Gift for mlister
a guest Dec 22nd, 2018 107 Never
Not a member of Pastebin yet? Sign Up, it unlocks many cool features!
- SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL: AN ANALYSIS OF SCP-3615
- SCP-3615, “Depressed Divine Demon of Diptera & Diarrhea”, written by mlister, is a work that draws on the complexity and depth of the extant texts of the mature SCP Foundation's corpus. But it does so in pursuit of an idea that's gratifyingly simple, yet delightfully barbed.
- The core idea goes like this: the Foundation is containing an altar. The altar is a continuous source of shit and flies. Unless a sacrificial ritual is performed, the altar summons a demon, but not a powerful or majestic one; instead a chimeric mass of parts that do not go together, seemingly drawn from medieval demonology texts. This being is the fleshy avatar, the carnal incarnation, of a god, which can be communicated with. Yet said god seems to have an identity crisis. It doesn't understand who it is, or why it has fallen to this confused and lowly status. It can perceive via the demon, but this existence is painful to it. It does not want to be what it is; the motifs of flies and shit are as repugnant to it as they are to us. But it does have a name: Ba'al, or Baal.
- The bulk of the article up to the final addendum is here to outline these details within the fiction of the Foundation, and it does so admirably. Crosslinking is used deftly to help justify the needed background concepts - that the Foundation participates in magickal rituals, can summon and, in an automated fashion, exorcise demons (or “Tartarean Entities”), and is familiar with and can classify deities (“Pistiphage Entities”). The crosslinks thread the needle between enhancing the work with the depth of reference while being possible to parse without reading the articles to which they link (the meanings of “automated exorcism system”, “Tartarean” and “Pistiphage” being deducible from the words themselves or easy to infer from context.
- Meanwhile, these sections also find time to include some satisfying details indicating the lowly status and feeble puissance of the deity and demon here contained. Pork is a suitable substitute for human flesh in the ritual used to keep Baal's demon at bay, and delightfully the demon itself is “Despite its mass and Tartarean nature ... vulnerable to small arms fire.” Which is to say, you can just shoot it dead.
- With the base facts established and the gross and pathetic nature of the demon established, the interview segment in the first addendum serves to give insight into the character of the god, this “Baal”. Immediately we see its speech is pained, hesitant, confused. It cannot clarify its identity. Something, clearly, is wrong here. Particularly clear is a repeated slippage between singular and plural pronouns.
- So by the second addendum, we are left with a mystery. What is this pathetic, twisted thing? How did it come to be in this form, so unsatisfying to itself? How does it have a name but no identity?
- Scholars of ancient religion or modern occultism (or any reader quickly looking up Baal on Wikipedia) may have anticipated the answer before it comes, but for the rest of us, the second interview is going to provide the answers. The key exchange is worth quoting in full:
- Dr. Ellis: What about -1's physical appearance? It matches no historical depictions of "Baal", and in fact seems to borrow heavily from medieval texts on demonology.
- PoI-24152: Some gods are broken, right? Our lord is no different. After being cast from his rightful place atop the pantheon, he was torn into pieces. In time, even these pieces degenerated, warped by Christians who couldn't tell apart a demon from a deity. What you see is our attempt to put him back together after the damage was done.
- Dr. Ellis: You don't have any issue with this?
- PoI-24152: Our lord's form might not look pleasing, but we embrace all aspects of him.
- Dr. Ellis: Well, are you aware that these "pieces" are wholly separate mythological figures who just happen to share an epithet?
- [PoI-24152 sneers]
- PoI-24152: Names are powerful. As detailed in our scripture, the shared title betrays a continuity of being that isn't obvious to modern science.
- The penny drops. This article is about syncretism.
- Syncretism is the amalgamation of disparate religious beliefs into a single belief. It has occurred throughout history in various forms for various reasons, but in this case, the reason is clear: a group of modern occultists have syncretized a multitude of gods that, because they shared a similar name, they found easy to convince themselves were simply aspects of a single divinity.
- This sort of arrogant bundling-together of ancient religious figures has a long history in occult thought, achieving perhaps it's the highest expression in Robert Graves’ The White Goddess, which sought to unify into a single triple-formed goddess nearly every female deity in the whole of European myth. The appeal of syncretism, in seeing connections between things and hunting for a higher truth held within a unitary explanation, is obvious. But less clear is the damage it does, to our appreciation of the actual variety and distinctness of cultural and religious practice, and in the appropriation of those cultures to serve narratives of colonising culture.
- What SCP-3615 is doing as literature then, is reifying - making real and concrete - this process in the form of its poor misbegotten “Baal”. This “Baal”'s identity is confused because it emerged from a confused process, that is trying to unify things that were actually distinct. This is why its body plan makes no sense, its existence is pain, its very identity a hopeless and warring morass.
- This technique of making an abstract or metaphorical idea like syncretism into something that has a concrete form is one of the things the SCP Foundation does very well. It's a productive avenue because not only does it lead to weirdness to see abstractions made flesh (and that should not be discounted as part of the point of 3651 as entertainment)
- The sneer of our cultist interviewee, David Mercer, so certain of the “continuity of being” invisible to “modern science” (i.e. to the actual historical facts of religious practice) of their Baal, is the sneer of the coloniser, who understands your culture better than you do. And yet he has ended up literally worshipping shit. He counts this as a reclamation, even constructs for himself a narrative of persecution that Baal's survival is a mirror of, but the overall text is against him; the reader understands he is not redeeming Baal or restoring him to glory (a footnote undermines this latter claim directly.)
- Were this simply taking potshots at modern syncretic occultism it would be easy for the article to seem mean-spirited. The sort of patchouli-smelling, crystal-bedecking esoteric bookstore spirituality being alluded to here is often deeply embarrassing, but it is, appropriation aside, largely harmless. Fortunately, the article has a larger target, with the astute interpolation of the Dictionnaire Infernal.
- This text, being from the 1800s and authored by a Roman Catholic, widens the focus. Now the lens is on Christianity, and how the habit of the Abrahamic religions of dismissing other deities outside their own monotheism as demons was the original syncretic sin that has ultimately driven the syncretisation of Baal.
- This is particularly significant in terms of the flies and the shit. These properties of Baal are part of its identity as a demon, not as a god, and have been put there by Christian demonologists to discredit Baal as an entity, make it a lesser, fallen thing, worthy of contempt. The work of SCP-3651 then is to flip this script; to have us show contempt for the colonising syncretist, and instead have sympathy for the devil.
RAW Paste Data