“There is no good, and there is no evil. There is only the flesh and the patterns to which we submit it.” At least that was one of the things which the character Pinhead was supposed to say according to a proposed script for one of the Hellraiser movies based on the writings of Clive Barker. Even though the line was not used in the film, to a certain extent, there is some truth to that. The dual perspective based on the good-evil distinction was mostly introduced by religions such as Christianity which refer to two main entities, two antagonists, one representing good (like God) and the other representing demonic evil (like the Devil).
In real life, such distinctions become blurred. A person can have both good and evil inside the soul. What matters most is what a person chooses to act upon. Unfortunately, many humans choose to act on evil. With entities like demons which are regarded as actual manifestations of demonic evil, humans acting on evil imply their choice and many sources argue that the patterns of human evil can, in reality, be much worse than those of demonic evil. This essay looks into the origins of these ideas of good and evil through the ages.
The curiosity of Pandora led her to open a box and release all the evils into the world. ( Archivist / Adobe Stock)
Demonic Evil Origins Everywhere
In Christianity, Eve introduced sin (and evil) into the world by eating from the tree of knowledge. Some researchers claim that her sin had not been limited only to this, but that she had also mated with the snake. However, the concept of introducing evil into the world is much older.
In the Greek tradition, Pandora was the first woman, having been created by the gods out of earth and water. To her a box was offered which she was not to open, but curiosity pushed her to do exactly the contrary. When Pandora opened the box received as a gift from the gods, all the evils were released into the world. When the woman closed the box, it was already too late. The evils had escaped. Inside the box, on the bottom, only the spirit of hope named Elpis had remained.
In the Bible, evils appear under the form of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse who are released in turn, as the lamb of God opens one by one the four seals of the parchment from the right hand of God sealed, in total, with seven seals. Thus, the horsemen symbolize the Apocalypse announcing the coming of the moment of final judgment.
Conquest is the first horseman who is described in the text as follows:
“Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.”
Interpretations of this horseman associated with military conquests sometimes consider him to be the Antichrist or a representation of false prophets. Within the Bible, the second horseman is War, representing mass slaughter. He has a sword symbolizing the blood which will flow and he is described in the following manner:
“When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from Earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.”
“When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not damage the oil and the wine.”.
The last horseman is Death or the Grim Reaper about whom the Bible says:
“When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a pale horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him.”.
Out of all the horsemen of the Apocalypse, only Death is named in an explicit manner, and about all of them, as a group, the Biblical text affirms that:
“Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
1796 painting “Death on a Pale Horse” artist depiction of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. (VortBot / Public Domain )
Evil with Demonic Origins
In the Middle Ages humans wanted to blame someone for all the evil of the world, and so there began to appear thick volumes which described the appearance, powers and ranks of demons from the infernal hierarchy. Priests told people to permanently guard themselves against the malefic influence of demons and to be vigilant in what regarded such aspects.
In the 13th century, an abbot established the number of demons at 1,758,176. He explained: “Every human being is pursued by several demons. Just like a human who dives into the sea is surrounded by water, above as well as below, that is how demons surround humans from all sides.”
Then, after approximately 300 years, the Church increased the number of demons to 7,405,926. As it is said that demons have abilities, domains of action and specific positions within the infernal hierarchy, in the world there is a large number of demonological catalogues which record the names of demons and describe them. Wizards used such catalogues to choose the demons they were about to invoke to ask for their help. In exchange, they offered their souls to the demons.
Nevertheless, evil does not come solely from demons. There have existed a lot of cases in which human evil surpassed demonic evil in terms of ingenuity and cruelty. From here, also come the legends about humans turned demons or about demons who look for humans as cruel and perverse as possible in order to manifest themselves and to be able to accomplish their diabolical plans.
Depiction of the Devil from 1591. ( Public domain )
The Devil Impressed by Humans
Roman Polanski’s 1999 film entitled The Ninth Gate follows a character specialized in finding, authenticating, and selling old books. He must find the original variants of nine engravings. Placed in the correct order these were said to open the nine gates of the entrance to Hell. The idea presented in this modern-day Hollywood production comes from a much older legend.
It is said that, in Hell, the Devil was looking around when his attention was attracted by the evils performed by human demons. This had to do with those demons who had been created from a perverted human soul. The evils done by them greatly surpassed those performed by the demons who had actually been born in demonic form ever since the beginning.
Amazed and surprised beyond measure, the Devil could not understand this aspect. How could human demons surpass in cruelty and ingenuity actual demons? Desiring an answer, the Devil decided to incarnate himself as a human. In this way, he could live a number of successive lifetimes as a human being and he could discover what made human demons more atrocious and crueler than pure-blood demons.
Taking into account that he would be absent from Hell for quite some time, in case of emergency, the Devil included in his plan a safety system. Should his presence be greatly needed in Hell, a ritual would remind him his true identity, a thing that would help him to take on again his true demonic form and return to his business. The idea was that in the case of an emergency, a certain demon would come to him before the end of the pre-established number of human lives and help him execute a ritual allowing him to become himself once again. The demonic ritual of initiation appears in the film mentioned previously in an adapted cinematic version.
According to the legend, the Devil did not pass through all of the pre-established lives, his urgent presence in Hell being highly needed. For this reason, the Devil himself has remained eternally fascinated by the cruelty of the evil with human origin.
People have throughout history attempted to explain the origins of demonic evil. ( Bastetamon / Adobe Stock)
Evil of Human Origin
Psychopathologist Adrian Raine from the University of Southern California has conducted scientific research which has shown that a large portion of criminals have a lack of neurons in the pre-frontal cortex. The neurological studies have demonstrated that, ever since childhood, conscience, the feeling of guilt and altruism appear and develop as a result of a correct functioning of the pre-frontal cortex.
