ANTONIN ARTAUD AND HIS ANTONIN HÉLIOGABALE WITH INDO-EUROPEAN UCHRONIAS AND DOUBLES
Inspired by the singular essay Héliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné [Heliogabalus or the Crowned Anarchist], Catherine Basset, who has already written about Artaud, Shiva and the Balinese theatre in an earlier issue (cf. Transcultural Dialogues N°5 Autumn Equinox 2020) brings out ‘doubles’ and ‘resonances’, introduces uchronias, and invites intruders absent from the book – providing thus another dimension of interpretation for the East-West dialogue displayed in Artaud’s essay.
Bali and the Poet [uchronia]
It could all have been different if, rather than to the Mexicans, Artaud had gone to transmit the strong message of his conferences on culture – defined as necessarily metaphysical – to the Balinese. The latter are largely accustomed to a tradition quite similar to the object of Artaud’s quest and, invaded by something quite different since the XVI century, very worried about its conservation. In Bali, it is in response to his very ‘madness’, interpreted as an index of superior connection and compulsory vocation, that Artaud would have had a chance of being initiated, rather than among the Tarahumaras of Mexico. He would have been initiated by destiny, vocation and therapy, he might have become a priest1 and/or a kawi (Skt. kavi), that is, an initiated poet, learned in akṣara (characters derived from Sanskrit), meaning simultaneously knowledgeable (through contemplation rather than scholarship), author of treatises in various fields, and magician. Holism made man a real ‘individual’ (in the sense of ‘undivided completeness’), to whom all tradition is attributed, whether in forge, literature, music, or dance. Because the human kawi, through tantric science, officiates as the fundamental Kawi / divine Kawiswara with related śakti energy (the Goddess Saraswati of Letters and Arts), just like the dalang (mage-narrator-puppeteer) becomes the fundamental Dalang (Dalang Sejati, Shiva), the undagi, the initiated architect, acts as Wiswakarma /Vishvakarma the fundamental Architecte and the siwa (Brahmin high priest or pedanda siwa) as Siwa/Shiva the ‘hermaphrodite’ Ardhanaresvari, the One as a fusion of female-male, Sakti-Shiva. Unlike the specialist (who continues to act as an ego) or the Western theatre actor, each of the Balinese initiates becomes divine, cosmicised with a view to operating as one of the principles or aspects of the undifferentiated Principle. Judging from different formulas and experiences, one can say that there is something of that Balinese element in Artaud, something of a cosmisation – even though badly experienced – which he transfers to his doubles, Heliogabalus, the theatre…
The gender-related ‘principles’: On Heliogabalus’ Monotheism and Tantric Shaivism
In Artaud’s Héliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné2, the question of the sexual gender of the Principle, the debate about unicity or dualism, or on the principle ONE and the principle TWO (Artaud’s capitals)3, a debate on the masculine and the feminine, on their hierarchy and the multiplicity of the gods, is simultaneously central (cf. the chapter “The war of principles”) and runs throughout the work, as though this centre spread out over the two chapters on either side, describing the origins, the life and the end of Heliogabalus. Héliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné is elevated or doubled by Artaud to extract metaphysical resonances. It is the story of the very young ‘priest-king-god’, beautiful ‘man-woman’ Elagabalus / Heliogabalus (born at Emesa, Syria, in about 203 and died at Rome on 11 March 222), an adolescent emperor so irreverent in his (bi- but especially homo-) sexuality and in all his actions that, after being assassinated together with his mother and cut into pieces by his Praetorian guard amongst the excrements of the army latrines, he was struck with a damnatio memoriæ and officially eradicated from Roman history. In the meantime, Heliogabalus had brought from his temple at Emesa (Homs, in Syria) his only god, the sun-god Elagabalus, of whom he had been the priest since the age of five, whose cult he wanted to impose on Rome. In that city, he had subjugated to Elagabalus all other gods and cults, even the Christian one. He had moved all their effigies to the Elagabalium temple. He erected this temple by destroying an ancient one. If Heliogabalus who, Artaud says, ‘gave his life’ for an only god, had reigned longer, monotheism might have been pagan rather than Christian [uchronia].
Elagabalus – literally ‘god-mountain’, translated by Artaud as ‘Radiant Summit’, was a sun-god associated with the phallus at the temple of Emesa. He also dwelt in the Black Stone of Emesa, brought to Rome by Heliogabalus. Nonetheless, Artaud tells us that on this conical betyl (‘house of god’) fallen from heaven, there appeared the image of a yoni (vagina) belonging to the stone, which means that the virile god was at the same time a hierogamy. Once in Rome, Heliogabalus gave the god a spouse. Structurally, there was simultaneously ONE male, TWO in ONE bisexual and ONE and TWO as a heterosexual couple. The same structural trilogy exists in Javanese-Balinese tantric Shaivism: the solar Shiva (Aditya, Surya), Ardhaneshvara (Shiva and Sakti merged), and Shiva coupled with Sakti [devi, dewi]. The masculine name Ardhanaresvara or the feminine Ardhanaresvari are two designations for the same One, like the fusion of Shiva and Sakti viewed by the initiate, which is the same iconographic representation as the hermaphrodite (with two vertical halves: male and female). In Bali, in the daily tantric service of the siwas, that is, the high priests Pedanda Brahmana Siwa, the identification of the priest — the double and vibrating body, the body of mantra and akṣara (‘letters’) that he fashions for himself — is Ardhanaeshvari, the feminine. The ritual is called Surya-Sevana but does not include the Sun Shiva-Surya (the One without duality). Michele Stephen4 remarks that instead of being, as in India, destined for the sacred Shiva linga, the Balinese ceremony serves to consecrate the water of a basin, the type of water that, eventually diluted with ordinary water, is distributed daily to the faithful.
