The Political Anthropology of the Divine Beast (Part IV)


We have witnessed the imagery and concepts of sacrifice throughout this article. This is not entirely accidental. Even so, if this were not altogether deliberate (and where, in particular, it was definitely not consciously intended), it is even more apt. This only exposes the necessity.

In the most blessed ages, men understand that sacrifice — including literally the ritual shedding of blood — is necessary. In fact, it is not merely the preserve of recalcitrant savages, but the precondition of higher culture. Only severity is profound; pity is only prosaic and pernicious. No, it is severity we treasure. A cosmic balance is observed, the stability of long, painstaking setting-aright, by generation after generation. So, for everything there is a price, which is taken most seriously. Supposing the scales have been upset, only an earnest effort returns them to balance, harmony and order. Naturally, this means an act of terrible and excruciating significance.

Perhaps it was Kierkegaard who plumbed this terrible thing most clearly, to its most overwhelming depths. At this point, it is better to merely refer to his account of the Binding of Isaac here en passant, rather than vainly attempt to reproduce it here, with the excellence of the original. Suffice it to say, that Kierkegaard understands most clearly what is at stake in sacrifice and the profound courage of the sacrificial act.

We too must face this like men. However, we must go beyond Kierkegaard. We must find the most extreme — that is to say, supreme — form of devotion that is actually carried out.

Sacrifices must be made.

The sword of vengeance expresses the principle most clearly. An avenger expiates the wrong which lingers over his kin; for it is his kinsmen who are avenged, his ancestors who are honoured, his gods who are appeased. He himself is vindicated, as the very blade of his blood. It is blood, after all, which matters. Everything carries the weight of blood. The lex talionis is the real lex sanguinis.

So, this shall be the whole of the law: all matters are ultimately reckoned in blood. This is the Law of the World. Every line of this law-code is a line coloured by blood.

By contrast, we have the reactionary ‘justice’ system of the courts, which only exists (outwardly) to protect sentimental abstractions like present-day private property, ‘social justice’ and the other ‘Rights of Man’ — and now there are courts to protect nothing more than ‘human rights’ as such!

The law of the courtroom loses its vital connection to its natural jurisdiction, precisely when it normalizes and mechanizes its procedures. When ‘targets’ are more important than upholding the law which binds the nation in an orderly body politic, decisions are no longer judicial, but purely technical rationalizations. The advent of private prisons, the transformation of the penitentiary (which is expiatory) from an exaction of the public debt to an enterprise for the extraction of private profit (i.e. a wholesale transubstantiation of a public function into a private one) is an accompaniment and guarantor of this development. The courtroom thus becomes a sanctimonious playground for rarified moral phantasies and insidiously fallacious excuses.

“The known way is an impasse”, Heraclitus cryptically tells us, in a fragment; this is especially accurate in the institutions of Law. Thus, when the law of the court hollows out and abolishes itself, the laws return home to the nation, as if beasts unfettered, returning to their habitat. So, when the necrotic court ‘justice’-system is purged and utterly destroyed, the path of tradition opens up once more and the Law of Blood bursts through.

The Law of Blood, in which the terrible price is known, demanded and paid in full, often with interest, is the mode of this principle which is clearest in actual practice.

However, the principle is present in every sort of sacrifice. (Vengeance is simply the most understandable.)

Sacrifice is not merely an act of atonement, but one of gratitude. Indeed, it is not only a positive deed, but an affirmative one. It confirms everything. This is why, as a religious ritual, it is a totalizing act, exemplifying and embodying the totality of the mythological worldview. The ritual in which the sacrifice is performed is a mysterium tremendum et fascinans, which reveals — even while still in a meaningful way concealing — the irreducible richness of life. It seems on the face of it, to the faithless apostates of our own day, to be an irrational and negative act. It is irrational, perhaps, but not negative. Even if we do not believe that the gods actually partake of the offering (and so the sacrifice is ‘wasted’), the whole communal life of men is reaffirmed and underlined in the most decisive way. It is affirmative in nature. In this sense, it is not even mostly destructive. The destruction of the sacrificial animal or object is of only marginal importance.

