Clinic essay-header

The Return of Baal

by Jay Kinney

This essay was written twenty years ago as a puckish exercise in "what if" theorizing. I'm not sure that I actually believed it even as I wrote it, and I can't say that I believe it now, although were it true it would help explain the mess that is U.S. foreign policy. In any case, if you feel like a very dark chuckle, read on. —Jay Kinney
"Again, you take the widespread revival in the Third Reich of the cult of Wotan. Who was Wotan? God of wind. Take the name "Sturmabteilung" - Storm Troops. Storm, you see - the wind. Just as the swastika is a revolving form making a vortex moving ever toward the left - which means in Buddhist symbolism sinister, unfavorable, directed towards the unconscious.

"And all these symbols together of a Third Reich led by its prophet under the banners of wind and storm and whirling vortices point to a mass movement which is to sweep the German people in a hurricane of unreasoning emotion on and on to a destiny which perhaps none but the seer, the prophet, the Fuhrer himself can foretell - and perhaps, not even he."

-C.G. Jung, Jan. 1939

"General John W. Vessey Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has urged audiences at many prayer breakfasts around the country to 'enlist in God's army.' At one breakfast he led repeated cheers: 'Hurrah for God!'

"Admiral James D. Watkins, the chief of naval operations, declares in speeches that 'I am a moral man' and blames the deaths of 241 Marines and other U.S. servicemen in the 1983 Beirut bombing on 'the forces of the anti-Christ.'"

-"Religion is Gaining Rank at the Pentagon"
S.F. Chronicle, Jan. 3, 1985

And the club danced in Baal's hands,
like a vulture from his fingers.
It struck Prince Sea on the skull,
Judge River between the eyes.
Sea stumbled;
he fell to the ground;
his joints shook;
his frame collapsed
Baal captured and drank Sea;
he finished off Judge River.
Astarte shouted Baal's name:
"Hail, Baal the Conqueror!
hail, Rider on the Clouds!
For Prince Sea is our captive,
Judge River is our captive."

-the myth of Baal and the Waters,
Ugarit, Canaan, 14th cent ury B.C.

Extreme times call for extreme descriptions. Granted, the map is not the territory, nevertheless those without a map are far likelier to fall victim to the geography of their times. Yet, given the inadequacy of the "official" maps offered by the would-be tour-guides in New York and Washington D.C., skeptical enquirers in search of the path through the labyrinth must make do with theories and flow-charts of their own eccentric production. Is it possible to develop a coherent overview of the present geopol itical terrain by drawing only upon marginal and non-expert sources — sources untainted by the need to kowtow to received knowledge or academic norms? It is worth a try, for the popular culture of a civilization — the supermarket tabloids, the TV commercials, and the folk ephemera — often offer us the truest accounts of the current temper. Let us proceed.

In trying to account for the piles of bodies which tower ever higher in Central America as well as the general mood of glee in the U.S. in the aftermath of Reagan's lightning-quick invasion of Grenada, it is perhaps mythologically useful to posit the resurfacing in the Americas of the archetype of the ancient god of Baal, in much the same way that Jung suggested that Wotan was resurfacing in Germany in the era of Nazi advances.

Baal, as you may recall, was one of the chief gods of Canaan/Phoenicia, and a rival of Yahweh for the attentions of the Jewish tribes who made their way out of Egypt to Canaan. Besides being a fertility god, Baal — sometimes known as Hadad — was also the god of thunder and lightning. The prophet Elijah spent much time during the 9th century B.C. battling Baal worship among the Jews. This conflict is popularly portrayed as a religious war, but there are other intriguing interpretations.

For instance, give a glance to this passage from the Book of Urantia, that phone directory of prehistory and cosmology supposedly dictated by ultraterrestrials on higher rungs of the evolutionary ladder:

"The long-drawn-out controversy between the believers in Yahweh and the followers of Baal was a socioeconomic clash of ideologies rather than a difference in religious belief.

"The inhabitants of Palestine differed in their attitude toward private ownership of land. The southern or wandering Arabian tribes (the Yahwehites) looked upon land as an inalienable — as a gift of Deity to the clan. They held that land could not be sold or mortgaged. "Yahweh spoke saying, 'The land shall not be sold for the land is mine.'"

