“Evil sleeps beside you. Evil walks behind you. You’re so bad...” ~AC/DC
Evil may be defined as any action which intentionally causes pain or suffering in oneself or another being. To knowingly and willfully cause psychological, emotional, or physical suffering is evil.
People perform evil acts because of fear. Fear, not money, is the root of all evil in the world. As Master Yoda once said, fear leads to anger. Anger is a secondary emotion that arises when we are afraid. When we are afraid, sometimes we lash out in anger and frustration, and this causes pain and suffering to those around us.
Throughout history, mankind has struggled to understand our darker, more primal urges. Not only have we tried to understand them, we have also sought to be free from them. Our desire to disavow these feelings caused us (as a race) to stuff them into our collective Shadow. Once our anger and fear were stuffed down into our Shadow, they grew into a dark and sinister force that we sought to project outside of ourselves—archetypal evil. Archetypal evil is the idea that evil is an external power or force that influences our lives and causes us to commit evil acts. Archetypal evil is the scapegoat that we have made responsible for our own evil urges.
Archetypal evil works in conjunction with actual evil (the suffering we cause in others) by keeping it an unconscious act. For the most part, people don’t consciously perform evil deeds; they are a function of the unconscious mind. Archetypal evil allows us to keep our fear and anger hidden from our conscious minds, which keeps their true origins secret from us. This is readily apparent in such phrases as “The Devil made me do it,” which is, of course, a denial of our own Shadow and an unconscious projection of our own baser instincts.
However, almost as soon as we created archetypal evil, we began to try and understand it. We explored it through our art and storytelling, and in doing so, gave birth to mythological evil. Mythological evil is simply the mythology of evil, or the collection of stories, artwork, beliefs, and ideas that we hold about archetypal evil. Mythological evil is the artistic expression of evil found throughout human history. It is our way of trying to understand and relate to archetypal evil.
Mythological evil, unlike archetypal evil, works against actual evil. Mythological evil releases actual evil from the collective unconscious of humanity, and then brings it into the light of awareness. Once we are made consciously aware of the true nature of evil, we can fight against it. As C.G. Jung once said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” It is only by bringing evil out of the unconscious mind and into conscious awareness that we can hope to fight against it. The stories we tell about archetypal evil allow us to make the darkness conscious. Once archetypal evil is brought to our awareness, it becomes “trapped” there, and we are able to deal with it consciously.
Mythological evil “traps” archetypal evil by bringing it up to the level of conscious awareness. Left in the unconscious mind, evil is free to wreak havoc in our lives and relationships. There, we have no control over it. In fact, as long as it remains unconscious, it has control over us. When writers, musicians, filmmakers or other artists shine the light of awareness on it, evil is brought under our control.
This concept was illustrated almost perfectly in the 1994 horror movie, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. In that film, evil, in the form of Freddy Kreuger, is on the verge of being unleashed into the world. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies had kept it trapped for several years, but once the movies stopped being produced, the prison was weakening. The following exchange occurs between the director of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and one of the actresses:
Wes Craven: I can tell you what the nightmares are about. They’re about this…entity. Whatever you want to call it. It’s old, very old, and it’s taken different forms in different times. The only thing that stays the same about it is what it lives for.
Heather Langenkamp: What’s that?
Wes Craven: Killing innocence, one way or the other.
Heather Langenkamp: This is still a script we’re talking about, right?
Wes Craven: I think of it as sort of a nightmare in progress.
Heather Langenkamp: Then, in this nightmare in progress, does this thing have any weaknesses?
Wes Craven: It can be captured, sometimes.
Heather Langenkamp: Captured? How?
Wes Craven: By storytellers, of all things. Every so often, they imagine a story good enough to catch its essence. Then it’s held prisoner for a while. In the story.
Heather Langenkamp: Like the Genie in the bottle.
Wes Craven: Exactly. [pause] The problem comes when the story dies. It happens a lot of different ways, the story gets too familiar, or too watered down by people trying to make it easier to sell, or it’s labeled a threat to society and just plain banned. However it happens, when the story dies, the evil is set free.
Heather Langenkamp: You saying Freddy’s this ancient thing?
Wes Craven: Current version. For ten years he’s been imprisoned as Freddy by the story of Nightmare on Elm Street. But now that the films have stopped – The genie’s out of the bottle, Heather. That’s what the nightmares are about. That’s what I’m writing.
I love the idea that evil, as an actual force in the world, can be trapped by a good story. Truthfully, I believe this is really the way it works, at least from a mythological point of view. The stories, images, and other artistic expressions of evil keep it contained. Movies such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween trap the essence of evil in an art form from which it cannot escape. The same thing can be said of the music of bands such as AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Danzig; or the literary works of Dante and John Milton. Whenever an artist captures the essence of evil, he takes away its power.
And so, unlike actual evil or archetypal evil, mythological evil is actually a good thing. The artistic representations of evil in books, movies, and music bring the light of awareness to our unconscious evil tendencies, which allows us to contain them and prevent them from causing harm. Mythological evil allows us to understand archetypal evil, and our own evil tendencies. It helps us be better people, and helps us make the world a better place for everyone.