The Nordic pagan’s offerings made on the winter solstice — even today — are of a similar nature. The edible and imbibable portion of the offering is not left so as to perish, but to be absorbed again into the natural world. We have, to symbolically represent this, the story of Odin’s wolves devouring what men offer up.

Only in the moment of slaughter — and the reaffirmation of all that to which one belongs — is it that the principle is seen (albeit obscured) at its highest. In the terrible seconds preceding the lethal bloodshed, with the dagger held aloft, one anxiously comes to grips with oneself. Doubts must be reckoned with in the anticipatory moment, if at all. Nevertheless, the principle ascends to its zenith, precisely in the fateful instant when the blade descends, meeting its mark — and cleaving its way through cleanly. In that instant, one knows one’s heart. The terror of the moment before is maddening; the horror which follows, merely sobering. It is the curtain-call which brings to a close the absurdist play of the binding. The deed must be done. Only the faithless and the ungrateful can turn from this.

O, dira necessitas!

One must not wait for all Neptune’s oceans to wash one’s hands; one must be the equal of one’s deeds. Only the convinced can kill honestly, even if they are wrong.

We must become lion-hearted, like the narrator-protagonist of the song ‘Rabbit Heart‘ by Florence + The Machine. At long last, we consumate the tremendum fascinosum. The eternal mystery unfolds and exposes itself in the instant, only to the Initiate:

This is a gift,
It comes with a price!
Who is the lamb
And who is the knife?

It is the great paradox of human nature, that we must not be unwilling to suffer or die; or, for that matter, to cause suffering and death. We do not question or posit any hereafter (for that is not gratitude), but merely offer up to the gods their due. Hesitation is ungrateful and — naturally — the highest crime against one’s gods, one’s race and oneself.

What, then, can we infer from this? Surely, we can rediscover the wisdom which was old when the greatest civilizations on our planet were young.

Gratitude is the most genuinely telling human feeling. When presented with a boon, it is the obligation of the grateful to seize it. This is their joyful right but also their sorrowful responsibility.

“We raise it up, this offering”, the bridge of ‘Rabbit Heart’ reiterates. This is sacrifice — honourable, holy and open-handed. It must ever be thus.

Notice how the hunter who lives off his kills respects his prey. He is careful with how their lives are taken, he thanks his gods and goes through many unannounced rituals with which he does himself no dishonour. When his quarry is obtained, he must only kill them thus, skin them thus and gut them thus. It must be so. Surely, too, however, his duty must be to kill them in the first place, when they are sent to him by the cosmic winds.

The great mystery yields, then, an even greater clarity.

No norm can exist within chaos, Schmitt rightly observes (in Political Theology). There can be nothing apprehensible within the indescribable, inexplicable, unfathomable tempest of anarchy. There is nothing normal, let alone normative, so all is permitted — and the distance between man and man is not only unknown, but unravels, expands and returns to its ‘original position’, where it has become infinitely remote and hostile. All proximity is done with and finished. Approximation is gone as if it never was. Sacrifice is again loosed from its customary bounds and begins the offering-up of the not-I, the not-we, the sacrificial Other; even sacrifice within is permitted. In short, human sacrifice.

There are the obvious examples when we think of societies which practice this kind of sacrifice — the excesses of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayas — and in Europe we had the Druids. However, this is not where it ends. Even peoples not widely known for human sacrifice practised it; with some, like the Germanic and Nordic pagans, we get to see all the more clearly how important the sacrifice of a human being is. They understand it in precisely the political-mystical terms I have described. Our loosely Schmittian framework can therefore remain.

