Friday, November 7, 2014

On the Far Side of the Psychosphere Part V

Welcome to the fifth and final installment in my examination of the acclaimed HBO original series True Detective. In the first installment I briefly broke down the show's lead characters, Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), and the actors who portrayed them as well as significant numbers (most notably five and seventeen) that appear throughout the first season. With part two I considered the symbolism surrounding the scene where the body of Dora Lange was discovered, the catalyst for the first season's plot line.

The third installment examined the underworld in which numerous figures in the first season inhabit, an underworld littered with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, crooked cops and politicians and shadowy Christian fundamentalists. This installment also considered the real life overlap the world of True Detective has with sex and drug trafficking rings linked to the Kennedy assassination. With the fourth and most recent installment I considered the Internet theories concerning the possibility that Hart's oldest daughter, Audrey (Erin Moriarty), was being molested by the cult depicted in the first season as well as the ideological underpinnings of said cult.

With this installment I would like to focus in on Rustin Cohle's final showdown with serial killer and cult disciple Errol Childress (Glen Fleshler) as well as addressing other aspects of the ideology and belief system presented in the first season of True Detective. This installment, as well as the prior four, are of course spoiler heavy and written with the assumption that the reader is familiar with the plot line of the first season. Thus, those of you who have yet to view it should tread with caution. With that out of the way, let us get on with the show.

In 2012, after another dead body with ritualistic markings turns up, Cohle approaches Hart (now a private detective), and convinces him to join forces once again so as to finally stop the murderer. Cohle seems to have approached Hart the day of his interview with detectives Papania (Tory Kittles) and Gilbough (Michael Potts) concerning their suspicions that Cohle was behind the latest and earlier murders. As was noted in the first installment, Hart met with the detectives on May 1, a date with much occult significance.

Marty's May 1 interview
After Cohle convinces Hart to help him they embark upon a new investigation of the Lange murder and related cases. The time frame of this investigation is never explicitly referenced, but it is implied that it goes on for several weeks. Thus, its possible that when Hart and Cohle arrive at the Childress residence in search of their suspect the date is around Midsummer, June 24 (of which I've written much more on before here). This will be significant for reasons that will become clear a bit later on.

Errol Childress, the seeming high priest of the cult Cohle and Hart investigate, is the illegitimate grandson of Sam Tuttle, the father of the Reverend Billy Lee Tuttle (Jay O. Sanders) and uncle of Louisiana Governor (and later Senator) Eddie Tuttle. As has been noted throughout this series, it is implied the Tuttle clan, who seem to have originally come to Louisiana during Colonial times as pirates, are the chief force behind the cult.

