Gobbling Poison

Mankind loves mysteries—the weirder the better.  Throughout recorded history, rites open to the initiated only have been performed in restricted sanctuaries; this not only provides a feeling of superiority to the participants but allows outsiders to indulge in endless speculation about “what really goes on” at such times and in such places.  The rise of egalitarianism since the 18th century has added the frisson of class consciousness.  Moreover, the existence of miraculous relics and sacred totems, the undeniable attempts of certain groups to wield power out of proportion to their numbers, and the fact that history is written by the victors (allowing for the defeated to weave alternate stories—more or less accurate than the received narratives—for general consumption) have provided fertile ground for a certain sort of writer and thinker over the past several centuries.  Never has that ground been more fertile (or, at least in some cases, more profitable) than today.  Dan Brown, for one, has been a recipient of the resulting literary largesse.

Adding to the complexity of the situation is that, over the past century, the sacred has been increasingly driven from public life—not merely in government, where monarchies and their “By the Grace of God” ceremonial have been either whittled down or done away with altogether, but even in more secular republics, such as our own.  The abandonment,...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here