Heliogabalus will do his utmost – and according to Artaud this is a major aspect of his stubborn ‘anarchy’ – to combine male and female within himself, to seek this unity and, moreover, to impose it on religion. Homosexuality, cross-dressing and other practices going beyond gender duality5 actually demonstrate what his origin at Emesa already stated socially. In fact, in this sort of Eastern matriarchy, transmission to men came through their mothers, making males ‘women-men’, wives of their wife6, and making women the progenitor — “I said THE PROGENITOR”7 writes Artaud in capital letters.
It is thought that what most bothered Rome was that Heliogabalus left the reins of power to women who had already held them at Emesa – the Julias of his family, known as ‘the Syrian princesses’ – and in particular by imposing his mother on the Senate, the only woman in the whole of Roman history!
While the women looked after business, Heliogabalus fully engaged in his own excesses. He dared contravene one of the worst taboos, that of marrying a vestal vowed to virginity by her priesterhood – which discloses another out-of-the-ordinary male-female association. According to ancient historians, this was done in addition to his many other extravagances: spectacular public orgies, mass castrations, obscenities of all kinds to humiliate the great, and disinterest in the army. Not to speak of the murder, by his own hand, of his beloved eunuch preceptor Gannis (who had tried to moderate his depraved style of life and his squandering of the treasury on festivities and fabulous rituals) and his two attempts to assassinate the young Alexander Severus, his cousin, adopted son and rival. The list is still longer, but it must be stated that historians of the Christian era did all they could to saddle Heliogabalus with all the vices and to deck Alexander with all the virtues – Alexander, the one who became emperor on the assassination of Heliogabalus.
Heliogabalus the Emperor: Backwards is his Place
linked to his priesthood, the homonym of the god Elagabal, of whom the solar helios was a modification made by the Greeks. As emperor, Heliogabalus added the dynastic name of Antoninus. As far as Antonin Artaud was concerned, Heliogabalus’ first name Varius was highly significant: Varius Avitus Bassianus. It pointed to an instability of identity prior to his sexual traits, related to his very birth and his doubtful origin. Officially, Heliogabalus was the son of Bassianus, the husband of his mother Julia Sœmia and high-priest before him — Emesa was no longer a kingdom and had become merely a cult location. Bassianus was known as ‘the parricide’. in this context of inversion, Artaud asks the question whether the assassinated ‘father’ was a man or a woman.
However, his mother and his preceptor later affirmed that Heliogabalus was actually the fruit of her adultery with the Emperor Caracalla, his grand-uncle who was much loved by the army. This was part of the intrigues of the Julias to hold onto power at Rome. Julia Domna had been the wife of the Emperor Septimus Severus, after whom her sons Geta and Caracalla had reigned, the latter murdering Geta in the arms of his mother, who let herself die of starvation.
Such strategic accordance didn’t imply any risk in a world “where everyone slept with everyone”. It placed the little high-priest in the line of the Severus family, as a legitimate heir to the crown after Caracalla. Macrinus, the assassin of Caracalla and new emperor, remained to be got rid of. He was a colourless sort of official and a commoner. This task was accomplished by war. The Roman army was made to turn against Macrinus in favour of a 14-year-old Heliogabalus, ‘son’ of Caracalla and magnificently attired. Heliogabalus participated in the combat on horseback at the side of his kin – consisting of supercharged female warriors – and his eunuch preceptor Gannis. His beauty and courage seduced the soldiers. During his reign, he would not continue the war, but the seduction would go on.
The high-priest Heliogabalus became Emperor at the age of 14 and transported the betyl from Emesa to Rome on a year-long journey, walking backwards before the chariot so as not to turn his back to his god Elagabal. He entered Rome backwards, surrounded by eunuchs, accompanied by music and the ecstatic dance of the transgender Galli, showing the imperial city his buttocks – with which he would never cease to humiliate the empire. From his very arrival in Rome as emperor, Heliogabalus “dances backwards” and “this backwards was his true place”, to quote the words of Artaud’s Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu (radio broadcast recorded – but not broadcast – on 28 November 1947).