Errol Childress was the son of Ted Childress, the former sheriff of Vermilion Parish who seems to have been deeply involved in covering up various murders and disappearances linked to the cult throughout his neck of the woods for years. Marty and Rust eventually track Errol down at his father's home, a rundown plantation-style house near the coast. There Errol now lives with a woman described as "at least his half-sister" whom he carries on an incestuous relationship with. This combined with the obviously horrific abuse he suffered as a child (he has scars all along the bottom of his face) are consistent with longstanding speculations as to how old guard aristocratic families sire and "groom" their offspring. The practice of incest especially has been linked to the creation of a kind of "magical" child.
"The Beast, as the embodiment of the Logos (which is Thelema, Will), symbolically and actually incarnates his Word each time a sacramental act of sexual congress occur; i.e. each time love is made, under will. This is the sacrament which the Christians abhor as the supreme blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, because they cannot admit the operation of the formula of the beast conjoined with the woman as the necessary condition of the production of divinity!
"This formula reaches back into remote antiquity, and, interpreted on its own plane, is a sublime alchemical allegory.
"The tradition of the tribe of the Terai (vide supra) is paralleled in the legends of Leda and the Swan, Pasiphae and the Bull, Europa and the Speckled Serpent, Mary and the Dove, and numerous cognate legends. In The Paris Working (1914), Crowley declares: 'This is the great idea of magicians at all times: to obtain a Messiah by some adaption of the sexual process. In Assyria, they tried incest; also in Egypt, the Egyptians tried brothers and sisters; the Assyrians, mothers and sons. Phoenicians tried fathers and daughters; Greeks and Syrians, mostly bestiality. This idea came from India. The Jews sought to do this by invocation methods, also by paedicatio feminarum. The Mohammedans tried homosexuality; medieval philosophers tried to produce homunculi by making chemical experiments with semen. But the root idea is that any form of procreation other than the normal is likely to produce results of a magical character. Either the father of the child should be a symbol of the sun, or the mother a symbol of the moon.'"
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pgs. 45-46)
Pasiphae, who will be mentioned throughout this installment
Potentially Errol's was sired with such notions in mind. Certainly his name is an apt allusion to what would become his life's work. Of it the Daily Dot observes:
"Though he may not be listed in any birth register, Errol, the son of the terrifying Sheriff Childress, has his name in a much older book: Grimm's Fairytales. The name "Earl" is synonymous with the title of "Earl" in English, which is linked to the Germanic title of "Earl-king." In Germanic folklore, the "Erlking" is the King of the Elves. But he's also, according to Goethe's famous ballad Der Erlkoenig, evil, deadly, and a child predator. In Der Erlkoenig, the Erlking attempts to lure, then use violence against a little boy who's captured his attentions:
Do you want to come with me, pretty boy?
My daughters shall wait on you finely; 
My daughters will lead the nightly dance,
And rock and dance and sing you to sleep.
"Not only is this a chilling description of the ritualistic ceremonies Errol and the others in the cult perform on their victims, but in the finale, he attempts to seduce Rust to his death in the same way. As he lures Rust deeper into the labyrinthine 'forest' that is Carcosa, Errol calls Rust 'Little prince,' and asks, 'Do you know what I would do to all the sons and daughters of man?' as if he himself is more than human."
The legendary poet and mythologist Robert Graves confirms Erlking's association with children:
"... One name for the alder in German is else, corresponding with the Scandinavian word elle. The Danish Ellerkonge is the alder-king, Bran, who carries off children to the other world; but elle also means 'elf' which should be regarded as a clethrad, or alder-fairy. Thus, in Goethe's well-known ballad, based on this predecessor Herder's Stimmen der Volker, Ellerkonge is correctly translated 'Erlkonig', the commoner German word for alder being erle."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pg. 191n)
The above-mentioned Bran was a mythological king found in British and Welsh mythology. Earlier in The White Goddess Graves had linked Bran to Cronus, the infamous Greek Titan. The Romans later associated their god Saturn with Cronus. As was noted in the fourth installment, the Tuttle clan was said to celebrate an annual winter festival "heavy on the Saturnalia." Saturnalia, as was explained in depth there, was the primary winter festival of ancient Rome that began on December 17th and typically ended on the twenty-third. Compelling arguments have been made for it as the inspiration of the European Carnival festival that in turn shaped Louisiana's very own Mardi Gras.

a depiction of Saturnalia festivities
Not long after arriving at the Childress residence Cohle spots Errol and gives chase. After a brief pursuit in the swamps Childress leads Rust inside a labyrinth-like structure the show refers to as "Carcosa" (taken from Robert W. Chambers legendary piece of weird fiction The King in Yellow) that echoes the megaliths of Antiquity. As I noted in the second installment, this structure may have been partly inspired by the Irish megalithic site known as New Grange as well as the mythological Labyrinth of ancient Crete. It is here that the Tuttle cult likely performed their ritualistic sacrifices of children and others. The historic labyrinth of Knossos (the capital of ancient Crete) certainly had a clear association with human sacrifice.
"The confusing maze of corridors, moreover, is an inept design for a residence. But a maze is what one finds at Knossos. A labyrinth, to use his real name, a word assimilated into Greek from the pre-Greek language, as is the name of Knossos itself. A labyrinth is the 'place of the labrys.' A 'labrys' is a double axe, an axe with edges the cut in both directions. It was a symbol of the religion practiced at Knossos, like the crucifixion in Christianity. Ornamental golden exemplars have been found, as well as much sturdier implements for actual use.
"And like the cross, it was the symbol of the sacrificial death. The labrys was used to slaughter the bull, and the bull was the taurine manifestation of the bovine Queen's consort. Originally not a bull, but the consort himself, was the victim. Between the two edges of an axe that cuts in both directions is the sharp divide, the razor's edge, the midmost point – beyond which lies another world. The labrys symbolizes renewal through death, and when kings became less expendable, other humans came to be substituted in the king's role, supposedly as willing sacrificial victims, uniting the living with the dead to revitalize the fertility of the goddess and of the mortal women who joined as a trinity of sisters in her worship. The labyrinth itself, with with its contorted and confusing passageways, was emblematic of the Goddess, like a maze of entrails leading to the womb, which is the gateway for life and death.
"At the center of the labyrinth of Knossos was a courtyard, where the offering of human victims was performed as an acrobatic dance with a real bull. Both males and females were afforded this deadly honor, two groups of seven each year, at the time of the Theseus, before he put an end to the practice. As the bull lunged, the dancers were expected to grasp the bull's horns and attempt to flip themselves in a somersault through the horns and over the bull's back, to land gracefully upright behind bull. A difficult task, and more often, no doubt the dancer failed, but even a close brush with death might satisfy the need, or demonstrate the deity's moment of benevolence. The narrow and dangerous passageway through the horns was another way that these people symbolized the point where life and death convened."
(The World of Classical Myth, Carl A.P. Ruck & Danny Staples, pg. 28)
a labrys
When Cohle and Childress meet for their final battle, it is in a courtyard that also seems to be at the center of Carcosa. Childress attacks Cohle with a hatchet, which closely resembles the ritualistic axes used at Knossos. Childress stabs Cohle in the stomach with a knife and lifts him up into the air. This particular struggle almost has elements of a dance, or even wrestling, with a bull.

