Monday, April 2, 2012

Hell, And How To Get There

Here's a thought that occurred to me, and I thought I'd pass it along. This is an early drawing by author Clive Barker of the character who later became known as Pinhead. Horror fans may recognize the name from the Hellraiser series of movies. Pinhead, the only name he's ever identified by in the films, is a Cenobite. The word's origins refer to a member of a religious order- more commonly a monk of some stripe. The movie version is above him, played by Doug Bradley. I found him to be an interesting character, coming across as very articulate, intelligent and urbane, yet at the same time immensely powerful and completely soulless. The movies inform us that he lives (so to speak) in Hell, where he can be called by solving a puzzle box. The box was at one point enchanted to act as a gateway to his level of existence, and so the box has been sought throughout its history as a means of summoning these beings by those people so jaded and tired of a life of decadence that they are desperate enough for some new thrill to seek him out, and he's only too willing to take these people to their logical conclusion- destroying themselves with their own desires.
So why tell you all of this? The thing that struck me in both the movie and the original story it was based on (The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker) was not that a world of suffering and torment was so close to our own, but rather that anyone could concieve of wanting to go there. Yet the anti-hero of the story and the movie pays a small fortune for the box, claiming that he was seeking out new and greater levels of depravity than anything he could have imagined previously.
Now fast forward a couple movies to a direct-to-video release based on the original story, but having very little to do with it, Hellraiser: Inferno. It was the fifth in the series, and much more psychologically creepy than the preceding offerings. Here we encounter another anti-hero, Detective Joseph Thorne. He is far from above indulging his appetites in prostitutes and drugs, and manipulates others to allow him to continue his debauchery. Of course, being a horror movie and all, he encounters the puzzle box, opens it, and proceeds with the investigation the box is involved with. He descends slowly into his own personal Hell as those around him are murdered or captured by a mysterious figure called only the Engineer. So again, what does all this have to do with Tarot? Well, at the end of the movie, we find Thorne caught in a never-ending cycle of repeating the events of the case- shooting himself in the head only brings him back to the day after he opened the box. It all starts over again, for him to live out, yet be powerless to change. The character of Pinhead appears to tell him that it was he himself who created this Hell- every appetite he indulged, every lie and cruelty he inflicted on others, created his own world. Perhaps Thorne was already in Hell, and the inability to see beyond anything other than himself put him there.
So on to the Devil card. This particular one comes to us from Robin Wood's Tarot, and seemed to emphasize what this movie made me think of. Here we have two people, apparently trying to move a chest full of treasure outside, presumably where they can drag it home and enjoy the riches. First off, it seems that they're working against each other- is there another opening in their tunnel that the woman in the foreground is equally desperate to reach? And what about the chains? I have to admit, that's another reason I like this card, as Pinhead's tool of choice in 'indulging' his victims are telepathically controlled chains, terminating in rather large and sharp hooks. But once again, we see people creating their own Hell here. What keeps either of them from taking that chest out, or for that matter, simply reaching in, grabbing a handful of valuables, and leaving the thing behind? The message here is that we, much like the movie character, can create our own Hell. We don't require the assistance of an urbane leather-clad monster to do it for us. Hell is where we are always desiring something more, always seeking to gratify ourselves and not caring who gets hurt in the process. And link by link, we ourselves forge those chains. Part of it, true, is karma- what we do always has consequences, and sometimes those consequences can be much less than pleasant. But ultimately, our own actions lead us to our own private and exclusive Hell. Yet consider once again the Rider-Waite version of this card, where we have the figures bound to the Devil:
Here we have an illustration of this- also with chains, incidentally. The message again is that these figures are there because, deep down, they want to be. They too have created their own Hell, and are there by their own doing.
What all these ideas have in common is that Hell is very simple- it's when we put ourselves ahead of anything higher. Be it our more base desires, our egos, even intellect, whatever it is that is 'us' and is the absolute most important thing in our lives, blocking out everything else, this thing creates for us our personal Hell. There's nothing wrong with taking care of yourself, and enjoying life- of course not! Life is meant to be enjoyed, and lived to the fullest. Yet this type of indulgence has little to do with actual enjoyment, and more to do with placing ourselves first. Not even to enjoy these things, but always desiring more and more. We can't enjoy where we are, because we always are thinking that just beyond this is something still more desirable. It's the best definition of greed I've ever heard: How much is enough? Just a little bit more.
So from this disjointed rambling, the point I'm trying to convey is simply enjoy each moment. We as humans have a great potential, and already we have seen our world transformed by our own collective efforts and collaborations. Yet still take the time to enjoy each moment for what it is, and each morning remember that whatever happens, there will never be another day like this one.

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