Beelzebub's KingdomRay Douglas
The vibrations of nature—the varied instincts of all earth's creatures, can readily influence those people who are most susceptible to them. If you want to be ruled by these instincts, all you need to do is to direct your passions, your desires, your intense interest, towards these creatures and their private lives. Like a Shaman, you will become filled with subhuman souls and may experience many strange things. The world of insects is governed by communal instincts which are very readily picked up by humans: they are very near the surface. But be warned: The Lord of the Flies will welcome you with open arms and try to remodel you in terms of his own understanding. You may put yourself in danger!
The name of Beelzebub, also known as Baal-Zebub, the original Lord of the Flies, demon-god of pre-Israelite Palestine, conjures up a dire image of blood-soaked places where animal or perhaps human sacrifices were once made, places where flies would have abounded, feeding freely and breeding rapidly. It recalls the belief once widely held that insects generate spontaneously from decaying vegetation or flesh, for these flies, as though created by Baal, would seem to have emerged from the sacrificial rites themselves.
Traditionally, flies have seemed to carry a kind of mystery, an association with the supernatural. Those kinds which naturally seek the light, often seeming to materialize out of thin air, were thought of as a manifestation of the local Baal, and tolerated unquestioningly. Those kinds which naturally seek out caverns and dark places however—the blowflies, greenbottles, and bluebottles or blue-tailed flies, with their shining metallic colours moving freely from the sunlight into darkness—were assumed to have a connection with the underworld. During the classical age of Rome and Greece, as living go-betweens attending the rites of Pluto, Persephone, Attis, and the other gods and goddesses of winter, death, and reappearance in spring, flesh-flies were considered to be the special wards of the enchantress Circe and her patroness Hecate, feared moon-goddess of witchcraft and magic.
Dharma means, more or less, living according to one's own God-given nature, and this, by and large, is what the creatures of nature do. It is what insects do. They are good at it; it is people who tend to fall short in this respect. We are only human. But one thing to be avoided if at all possible is to find oneself filled with insect dharma. It is not unusual, unfortunately: it is a common fate. The insect kingdom with its myriad lifestyles is full of wonders on what seem to us to be a miniature scale. It is filled with breathtaking beauty, again in miniature, along with scarcely believable horrors.
Many people of course see only unpleasant creepy-crawlies which they would rather not have to see at all. Others become captivated by the sheer beauty and amazing inventiveness of the insect world. We can all appreciate the beauty of a butterfly's wing; not so many see charm in the majority of insects, those which buzz and crawl and bite and run and burrow. There are many people (and often quite pleasant people too) who would rather crush a fly than open the window to let it fly away.
This insect kingdom is where the "vibrations" of nature are most obvious, speeding up very noticeably under the influence of the sun. Our appreciation of these creatures, which together form so large a slice of creation, is admirable in my view, but the dangerous demon-god creeps in with them. When simple pleasure turns into addiction, or equally when distaste turns into disgust; when wholesome appreciation develops into scientific study—economic entomology, insect damage, pest control, preventative measures, or even forensic entomology, experiments in insect breeding and genetics, collecting and killing, whether for its own sake or with a scientific end in sight—when these things become a passion, these are the periods of greatest danger.
Because the "vibrations" of these creatures are so close to the surface, acts of cruelty towards insects (however they may be phrased) are fraught with spiritual peril. I am not claiming that insects actually mind when you are being cruel to them: I simply don't know whether they mind or not. Shakespeare obviously thought they did, according to the words he put in Isabella's mouth in Measure for Measure:
And the poor beetle, that we tread upon,Certain people whose religion prompts them to believe in reincarnation scrupulously avoid harming insects when they can—not, if the truth be told, out of concern for the insects' welfare as lesser creatures on the ladder of life, but because such people have been made aware that their own spiritual welfare may well be harmed through their careless actions.