At the time of Heliogabalus, the Senate had already acknowledged the priesthood of the Galli, despite having forbidden Roman citizens to become part of them. The Eastern Venus was associated with a cult of Cybele; her transvestite – or rather transgender – priests practised a public self-castration rite as well as ecstatic dances. Again, within his metaphysics of gender principles and the anarchic search for unity that runs through his Héliogabale, Artaud saw in the self-emasculation rite of the Galli dressed as women “the desire to make an end to a certain contradiction, to reunite at one blow man and woman, to combine them, to merge them into one in the male and through the male. The male being the initiator”8. In Héliogabale, the separation of the principles is an ‘error’ or a cosmic catastrophe which sets against each other the partisans of the male and the female aspect.
Heliogabalus or Elagabalus was the name linked to his priesthood, the homonym of the god Elagabal, of whom the solar helios was a modification made by the Greeks.
Artaud’s Heliogabalus: necessary anarchy and cruelty
Heliogabalus’ milieu was not lacking in cruelty in the modern meaning of the word: an excess of blameworthy blood and semen. What Heliogabalus added to it was for Artaud in some way related to his sacred vocation. In the reception literature, Heliogabalus is seen as a sign of Roman decadence (in this case, a decadence coming from the East). As a consequence, he ended up being an icon of the decadent movement at the end of the XIX century. But what Antonin Artaud saw and made of him is quite different from these two versions9. There is a “juxtaposition of two levels, metaphysical and historical, and subordination of the latter to the former”10 in an arrangement of complex echoes that little by little build up a thesis. Artaud’s Heliogabalus is an anarchist with a precocious and superior intelligence, that is, conscious, determined, with the necessary ‘cruelty’ due to his passion for unity, achieved by inversions and reversals.
Artaud constantly returns to the idea of cruelty. It is not at all cruelty as a vice. He takes it from a gnostic point of view: cruelty is inherent in life. Metaphysically speaking, the fact of its being material renders Life susceptible to evil and whatever is inherent in evil, in space, in extension, and in matter. Life is necessary cruelty, otherwise it would not be life, and the quest for the unity that life cannot be is necessary cruelty in return. As a process, decadence is disaggregation, slow decomposition, whereas Heliogabalus’‘anarchy’, belonging neither to Rome nor to its decadence, is re-placed by Artaud out of time, out of space, and beyond the individual. It arises like an eruption and has centripetal character. It is the product of necessity. It was time to put an end to Rome, its first bourgeoisie and its inertia.
“The whole life of Heliogabalus is anarchy in action, since Elagabal, the unitary god, resembling man and woman, the hostile poles, the ONE and the TWO, is the end of contradictions, the elimination of war and anarchy, but through war, and is also, on this terrain of contradiction and disorder, the implementation of anarchy. And anarchy, to the extent that Heliogabalus pushes it, is the achievement of poetry.”11
It is true that Heliogabalus was one of the rare Roman emperors (perhaps the only one?) who did not make war. For what he did instead, while leaving state business to women, he was never forgiven: something spectacular, a kind of ‘theatre of cruelty’. Artaud theorises and attempts to achieve his own theatre of cruelty to shake society, contaminate the bourgeoisie like a bubonic plague and, by staging conflicts (as at Bali), avoid the possibility of real war. Since the West lacks any living magical tradition like that of Bali, it seemed like a good idea. But Artaud didn’t manage to give this theatre any other scene than his own body and became its sole actor and martyr in his own life of perpetual (and fundamental) war. Many things appear premonitory in Héliogabale, right to the faecal end, mirroring Artaud and Heliogabalus, the two Antonins12, as a sign of uninterrupted coherence.
“This Cruelty was not a matter of sadism or blood, at least not exclusively. […] From a spiritual point of view, cruelty signifies rigor, application and implacable decision, or irreversible and absolute determination. […] In the exercised cruelty there is a kind of superior determinism to which the executioner-torturer himself is subjected”.13
Panji: fluidity of identities and mirror of levels [double doubles]
rtaud could have drawn (uchronia) another thread from India toward South-East Asia than that of King Rama towards Syria and the Rome of Heliogabalus, a thread that he extends out of the mythological construction of Fabre d’Olivet (which runs from the Hyperboreans to Phoenicia)14. In Bali, he might have been inspired by another equally royal hero, always young and beautiful, who was seen as a divine incarnation, solar, sexually active and ambivalent. This hero is Prince Panji (Panji Inu Kertapati), fully made of ‘doubles’. He was a historical figure (king for one year) who became a myth, the incarnation of Vishnu and Kamajaya (Eros). Panji is identified with the Sun and, as the archetype of the kawi, the great civiliser and unifier of Insulindia, a figure that later on stood for royal perfection in Indianised South-East Asia. His predestined lady-love, Candra Kirana (candra means the Moon) is an incarnation of the partner of Kamajaya/Semara: Ratih, the lunar goddess.
The structure of the texts and stage performances, with doubles between the metaphysical, astral, social and individual levels, is as follows: to begin with there is separation, since Shiva has banished on earth the fundamental couple, Kamajaya and Ratih; then comes the mutual search, each seeking the other in various incarnations. This ends each time in their sexual union, an astral eclipse and mystical fusion, which restores Unity.
