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Dismemberment

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Mourner. Could be Isis mourning Osiris

Mourner (could be Isis mourning Osiris) via Wikipedia

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:

The Dismemberment Plan

The Dismemberment Plan (Photo credit: mehan)

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

² http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dismemberment#Folklore

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3 thoughts on “Dismemberment

  1. Other god’s and mortals are also dismenbered, Realating to the comic primal person the Purusha. In nordic mythology is the prromordial God Ymir.

    Ymir

    According to Nordic mythology, the first living creature that arose out of Ginnungagap ‘yawning void’ was the cow Audumla. Four rivers of milk flowed from Audhumla’s teats which nourished the frost giant Ymir. While Ymir slept he produced a sweat and a man and a woman emerged from his left hand. He also rubbed his feet together and Ve, fatally wounded Ymir who bled so much he drowned all his children in a terrible flood (Universal Deluge motif). Only the frost giant Bergelmir survived the flood by taking refuge with his family in the hollow trunk of a tree.

    The three gods cast the dead giant into Ginnungagap and began to create the world from his flesh. Ymir’s Skull became the sky and was held in place by four dwarves, Nordri, Sudri, Austri, and Vestri (north, south, east, west), the cardinal directions. His teeth and bones were transformed into rocks and crags, and his hair was transformed into trees. From Ymir’s brows the gods created Midgard for mankind, storm clouds were produced from his brains, and sparks shot up into the heavens as stars.

    Pan Gu

    According to Chinese myth, in the beginning Pan Gu developed in the darkness of a giant cosmic egg. After 18,000 years the egg shattered and Pan Gu, who is depicted in Chinese art holding a hammer, emerged. The lighter fragments (Yang: the active solar male principle) of the cosmic egg became heaven, while the dark and heavy fragments (Yin: the passive shady female principle associated with the moon) became earth. For another 18,000 years Pan Gu continued to grow, pushing heaven and earth further apart until they solidified and became fixed into place. Exhausted Pan Gu laid down and died. His skull was transformed into the sky, his left eye became the sun and his right eye became the moon. His flesh became the soil, while his bones and teeth were transformed into rocks. From his hair arose the stars and vegetation, and his blood, sweat and tears produced the rivers, ocean, rain, and dew. Pan Gu’s breath became the wind and clouds, and his voice turned into thunder. The parasites that lived on Pan Gu’s body became mankind.

    Tlaltecuhtli

    Although the Mesoamerican goddess Tlaltecuhtli (earth lord) is often depicted as female, she was also regarded to be androgynous. According to a myth concerning the creation of the world in the fifth cosmic age, the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca (the cosmic enemies of the 1st and 2nd ages of creation) saw the terrible Tlaltecuhtli walking across the primeval ocean, and were afraid. They took hold of the goddess from both sides and after a vicious ‘cosmic’ struggle, which cost Tezcatlipoca his left foot (sacred wound motif), they succeeded in tearing her body in two, creating the heavens and earth. Her hair was transformed into vegetation, her eyes and mouth were changed into fountains, rivers, springs, and caves, while her nose and shoulders became valleys and mountains.

    Adam (Reversing the cosmic man myth)

    In the 2nd Book of Enoch, the mythical theme of the cosmic being whose body is transformed into creation appears to be reversed and reapplied to the creation of Adam. The following translation is taken from ‘The Lost Bible’ by J.R Porter:

    On the sixth day I commanded my wisdom
    to create man out of the seven components:
    first, his flesh from earth;
    second, his blood from dew and from the sun;
    third his eyes from the bottomless sea;
    fourth, his bones from stone;
    fifth, his reason from the mobility of angels
    and from clouds;
    sixth, his veins and hair from the grass of the earth;
    seventh, his spirit from my spirit and from
    the wind…

    And on earth I assigned him to be a second angel,
    honoured and great and glorious…
    And I assigned to him a name from the four components:
    from East (anatole) – A
    from west (dusme)-D
    from North (arktos)-A
    from South (mesembria)-M

    Other mythological figures dismembered

    Orpheus

    It was Aristaeus (the son-in-law of Cadmus and father of Actaeon), who, it is said, attempted to rape Eurydice, the wife of Orpheus, when she blindly stepped on a snake, and died.

    Orpheus, whose ability on the lyre had the power to enchant the entire realm of creation, descended into the realm of death, and with sweet music, brought the torments of Hades to a standstill.

    He asked that Eurydice be returned to life, a request which Hades granted, on the condition that he must not gaze upon her until they were once again in the land of the living.

    As the couple pressed on to wards the light of the sun, Orpheus turned to see if Eurydice was still behind him, and she vanished, reclaimed by the realm of death.

    Stricken with grief, Orpheus became a recluse, until he was finally torn apart by a group of maenads (female worshipers of Dionysus), and his severed head was thrown into the Hebrus river. It drifted out into the Aegean sea, and eventually arrived at the isle of Lesbos. The Muses gathered Orpheus’s scattered limbs and buried them in Pieria. The head became a source of prophecy.

    Dionysus and the Titans

    Here, it is Zeus, now supreme ruler of the universe, who desires (rather than fears as in the case of his predecessor), that his son Dionysus-Zagreus should take his place upon the cosmic throne.

    The jealous Titans (instigated by Hera), tear Dionysus limb from limb (Cosmic Man motif, also the fate of Osiris and Orpheus), and devour the god’s flesh, except his heart. Zeus blasts the titans with a thunderbolt (The weapon of God), and reduces them to ashes. As a result creation contains both a Titanic evil element, and a divine Dionysian element.

    For the dismemberment of Orisis it may be useful checking out my recent post titled Thor and the Ouroboros

    The theme of dismemberment also fits within the larger mythic cycle of death and resurrection.

    This is pretty much the way I tend to think about it as the theme of death and resurrection bound up in the cosmic-Lunar cycles of death and rebirth (like the waxing of waxing of the moons, or say of Noah passing between one cosmic cycle or another on his ‘new moon’ boat.

    It might be worth checking out shamanic concepts of death and rebirth, who also may experience Dismemberment andretransforanton of an indestrctable

    Best Wishes Mahud

  2. Thank you very much for this extensive comment. Once the holiday season is over I’ll have more time to go through it and figure out how to integrate it into the entry.

  3. Pingback: Mythology Blog: Between Old and New Moons » Mythology from around the Web (10)

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