Dismemberment has been a cruel form of capital punishment in both Asian and European history. And the ugly practice came to North American shores, legitimized under the belief in manifest destiny.¹
The theme of dismemberment occurs throughout comparative mythology.
In the Hindu Artharva Veda the world is created from the sacrifice and dismemberment of the “cosmic man” (Skt. purusa). This has been interpreted as a universal self that we ultimately return to, past the fragmented splinters of false and deceptive personalities and personas.
In Egyptian mythology Osiris is dismembered by the demon Set. His sister-wife Isis, with the help of Nephthys and Anubis, restores him fully with only his nose to work on, a tale arguably prefiguring the 21C realities of cloning.
Wikipedia lists these additional examples:
- In Greek mythology, the god Dionysus is dismembered by the Titans.
- In Japanese mythology, Izanagi dismembers Kagutsuchi in revenge for the death of his lover Izanami.
- In Aztec mythology, the god Huitzilopochtli dismembers his sister Coyolxauhqui for trying to kill their mother, Coatlicue. He tossed his sister’s head into the sky, where it became the moon.²
The theme of dismemberment usually fits, either closely or indirectly, within the larger mythic cycle of death and resurrection because dismembered characters in myth often come back in some kind of new, transformed state.
The theme of dismemberment crops up in B-movies, video games, anime, and rock music. And in literature, Dante’s Divine Comedy has recurring cycles of dismemberment and healing as a form of punishment for falsifiers.
¹ Theodore Roosevelt condoned the dismemberment of Native American Indian women and children in Colorado as a “righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the continent.” http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=8&cad=rja&ved=0CGgQFjAH&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.apaonline.org%2FCMDownload.aspx%3FContentKey%3D5f847188-8a3d-4b90-a678-8f7cf9387122%26ContentItemKey%3D49ac4888-2f0c-4a87-b688-c0f5f1b03f61&ei=mY4zUJK-Jaf00gHK84GADw&usg=AFQjCNERU8qo_OtrQ5FXQTMMUGqC3LaUOw