a prophetic priestess of the Earth Goddess, and the 'omphalos' or 'naval shrine' where the python was originally housed, was built underground in the same beehive style, which derives originally from the African masabo, or ghosthouse. The antlers of New Grange were probably part of the sacred king's head-dress, like the antlers worn by the Gaulish god Cernunnos, and the horns of Moses, and those of Dionysus and King Alexander shown on coins."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pg. 103)
|the spirals at the entrance to New Grange|
Let us move along now to the tree that Dora Lange was posed kneeling before. According to this website, the actual tree used for the filming of the scene was an oak and I believe this is what the viewer is meant to perceive it as. Certainly the oak has many interesting associations, especially in Celtic culture.
"In many traditions the oak was a sacred tree to which the privileges of the supreme sky-god were attributed, doubtless because it attracts lightning and is symbolic of kingship. Oaks were dedicated to Zeus at Dodona, to the Capitoline Jove in Rome, to Ramow in Prussia and to Perun among these Slavs. Herakles' (Hercules') club was made of oak. It is an especial indication of strength, power, longevity and height in both the spiritual and the material senses of the words.
"In all ages and among all peoples the oak has been synonymous with strength, the overwhelming impression made by the fully grown tree. Furthermore, in Latin the same word, robur, is used for both 'oak' and 'strength' and it may as easily symbolize moral as physical strength.
"Among both Greeks and Celts the oak was the prime representative of the World Axis or Tree, and the same is true of the Yakut in Siberia.
"It should further be observed that both at Sichem and at Hebron Abraham received the divine revelation at an oak grove. Here again, therefore, the tree played its axial role as a channel of communication between Heaven and Earth... In Homer, Odysseus on his return went twice to Dodona 'to hear the will of Zeus from the high-crested oak of the god'... The Golden Fleece, guarded by a dragon, hung from an oak-tree, the latter having the properties of the temple.
"Pliny the Elder drew a comparison between the Greek word for oak (drus) and the word 'druid'; in consequence druids were called 'oak-men', an etymological relationship which has often managed to slip into works of modern scholarship. However, all Celtic languages have a different word for 'oak', including the Gaulish dervo. Nonetheless, this is a valid symbolic relationship in the sense that the druids' priestly quality entitled them to both wisdom and strength and the oak symbolizes both these properties... The oak was worshiped by the Celts, for whom its trunk, knotty branches, thick foliage and the symbolism it possessed, made it the emblem of hospitality and the equivalent of the temple."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pgs. 709-710)
In The White Goddess Robert Graves would hint at the possibility that the site of New Grange (which he linked with the mythological "Castle of Arianrhod") was connected to the oak-cult of the druids.
"The month, which takes its name from Juppiter the oak-god, begins on June 10th and ends on July 7th. Midway come St. John's Day, June 24th, the day on which the oak-king was sacrificially burned alive. The Celtic year was divided into two halves with the second half beginning in July, apparently after a seven-day wake, or funeral feast, in the oak-king's honour.
"Sir James Frazer, like Gwion, has pointed out the similarity of 'door' words in all Indo-European languages and shown Janus to be a 'stout guardian of the door' with his head pointing in both directions. As usual, however, he does not press his argument far enough. Duir as the God of the oak month looks both ways because his post is at the turn of the year; which identifies him with the Oak god Hercules who became the door-keeper of the Gods after his death. He is probably also to be identified with the British god Llyr or Lludd or Nudd, a god of the sea – i.e. a god of a sea-faring Bronze Age people – who was the 'father' of Creiddylad (Cordelia) an aspect of the White Goddess; for, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth the grave of Llyr at Leicester was a vault built in honor of Janus. Geoffrey writes:
"'Cordelia obtaining the government of the Kingdom buried her father in a certain vault which she ordered to be made for him under the river Sore in Leicester (Leircestre) and which had been built originally under the ground in honour of the god Janus. And here all the workmen of the city, upon the anniversary solemnity of that festival, used to begin their yearly labors.'
"Since Llyr was a pre-Roman God. This amounts to saying that he was too headed, like Janice, and the patron of the new year; but the Celtic year began in the summer, not in the winter. Geoffrey does not date the morning Festival but it is likely to have originally taken place at the end of June...