"The northern and more settled Canaanites (the Baalites) freely bought, sold, and mortgaged their lands. The word Baal means owner. The Baal cult was founded on two major doctrines: First, the validation of property exchange, contracts, and covenants — the right to buy and sell land. Second, Baal was supposed to send rain — he was a god of fertility of the soil. Good crops depended on the favor of Baal. The cult was largely concerned with land, its ownership and fertility.

"In general, the Baalites owned houses, land, and slaves. They were the aristocratic landlords and lived in the cities. Each Baal had a sacred place, a priesthood, and the "holy women," the ritual prostitutes.

"Out of this basic difference in the regard for land, there evolved the bitter antagonisms of social, economic, moral, and religious attitutdes exhibited by the Canaanites and the Hebrews. This socioeconomic controversy did not become a definite religious issue until the times of Elijah...

"Elijah shifted the Yahweh-Baal controversy from the land issue to the religious aspect of Hebrew and Canaanite ideologies. When Ahab murdered the Naboths in the intrigue to get possession of their land, Elijah made a moral issue out of the olden land mo res and launched his vigorous campaign against the Baalites. This was also a fight of the country folk against domination by the cities... The prophet began as an agrarian reformer and ended up by exalting Deity. Baals were many, Yahweh was one — monotheism won over polytheism." [page 1064]

At the risk of belaboring a point which may be already clear to those readers with a talent for jumping to conclusions, let's look at some of the parallels between this Old Testament conflict and present U.S. actions south of the border:

  • The worshipers of Baal were urban and lived in the north.
  • The U.S. is predominantly urban and resides in the northern hemisphere.

  • The Yahwehites lived to the south and were country folk.
  • The Third World (especially Central and Latin America) is to our south and is mainly peasant.

  • The ancient Baal-Jehovah battle pitted country folks against cities of aristocratic landlords who emphasized contracts and covenants.
  • The struggle in Latin America for agrarian reform and justice pits poor rural populations against the IMF, U.S. banks, and their local surrogates who demand strict cleaving to loan agreements and corporate property rights.

  • The Hebrews were inspired and berated in their struggles with Baal by the Prophets Moses and Elijah.
  • Influenced by liberation theology, the peasant "base communities" of Central and Latin America are inspired in many cases by the reading of scripture — particularly the Old Testament stories of Moses and other prophets.

How far one wants to pursue this line of inquiry may depend on how far one is willing to associate Baal with evil and project that value onto modern America and capitalism. The following comments on the religion of the Canaanites from Halley's Bible Handbook illustrate this dilemma:

"Baal was their principal god; Ashtoreth, Baal's wife, their principal goddess. She was the personification of the reproductive principle in nature. Ishtar was her Babylonian name; Astarte her Greek and Roman name... Temples of Baal and Ashtoreth were us ually together. Priestesses were temple prostitutes. Sodomites were male temple prostitutes. The worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, and other Canaanite gods consisted in the most extravagant orgies; their temples were centers of vice..." [p. 166]

Regarding archaeological excavations at Gezer in the Canannite stratum (undertaken in 1904-09) Halley notes the finding of a temple to Baal and Ashtoreth:

"Under the debris, in this "High Place," [Halley's quotation marks] Macalister found great numbers of jars containing the remains of children who had been sacrificed to Baal. The whole area proved to be a cemetary for new-born babes...

"Also, in this "High Place," under the rubbish, Macalister found enormous quantities of images and plaques of Ashtoreth with rudely exaggerated sex organs, designed to foster sensual feelings.

"So, Canannites worshipped, by immoral indulgence, as a religious rite, in the presence of their gods; and then, by murdering their first-born children, as a sacrifice to these same gods..." [pp. 166-7]

Halley's conservative Christian morality colors his evaluation of these elements of Baal worship, and his conclusions derived from 1909 have been superceded by more recent archaeological digs and research. For instance, he asserts easily that the images of Ashtoreth were "designed to foster sensual feelings" although this concept has more to do with the modern manner of looking at ancient primal images than with the images' function in their own cultural setting.

Nevertheless, the parallels between Halley's depiction of Baal worship and certain phenomena in contemporary America are striking:

  • The media periodically carry stories about callgirls and sex with Congressional aides in the halls of Congress, portraying these latterday temples of Baal as "centers of vice."
  • Within the past two years there was the news report of a Los Angeles abortion clinic found storing hundreds of jars of fetuses - a grim sight even for supporters of the right to abort.
  • The proliferation of pornography and of sex goddesses — porn queens — "rudely" displaying sex organs is commonplace.
  • The sending off of American soldiers to die in Third World wars (Vietnam, Lebanon, et al.) can be interpreted as a sacrifice of the first-born children.