Panji is not Prince Rama, the avatāra of Vishnu who becomes King of kings in the Rāmāyaṇa and whom Fabre d’Olivet — an important source of Artaud’s Héliogabale – transforms into a civilising pontiff reigning over all the known world for thousands of years – something that inspired many traditionalists. Panji’s love-quest takes him far, even to Egypt, less far from Heliogabalus than from Java. Each text is packed with the conquest of kingdoms and sex partners (thus of śakti energy). In actual fact, the great initiate, the man-universe, Panji “carries his kingdom with him” since – a historical truth – his brother has taken over his Javanese kingdom.
In the tantric initiation literature known as The Cycle of Panji15, sexual gender is very fluid, like names (the various names of Heliogabalus and the ‘interchangeable’ gods, emphasised by Artaud) and further instances of (human or animal) identity.This results in a diversity of attractions and sexual practices (multiple partners, homosexuality, bestiality…) in the case of Prince Panji-Sun and his partners. Panji becomes a small monkey; his lady-love Candra Kirana (Moon) changes her sexual gender; cross-dressed women have the same aptitudes as men for war and government. Furthermore, Panji and his ladylove are often – without recognising each other – adversaries in battle or at the head of enemy kingdoms. On a symbolic or initiatic level, this relativisation and annihilation of identity parameters (which are only appearances and conventions) leads the ego to the undifferentiated Self [svah]. On stage, the different-coloured masks of the couple are finally white with eyes almost closed – a sign of inwardness. It can even happen that one lover or another dies in their blind confrontation, only to come to life again when they recognise each other. All knowledge at fundamental level is experienced as reminiscence (Jav. eling), whether attributed to primordial tradition, universal consciousness, the brain alone, or something else. In Panji, separation and the ‘war of principles’ is projected on humanity… as in Héliogabale and in The Schism of Irshu of Fabre d’Olivet which Artaud added as an appendix to document his central chapter: “La guerre des principes”. Similarly, in Javanese tantric Shaivite literature and Balinese theatre, Shiva and his śakti Durga (ruler of cementeries) are first adversaries under their terrible appearances as Barong Ket ‘the Beast’ (Banaspati Raja) and Rangda ‘the Widow’. These figures are sacred masks but also appearances that certain formidable initiates are reputed to take on or project. However, they recognise each other, unite and become once more the Shiva-Sakti fusion. It is one of the procedures of somya, the rising in degree of all creatures, a process that reinitialises the universe and is deemed the principal goal of Balinese rituals.
This behaviour of the heroes, which has its dose of cruelty, is ‘anarchic’ in that it flouts social codes. But it obeys the necessity of (re)finding unity – in Panji a political and mystical unity achieved by inversions and reversals, as in Artaud’s Heliogabalus.
“Eros’ desire is cruelty, since it burns contingencies; […] an ascension is a tearing, […] each stronger life passes through the others, in a massacre that is a transfiguration and a good. […]”.16
Heliogabalus sent out to seek through the empire a wife for his sun-god Elagabalus. He ended up giving him Astarte, the Moon. If the reign of Heliogabalus had lasted, the fluidity of identities – diametrically opposed to the ideology of hierarchised races that tarnishes Fabre d’Olivet’s Histoire philosophique du genre humain and, thereafter, certain traditionalist ideas – would not have had to wait for the LGBT17 movement. Paradoxically, the latter hardens binary sexuation (the obligatory feminisation of terms), while the fluidity of Heliogabalus’ reign fosters a unitary neuter, simultaneously multicolour and white synthesis. This could have been installed at the time of the Roman Empire [uchronia].
Ram/Rama and perennialism [doubles and spatio-temporal derivatives]
Artaud reproaches historians for not remarking that Heliogabalus, with his horned priestly tiara, appeared as “the successor on Earth and respondent of Ram and his wonderful Mythological Odyssey”18.
This horned Ram is the same as that of Fabre d’Olivet’s Histoire philosophique du genre humain, in which reference is made, amongst other matters, to the deeds of the Atlanteans. Fabre d’Olivet’s is the Aryan Ram/Rama of the Indian epic Rāmāyaṇa, who reigned for 10,000 years in the era called Treta Yuga. But he is a Ram “whom Arrien calls Dionysos, meaning divine intelligence”19. Fabre d’Olivet translates ram as ‘ram (i. e. male sheep)’, giving the god a Celtic origin and making him the sovereign pontiff of the ‘race of the Whites’, at the summit of a mythological hierarchy of four human races named by colours. Some adepts of Druidism mention Ram even today as the great civiliser Druid, the unifier of nations, who re-establishes the socio-cosmic order. [dharma] by transmitting in India and the whole world what the Celts had preserved from the Hyperborean tradition. For Guénon’s acolytes, this tradition becomes an elitist Indo-European ideology. Hindu nationalists20 speak of sanātana dharma with its non-dualist Principle [advaita].
