Something I have been working a bit upon over the last few months, are questions of how technological advancement are to be squared with Indo-European mytho-religion. Or, as Tristan occasionally semi-derisively terms it – my “Techno-Theology”.
It may seem a bit of a peculiar thing to get hung up about. After all, technological advancement has been an immanent feature of pretty much every Indo-European culture – and tangibly reflected in their religious canons – pretty much as far back as we are able to talk about either concept with any reliability.
A great example comes to us in the form of the weapon of the Striker/Thunderer deific complex – initially portrayed as a sturdy and redoubtable knotted bough of Oak (as wielded by Herakles), or refined somewhat via the addition of a sharpened head of hardened material to become an Axe (such as a weapon of Perun; or, with a hammer-head rather than an axe, the Mjolnir justly famed of Thor). These are primitive, yet effective weapons – especially in the hands of a being of mighty strength.
More advanced depictions reflect the material culture of those doing the depicting – and so we see the Vajra of Indra (and certain other Gods) acquiring a more defined shape and form as time goes on, that comes to resemble a Mace more than a simple Club. Indeed, you go further down this trajectory, and we see some quite obscure symbolic developments such as the Khatvanga [‘Skull-Staff’] as Vajra occurring [some of which may have resulted from the depicters being less concerned or even, in the manner of Medieval monks, less directly familiar, with the functionality of the device in question as ‘weapon’ rather than symbolic ‘staff of office’ or other form of cudgel-‘escutcheon’]. But more upon the Vajra in a moment.
Returning to the Classical mythology, we see further such developments occurring. The Weapon of the Striker/Thunderer moves with the times – becoming the Harpe wielded by Perseus (in whose name you can see the ‘Per-‘ kernel, pertaining to Proto-Indo-European ‘Striking’), a curious sort of curved or even double-pointed early Sword. Subsequent developments in art and artistry have the Harpe becoming a more conventionally recognizable Sword of a later age; and in the hands of Kronos / Saturn , is also represented as a Sickle (another curved blade), or even a Scythe (although I believe there is something slightly different also going on here – but more upon that, perhaps, some other time).
Now, some might suggest that these are all different weapons wielded by different Gods – and, to a point, they are not incorrect … if we are looking at these things from the interior-to-any-given-mythological-canon perspective. And yet, as soon as we take the step back that enables us to consider all of these from the broader Indo-European mythoreligious perspective, it becomes quite readily apparent that in all cases, these are instances of the same deific complex and attendant weapon(ry) being expressed, recalled, and where necessary, reworked, in line with the developments of the local Indo-European population.
In each case, we have a Striker/Thunderer … or as applies the Greco-Roman Pantheons, a situation of a Striker/Thunderer expression having been ‘merged’ with a Sky Father one, as well as several co-occurring Striker/Thunderers (which, to be fair and sure, is not exactly an abnormal situation. Vedic scripture has Indra and Hanuman co-existing and even co-occurring for ritualine purposes; and there are further figures in later Puranic scripture who also fit the typology down to the parentage/incarnate essence thereof).
And in each case, we have a Striking weapon wielded by same. One which may have a more purely percussive [there’s that ‘Per’ again] mechanism of action, such as a club or a mace or a hammer; or which may also cut where it projects force, as with an axe or a sword. And which are often wielded, in their defining combat, against some sort of demonic-dragon or otherwise serpentine entity.
Yet at the same time, the fact that our representations, our understandings in surface-veneer terms of these Weapons … the fact that these evolve and change and develop down the ages, poses an interesting question for us. Namely, to what extent the Weapon itself actually changed (or, for that matter, Its Wielder(s)), versus it merely being a matter of the representation changing and the actual element being represented remaining constant.
The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is that it’s potentially likely to be Both.
Insofar as it is beyond question that human depictions of the weaponry in question have shifted to keep things in-line with what seemed familiar, practicable, but above all symbolically resonant for the Indo-European mytho-culture in question … yet we also have various in-mythology accountings of the Weapon of the Striker/Thunderer being worked upon, derived, improved, augmented, even re-forged or re-attained. Occasionally with subtle yet important shifts in what it is that is ‘represented’ by the Weapon in question alongside this as its intrinsic, immanent part.
Except that is the vitally important element. The core essence of what is represented by the Weapon; and how this, unlike its exterior representations, or some of the more peripheral elements to its meaning and role and symbolism, this does NOT change.
There is a rather grand bit in the recent Marvel movie “Thor: Ragnarok” which elucidates a strongly resonant principle for this. It is the part towards the end of the movie wherein Odin is reminding Thor that He is not merely the “God of Hammers” – but, implicitly, that the Hammer represents what He is God of.
And while I do not mean to ascribe serious theological aptness nor accuracy to the plot progressions of a comic-book film (not least because, as we know, the divine portfolio of Thor extends quite some ways beyond ‘Thunder’; with the Sky Father also having purview over that particular and most impressive of atmospheric phenomenon); it is a succinct illustration of what I am getting at here.
