Mithras was running late for work, his train leaving early for a change as he failed to reach the platform in a timely manner. Anxious, he stared into the heart of a train map, finding connections and codes in social planning where there could only be chaos and self-serving impulses. Poor bloody Mithras. Loki waits outside Payless Food and Wines, rain falls. Osiris is bleeding somewhere in the country, maddened on despair and consequent lust for indiscriminate cruelty. Frigg feels her age as a hideous affliction, her body a curse for youthful sins. Tezcatlipoca hasn’t slept. After having scrutinised the chipped motel door, the Lamb of God decides that her only option is to go back to the agency and refuse to leave till they find her work. She can only pay for the room for another 2 days, though she dare not tell Mary that. Loki liaised with similarly laconic thoughts, before seizing the opportunity and stealing a purse out of a woman’s handbag as she boarded the bus. Carpe Dior. She suspected nothing.
New totems are required to record the culture of our age. Every age has need for myth, and for the old myths to be switched off or deleted. Remember Mithras? Or Osiris? Nehalennia? Or Loki, or Frigg? Even Xochiquetzal? How could we. Our myths today are Pizza Hut takeaways and stable global finance flows, the notion of a forgiving God and afterlife just in case, finding Mr Right/Soulmate, genital orgasms, the honour of boxers or pseudo-Darwinian ego politics. But I don’t want to step on Roland Barthes’ toes here, he’s written on Mythologies far better than I can. What I want to argue is a case for different myths, new myths.
So what are the problems with the existing ones? The problem is unhappiness. I do not take a utilitarian stance – like Sigmund Freud I agree that man’s happiness was not written into nature’s plans. But I believe that the best end of living, and the only one worth striving for, is individual and collective happiness. The current myths are making us stupid and sick, yet alternative myths like Communist redemption or the cult of Mithras are rejected as untenable, illogical, dangerous. The myths of the old deities I present are all common and banal archetypes found in most religions, and yet our harsh verdict of this banality is our cynical whole world view. Ideas are luxury, but without such a luxury we are just the meat our inescapable economic system casts us and works us as.
If we’re going to escape anywhere out of this world, we’re going to revive the older Gods, the products of solemn ritual, festival, gift exchange, hallucinogenic parties. In the face of the arseholes that still trumpet their Gods and Laws, we say piss off. Po-faced atheism, cut from the same cloth, no sir. We preachers of our own sublime insecurities pose the possibility of playful gods, masks we can pick up and wear (or not) for our purposes and pleasure.
So Mithras then, a man I knew once perhaps. Mithras was shot because he loved too intensely. I remember he said once, “teach me how to love and I will give you the whole world“. The age was not ready for that. Prometheus and Mars starting flinging chips at him and his secret lover from the back of the 432 bus. The rest is libel.
Loki always walks one step behind us all. He is the shadow in the photographs, the administrator of bad luck and good luck, of the intense energy and dizzy hope of late-night conversations with strangers, ones that tap immediately into the sour honey of life, or of running through the back of West End streets to evade policemen, shrieking and laughing and jumping on cars. The good and the bad filtered in schizoid street-light poetics, the black and the gold – check any puddle for proof of Loki’s presence. He is the shadow in your step.
These gods are as dead as all others, but find rich potential and life in their use as an idea, or at least for something to even believe in. Gods and Goddesses that affirm life. I invoke Mithras as a mask, the god of the Romans born out of rock and who slayed the bull – I will become Mithras against all creeps and bozos who defend Thatcherism in city pubs, against awkward silences, offensive relatives and misbehaving children. Our bedrooms become the Mithraeums where the secret rites and feasting are carried out.
I invoke Frigg, sweet beloved lady, Odin’s wife of Norse mythology, to console all the pain. All of it. The pain of children, the pain of loss. She spins the clouds of her lives, seeing our futures but never revealing that knowledge to us. Liar. Liar.
I invoke Nehalennia, the dutch girl with apples for eyes and the kind pooch, who cut deals with terrified sailors, saving their lives in exchange for immortalisation in rock votives. Feed your sister and your brother when in hunger, and that goodness will look back to you. I invoke Nehalennia against cretins who criticise the public cost of welfare, against the misery of poor nutrition and poverty. Unknown protector of London mini-cab drivers, her devotees carry icons of her in the forms of Freedom passes, magic tree air fresheners, incorrect maps of street-layouts written on the back of debt invoices.
I call on Loki the shape-shifter to give us cunning and a hard heart; Osiris, give us cheap rent and a pit to die in; Xochiquetzal, beautiful Aztec queen surrounded by birds and blooming flowers, a room to sleep and dream in, a life to live for and share. The primitive gods and their philosophers are lurking, becoming increasingly relevant as old systems melt away under the illiterate flows of capital and data, a world without logos, word or truth.
New totems are required for these gods, crafted out of whatever materials are at hand: motorway pile-ups; refuse pyramids of chunky mobile phones and Minidisc players, kitchen utensils, bicycles fished out of rivers and polystyrene cups; a geometric arrangement of chicken bones on a midnight kerb; a badly-painted icon with Christ, Mandela, Obama, Thierry Henry and Malcolm X; a forgotten manila envelope full of unwanted CVs for jobs which never existed. Items that record a history and culture of this time. Arrangements that have the capacity to terrorise through impossibility our robotic descendents.
We are products of our environments, and now with the constraints of physical space, the means of fostering social control maybe, of interacting in a more immediately cerebral, safe, sterile distance, permanent manner, we are enchanted by small screens. Environments shift. We see the PC as near-archaic, we see them becoming microscopic implanted units, the transgression or novelty of being a ‘cyborg’ generally dissipating after several years as the technology becomes cheaper and demonstrably makes individuals more productive, life more convenient, eventually shifting the locus of interaction to within our failing eyes. Machine heads versus machine hands.
Beyond our social worlds, increasingly now expressed via interactive screens, emotions as characters, as text, as HTML codes, we represent ourselves as consumers and citizens, although we lack any political choice. We passively interact with the advertisers. We choose either the silver widescreen HD or the black widescreen HD and that is all. This is a world without an idea except the dominant one of wealth-manufacture, of being productive and therefore good. A complete compression of time into universal boredom and instantaneous flows, scores, gratifications; a complete compression of space into a violent race for seats, spaces, housing.
After all this talk of the ancients’ gods, I am angry. This is shit. Yet this time it is different, in that my anger is indifference, that all we have is this shrugging self-annulling indifference. We are time-machine doubles, our anomie and apathy is mere repetition of the 80s, 90s, 00s. We have seen all this. This is no rabble-rousing. The world is not about to end, the problem is that it has barely begun. Every era has its prophets. Always no future and the distant desired one immediately beyond it. The young remake the world in their own image. The old punks are now miserable geezers in their mid-50s, slurping Guinness in early afternoon Archway dives.
I hear they prescribe zoo animals with anti-depressants now. But depression itself is not increasing. As one woman tells me, Xochiquetzal perhaps, the advertisers found a way of pacifying that feeling of being caged in.