Artaud writes a capital T when he means the ‘primordial tradition’ – always referred to in the singular. It has been rather disconcerting to discover what this Histoire philosophique du genre humain by Fabre d’Olivet purports as well as Artaud’s affirmation of it in the chapter “La Guerre des principes”. It is a ‘history’ that ranks peoples by races according to their closeness to the Hyperboreans – via the Celt and ancient India. This idea of Primordial Tradition transposed into History has served ideologies with dramatic impact. Suddenly, Artaud appears as the resonator of such rumours in his intellectual environment, falling back on an artificial-looking spatio-temporal linearity.
Artaud’s Héliogabale reveals that its author is effectively related to the traditionalists, of whom René Guénon was the guru21. Elements such as the idea of degradation through the ages, a growing socio-cosmic entropy, a progressive concealment of meaning, and an ever-larger separation from the principles — Artaud’s equivalents of the divine – are clear examples of that connection. The West is accused of accelerating the fall, in the first place Europe and its inauguration of history, in the second place the materialistic modernization process with its expansive logic leading to globalization. Revival efforts are consequently needed (like the attempt to wrap up the cycle toward a golden – or ante-Hyperborean – age) by means of a metaphysical spirit, the exercise of transcendental intuition, and for many also by means of the aid of traditional teachings – vestiges of a lost Primordial Tradition. Of this Tradition, India is deemed to have preserved the most. However, Artaud’s thought, a thought of resonation, radiation and geometric structures belonging to a metaphysical and poetic spirit, shifts it all onto quite a different level. Traditionalism or perennialism would never take Heliogabalus as a model!
The War of Principles: the Female Power Repulsed from India… to Emesa
What link is there between Ram in India and Heliogabalus in Syria?
At the end of the Treta Yuga, it is said that a long-standing war of principles broke out, the schism of Irshu22. According to Druidism, this occurred because the female nature of the druidesses had been taken over by a man. Fabre d’Olivet says that the reason of the schism was the discovery in Indian music of a duality of ontological principles calling into question the monism of Ram and the Whites.Defeated by the monist Whites, for whom the sole Principle was male, sectarians of the female or “eaters of menstrual blood”23 were chased out of India and increasingly repelled from ‘Pallistan’ towards the West. Little by little, their numbers were whittled down: in the Mediterranean all that remain of that group are the Phoenicians. History owes to this migration the purple of Tyre (worn by Heliogabalus) as well as the Babylonian and Phoenician cosmogonies referring to the principles of chaos. The latter interested Artaud very much, especially the story of chaos falling in love with his principles, the solar and lunar cults, gods and goddesses related to it, and of course the vestiges of matriarchy contained in such narrations.
Artaud stretches the spatio-temporal thread of Fabre d’Olivet to reach Syria: it is in this kind of society that Heliogabalus was born, and he remained throughout his life under the control of women – the four Julias.
Rama dharma vs Rawana, raksasa, Heliogabalus adharma, white and red
Heliogabalus is a monist priest-king, defender of monotheism, like the Ram of Fabre d’Olivet. If Rama the White is the figure of dharma and the law of socio-cosmic harmony a hierarchised order, the behaviour of Heliogabalus the Red has much more of his rival (and of the Pinkshas, or Redheads). The antagonist hero stands for adharma, like Dasamuka alias Ravana of the Rāmāyaṇa, king of the rākṣasas (anthropophagic giants). In Indonesia, that figure brings to mind a formidable adept of tantrism, ritually indispensable to master matter and its decomposition, a figure of very sexual nature called the ‘left-hand’ or ‘red way’ — which is the colour of Heliogabalus and the Pinkshas. As avatāra of Vishnu, it is Rawana whom Rama is destined to fight and annihilate in the context of Rāmāyaṇa, so that dharma can be re-established. The Rāmāyaṇaof Indonesia is much more tantric than that of Valmiki, and Rawana appears as its true hero.
Indeed, there is a dharma for each one of us, and the dharma of Antoninus Heliogabalus is in fact an anti-dharma or anti-established order – a form of anarchism. If Heliogabalus had reigned in Asia, his name (susceptible to be translated in kawi as Suryagiri, or ‘Sun-Mountain’) would have been added to that of the mythical anti-hero-rākṣasa and of historical tantric kings-rākṣasa, usually portrayed with fangs, like some representations of Shiva. Cruelty is also a metaphysical necessity for Dasamuka / Rawana (the great yogi rival of the gods) and the rākṣasas, just as his existence is considered by some as essential, for rwa bhineda, duality. A dynamics quite in tune with Artaud’s idea of the need for the cruelty and anarchy in Heliogabalus. Red and white is the duality of colours in Tantrism: white for the ‘male waters’ (semen) and red for the ‘female waters’ related to the sakti (menstruation blood). This resonates with the Sakti-Shiva duality and probably – not by chance – with the red and white flag of Indonesia.
Divine names and the terrifying temple of Emesa [structures]
Throughout the pages with a more esoteric tenor (where there is no reference to sources), Artaud creates echoes between the names of deities, colours, geometries and stars. He lets out a cascade of divine names starting from El-Gabal, and including Baal, Bel, various Apollos and European-Indian doubles with bizarre associations fully unknown to us. “Heliogabalus himself gathers in himself the power of all these names”24. But one thing alone is not mentioned: the sun.