In constructing this alternate reading of the contemporary U.S. some serious questions have to be dealt with. Jung's suggestion that Nazi Germany was witnessing the re-emergence of the Wotan archetype from the German racial unconscious posited a national predisposition towards the expression of deep psychological forces in an inimitably Germanic manner. Given America's boiling pot nature, it is difficult to identify a single racial or cultural archetype which would express the eruption of the American unconscious in as unambiguous a way. Why Baal then? Why a local god (or gods) identified with ancient Canaan of all places?

A volume of revisionist history Fox theorizes that Central and Latin America were visited and populated in ancient times by immigrants from India, on the one hand, and the Phoenicians, on the other. Fox makes much of parallels between the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan pantheons and symbols and their counterparts in Phoenicia (Caanan). He notes the shift from a prehistoric and benevolent Great Mother-worshipping matriarchy to the ascent of the stern sky-gods and angry goddesses of more modern times and attrib utes this shift to a worldwide "cataclysm" chronicled in numerous Flood myths. Notes Fox:

"Then came the cataclysm and the benign, benevolent, life-giving Magna Mater, Mother of the heavens and Earth, became malevolent, destructive, demonic. The Death-Mother Goddesses arose, like the Indian Kali, or the Greek Gorgon, or, a much less demonic, m uch less destructive but nevertheless still angry Anat. [Baal's consort] ...

"The goddesses changed into concretizations of the cataclysm itself. The benign, stable cosmos had turned capriciously malignant and in the train of this cosmological happening, the whole iconology of woman changed.

"The fear and anger attributed to the goddesses by their human creatures, of course, came from the apprehension that the cataclysm, in its multiple aspects of fire, floods, and earthquakes, was not over and that it was just a question of time before the next cataclysm struck and the destruction began all over again. Anat's fear is that the cosmos is aligned against her and Baal, that the universe itself is death bent, thundering toward absolute sterility, antilife. The core of Phoenician religion stems from the fact of the Great Cataclysm: It is a religion of hysteria, desperately strengthening and supporting Life/Fertility by feeding the fertility gods, Anat-Tanit and Baal Haman with blood. To the Phoenician mind,whether in Syria-Palestine or North Afri ca, their whole sacrificial system was based on an attempt to prevent another — and final — Great Cataclysm. This was the exact same rationale [Fox's emphasis] behind the dynamics of the Aztec world...

"...[Fox notes:] ...I couldn't help thinking that what I had encountered with the Aztecs — a whole world dedicated to staving off the next and last cosmic disaster by offering victims to the sun — wasn't something that had been spontaneously generated by a New World witnessing the cataclysm itself but, instead, was a transplant of Phoenician (most specifically Carthaginian) religion in the fullness of its complex eschatology." [pp . 180-3]

Let's leave aside for now the question of Fox's credibility as an amatuer historian and see where his theory takes us. Even if his posing of a direct historical link between Canaan and Mesoamerica doesn't hold water, Fox's imaginative depiction of the hy steria fueling Canaanite/Aztec sacrifices strikes a certain responsive chord in view of the widespread contemporary fear of an imminent nuclear holocaust. Western Civilization has seen two of the worst cataclysms of all time, World Wars I and II, within this century, and the fiery climax of Hiroshima provided a vision of "another — and final — Great Cataclysm" still to come. Small wonder that, in terms of the collective unconscious, time has been telescoped back to the moment when Fertility gods and go ddesses were being hysterically transformed into War gods and goddesses in response to a seemingly hostile universe. Subjectively, this sounds like the story of the Baby Boom generation in a nutshell.

To review for a moment, I am not suggesting that an actual malevolent god has been somehow revived and is being knowingly worshipped by individuals who plot the murder of scores of innocents. I'll leave that scenario to Ghostbusters. Rather, I am examinin g the possibility that certain configurations of psychic energy residing in the depths of our collective unconscious have been recently surfacing in response to the extreme tensions and conflicts of the times. In an interview conducted shortly after Wor ld War II Jung referred to these forces as "man's own inner powers projected into the outside world." He conjectured that these "demons" which were previously seen in Nature and dealt with there through ritual and other means had been gradually taken back into man as modern science de-demonized Nature, with the result that man's unconscious was now unhealthily loaded with them. Jung noted that "under National Socialism, the pressure of the demons became so great that they got human beings into their power and blew them up into lunatic supermen, first of all Hitler who then infected the rest..."