So many people in the world today (especially, it must be said, devoutly religious people) tend to see only the chaos of variety in the world, rather than an immense and intricately woven pattern, a tapestry of connected life forms with each creature filling its own inter-related niche, its own square inch of beautifully designed embroidery. So many people see the world of nature as disconnected, fragmented, and unpredictable— as unpredictable as man's inhumanity to man—as unrelated creations scattered over the earth: a grasshopper here, a rain shower there; a sparrow here, a drought there; a cactus here, a kangaroo there. This may be the standard pre-scientific world view, pre- Linnaean, pre-Darwinian, but it is still alive and flourishing in the minds even of intelligent, well-educated folk as well as the naive peasantry of the world.
It is not really a primitive view. To the over-civilized and ultra-sophisticated the concept of nature as an integrated whole can seem totally alien and scarcely comprehensible. It is this kind of fragmentation of the perception of nature that presents a threat to the spiritual integrity of the individual. People like this may have "done science" or studied biology in school; they may even be scientists of one sort or another themselves. It may happen that, like a person from a culturally pre-scientific
background who goes to college and studies a scientific subject, appreciation of nature's integrity can be bypassed. In one significant step we can move from not caring at all, to the point of obsession. Passions are readily aroused and easily misplaced.
Even today, with all the "green" propaganda and the wonderful wildlife documentaries on TV which allow us all to observe at the closest of quarters the intimate lives of even the rarest of creatures, certain media people who should know better still seem to treat the whole subject as a sort of no-man's land. Even now, the papers will "say anything". Things are improving, of course. Only a few years back any individual who actually knew one kind of bug from another was mocked as a hopeless eccentric. Personally, I am on old Lady Glanville's side (do you recall the name?). Perhaps she started it—she was certainly one of the pioneers in the drive towards making entomology a respectable and respected pursuit. Then again, perhaps she merely exemplified the western European's propensity to become hexed by the insect soul. England is said to be the land of eccentrics, and it is from there we can best look back to discover the eccentric truth.
"Insect knowledge" was an utterly alien concept before the 18th century, as far as records show. It was thought perfectly in order to guess, but not to actually observe insect lives. The first great English naturalist is said to have been John Ray (1627-1705) whose first interest was botany (which by then through its association with herbalism was considered an almost respectable subject). He switched to entomology under the patronage of the remarkable Lady Glanville, who is remembered particularly in the name of a butterfly—the Glanville fritillary, a species that reaches the northern extreme of its range at the southern English coast, where it is barely hanging on in the Isle of Wight. When the good lady died, her will was contested by some of her family on the grounds of insanity, as plainly evidenced by her apparent obsession with insects. John Ray went to court to give evidence on her behalf, successfully, as it turned out. He represented the voice of educated reason by demonstrating scientific order and God-given beauty in a field of study where most people could see only confusion and chaotic diversity of form.
Non-human creatures listen to one another because their ears are attuned. Your dog hears the birds in the garden speak of a cat, and runs outside to look. Insects can communicate too, especially when the many act as one; their lives are full of warnings and premonitions. If you visit some place where insects really abound—such as tropical bush country—it is easy to feel the rhythm of all these individual characters acting en masse. In the long grass they tell you plainly enough when some person or sizeable creature is on the move. In unison, their songs will change, or stop. Flies home in on the intruder. Butterflies rise in a cloud. Grasshoppers leap out of the way, their bodies arcing high through the air before diving head-first into safe cover. Soldier ants rear up and open their jaws at the vibration of a footstep. Ticks clinging to the grass stems open their little arms to embrace whatever creature comes their way. The attackers: warble flies, bot flies, horse flies, tsetse flies, thirsty for blood, zoom in with speed and manoeuvrability, watching with proboscis-daggers drawn for the chance to stab and drink.
Tribal people in tropical lands tend to be great users of wildlife. They know what to swat and what to ignore. Any romance that there might have been becomes bogged down with practical questions: can you eat it? Can you squash it and smear it on?
Can you wear it? This is one way of seeing order and design in the great plan, one way of staying attuned. Appreciating order and design in the scientific sense is something else, and in between the two are the lost millions and the faded centuries which have seen only baffling variety and lack of appreciation.