The esoteric passage of Héliogabale plays with consonances and makes analogies. That is in a way the beginning of esotericism and the magic of poetry. As in his texts on Balinese theatre, the verb ‘respond’ is recurrent in his description of the temple of Emesa, where Heliogabalus officiated as a child. The temple is depicted as a monument full of sounds and echoes from the depths.
Of the temple of Emesa, Artaud emphasises the male cone and phallus of Elagabal as well as its opposite symbol: the downward-pointing female cone, a vagina-yoni that formed, beneath the great phallus-linga erected on the surface and the divine presence in the Black Stone of Emesa, the network of subterranean halls and the spiral of dark sewers. The picture is terrifying, hallucinating, but staggering in its virtuosity, like a musical composition: each responds to each in a tissue of ideas, the motions of the sacrificial cult coil and uncoil, submerge and emerge from the architecture of superimposed inverted cones and sounds circulating throughout the many rooms of the temple, which are literally echo-chambers.25.
Throughout the pages with a more esoteric tenor in Héliogabale, Artaud creates echoes between the names of deities, colours, geometries and stars.
The inverted cones recall the highly important Sri Yantra, in which the duality of male and female principles is represented by the complex superposition of upward-pointing white cones and downward-pointing red ones.
Did Artaud invent this temple and these rites, and if so, to what extent? The priest descended alone into the hole to receive the sacrificial blood on his head. Which priest? The five-year-old Heliogabalus? That is not stated, but such a trauma would have sufficed to make an out-of-the-ordinary adolescent like Heliogabalus.
Echoes in the Latium of Alain Daniélou: Paganism and Cruelty of the Quest for Unity
In any case, to conceive an encounter of Antonin Artaud with Alain Daniélou and his Labyrinth is a tempting uchronia, especially in the Latium, where Heliogabalus reigned. At Daniélou’s Labyrinth, and not only in the vestiges of an Etruscan temple, Artaud would have found some essential elements reunited: Paganism – with a capital letter reasserting its value —, Tradition, Indo-European dialogue, Shiva (in his solar aspect remindful of Surya) and his linga (as an echo of that of Elagabal and the conical Black Stone), and some other echoes of Heliogabalus, though with a much softer and more refined hedonism.
“In its initiatic and higher sense, Paganism means concern for those major principles, which still continues to flow and live in the blood of people. […] In its rites and feasts, Paganism reproduces the Myth of Creation, first and entire […] And the pederastic religion of Heliogabalus, which is the religion of separation of and from the principle, is only repugnant because it has lost that transcendent notion, sinking into eroticism of sexualised creation in action.”26
In the chapter entitled “La guerre des principes”, which plays an important role in Artaud’s theory, it seems that the latter tries to reconcile two movements: a centripetal and transcendental with a centrifugal and labyrinthine cutting across various ancient or living traditions that have become peripheral. This is a movement towards Paganism, because of its ability to connect with different forces or deities.
In the end, however, it seems that in his Héliogabale Artaud’s main tendency is to profess the unity of All, or at least to affirm the cruelty of his quest. It is to that cruelty that his hero will have sacrificed himself by wreaking havoc – so that, on a ground zero, something can be reborn. The validity of the principles is not affected by the number of gods, “that is, of forces that only desire to precipitate”27 (perhaps in the sense of physics, chemistry and even alchemy?), by the multiplicity of their names, by their male or female identities, or by the circulation of deities and other fluctuations produced by peoples in history.
If Heliogabalus had reigned in Asia, his name would have been added to that of the mythical anti-hero-rākṣasa and of historical tantric kings-rākṣasa, usually portrayed with fangs, like some representations of Shiva.
“He who rails at the polytheism of the ancients, whom he calls for that reason Barbarians, he is himself a Barbarian, meaning a European.” […] “If peoples, as time goes by, have remade their gods in their own image; if they have extinguished the phosphorescent idea of the gods and, starting from the names that compelled them, they have been seen as powerless to go back, through the concentric touching of forces, through the applied and concrete magnetisation of energies, to the revelation of the principle that these gods disclose, one must blame […] these peoples and not the principles, and still less that higher and complete idea of the world that Paganism sought to return to us”.28
Like a folklore performance compared to the “truly sacred gesture, the sequence of innumerable myths, […] the sedimentary build-up of gods does not furnish the idea of the formidable cosmic tradition that lies at the origin of the pagan world.”29
“From the very beginning, ancient religions aimed to examine the Great All. They never sought to separate heaven from man, man from creation in its entirety, since the creation of the elements. It can even be said that, in the beginning, they saw clearly about creation. Catholicism shut the door, as did Buddhism before it” […] “We are in creation up to our necks: we’re in it through our organs, both solid and subtle”. […] “it is hard to climb back to God using the graduated path of the organs, when these organs fix us in the world where we are and tend to make us believe in its exclusive reality. The absolute is an abstraction, and the abstraction is contrary to our status as degenerate men. After that, should we be amazed that the pagans ended up by becoming idolators […] and that the power of attraction of the principles ended up escaping them.”30
This is part of a copious and complex reasoning (which requires to be thoroughly read in order to be grasped) that Artaud evokes a primordial Tradition and ascribes a reality to the ‘war of principles’ by virtue of the Hindu literature of the Puranas as well as of Fabre d’Olivet. Artaud then considers Heliogabalus as the heir – and a proof – of the Schism of Irshu, although he draws from it the idea of a quest for unity – a not truly polytheistic form of Paganism.