But let us return to the prospects of human sacrifices in labyrinth structures for a moment. Robert Graves believed that the bull-cult of Crete derived from an earlier partridge cult that sacrificed youths and maidens.
"It seems, then, that in the pesach bull-cult had been superimposed on a partridge cult; and that the Minotaur, to whom youths and maidens (from Athens and elsewhere) were sacrificed had once represented the decoy partridge in the middle of a brushwood maze, towards which the others were lured for their death dance. He was, in fact, the centre of a ritual performance, originally honouring the Moon-goddess, the lascivious hen-partridge, who at Athens and in parts of Crete was the mother and lover of the Sun-hero Talus. But the dance of the hobbling cock-partridge was later transformed into one honouring the Moon-goddess Pasiphae, the cow in heat, mother and lover of the Sun-hero, the bull-headed Minos. Thus, the spirally-danced Troy-game (called the 'Crane dance' in Delos because it was adapted there to the cult of the Moon-goddess as Crane) had the same origin as the pesach. The case is proved by Homer who wrote:
Daedalus in Cnossos once contrived 
A dancing-floor for fair-haired Ariadne 
"– a verse, which these scholiast explains as referring to the Labyrinth dance; and by Lucian who in his Concerning the Dance, a mine of mythological tradition, gives as the subjects of Cretan dances: 'the myths of Europe, Pasiphae, the two bulls, the Labyrinth, Adriadne, Phaedra [daughter of Pasiphae], Androgeuos [son of Minos], Icarus, Glaucus [raised by Aesculapius from the dead], the magic of Polyidus, and of Talus the bronze man who did his sentry round in Crete.' Polyidus means 'the many-shaped' and since the Corinthian hero of that name had no connexion with Crete, the dance was probably the shape-shifting dance of Zagreus at the Cretan Lenaea.
"Here some loose ends can be tied up. The maze pattern has been shown to represent 'Spiral Castle' or 'Troy Town', which the sacred Sun-king goes after death and from which, if lucky, he returns..."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pg. 329)

The legendary mythologist Joseph Campbell believed that these various motifs --a subterranean megalith, spirals and a child-consuming monster, among other things --were all inked to initiation rituals concerned with birth and death from a very ancient date.
"The fear of the dark, which is so strong in children, has been said to be a function of their fear of returning to the womb: the fear that their recently achieved daylight consciousness and not yet secure individuality should be reabsorbed. In archaic art, the labyrinth – home of the child-consuming Minotaur – was represented in the figure of a spiral. The spiral also appears spontaneously in certain stages of meditation, as well as to people going to sleep under ether. It is a prominent device, furthermore, at the silent entrances and within the dark passages of the ancient Irish kingly burial mound of New Grange. These facts suggest that a constellation of images denoting the plunge and dissolution of consciousness in the darkness of non--being must have been employed intentionally, from an early date, to represent the analogy of threshold rites to the mystery of the entry of the child into the womb for birth..."
(The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, Joseph Campbell, pgs. 67-68)
the entrance to New Grange
This association of the labyrinth and the spiral with the dissolution of consciousness will be especially relevant to the experience Cohle undergoes after his battle with Childress. As noted above, there is also a close link with death and resurrection to the labyrinth, two processes of which Cohle seems to undergo during his time in the labyrinth. But more on that in a moment.

