From Richard Kearney’s “Melancholy: Between Gods and Monsters.”

“…In short, sexual desire for female beauty was intimately linked, in our mythological unconscious, with an initial ac of sundering and separation. Without castration there could be no sense of that lack, difference or otherness which is so indispensable to the workings of eros. Indeed, we find countless allusions to the amorous, venal and sometimes lecherous character of the melancholic throughout the ages.

The identification of Kronos-Saturn with ‘time’ is more than a phonetic coincidence (Kronos-chronos). The [melancholic] is intimately related to the dread produced in mortals by the scythe of Time the Reaper — i.e. by that separation of all separations, death. The ‘chronological’ character of melancholy is thus captured in Kronos’ threefold act of devouring, substitution and castration, each of which represents a fundamental aspect of time. Indeed another way to read this myth would be to emphasize the futility of Kronos’ efforts to remain eternal by reversing time, drawing is progeny back into himself: an act of monstrous self-absorption punished by the inevitable passage of time as both substitution  (one moment replacing another) and castration (the cutting of the illusion of phallic self-sufficiency). In other words, to the extent that Kronos destroys he is himself destroyed. Kronos is the destroyed destroyer, just as he is the castrated castrator.This paradoxical character of the Kronos-Saturn figure is further underscored, moreover, by the fact that the experience of sundering can also give rise to reactivity. The inaugural myths of castration lead not only to the survival and empowerment of the greatest Olympian deity — Zeus — but also to the birth of beauty and desire (Venus rising from the waves bloodied by castrated genitals). In this reading cyclical time which seeks to return itself gives way to chronological time which acknowledges the ineluctability of historical transience and mortality. It is the virtue of wisdom, capable of accepting the ruptures of mortal existence, which lies at the root of the visual representations of Saturn as elderly sage and resigned soverign. Disenchanted with the narcissistic ideal of self-plenitude, the creative melancholic is one who re-experiences the world without illusion, that is, with eyes capable of seeing otherwise.

According to this Saturnine narrative, in sum, the artist is one who lets go of the ego in order to rediscover him-or herself anew. Working through melancholy towards a form of productive mourning, the artist becomes like a wise Olympian deity, a curious ‘gaiety transfiguring all that dread’ (Yeats). This more upbeat legacy runs from certain ideas of classical antiquity up to the middle ages an early Renaissance, as witnessed in countless sculptures, frescoes, murals and portraits depicting Melancholia as creative thinker, head on hand, calmly embracing death. This is the melancholic mind that authentically accepts its ‘being-toward-death’ (Heidegger). Or to use psychoanalytic language, it is the nationalistically wounded soul that has undergone ‘symbolic castration’ and acknowledged its incorrigible and ultimately insatiable condition as ‘want-to-be’…The melancholic moves from destruction to creation by accepting his/her own death. Darkness encountered and traversed becomes a source of new light, a ‘black sun’. Hence the proliferation through the Western visual tradition of images of the castrated-castrating Kronos holding aloft a sickle, scythe or dragon of time biting its own tail. Unless, these symbols suggest, we embrace our mortality as a limit-experience of irreversible loss, we cannot transform the disease of melancholy into healing insight.”  -Richard Kearney in Strangers, Gods and Monsters. 

See also: On the Sacrifice of the Scapegoat. 

The gods don’t need your worship

There is something even more narcissistic than post-apocalyptic literature. It’s modern takes on mythology.

In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, the gods need more believers. They are shadows of their once-selves. And new gods are forming—gods of the Media and the Internet—simply because humans pay more attention to them. This puts a lot of power in the unknowing hands (or heads) of mortal humans.

This plot point is what’s called “The gods need prayer badly” and it occurs so often in mythology stories that it’s become a trope on TVtropes.

In the 2010 reboot of Clash of the Titans, humans need to be reminded of “the order of things” because the gods can “feel their power draining”—as if their existence depends on humans in the first place (never mind that the gods created THEM). See deleted scene:

TVtropes even comments on the sequel:

“In the sequel Wrath of the Titans, prayers have dwindled so much that the gods have all lost their immortality and many have died before the movie even started. They still have most of their powers, but they are fading. Thus, the Titans are breaking free. On a Fridge Logic note, why are the Titans still around? The gods fuel their immortality with worship, what do the Titans use? And before there were humans to empower them, the gods took down the Titans, didn’t they?”

I could continue to list where else this lazy trope shows up, but I think you get the point. It simply doesn’t make sense and it cheats the audience out of an honest look at why myths exist. I’ll explore the following reasons:

  1. If gods exist because you believe in them, then how are they said to create man and other worldly things/creation itself? When talking about creation myths, it’s not a “chicken before the egg” dilemma. If using myth-based facts, then MEN CAME AFTER GODS. The very thought “gods exist based on human worship” (Read: American Gods) is stocked full of more hubris than the idea you’re just as powerful or as good as them (Read: Andromeda’s beauty in Clash of the Titans). HOWEVER, I will admit that the plot of “humans overthrowing their creators” (paralleled to robots vs. humans, Zeus vs. Cronus) is entirely legitimate. See number three.
  2. It’s one thing to say that the gods require worship and sacrifice for attention or for additional power. It’s entirely another to say it’s what sustains them. The gods don’t need you. You need them. That’s why you keep them happy. At most, they need you like a human needs a pet. How does prayer/worship/sacrifice legitimately feed them? Sure, it might fuel them. Their egos. But it’s not what keeps them alive. What were they “eating” before humans came along? Instead of them somehow farming humans as a concocted food immortality supply, it’s a much stronger plot point to suggest that gods created humankind out of boredom—out of wanting someone to play with—loneliness—to give themselves purpose. Thus, when that purpose is threatened, of course they’d be upset. Every parent or authority figure wants to be respected.
  3. Man may be responsible for creating out of belief, but that doesn’t mean he can kill out of disbelief. Just like believing in Santa Claus doesn’t make him real (sorry kiddos–and what the hell are you doing reading this blog?), disbelieving in gravity, that the earth is round, in global warming doesn’t make it less real. No, I’m not going to dissect Nietzsche‘s “God is dead” argument for you (in fact, Gabbler told me not to—told me to focus only on the literary points, not the philosophy), but sure, let’s go ahead and pretend that we are a threat to gods. But what kind of a threat—on what level? At the basic level, our disbelief threatens our need of them. We become self-reliant. But that could hardly be seen as an entirely bad thing for ALL the gods (for example: some of the “good” gods having to clean up our messes like 1) wars and 2) general human horribleness must get tiring). Gods only “need” us in so much as as we fight their wars for them, hurt others for them, are entertainment for them. We may not need them, but we cannot kill them from it. Sure, there may be a constant fear within every creator that they will be overthrown or overshadowed by their successors. But even when Cronus overthrew Uranus, did he really die? Indeed, in some accounts he was was merely castrated. Changed. Overthrown does not mean death.


“Gods need prayer badly” is wearing thin—to the point of ignoring entire historical cultures and tradition. Not only is it a lazy excuse for why the gods don’t get involved in our affairs anymore (i.e. because they’re dead or weak), but it assumes that these “old gods” have lost their inspirational powers. Which isn’t so. Otherwise, we’d stop talking about them in our stories so much.

By BLA. Edited for curse words and self-righteousness by GBG (without a single footnote!).

[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]

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Post updated on 4/30/17