The matter-of-fact approach born of over-familiarity means that you don't get many "ethnic" poets writing about insects. They simply don't get emotional about them. The subject would seem far too basic, too banal for poetry. But English poets have often been so moved, particularly the madder ones. Peasant poet John Clare (1793-1864) is my favourite. He felt for insects in a way quite foreign to his times, which is probably one reason why he ended his days in a mental asylum. He was so moved by the false hope aroused in the insect world by an unseasonably warm February day, that he wrote:
'Neath hedge and walls that screen the wind,
Whilst poor John was spending his final years in the asylum, he wrote of the ladybird bug ("clock-a-clay" in his local dialect) lying asleep in the cowslip pip while the uncaring world went on around it:
Here I live, lone clock-a-clay,as though he had actually become that unconsidered creature, hidden from the eyes of passers-by and as unheeded as he was himself. Certainly few of his contemporaries deigned to notice the world that teemed beneath their feet and above their heads.
Perhaps John Clare began by merely noticing that tiny creatures like the glossy red black-spotted ladybirds have God-given beauty, and that their little lives have enormous purpose. He would have watched the winter gnats dancing, rising and falling in unison, thinning and thickening, drifting like smoke—intriguingly so, perhaps, against the hazy background of a leafless larch wood. Are they one soul in unison, or many? Unlike the shoaling of fish and the flocking of birds, the winter gnats' primary instinct seems not to be self-preservation, but rather the urge to mate. Every now and then a pair of gnats will meet up, and drop together out of the dancing throng.
In the insect world the urge to mate is greater than the individual instinct of selfpreservation. I daresay you, like I, have seen a stag beetle trying to copulate with his mate, several days after she has been well and truly squashed by a passing car. Death and reproduction are closely allied in the insect saga; endings and beginnings are contiguous with their life cycle. An insect sliced in two will often react by carrying on copulating with its copulating half, and eating with its eating half. Death is everywhere, and sex is ever rampant. Look at the socially interactive ceremonies of the fierce carabid beetles, extruding their enormous curved penes glistening like burnished brass.
What an incredibly beautiful, frightening world is the world of insects! As the docile browsers and grazers among them go about their peaceful affairs, green and crimson parasitic wasps like tiny scourges roam each branch, waving flashing scimitars, searching for newly-hatched caterpillars, straddling them, caressing them, probing them to find the softest baby flesh in which to cradle their own golden children. Eat, little ones! But leave the vital organs till last, or your food supply will run out!
Spiders are far more obvious in their predatory ways, but never call them insects. Spiders look down with tolerance on their cousins the ticks, and look up with respect to their fiercer cousins the scorpions. Spiders too can flaunt surreal beauty, especially the jewel-like thorn spiders of the watery, ferny tropical forests, sitting like Christmas tree decorations in the centre of their webs above cool streams, their "thorns" like stars rayed pink, yellow and green. As a rule, the largest spiders are the more harmless; the enormous slow-moving hairy ones quite docile. The man-eaters as a rule are smaller and thinner and far less noticeable. Tarantulas are almost cuddly by comparison. You may sometimes get the impression that spiders lord it over insects whilst appreciating their beauty too. If you think this far-fetched, wait until you see the neatly silk-wrapped butterflies offered as spider courting gifts. But the tables can be turned. The larder-nest of the solitary wasp is well stocked with hunched rows of spiders, alive but paralysed, each cradling a soft white wasp egg balanced on its hairy belly.
William Blake (1747-1827) of Jerusalem fame, was the metaphysical insect man, though perhaps he didn't realize it himself. He was well aware of the pernicious ways by which alien beings can invade the soul. In his Auguries of Innocence he warns us that:
He who torments the Chafer's SpriteObscure it may be, but it is very telling in our present context. And of course, better known and perhaps better understood, there is:
The caterpillar on the leafFor Blake, the last judgment was an individual matter for each one of us to face at death. According to him, "all deities reside in the human breast", so how much more were the strange ghostly visions which he recorded also part of his own being. He was in the habit of sitting up into the small hours with his friend, the artist-astrologer and ghost hunter John Varley, both hoping to capture on paper the essence of these strange larvae when they put in an appearance. It is not simply by coincidence that the prior meaning of "larva" is "ghost".