Many psychopaths and criminals have suffered from APD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) which determines the lack of any feeling of affection, antisocial behavior, perfidy and irresponsibility. In addition, many of these psychopaths lacked the nervous cells mentioned previously.
Thus, Professor Adrian Raine ended up asking himself whether criminals can be considered responsible for the crimes they commit, taking into consideration the fact that they are missing part of their brain. He also considers that, for these reasons, it is late for someone to deal with the teenagers and the minors from correction schools and with convicts. The right time to prevent and treat antisocial behavior is during childhood.
The accuracy of this study is situated somewhere at 75%, so there are psychopaths who have no neuron lacking from their pre-frontal cortex. Aside from this, there are also humans who indeed have the respective neurons lacking, but who do not present any antisocial behavior .
A psychiatrist at St. Bartholomew Hospital of London, Doctor Martin Deahl, claims that there are indeed abnormalities in the brains of psychopaths, but these are not standard abnormalities on the basis of which an exact diagnostic can be attributed. So, in a latent state, a psychopath can exist inside any individual. Everything depends only on specific conditions and on triggering factors.
The brazen bull was a Roman torture device where people would be locked inside a metal bull and a fire would be lit below it. (Stuart Yeates / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Torture as Epitome of Human Evil
Another legend claims that Saint Anthony had sent a letter to the Devil asking him to explain himself and to stop all evils on Earth. Apparently the Devil responded, claiming that he had a lot of business to attend to in Hell and no time at all to intervene in the affairs of humans.
In his reply, he also added that Saint Anthony would discover the source of evils from Earth if he asked the Church. This was a time when the Inquisition had unjustly killed and tortured unthinkable numbers of people. In this way, a religion of mercy, as Christianity is regarded to be, had led to the death of a larger number of people than the two world wars put together.
Ever since Antiquity, as well as during the Middle Ages, a large number of methods and instruments of torture has been created and used, some more inventive than others. Depicted in engravings and described in real manuals of torture, these taught and helped executioners in their job.
The brazen bull of the Romans was a large metallic bull whose belly opened to allow for one or more humans to be locked inside it. The fire then lit below the bull’s belly made it hot and it slowly fried the man inside.
Meanwhile, the cradle of Judas implied sitting the condemned on a pyramid-shaped chair with a sharp top. The bindings made for every movement, no matter how small, to move the entire body to increase pain. The pain was unbearable because the sharp edge was stuck inside the anus or inside the vagina and, as the chair was not really washed, even in the case of an acquittal, the individual could die shortly after because of the infections resulted after applying the torture method.
Other convicts were locked inside cabinets in the form of a sarcophagus which had spikes on the interior. This was the iron maiden which, in the moment when it was locked, it would pierce the body of the convict with its spikes, killing him.
Other methods of torture included the wheel, which ensured a very slow death, the old method of flaying and impaling invented by the Turks. Witches and wizards were executed by placing a board on top of their horizontally bound bodies. On the board, very heavy boulders were placed, the condemned being able to hear their bones crushing before death. In the cases in which confessions were wanted, the chair with spikes was the most often used.
The use of the lethal injection is the ultimate expression of human evil. ( felipecaparros / Adobe Stock)
Human Evil Evident in the Death Penalty
In the world there are no new things, only new people. There are still countries where the death penalty continues to be applied through various methods such as the lethal injection, hanging, shooting or the electric chair.
In the case of the first method, three substances (sodium thiopental, a barbituric which sedates the convict; pancuronium bromide which paralyzes the muscles and the lungs and blocks the breathing system and potassium chloride which causes cardiac arrest) are introduced, in turn, inside the body of the condemned in doses established in such a way that only a single one can cause death.
Studies performed in this regard have shown that, in the cases without a proper anesthesia, even though pancuronium bromide paralyzes the lungs and the muscles, it leaves the convict in a perfect state of lucidity. In this state, the convict goes through a state of suffocation intensified by injecting the potassium chloride. This latter substance irritates the walls of blood vessels and the individual passes through the sensation of burning alive.
Because of these terrible pains which it produces, pancuronium bromide has been forbidden when it comes to animal euthanasia. In the case of humans, it is still used because, with the individual being sedated, from the exterior perspective of those who are witnesses to the event, all that is observed is an individual who seems unconscious, who does not move and whose calm expression leaves the sensation of a slow descent into an eternal sleep.
Why is such an awful and painful method of execution still used in the case of humans? On one side, because it induces fear, the fear of breaking the law and committing crimes legally punishable by death. From this perspective, it is a method of control and of making sure the laws are respected.
From an external perspective, the mental comfort of those who witness such an execution is taken into account. Many have no idea about the pain the convict experiences. They just see him tied up and sedated, having the impression of a calm death. Only a few are aware of the reality of the actual excruciating pain felt by the convict.
In fact, a painless method of execution implies quickly destroying the nerves that send the pain signals to the brain. This could be achieved by attaching explosives to a convict’s head and detonating them. But for lawbreakers this would mean a fast painless death and for the witnesses to the execution it would imply a disturbing sight. So, no fear for potential lawbreakers to deter them and no moral comfort for those who witness the execution.
When it comes to myths and legends as relates to demons, these merely symbolize the latent evil that exists inside every human. As long as evil continues to exist in the world, these legends will attempt to offer up explanations, to help us understand the inexplicable potential for cruelty that exists in human nature.
Top image: Personification of demonic evil. Source: likozor / Adobe Stock
By Phoenix Vald
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