“All the principles join in, especially the two principles from which cosmic life hangs: the male and the female”. The war of principles then propagates among humans, who recognise the disorder of the principles that preside over their anarchy, and this war configures the culture into which Heliogabalus is born, prefigured and predestined to become himself: Heliogabalus. […] It was to end this separation of principles, to reduce their essential antagonism, that they took up arms. […] And this war is entirely in the religion of the sun; it is found to the bloody but magical degree in the religion of the sun, as it was practised at Emesa; and although for centuries it has ceased to make warriors clash with each other, Heliogabalus followed its tracks”31.
Alain Daniélou and the Musical Enigma
If he had been consulted about the problem, Alain Daniélou may perhaps have pierced through to the origin of this war of ideologies in the sense that Fabre d’Olivet understood the discovery – in the pre-history of India, in music and the origin of sounds – of a gendered duality of cosmic principles. In his Histoire philosophique du genre humain, Fabre d’Olivet went as far as indicating the page number of his other masterpiece on music, in which he provided the key to the acoustic enigma… Alas, there is no trace of it in his posthumous edition. So, from where did Artaud get what he says that fits so well with the question of monism vs dualism? As to the ‘the transcendent analysis of music’, should one understand by that the conceptions of India?
“Impossible to doubt: the facts are there; the facts, meaning the transcendent analysis of music, or rather the origin of sounds. As far back as one can go in the generation of sound, one finds two principles that play in parallel and combine to produce vibration. And beyond that, there is nothing but pure essence, the unanalysable abstract, the indeterminate absolute, in short: ‘the Intelligible’, as Fabre d’Olivet calls it. And between ‘the Intelligible’ and the world, nature or creation, there is harmony, vibration, acoustics, which is the first passage, the most subtle and most malleable, that unites abstract and concrete”.32
These two principles: male and female, were they Shiva and Sakti in unmanifested bindu and manifested nāda, the origin of sound and light and the rise of each creation, which nurtured several monist (non-dualist) and then several dualist Shaivite glosses?33
Had he read Daniélou, Artaud would at least have learned about the Hindu tradition that allows one to become cosmicised and go back to the origin, that is, towards the principles and the Principle34.
Tradition, the two Antonins, the Essay (Problematics)
“I dedicate this book to the manes of Apollonius of Tyana, a contemporary of Christ and to whatever may remain of true Visionaries in this world that is coming to an end. To emphasise its deep atemporality, its spiritualism and its uselessness, I dedicate it to anarchy and to the war for this world. I dedicate it lastly to the Ancestors, to the Heroes in the ancient sense and to the souls of the Great Dead.”35
Apollonius of Tyana is known thanks to Julia Domna, great-aunt of Heliogabalus, wife of the emperor Septimius Severus Augustus. It is she, the woman philosopher, who commands the sophist Philostratus to write the Life of Apollonius of Tyana. That was an ancient Indo-European dialogue: the neo-Pythagorean philosopher is said to have gone to India and to have attempted to reconcile the doctrine of Brahmins with that of his master. Artaud once planned to devote an essay to him.
The three dedications of Héliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné thus place the work within the singular Tradition, as well as a good part of the documentation Artaud consulted, but his work is neither that of an historian, nor a traditionalist manifesto. The poet acted as a Western artist, he used a double to express himself: Heliogabalus. He claims it, and ultimately it is not he who says that his Héliogabale is an essay.
In a draft letter, Artaud writes the following: “I have just sent you Héliogabale. It is only a part of myself. Theatre writings are more important than this book, but vague.”36 But this ‘part of him’ is also only ‘partly from him’. The publisher Robert Denoël compelled Artaud to plunge into scholarship, to consult a mass of scattered sources and to articulate his own thought on his borrowings, which he did not do particularly well. Above all, between the knowledge that is borrowed and accumulated [prapañca] and the Knowledge [jñāna] that rises and radiates there is a different as to levels of consciousness. When through prajña, or metaphysical intuition, one ascends from the prapacña to the jñāna, one returns transformed forever. It modifies one’s way of thinking and writing. The reality of History, mostly based on ordinary objective knowledge [vijñāna], i.e. the perception of separate entities), is difficult to reconcile with an a-historical, a-temporal, structural and fundamental inspiration. With certain traditionalists, it results in ideological fables; with Artaud, on the contrary, it leads to poetry – in the sense of the poetry of the kawis.