I recall in particular his own pencil drawing of the "spectral flea", one of the ghosts which, so he claimed, emerged from his own self. His flea-self showed cruel animal teeth and an eager serpent tongue "whisking in and out of his mouth, a cup in his hand to hold blood, and covered with a scaly skin of gold and green", all drawn with great attention to detail. It was of course a self-portrait of Blake, in one aspect of his personality. He really did behave rather like a flea, tramping restlessly round at all
hours, drawing out his own particular brand of nourishment, his insatiable thirst for the unknown, ever hungry for his own inner content, never afraid to parasitize his friends for theirs.
Larva-art is to be found in high places, too. In the English post-war Coventry cathedral for instance, where Graham Sutherland's 75ft high Christ in Glory would perhaps be better named "Christ in Chrysalis", the figure half emerged from a cocoon of tumbled white silk, shot through with muted insect colours of crimson and purple against a leafy green background. The same famous artist was said to keep bees trapped in his window so that he could study them close at hand as they buzzed endlessly up and down the pane, as though drinking in their desire to fly free.
Bees all too readily swarm into their beekeeper. If bee-watching has its perils, some of the more obsessive bee enthusiasts are almost frighteningly bee-like. They probably will not sting; they are peaceful enough creatures, but they really have no need to feed on royal jelly while humming quietly to themselves, or sprout dark bristles on their skinny wrists like a character by Roald Dahl, before the metamorphosis becomes permanent. Don't forget that bees and their honey were for many centuries thought to be specially favoured by the goddess of witchcraft, Hecate, and sacrifices of honey were made in her honour. Remember furthermore that the Greek god of beekeepers was the rampant penis-god Priapus, who took command after the god of fair weather, Aristaeus, had provided favourable conditions. Between them both they indulged the demi-goddess Melissa, sweet personification of honey itself. Sex and the supernatural so often go hand in hand, enhanced by passionate exposure to the world of insects.
Be assured that the "Roald Dahl effect" results from "passion" rather than the simple enjoyment of a honey sandwich. But it has been said before and no doubt will be said again: you are what you eat. Ravenous swarms of locusts can descend out of the blue and ruin whole farming communities in a matter of minutes, and an attack can devastate the peasant economy. But locusts do have one redeeming feature in that you can eat them, and of course this is what happens; the victims of locust attack make the best of a bad lot. But look around the world: people who eat locusts do tend, like the locusts themselves, to destroy every sparse morsel of vegetation in the neighbourhood.. These are the lands where the very last bushy shrub is wrenched out of the ground to feed the cooking fire.
No doubt you can find further examples if you look for them. Certain tribal people who like to eat caterpillars—particularly the enormous, sluggish ones—certainly do tend to become sedentary pastoralists, without very much to show in the way of aggression or very strong a defence mechanism. In some areas termites are favoured as food, particularly the large amber queens, sweet and fatty-tasting, which emerge from the
ground when the first rains arrive, and obligingly unhook and discard their transparent wings as a prelude to mating (jackals will sit for hours by the nest hole, scoffing them one after another as they emerge).
Fire sends insects scattering, and a grass fire in any tropical land always attracts its attendants, mainly birds and beasts, but often humans too, all stuffing scorched bugs into their mouths. The big plant bugs lightly scorched (don't let them stick their deadly spears into your thumb—they don't wholly appreciate the process) taste strongly of almonds; the large grasshoppers have a tang of Brazil nuts. All good protein, if you enjoy a reasonably strong digestive system.
We can all appreciate the important part some insects play in the life of the countryside, whether they themselves are food or not. Gravedigger beetles purify the land by burying the scraps missed by scavengers, conferring the last rites on the tiny corpses of birds and mice hidden among the grass stems and beneath the leaves. The equally hardworking scarab dung beetles play their part on the African plains by rolling away and burying great balls of animal dung. Amazing creatures these; the ancient Egyptians looked on the scarab with superstitious awe, and it featured in their hieroglyphic system.