Within the context of a prevailing order, we can have the auguries, offerings of goats, rams, oxen and even the slaughter of horses. (The Celts even threw away old and battered weaponry, so that their new weaponry would be stronger and favoured by the gods.) In ordinary times, this is proper — and it is enough. However, more desperate times require more desperate measures; more extreme circumstances demand more extreme offerings. The hecatombs, bringing together great numbers of offerings, might also lead to more singular sacrifical offerings of  greater import: people. The intensification brings about a change in the ritual.

The Germanics were largely against this most extreme form of ritual killing. We should nevertheless not allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that this is because the sanctity of life prevents this. Rather, the sanctity of life inheres in human sacrifice and precisely what makes this practice coherent. The instinctual (and, as Hume points out, not at all rational) perception of cause-and-effect is a natural and necessary superstition. The offering is both (1) the grateful acknowledgement after-the-fact (propitiation-as-effect) and (2) the anticipatory entreaty for continued propserity — or even just continuity itself (oblation-as-cause). The relation goes both ways and is, of course, murky, because its relation is intuitive but not strictly rational.

The ritual slaughter of humans may be the great taboo now, but it was ubiquitous. Indeed, offerings seem to have been treated similarly by all Indo-European peoples.

The Aryans in India practised this same kind of oblation. Their priests can truly be called sanguinary, for they consumed the blood of sacrificial animals. What power or worth lies in the blood, they consumed. This entered into the reckoning of sacrifice.

One of the most important, but also rarest, Vedic rituals was the purushamedha — literally, Man-sacrifice. Despite being rarely discussed, it is also highly and contextually necessary. In this ritual, the man is ritually slaughtered much in the same way as the horse in the ashvamedha. Notice that there must be something distinctly human in the former ritual, just as there is something distinctly equestrian in the latter; in the same way that, during the latter, the gilt and adorned chariot is drawn in with the horse, to symbolize the military strength (specifically horsemanship and charioteering) which allowed the Aryans to prevail everywhere. So, the blood can be surmised to carry the distinctly human divinity.

Why make such extreme offerings? Because it is portentous and necessary.

Now that the words have been spoken — that the very sacrifice of human beings is carried out — we must look beyond our shock. What makes this necessary? Life makes this necessary. Life and Death are not truly opposites; the final fact of a life is Death, but Death is merely a Part of Life. Sacrifice, moreover, is a much more intelligible form of death. Today, we see this reversed. Sacrifice makes very little sense to us, for the same reason that maintaining order makes very little sense to us.

Sacrifice is the renewal of order.

What the Finnish ecological philosopher Pentti Linkola advocates, for example, is really just a recent (and ecological) variant of this primitive worldview. ‘Can life prevail?’ he asks, even making this the title of one of his books. A re-formulation is in order — and so we ask: ‘Can we prevail?’

Humans are sacrificed for the human order. Blood is met with blood, force with force, terror with terror and the man capable of the most terrible things prevents the most terrible plagues by comparably terrible treatments. It is like a physician excising a tumour, that the ascendant, dominant man removes threats which are inimical to the legal, social and political order. This is how he keeps his throne and why he deserves it.

The metaphor can be made literal: medicine itself is of roughly the same nature. Cures work because they are ruthlessly effective, not because they are pleasant. Clearly, the discipline we call medicine is as unspeakably morbid as the maladies which it cures — but it is so largely by necessity.

It was supposedly the Ksatriya, not the Brahmin, who performed the solemn purushamedha. This, of course, makes sense, since the Ksatriya caste is the class of the warriors, also that class from which the kings are drawn — namely, the caste which maintains order. Human blood propitiates the human political order.

Invariably, that which one is willing to subdue and sacrifice determines one’s existential reward.

In decadent times like our own, when nothing reigns but anarchy; in places where the blind automaton of the managerial state rolls endlessly on into eternity, punishing impotently, discouraging not a single crime, while encouraging all kinds; when we are in that topsy-turvy void which Sam Francis called ‘anarcho-tyranny’. The arbitrary confidence required to make distinctions and determinations of justice must again be infused into the system, by a temperament like that of the Lawgiver and Sovereign, through deeds like his. When the gavel of justice has been cast aside, the sword of justice may be taken up again.