Despite Jung's 1939 description of this "demonic possession" as Wotan-inspired, it was not his intention to imply that it was peculiar to the German people. On the contrary, as he noted in 1945 following Germany's defeat:

"...the demons are not banished, that is a difficult task that still lies ahead. Now that the angel of history has abandoned the Germans, the demons will seek a new victim. And that won't be difficult. Every man who loses his shadow, every nation that falls into self-righteousness, is their prey....The Germans will recover when they admit their guilt and accept it; but the others will become victims of possession if, in their horror at the German guilt, they forget that exactly the same fatal tendency to collectivization is present in the victorious nations as in the Germans, that they can just as suddenly become a victim of the demonic powers." -C.G.Jung Speaking, p. 154

In his association of this "demonic possession" with "collectivization" Jung was not indulging in a reactionary demonology per se, but criticizing all tendencies towards what might better be termed "massification." He saw these inner "demons" as preferin g rootless, mass man as their target, and suggested that "the most modern media of mass suggestion — press, radio, film, etc. — are at their service." And this was in 1945! One can imagine what Jung would have made of such spontaneous patriotic exercise s as the repetitive chanting of "U — S — A!!" at the '84 Summer Olympics, or the now eerily ubiquitous addressing of TV commercials to some mythical collective viewer known cheerily as "America!"

Possession of the Germans did not occur all at once but proceeded incrementally over a number of years, with numerous incidents illustrating the progress of the phenomena. Looking back over our own recent past, the mid-70s Cattle Mutilation scare may be seen as one such signpost. A newly-published exhaustive investigation of the mutiliations, Mute Evidence by Daniel Kagan and Ian Summers (Bantam, 1984) makes a convincing argument for viewing the mutiliations as primarily a case of mass hysteria built up around a few genuine mutiliations and the subsequent misinterpretation of predator-disfigured cattle deaths. For our purposes, the issue of the mutilations' origin is moot. What is significant is their appearance in the wake of Watergate and oth er blows to America's self-image. Also keep in mind that the ancient Canaan myths sometimes portrayed Baal and Ashtoreth as Bull and Cow.

Retired Col. Thomas Bearden, an unorthodox proponent of alternative energy theories, borrowed the term "tulpoids" from the Tibetans in this description of the mutiliation phenomena as projections of our inner demons:

"The cattle mutilations are materialized precognitive nightmares indicating the horror of the Armageddon to come, and these nightmarish paranormal mutilations reveal the true nature of the times...

"In ancient times the wise men knew how to do a metapsychological analysis of the species unconscious, and knew that tulpoidal phenomena were often symbolic signs of that which was to come...

"It is also not accidental that a human culture seeks and 'obtains' a godform or god-image consistent with its own level of understanding and belief; the resulting tulpoidal activity conditioned into the collective unconscious and the cultural unconscious , and tuned in from them, will be consistent with the cultural desires and expectations.

"So in a sense we are the creators of our own reality and our own tulpoidal expressions of higher reality. But in addition to tulpoids, the present character of spacetime and dimensionality, and the very laws of the physical universe, are largely prescri bed by the collective human unconscious."
The Excalibur Briefing, pp. 97, 192

Bearden's willingness to give credit to the collective unconscious for the creation of "spacetime, dimensionality, and the very laws of the physical universe" as we know it, goes much farther than I'm prepared to argue here. However, a similar interpretation of the give and take of consciousness and reality, this one courtesy of the neo-Crowleyan Cincinnati Journal of Ceremonial Magick, is worth relating as it dovetails back into the Baal theory proposed at the start of this article.

A ceremonial magician known as Nema has written at length in the CJCM about her channeled revelations which include, in part, information about what she calls, echoing eldritch fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft, "the Elder Gods." Nema relates that the se entities from "beyond" our Universe fed off of and utilized the collective energy of our species' survival instincts during a span of ancient pre-history. Agents of a higher Intelligence eventually banished the Elder Gods "to their own realm and the Gateway was sealed. Since the Manhattan Project, however, the seal was dissolved. These alien entities are presently preparing for another attempt in 'our' Universe." According to Nema, what is drawing these alien entities back is the suffering of the millions of poverty-stricken, undernourished humans on Earth.

