Kill the Senex

The king must die. If you’ve read the  The Golden Bough you will know that Frazier built his understanding of human history on the idea. “From time to time a sort of fury seized the people, and they marched through the streets of the city chanting with loud voices the fatal words, ‘the king must die!’” After the king is killed a new king rises up. The old king presents himself Diana’s grove so that the young king can kill him and assume his throne.

Jung wrote admiringly of the senex as wise man, the figure of authority who can explain the difficult journey. The Western gallery of the senex includes Zeus, God, Abraham, Solomon, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln. The senex speaks, gives laws, protects us as his children. We listen to him, obey him, uphold his authority. Through this pact the world becomes manageable.

The senex isn’t always a wise man; he can also be the devouring father. Kronos ate his children until Rhea hid Zeus and raised him to manhood. Then she gave Kronos an emetic to vomit up his children and Zeus killed Kronos. The king must die, long live the king.

History is filled with the devouring king: Genghis Khan, Attila, Caligula, Torquemada, Tamerlane. In the twentieth century we saw the rise of the authoritarian who kills millions: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Leopold II, Mao Zedong. The senex wears another face too, the stupid and duplicitous fool – Falstaff, leading the young king into the tavern, threatening the justice of his reign.

When I was young, white men ruled the world. President, politician, businessman, artist, white men only need apply, with the greatest power accruing to the oldest men, and the odd exception proving the rule.

In my lifetime I have seen the face of power gradually change. Women broke barriers, becoming representatives and governors, CEOs and astronauts, academics and musicians; here race matters, more white women break through, but women of color are entering the fields. We’ve had our first black President sleeping in a White House built by slaves. In my lifetime every state has prohibited rape in marriage. Title IX required girls sports to be funded along with boys. The Civil Rights Act and American Indian Religious Freedom Act were passed. Gay women and men bought houses, adopted children, married, and served in the military. Trans people could even use public bathrooms.

We’ve been tripped up by the myth of inevitable progress, the idea that the human trajectory is ever upwards, towards more humane societies. Sadly regimes rise and fall. We lose progress if we don’t fight to keep it. The not-so-secret subtext of “Make America Great Again” was to re-establish the primacy of the white man. Push white women back behind the men. Deny the vote to people of color and re-enslave them through the prison system. Shove Native people aside to take what they have. Lock trans people back into their birth-assigned gender.

In today’s global culture the senex threatens to oppress everyone. Vladimir Putin is arguably the most powerful man in the world, rebuilding the Russian empire and systematically dismantling Western alliances while imprisoning and murdering anyone who threatens his power. Putin’s support keeps Ashad in power, the man who has bombed and imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Syrians.

The rise of Trump is the rise to power of the white male elder. His followers see the wise authoritarian, his resistors see the devouring father, the world sees Falstaff placed in the presidency by Putin.

Frazier tells us how this story ends, with people in the streets. Putin fears this more than anything else in the world, and it is happening in Russia. It is happening in America, a river of people celebrating life in pink pussy hats and black hats and blue-green hats and rainbow colors, challenging the senex with the one weapon he cannot withstand: laughter.

Do you know why Zeus is the lawgiver, why he is so wise? The goddess Metis gave him counsel until he swallowed her. Then his head throbbed until Hephaestus split it open. Athena stepped out, the father’s daughter, clever in her own right but firmly under his thumb. There’s an earlier story that Athena came from Africa where she was known as Neith, warrior and weaver.

The king must die. Trump will fall, brought down by hubris, and the people in the streets will celebrate. This time, though, let’s go farther: let’s kill the senex. We’ve had enough death to keep the old men in power. Let’s rise for freedom. Let everyone vote, set the prisoners free, let people do the jobs that best fit them and use the bathrooms that make sense.

Let’s give Zeus the draught Rhea gave Kronos. Make him vomit up Metis, the power he swallowed to hold all the power to himself. Let’s restore Athena to her mother, and restore Athena to her origin as a warrior who acts not to kill but to create. Let us admire wisdom in the service of a just and peaceful world. I won’t support any presidential candidate who is an older white man, not even a progressive one, because re-electing the wise senex just keeps the seat warm for the despot. I want a black woman in the White House. The king is dead – long live the queen!

Image: By Julia Margaret Cameron – Scanned from Colin Ford’s Julia Margaret Cameron: 19th Century Photographer of Genius, ISBN 1855145065. Originally from National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, Bradford., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9406433

3 replies
  1. Shellay Maughan
    Shellay Maughan says:

    Wonderful article – thank you. We get used to the status quo to the point were we stop noticing it – believing we are progressive if we make small changes within the same failed system. Time for real change.

    Reply
  2. Eleanor
    Eleanor says:

    A very good article, Brandy! I so wholeheartedly agree! The king must die! The king is dead! Long live the queen!!

    Reply

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