So, the challenge of the exception must be addressed. We put a stop to our material, physical, existential destruction in its own terms. For the answer to force must be force; it is with fire that we must answer fire-bringers; the murderer must be slain; we destroy the destroyer. A single drop of the best blood shed, das heiligste Blut, must be avenged with torrents of common blood. This is simply how men in concreto are. Supposing we were not this way, we would not be at all.

In pain, we find not only the answers but the affirmations of great questions. Nietzsche is correct on the wisdom found in pain. “There is as much wisdom in pain as in pleasure: like pleasure, pain is one of the prime species-preserving forces. If it weren’t, it would have perished long ago: that it hurts is no argument against it — it is its essence. In pain I hear the captain’s command: ‘Pull in the sails!’ The hardy seafarer ‘Man’ must have learned to adjust the sails a thousand ways; otherwise he would have gone under too quickly and the ocean would have swallowed him too soon. We have to know how to live with reduced energy, too: as soon as pain sounds its safety signal, it is time for such a reduction — some great danger, some storm is approaching, and we do well to ‘inflate ourselves’ as little as possible.” (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Cambridge: CUP, 318.) There is a conservatism in this, which applies to most men, at most times.

Still, we have the colloquial expression ‘No pain, no gain’. So, what do we gain from pain? Simply, by its operation, pain imparts instruction. It teaches us about the differences between men — and it even teaches us about ourselves. What kind of man am I? What will I endure? What am I willing to inflict on myself and others? Who am I — and what is this ‘I’?

Pain is the determiner of whether men rise or fall. Indeed, we see that pain is a great separator in this way, also. Nietzsche continues — and we must let him speak the greater part of pain’s wisdom: “True, there are people who hear exactly the opposite command when great pain approaches and who never look as proud, bellicose, and happy as when a storm is nearing — yes, pain itself gives them their greatest moments! They are the heroic human beings, the great pain-bringers of humanity, those few or rare ones who who need the same apology as pain itself — and truly, they should not be denied this! They are eminently species-preserving and species-enhancing forces, if only because they resist comfort and do not hide their nausea at this type of happiness.” (Nietzsche, The Gay Scienceibid.)

Pain is no objection whatsoever to the most needful and sacred pursuit of order. Rather, in fact, pain can be indicative of a life-affirming, life-preserving, life-enriching experience — hence it is associated with sacred necessity.

The greatest of men not only know how to endure pain, but how to use it to achieve the most invaluable effects. The men who meet pain with laughter, who can thank their torment and are grateful for the brutal vividness of life, these are the men without whom our conquests, our riches and even our civilizations could not be, even as these men may themselves be retainers of the most joyously barbarous or savage temperaments.

One can see throughout Jünger’s writing that he understands pain, sacrifice and exile. This is, in some way, shape or form, present throughout Jünger’s entire oeuvre. It matters not whether the evolving beast is called the Frontsoldat, Arbeiter, Waldgänger or Anarch — a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. We see him draw taut like a bowstring, between the typical and exceptional. What emphasizes the grateful yet forlorn longing for belonging more than painful affirmation, more than the anonymous (or perhaps anomalous) sacrifice?

