Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Saturn Complex and the Myth of the Downward Spiral

Saturn is probably one of my favorite gods to study. In Saturn, one can see what a firm grasp of human psychology the ancients had. The story of his life is the very story of human power.

Saturn was a child of the Sky and Earth. Occasionally, the Earth gave birth to a hideous child, like a monstrous creature with a hundred hands and fifty heads, or a Cyclops, and the Sky would bury it, imprisoned back within the Earth, where he would not have to look upon them. Those who were allowed to remain free to roam were called Titans, and they were the very embodiment of natural phenomena like earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, the sun, the moon, etc.

The Earth was not happy with this arrangement, for not only was she being physically burdened by this arrangement (which was against her will), these were her children and she loved them despite how they looked. The Earth asked all of the Titans for help, but only one had the ambition to answer the call.

Saturn, armed with a flint knife, lay in ambush and castrated his father. Saturn then ruled over what would be called the Golden Age, a time of peace, prosperity, and equality among all. Every day was a celebration, and every living thing lived free of fear and despair.

But such things cannot last, for in his dying breath, the Sky cursed Saturn by saying that one day, he too would bear a child who would defeat him in a battle where victory would be snatched from him by his own treacherous Titan brethren.

While the rest of the world enjoyed a time of unparalleled joy, Saturn’s wife, Ops, lived a life of silent misery. Every time Ops bore him a child, Saturn would devour it.

Saturn Devouring His Son – Fransisco de Goya

Before long, Ops had given birth to five children, and Saturn had eaten them all. When Ops gave birth to her sixth, a boy named Jupiter, she hid him on the island of Crete and ordered the residents to bang their drums, rattle their spears and sing loudly in order to mask the infant’s cries. She wrapped a stone in swaddling clothes and handed it over to Saturn, who swallowed it whole.

When he was old enough, Jupiter poisoned Saturn’s drink, causing him to vomit Jupiter’s five brothers and sisters. Together, they waged war on Saturn. As the war raged on, Jupiter convinced Saturn’s brother, Prometheus, to join his side. Prometheus had a weapon forged when Jupiter promised to rule justly (a promise he couldn’t keep). Armed with lightning, Jupiter conquered Saturn and his titan siblings.

If you take out the magic and the gods, what you have left is the perpetual battle between the successive generations of humanity. Each new crop of children are destined to replace their parents, and by extension, their gods/ideas. Yet, even though everything changes… it remains eerily the same. Change is inevitable, and yet the more things change, the more they stay exactly the same.

There is another thread running through these sorts of mythologies, and it’s nearly universal across the religions of the world: the idea that humanity descends deeper and deeper into depravity as time goes on. The world’s religions operate on a societal fallacy based on a personal experience.

We are born innocent, with all we need provided for us, but we move into a period where things get progressively more difficult, until we must toil to earn our living, and soon enough we succumb to disease and hardship. Such it is with the Ages of Men: from the idyllic Golden Age we descend down into the arduous Iron Age.

Here we have a fallacy, for things do not get worse for society as time goes on, they only get worse for each individual. We did not become polluted or receive punishment for past offenses. If anything, the human condition has improved. Progress is remarkably resilient. Even when a culture undergoes a Dark Age, its neighboring people tend to keep their advancements alive. The world may lose a culture’s history and art, but their science and technology is shockingly persistent.

And yet, as we age, we are all cursed to one day realize the younger generation is doomed. Never mind that our parents and grandparents said the same of us… they were crazy old coots who knew nothing. No, we are clearly the zenith, the epitome of human development, and it’s obviously all downhill from here. We imagine ourselves bringing about the best that could ever be, and in our nostalgic old age, we look down on the young for shirking our ways.

These kids and their Lady Gaga/Britney Spears/Madonna/Cher… this planet is screwed. It’s almost like we’re reading from some primordial Mad Lib where we just update the pertinent details.

What’s the point of reading from such a formulaic script… or do we even have a choice? Perhaps the end result of a long life is always a cynicism regarding the young and their future.

I don’t understand why anyone would ultimately feel this way, however, because every younger generation is merely the product of the previous. If kids today are messed up, who’s to blame? The kids, who are born as blank slates, or the parents who raised them?

Personally, I draw my comfort from one simple fact: no generation has ever been truly as soft, uncreative, disrespectful or ignorant as the people who raised them fear they are.

Epilogue: Eventually, Prometheus steals fire for humanity and is punished by Zeus. Mankind is in turn punished with Pandora, her curiosity, and the box containing all of the evils of the world. This is followed by the Heroic Age, when men of great fame are aggrandized and exaggerated at length. This is followed by the Bronze and Iron Ages, when nothing can live up to what is heard in legend. Our impossible “past” becomes an idealized goal for our future.


  1. That painting by Goya used to scare the heck out of me as a kid. I think now I would like to have it displayed on my office door to scare my underlings into not asking for extra time off.

    Get it?... Saturn (aka Chronos), god of time... time off... ha ha!

    Time to go. (ha ha!)

    1. Well... technically Cronus is not Chronos. Cronus was a god of agriculture and fertility, while Chronos is time itself.

      But still. Ha.

    2. Ah crap. You are right. I mistakenly thought Cronus and Chronos were the same. Dang.

    3. My entire joke falls apart now. Damn my inadvertent mythological revisionism. I look like a fool.

      Well, boys and girls, Bret actually taught me something tonight.

    4. Yeah... but neither really exists, so... I don't think you hurt anyone's feelings. You might want to bury a votive statue or something, just to be sure, though.

    5. Still... all these years, I thought Saturn was the roman equivalent of the greek Chronos... I've been living a lie...

      Is that how people feel when they find out Santa Claus doesn't exist?


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