"The Forgotten Ones have access to Man on the Astral planes, mainly in the dream-state. Those sections of humanity who exist in starvation conditions, in poverty that has practically negated civilized consciousness, are the hunger-gates of the Forgotten Ones. These starvelings have thin, if indeed any, barriers between the waking (reason) and dreaming (primal drive) states. "Their physical strength may be too depleted for the bearing of arms, but theirs is the massed power of the Forgotten Ones. The demon-conflicts of the fortunate nations (the "chosen of the bright gods), are petty when compared with the dark powers gather ing within the hunger of the starving."

With a forebearance worthy of Jung himself, Nema doesn't propose an all-out battle with the Elder Gods/Forgotten Ones, since this would, in many ways, boil down to a war with ourselves. Rather, she prescribes a delicate balancing act to be undertaken by magicians like herself in order to set matters aright:

"The Task here is to channel and direct, under strict control of Will, the presence of the Forgotten Ones into the lives of the fortunate, by invoking the essence of the starving under the dual forms of Shiva/Kali. The ignorance, greed, selfishness and cupidity of the surfeited segments of humanity must be brought to balance with the despair, apathy, hunger and injustice which is the lot of the starving ones. That in Man which is withering has begun a gangrene infection of the segments that claim health and prosperity. Man must be healed, whole, and strong to meet the return of the Elder Gods...

"...[The Magickian] interweaves the dreams of the starving with those of the fortunate, bringing the forces of Nightmare into play. The Race Unconscious must be aroused to full consciousness on a planetary scale, by whatever means will prove effective."

It is Nema's position that only by coming to grips with and healing the enormous suffering being visited upon the Third World can those in the developed nations wrest back the energies of the unconscious from their employ in the service of the devouring Elder Gods, and proceed to a higher conscious destiny as part of a united humanity. Should we fail, the Gates will be stormed — most likely in a nuclear conflagration — and the "Final Cataclysm" feared by the Baal-worshipers will have arrived.

One might go on, fleshing out the model presented in this article with further examples, but I think by now the point is clear. Jung's "demons", the Baal archetype, Bearden's tulpoids, and Nema's Elder Gods all describe the same phenomena, though like the blind men with the Elephant, each description highlights different features. Jung also employed an additional, insightful metaphor in speaking of the return of an archetype from centuries of quiescence:

"Archetypes are like riverbeds which dry up when the water deserts them, but which it can find again at any time. An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it has flowed in this channel the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return to its old bed." [CW v.10, p.189]

To return, in conclusion, to the question of U.S. foreign policy — and the resurgence of a profoundly conservative national stance — as an unconscious manifestation of Baal worship, we may derive no little confusion from the fact that overtly (i.e. public ly), the Pentagon and Executive branch of the government are in the throes of a Christian fervor unrivaled in modern times. How, one might ask, can our respected commanders — not to mention millions of our pious citizenry — be in the employ of the Elder Gods when nothing is farther from their minds? Therein lies the answer for, to repeat Jung's harsh observation, "every nation that falls into self-righteousness is their prey." Given the U.S. people's status as the most enthusiastic bunch of believers among all the developed nations of the North, and the pervasive influence of Biblical myth and symbols in forming the perceptions and values of the average American, it should be no surprise that what Jung called the Shadow — the repressed weaknesses and unacknowledged urges of the collective unconscious — might manifest in the shape of Baal.

Surface parallels between Halley's runthrough of Baal-worship and the current availability of abortions or pornography provide further confusion by suggesting, at first glance, that proponents of women's rights or First Amendment freedoms are in the employ of Baal. This is not my intent. Some feminists support abortions and oppose pornography. Some activists working for peace in Central America oppose abortions. And some modern neo-pagans such as the aforementioned Nema worship decidedly non-Christian gods and goddesses in the course of efforts to end hunger and injustice. These are mixed phenomena that resist simple moralistic equations.

If these archetypes or gods are indeed "returning," examples may well be found on both Left and Right, in both moral and immoral guise. Baal may even be called Yahweh this time around — and vice versa. However, while traversing this terrain of loaded words, we'll do well to remember that no archetype — even that of the trickster (e.g. Satan) — is solely evil. What may prove evil, or at least tragic, is to ignore the manifestation of a powerful archetype until "too late" when it has seized a society in a frenzy. Then there's no reasoning with it and one finds oneself in the grip of Fate.

This article originally appeared in Critique, Spring/Summer 1985.

Reproduction is prohibited without permission of the author. Contact Jay Kinney.