The individualist does not understand this, for individualism is an abstraction and active theoretization of the fearful, over-weaning instinct for hoarding, retreating, reasoning and bargaining one’s way out of danger. The individualists (of all stripes) abuse the strands of sensible non-interventionism and pragmatic allowances to fabricate a fanatical creed out of whole cloth and call it a rational plan for history. There is more than a touch of strychnine in this. The axis from themselves to ‘the individual’ is the umbilical cord — that is to say, we can trace their ‘individuality’ through their longing for the womb. In this dried out womb of denial, we find that the injunction ‘Laissez-faire!’ really necessitates the laisser-aller! The crawling, snivelling, conceptual retreat of these invertebrates shows their visceral commitment to cowardice and indecision. Even the Sadean wish to throw open our prisons to prove our virtue is really the puss that oozes from the burst boil of bourgeois morality, that now-festering sore of soft-stomached, soft-hearted, suburban sponge-life society, whose intermittent secretions up until the point of bursting were senseless flashings of violence in a decadent world. It is the end not only of Man, but of men — and we are thenceforth ‘individuals’ and die letzten Menschen.

It is for this reason that gratitude is to be restored. We must be existentially grateful for materially manifest gifts — but not all gifts are pleasant. Indeed, even (and perhaps especially) the best among them are bittersweet, are they not? Even les fleurs de mal can be beautiful — and they are.

The sacred and the profane are present in the same world. They are consubstantial. In our world, specifically our place within it, we find the unity of the natural and supernatural. It is a similar thing Maistre addresses when he speaks of the perfect parallelism of the physical and moral worlds, albeit he speaks as both Catholic and illuminist and that of which he speaks is two worlds and not one. The nuance for a thinker like Xunzi is much more apparent, so it is to him that we turn. Concretely, man is the completion of a triad with Heaven and earth, says he. To this Chinese, however, Heaven is rather more immanent — the governing principle in natural affairs, existing as the principle of order does to the principiate of order; the latter being the earth in its proper relation to Heaven. Man is always the inaugurator of the conjunction of principle-principiate. It is his mindful good conduct which holds Heaven and earth in their proper position and keeps all aright.

So, the man who finds his place and is thankful for it, is blessed. Again, we find that centre around which the wheel turns is—gratitude! It is the ungrateful who are truly forsaken. They damn themselves to their own hells. Gratitude is the compensation and correction of all deficiencies in life. Rather, it is the fierce who make prosperity possible. What is authentic and affirmative to life? We can answer: Pain is preservative! Sacrifice is salutary! Adversity is enriching!

Kierkegaard says that the man who loves himself becomes great in himself and he who loves others becomes great through his devotion to them, but the man who loves God becomes great than all others. Why is this? It’s because we find self-overcoming in what we love. What the Dane is really saying is that the man who loves himself overcomes himself; who loves others, overcomes his society; and — which he completely forgets to say and, in fact, lets fall away altogether — he who loves God, overcomes the Divine itself, to become divine himself.

Can we subscribe to this more extreme view? In some form, yes.

The man who overcomes himself, not only finds himself, but earns himself. “I am done with my graceless heart / So, tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart!” the singer resolves in Florence + the Machine’s ‘Shake It Out‘.

The highest castes of the divine beasts maintain order. Holding firm the sacred circle in which each nation is invisibly bound and blessed, policing the frontiers of our awareness like stallions protecting a herd of horses; their unhesitating hands raining thunderbolts on the forces of chaos without hesitation, these are honestly the best men. He who strikes is rightly called blessed before all others; he who strikes as the gods strike, is called sovereign. Here we see the impenetrable, yet profoundly palpable, order of rank, the pathos of distance contained and made approximal in quality, in the gradation of the Divine Beast from highest to lowest and vice versa.

The lotus unfurls its petals and the riddle unfolds. Authenticity is found, then, not in some static Truth, set apart from its bloody roots, but rather in ἀλήθεια (‘ālétheia’ or unconcealedness) and the alethetic process of sacrifice as disconcealment and utter, illimitable affirmation. Only the brave among us will stare into the beating heart of human life! In all honest heroes — and specifically all primal heroes — we find the anima naturaliter religiosa.

Simply, we are left once more with the bloodied but brilliant figure of our political anthropology: the divine beast, made whole in the sacrificial act. He has gained himself — and the world — through his gratitude.

About S. J. Irving

S. J. Irving is a writer from Scotland. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Devil's Review.