The Origin of Evil and Existential Anxiety

Demon-God Assyria, Bronze, 10th-6th century B.C.E.

The inscription on this sculpture reads “I am Pazuzu, king of evil spirits, and of the winds that come raging down from the mountains.” “The grotesque figure stands for ‘evil’ that is, what endangers or harms human beings; the notion of spiritual deformation was a later one. This Assyrian demon may have been the object of fearful propitiation.”  The word propitiate comes from the Latin root meaning “favorable.” Propitiate: to appease an offended power, a conciliatory offering to a god.

With the above work of art and the accompanying information an insight can be gained into the origin of the human belief in the illusory phenomenon called evil. But first, in the absence of a picture of the sculpture, let us briefly describe the piece. Standing six inches tall, a human body with birdlike claws for feet, a thin body with ribs showing, large five-foot-tall wings, menacing body language and a dog-like face with bulging eyes. The purpose of this statue is clearly to engender fear in the beholder and or to represent something threatening to human beings.

Some 3000 years ago an artist gave form to his fears and that of his community because they had come to believe that the universe was hostile and alien. The genesis of this descent into unconsciousness begins with seeing natural phenomenon as that which “endangers or harms human beings.” Unable to understand natural events as natural, i.e. normal, humanity became alienated from reality. The next step was to anthropomorphize or project some other form onto the phenomena whether it would be wind, flood, earthquake, drought or famine. Human fear thus projected tends to become magnified and the forms take on a life of their own in the minds of anxious members of the community.

The next step is when the projected energy of their fear is “reflected” from the “evil” form back upon the anxiety-filled human community. Shame and guilt are the natural by-products of an anxious mind trying to explain why it is the object of the anger of the hostile “evil.” “What did I do to deserve this punishment?” becomes the inevitable question and now the questioner becomes the “sinner.” An innocent creation of the Universe (homo-sapien) has thereby descended into a “hell” of its own making—and the madness continues until the present day. Existential anxiety is one of the fundamental realities of the human condition.

Next, human beings had a need to relieve the pressure of this intolerable relationship with the Universe. Enter stage right—religion and ritual, sanctity and sacrifice, priest and prayer. The “spiritual deformation” has occurred and now our hapless innocent must propitiate the offended form or “god.” He can do this with prayer and or offerings or can allow a “professional” mediator, various divine “saviors” or the institution of the church to do that for him. In any case, our hapless homo-sapien, victim of his own misdirected imagination, has become a resident in the netherworld of P-B. He/she is contained in a very dark and unsustainable story. The only true redemption for this universal human condition is to awaken from the nightmare.


References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion on this blog and in printed books by Roy Charles Henry.

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