Before leaving this topic, its also worth noting the association the Minotaur has with the sun. Of it, Kenneth Grant noted:
"... Crowley mentions the worship of Apis the bull, in a certain labyrinth in Crete. This worship derived from Egypt. The bull was white. At the Feast of the Vernal Equinox twelve virgins were sacrificed to it, twelve being symbolic of the number of houses through which the sun passes during his annual cycle. In each case the bull used the virgins after the manner of the legend of Pasiphae. The ceremony was performed with the intention of obtaining a Minotaur, an incarnation of the sun, a messiah. A variation of this sacrifice involved the immolation of the bull. A virgin was placed in the hot carcass and violated by the High Priest. She finally choked in the bull's blood, during orgasm."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pg. 46)
Now, let us reconsider Rust's final confrontation with Childress. He goes after the murderer clad in a white shirt (it is common in many tradition for candidates undergoing some type of initiation to be clad in white) and follows him into "Carcosa", a subterranean lair echoing various megalithic structures of Antiquity (most notably the Labyrinth and New Grange) and engages with Childress in an almost literal "dance of death." All of these things are elements present in numerous variations in the "killing of the divine king" custom that appears the world over.

does Childress actually say the above lines to Rust or is he only hearing them in his mind?
In ancient times the king of a land was frequently viewed as the living personification of a deity, typically one associated with the sun. And just as the sun seemingly died and was reborn during the winter and summer solstices, then so to was the king expected to die and be reborn so as to ensure his vitality. And as noted above, it would seem that Rust's final confrontation with Childress occurs sometime around Midsummer. Robert Graves noted that this was customarily the time when the oak-king (the oak is associated with Childress' cult throughout, as noted in part two):
"The seventh tree is the oak, the tree of Zeus, Juppiter, Hercules, The Dagda (the chief of the elder Irish gods), Thor, and all the other Thunder-gods, Jehovah in so far as he was 'El', and Allah. The royalty of the oak-tree needs no enlarging upon: most people are familiar with the argument of Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough, which concerns the human sacrifice of the oak-king of Nemi on Midsummer Day. The fuel of the midsummer fires is always oak, the fire of Vesta at Rome was fed with oak, and the need-fire is always kindled in an oak-log..."
(The White Goddess, Robert Graves, pg. 176)
the iconic oak tree that appears throughout True Detective's first season
As Graves notes, one of the most well known instances of the ancient "killing of the divine king" customs was Frazer's account of Nemi's so-called "King of the Wood" and the bizarre customs surrounding the post. In The Golden Bough Frazer famously noted:
"I begin by setting forth a few facts and legends which have come down to us on the subject. According to one story the worship of Diana at Nemi was instituted by Orestes, who, after killing Thoas, King of the Tauric Chersonese (the Crimea), fled with his sister to Italy, bringing with him the image of the Tauric Diana hidden in a faggot of sticks. After his death his bones were transported from Aricia to Rome and buried in front of the temple of Saturn, on the Capitoline slope, beside the temple of Concord. The bloody ritual which legend ascribed to the Tauric Diana is familiar to classical readers; it is said that every stranger who landed on the shore was sacrificed on her altar. But transported to Italy, the rite assumed a milder form. Within the sanctuary at Nemi grew a certain tree of which no branch might be broken. Only a runaway slave was allowed to break off, if he could, one of its boughs. Success in the attempt entitled him to fight the priest in single combat, and if he slew him he reigned in his stead with the title of King of the Wood (Rex Nemorensis). According to the public opinion of the ancients the fateful branch was that Golden Bough which, at the Sibyl's bidding, Aeneas plucked before he essayed the perilous journey to the world of the dead. The flight of the slave represented, it was said, the flight of Orestes; his combat with the priest was a reminiscence of the human sacrifices once offered to the Tauric Diana. This rule of succession by the sword was observed down to imperial times; for amongst his other freaks Caligula, thinking that the priest of Nemi had held office too long, hired a more stalwart ruffian to slay him; and the Greek traveler, who visited Italy in the age of the Antonines, remarks that down to his time the priesthood was still the prize of victory in a single combat."
(The Golden Bough, James George Frazer, pg. 13)
a depiction of the ruins near the shores of Lake Nemi
As noted above, this tree was an oak. The significance of Dora Lange's body being placed before an oak in the first episode is amplified in this context: At that point Rust effectively accepted Childress' challenge at this moment and finally slew this proverbial oak-king seventeen years later. Like the King of the Wood, Childress is a high priest. The manifestation of his cult's deity is the "Yellow King", a representation of which appears before a ritual altar (featuring three skulls) in the courtyard of "Carcosa." But just as True Detective's Carcosa is a stand in for the megaliths of Antiquity, so to is the "Yellow King" little more than another personification of the oak/sun king archetype.