The modern real-life magician Aleister Crowley thought highly of magic scarabs. He and his followers practiced magical sacrifices (though he usually kept clear of insects), and they certainly imbibed all kinds of influence from their sacrificial victims, but Crowley was well aware of the dangers involved. Writing about magical sacrifice and comparing something like an insect with something like a bull, he wrote:
"The amount of energy disengaged at the sacrifice is almost unimaginably great, and out of all anticipated proportion to the strength of the animal. Consequently, the magician may easily be overwhelmed and obsessed by the force which he has let loose; it will then probably manifest itself in its lowest and most objectionable form".The fact is, of course, that the life force of even one insect, in this type of circumstance, can and will express itself on a human scale. Magical and religious sacrifices take place in many lands, involving animals, birds, and (probably, even now) humans too. But every deliberate death is a sacrifice, in the sense of every creature finding its destiny. The victim, though seldom consulted, is confidently supposed through its sacrifice to find its highest purpose in the spiritual sense. Even in the insect world a food chain should be an upward spiral, for the victim in each case is or should be used by the spiritual force immediately above it: minerals by plants, plants by animals, animals by humans, humans by angels. Could it be that unpalatable creatures never rise to their true destiny? Like disagreeable people, will they stew forever in their own juice?
Mythology based on the dharma of insects, and the strange interchange of contents between the human psyche (or even the human body) and the teeming, vibrating forces of nature, probably started out as true stories. Here is a ready-made true story to illustrate the point:
When I had to visit an indigenous forest reserve deep in the Kalahari-sand area of southern Africa, I was given the low-down on the local forester. "You'll like Skinny Jameson," they said. "He's quite a character." Oh yes, I thought. Skinny, eh? He's probably a big fat chap. But no; the nickname was cruelly accurate.
He was painfully thin. Even his African nickname translated as "bones".
Skinny had been born and brought up in these parts, so it really was home to him. For normal day to day business, the clickety local tongue was his first language. He knew how to walk fast and far in soft sand—the "Kalahari crawl"; how to keep yourself from becoming dehydrated; how to keep meat eatable without a fridge in 100¡ shade temperatures. He was a perfect example of the right man in the right job, and he loved the dry forest-land and everything in it. Yes, I got on well with him from the first. His face looked somehow familiar, almost as though I had seen him before, though I was sure I had not.
You only get to know somebody properly after the barrier of reserve has broken itself down and you no longer have to be polite. This can happen more quickly in the bush than in the town. A few mornings later we were watching some tocktockie beetles sending sexy drum messages to each other by "tocktocking" their rumps on the ground wherever they found an area of sand that was hard or compacted enough to act as a sounding board. Their rhythmic tapping carries some distance.
I suddenly realized why as a stranger he had looked familiar. With his pleasantfunny tocktockie face, he was a giant human tocktockie beetle, perennially on the point of starvation, hollow as death.
Having a scientific interest in insects does not really help. Professional entomologists might be thought immune to this sort of thing, but not a bit of it! They are easy to identify. One would hardly go in for that sort of job unless one had a certain passion for the little beasts, and entomologists tend to specialize. Coleopterists—the ones who specialize in beetles—are the easiest to spot. Like Skinny Jameson they exude the essence of beetle in their face, their figure and their bearing. On one occasion I had to visit a government entomology department with regard to insect damage, and spoke to the first man I saw:
"You're not coleoptera, are you?"
"No," he said. "I'm nematodes." He was too—a giant eelworm if ever I saw one, slight and white, and drawn up to a point at the tip of his nose.
Don't scoff. It can happen to you. I once knew a man who lived in the middle of a forest in a little log cabin. He was plagued by cockroaches that hid away in the wooden walls, so much so that he took to creeping about at night with a lighted candle, inflicting fire torture on the ones unlucky enough to be caught. Collectively though, the insects had the last laugh, as usual. The poor chap became more and more cockroach-like until he could scarcely bear to emerge into the daylight, preferring to scuttle out of his hideyhole only at dusk. But he was a caring soul. Cockroaches are great parents, dragging their little silken baby-bouncers full of offspring, wherever they go. In fact, he was the nicest chap you could wish to meet—if only you could ever get close enough to speak to him.
Also by Ray DouglasAstrology and the Inner Self
The Essence of the Upanishads
The Waters of Babylon