Mjolnir is a Hammer, the Vajra is often depicted as a Gada [‘Club’/’Mace’], the adamantium Harpe is a sort of sword. And yet each of these is also something much more – it is Thunder (with Supreme Hardness, durability) … in fact, it is even more than that again, it is the Irresistible Force, and there is quite some Hindu theology upon this matter as applies the manner in which this is understood and thence expressed. The Weapon in question is no more a Hammer (or Mace, Harpe, etc.), than the Thor on-screen was a mere God of Hammers. The Hammer just happens to be the (scripturally attested, mind) shape that goes with the essence as we perceive it – and as is useful at the time. [It is also rather apparent that in various cases, our Ancestors weren’t quite sure what they were looking at in terms of exterior format, and so simply went with whatever description seemed closest to them at the time; thus explaining why some of the archaic scriptural accounts of some of these devices are so various or so peculiar in their specificity and threadbareness of detailed description – because the Idea could be more important than the simple signifer which bore it]
Which brings me to my next point. The technological progression of ‘exterior’ representation, but also too of ‘essence’ – and how we ought regard and respond to these in light of what I have just said.
It is my position that just as technological progression can be evinced to have occurred amidst ancient Indo-European mytho-religious depictions, while keeping the fundamental core ‘essence’ of these things largely the same … so, too, should technological progression in representation in representations amidst the detritus of the Modern Age be possible – provided it keeps the fundamental ‘essence’ the same. [Whether it is plausible for this to be done tastefully or usefully, without effectively turning into an uber-euhemeric race-to-the-bottom of Clarke’s Third Law that de-sacralizes the mythology and religion in its thrice-besmirching process … is perhaps another matter. This is yet another reason Why We Have A Priest Caste.]
Which raises some rather interesting questions, as it happens, about some of the occasional Hindu art I have posted wherein the Deity in question is wielding a modern fire-arm … as you could quite viably attempt to argue that bullets from a gun have much more in common with arrows or other piercing armaments of the archaic age, than they do with the smashing-bludgeoning force-projection of the club, hammer, or axe (even when said hammer might have been flung from a distance – the range matters less than the form of the application of the force, what it represents). Which is presumably not so much of an obstacle for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher … but I digress, and should probably get back on track before I start speculating upon how closely coterminous or otherwise, ‘bunker buster’ and ‘Smasher of the Enclosure’ may perhaps be.
The final point I shall make in this area, is to note that in an array of Indo-European mythoreligious canons – the more ‘modern’ forms and formulations of both Weapon and Wielder do not completely displace their archaic antecedents. Yet rather co-exist, occasionally separated out somewhat into their own somewhat coterminous mythological expressions. Hence why Herakles with His Branch-Club and Perseus with His Sword, are both to be found in the legendarium of the ancient Greeks.
Which, of course, invites the question as to why this might have occurred. After all, with the possible exception of the Nokia 3310 (itself a damn near indestructible brick of a phone that is still in-use today, twenty years after its initial release), we only rarely see elder and less advanced technology pointedly, prominently kept in service and in the popular imagination alongside its replacements. Muskets are incredibly rare upon the modern battlefield … although Swords shall never truly go out of style. And not only because they don’t require reloading and never jam.
It is my belief that part of the reason that the ‘older forms’ of some of these Weapons of the Striker/Thunderer (and, for that matter, various other Indo-European Deific expressions) remain in ‘active use’, is precisely because they ‘resonate’ more deeply and seem somehow subconsciously more ‘true’ to the minds and mytho-perceptions of those doing the depicting and understanding, indeed the re-immanentization and re-currence of the mythology as well.
Perhaps it is because they have been with us for longer; perhaps it is because they are somewhat simpler. Likely, it is significantly because they are on some level ‘cooler’ [and ‘Rule of Cool’ has ever been an appreciable tenet of Indo-European mytho-theology – particularly when the Deity in question may find something to be so]. And probably it has much to do with how these more ‘primal’ expressions feel more ‘immanent’ to us than the cold, artificial renderings of the modern age. A master-crafted individually artificed firearm relative to a 3d-printed mass-production throwaway, would be one way to view this.
As would how much more effective, indeed narratively impactful Jack Churchill advancing from a beach equipped with his famous longbow and and broadsword combination was in comparison to the more conventionally armed soldiers by his side. That is to say – as we progress further from these ancient and archaic origin-points, so too do their tangible reminders, the active expressions of same, become increasingly more salient for us somehow. Perhaps due to their relative rarity, perhaps as they remind us more and more of what we had once and now have largely lost.
However, the area wherein there must be some serious caution is not in the sphere of external representations – or, at least, does not have its prime weight there, even though it is also expressed therein.
Rather, it is concerning the elements of Essence that lie at the conceptual Heart of whatever it is that we are seeking to talk about under the light of ‘technological progression’. And that doesn’t just mean iconographic or other artistic representations of weaponry. It means the applications and facilitations of our Rites and Rituals – things that are, themselves, at the fundamental core of there even being an Indo-European mytho-religion out there amidst the Peoples.