the "Yellow King"
In slaying Childress, Cohle effectively becomes the new Yellow King. And just as the killing of a king by a challenger represented the death and resurrection of a deity, so to is the Yellow King resurrected. In Cohle's case, this is quite literal as the show strongly hints that he returned from the dead. It has been noted that Rust's resurrection is closely associated with that of Jesus and this is quite apt for Christ was another variation of the sun king. Thus, True Detective presents both a figurative (Cohle killing Childress and assuming the role of Yellow King) and literal (Cohle returning from the dead) resurrection.

Easily the most mysterious aspect of Cohle's final confrontation with Childress is the appearance of what appears to be a black spiral in the courtyard prior to Childress' attack. The show is of course coy as to whether or not the image was real --Cohle of course demises his visions as hallucinations throughout the show. And yet Childress himself foreshadowed the appearance of this spiral early in the episode when he noted to his sister: "I'm busy. I have very important work to do. My ascension removes me from the disk and the loop. I am near final stage. Some mornings, I can see the infernal plane."

the spiral
Throughout the show time is symbolized by a circle, a point Cohle makes during his interrogation by flattening a beer can. Thus, by saying that he is removed from "the disk and the loop", Childress seems to be implying that he has reached another dimension outside of time. This is a concept Cohle briefly touched upon when addressing the "membrane theory." Here's a breakdown of the membrane theory or "M-theory" as it is more commonly known:
"By 1995 problems and contradictions had arisen in the many mathematical attempts to make sense of this vibratory model of reality. But then a new breakthrough was made: a new theory postulated that, instead of countless identical but separate strings – one for each subatomic particle – our entire universe was, in fact, made of a single membrane vibrating in ten spatial dimensions. The 'wiggle room' – that is, degrees of freedom – provided by these ten dimensions was required by the mathematical model in order to accommodate enough modes of vibration to account for the entire variety of phenomena in nature. Of the ten dimensions demanded by the mathematics, we can only see three. The other seven are postulated to be invisible. The original strings were now seen as small sections of this universal membrane, the vibrations which give rise to all existence. The theory was called 'M-Theory,' where 'M' may stand for 'Membrane.' It is the very leading edge of physics today."
(Why Materialism is Baloney, Bernardo Kastrup, pg. 165)

In this sense Childress' "ascension" could be seen as an attempt to reach the original membrane, from which presumably all the other strings would be visible. To a certain extent many religious traditions speak of this kind of ascension and yet, as I've noted before in this installment and in the prior one, the cult Childress belongs to seems to invert historic customs. In the ancient traditions of the type of sacrifices his cult performs, boys and men were almost always the victims. And yet Childress' cult seems to largely use girls and women, going so far as even place the vestments of kingship (i.e. the crowns) upon them during their rituals.

one of the cult's victims
This is quite an inversion, even a mockery, of such traditions, especially as the sun/oak king was frequently sacrificed in honor of the Great Mother in the most ancient traditions. And yet there is no evidence of matriarchy whatever in the cult of Childress, though its misogyny is quite rampant. And the realm to which Childress looks to "ascend" to he describes as an "infernal plane." In this context, the black spiral takes on some of the associations currently made with the Black Sun (which I addressed before here). At one point, Reggie Ledoux (Charles Halford) even seemed to mention "two suns" prior to his death. In any case, what Childress and his cult seem to be attempting to harness is a kind of dark energy based upon an inversion of ancient customs.

And at this point I shall wrap up. I suppose I could address season one's final scene in which Cohle outlines his near-death experience to Hart and speaks of a conflict between light and dark, but I'm sure the blatant Gnosticism of this and some of Cohle's other musings should be evident to my regular readers... or really anyone who's made it all the way through this series. Until the next time dear readers.

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