"What I take for a reference to Llyr as Janus occurs in the closing paragraph of Merlin's prophecy to the heathen King Vortigern and his Druids, recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth:
"'After this Janus shall never have priests again. His door will be shut and remain concealed in Adriadne's crannies.'
"In other words, the ancient Druidic religion based on the oak-cult will be swept away by Christianity and the door – the god Llyr – will languish forgotten in the Castle of Arianrhod, the Corona Borealis...
"Here at last I can complete my argument about Arianrhod's Castle and the 'whirling round without motion between three elements'. The sacred oak-king was killed at midsummer and translated to the Corona Borealis, presided over by the White Goddess, which was then just dipping over the Northern horizon..."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pgs. 177-179)
During the final episode of True Detective's first season it is indicated that the cult sacrifices are performed at "Carcosa" (the labyrinth-like structure the Tuttle family built centuries ago) with a victim wearing a crown of antlers, which is consistent with what Graves is suggesting of New Grange. But there are two distinct differences: the sacrificial victim used by the Tuttle clan seems to be female (though this may not always be the case) whereas the "oak-king" the ancient Celtic priests sacrificed was presumably male; and the ancient sacrifices were performed over Midsummer while True Detective suggests that the Tuttles make their sacrifices during the winter solstice.
This is in stark contrast to many traditions that placed the oak king's death at Midsummer. The Roman god Janus (which Graves also linked to the oak), however, was associated with the winter solstice and honored in Ancient Rome on January 1. Dora Lange's body was found on January 3, but it is indicated that she was murdered elsewhere and at an earlier date. This inversion of the oak-king rites is interesting and a point that shall be addressed in greater depth in a future installment.
"Because of the spread of its antlers, which regularly drop and grow again, the stag is often compared with the Tree of Life and symbolizes fecundity and the rhythms of growth and rebirth. These properties are to be found as commonly in the decorations of Christian baptisteries as, for example, in Muslim, shamanistic, Mayan or Pueblo Indian tradition. It is 'one of the symbols of continual creation and renewal'..."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 920)
|a depiction of the Tree of Life|
"To most of the tribes peopling the steppes of central Asia the deer was a conductor souls. The robes of the shamans were often made from deerskin and some shamans wore on their heads or their backs iron copies of deer's or stag's antlers..."
(Dictionary of Symbols, Jean Chevalier & Alain Gheerbrant, pg. 282)
|an early depiction of a Siberian shaman|
"... The hind is an animate manifestation of the power residing in the sacred plant of the ancient Indo-Europeans' shamanism, for Amanita is an inebriating mushroom that the reindeer is fond of grazing upon, and the animal's branching horns, supposedly of the same golden color as Amanita, easily suggest botanic affinities with a magical tree..."
(The World of Classical Myth, Carl A.P. Ruck & Danny Staple, pgs. 30-31)
|a reindeer inspecting a Amanita muscaria mushroom|
The presence of deer antlers would certainly be consistent with ancient ritualistic use of hallucinogens. There has been some speculation that some type of hallucinogenic was used during the rituals of New Grange. In a highly romanticized account John Michell notes:
"The first stage in the process of initiation involved, by all accounts, an experience capable of inducing the deepest form of terror, that of being forever lost in the outer darkness of space. This experience took place in a dark, still cavern or subterranean chamber. No doubt some potion was mixed, as in the Cauldron of Keridwen, a brew of fruits, herbs and fungi, henbane, belladonna, aconite, the thorn apple, the spotted skin of the red birchwood mushroom, the various narcotics whose effects and seasons of potency were for along the study of native witches. The aspirant then descended into the bowels of the earth, into the passages of New Grange or into the catacombs below Glastonbury Tor. Those who survived the ordeal, the fearful encounters and the threat of eternal lingering death, returned to the surface, and were reborn to a new life."
(The New View Over Atlantis, John Michell, pg. 201)Obviously Dora Lange was not one of the fortunate few. While Michell is suspect, several compelling researchers have indicated that many of the ancient Mystery cults of the Mediterranean used entheogens during their rituals, which typically were performed in some subterranean region. So there is certainly a historical basis for what Michell suggests and what True Detective dramatizes.
And with that I shall wrap things up for now. In the next installment I'll focus in on Hart and Cohle's first effort to bring Dora Lange's killer to justice and the wholesale corruption they encounter. Stay tuned.