Artaud writes to Jean Paulhan: “The Supreme Truth alone is what I seek, but when they speak to me about what is true, I always wonder what truth they speak of, and up to what point the notion one may have of a limited and objective truth conceals the other that obstinately escapes all discernment, all limits, all localisation and, in the end, escapes what is called the Real. […] True or not, the character of Heliogabalus lives, I believe, down to his very depths, whether they are those of Heliogabalus as an historical character, or those of a character who is myself.”37 […] “It may be that this book is less true than my other books. But […] my true nature appears nonetheless as well as my own self, as direct and burdensome as it can be. There is a matrix, certainly: but I manage however to catch up in the detail of many, many passages, and in the conception of the central figure where I myself am described. It is doubtless unfair to see in it only eloquence and historical reconstruction: all that was only a pretext.”38
Since the acoustic principle that is simultaneously ONE and TWO implies that only the ‘same’ resonate together, the author of this article has almost found herself in the same process as Antonin Artaud – without, however, identifying with the latter, or with Heliogabalus. Immersed in a sea of facts, she has vibrated with certain things rather than others, finding a response not in scholarship but in an experience and a personal history: the Indonesia of Shaivite tantrism. Hence the ‘intrusions’ that may at first appear superfluous or illegitimate in view of the inexhaustible richness of Artaud’s text and all that has not been rendered here.
- Antonin Artaud once aspired to be a priest (in Christianity). In Bali, most pemangku temple-guardian priests are elect due to a sign of mental derangement, which is generally followed by initiation and duties concerning ritual service. This makes them whole citizens and cures them. On the other hand, rejection of the vocation aggravates the symptoms.
- Antonin ARTAUD, Héliogabale ou l’anarchiste couronné. Unless otherwise indicated, the page numbers given are those of the 1979 Gallimard edition of Artaud’s OEuvres Complètes.
- Cf. Antonin ARTAUD, Héliogabale, in: OEuvres Complètes VII, p. 82.
- It is based on the text collected by C. Hoykaas, Surya-Sevana. The Way to God of a Balinese Siva Priest. Michele Stephen, “Sūrya-Sevana: A Balinese Tantric Practice”, Archipel [Online], 89 | 2015, Online since connection on 21 September 2021. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/archipel/492; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/archipel.492. Printed version: 15 April 2015, p.95-124. Ed. Association Archipel, Etudes interdisciplinaires sur le monde insulindien, Paris.
- Some authors have stated that Heliogabalus castrated himself, or that he was a hermaphrodite (although a bust of the emperor shows a slight beard). Artaud says that his mother slept with him.
- Men with the status of wife are a traditional practice at Bali, but questions of inheritance require a male heir. It remains a patriarchate.
- Antonin ARTAUD, Héliogabale, in: OEuvres Complètes VII, p. 17.
- Antonin ARTAUD, Héliogabale, in: OEuvres Complètes VII, p. 84.
- Cf. Marie-France David-de Palacio, Reviviscences romaines la latinité au miroir de l’esprit fin de siècle, ed. Peter Lang, 2005.
- Olivier Penot-Lacassagne, “Artaud : l’invention de l’origine” in Mythes des origines| Gérard Peylet, Michel Prat, Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2002, p. 279-288.
- Antonin ARTAUD, Héliogabale, in: OEuvres Complètes VII, p. 84.
- In the last years of his life, affected by anal cancer, Artaud expectorated anathemas and threw oral and written curses full of ‘poop’, ‘pus’ and other excrements, especially at initiates, religions and esotericisms of all sorts (Balinese and Dalai-Lama included) which bewitched him as much as any ‘succubus and incubus’.
- Antonin Artaud, Lettres sur la cruauté, in: OEuvres, edited by Evelyne Grossman, Paris 2004, p. 566.
- Antoine Fabre d’Olivet, Histoire philosophique du genre humain, ou l’homme considéré sous ses rapports, religieux et politiques dans l’état social à toutes les époques et chez les différents peuples de la terre, Tomes I et II, 1910 ; ebook Ed. l’Arbre d’Or, Suisse, 2009.
- The separate texts under the generic name of Cycle of Panji were drafted at Java, then at Bali and in continental south-east Asia.
- Antonin ARTAUD, Troisième lettre sur la cruauté, in: OEuvres Complètes VII, p. 568.
- LGBT = lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
- Antonin Artaud, Héliogabale, in: OEuvres Complètes VII, p. 65.
- It is Fabre d’Olivet who cites Arrien. Arrien is one of the Greek authors who have given us fragments of Megatsthenes’ Indica, the historian and geographer of Ancient Greece, whose work describes the India of the King Chandragupta Maurya, where he was sent as ambassador in about 303 BCE.
- Incidentally, Hindu nationalists are fighting against the mosque built at Ayodya on what they claim is the palace of Rama.
- It was René Daumal, Sanskritise, co-author of the review and movement Le Grand Jeu, who introduced Guénon to Artaud. René Daumal is also the author of the unfinished initiatic novel Le Mont Analogue.
- For some present-day adepts of machist Druidism, the “schism of Irshu” is recounted in the Mahabharata, in which Krishna acts, the successive avatara of Vishu after Rama. Irshu is the elder of the antagonists, the 100 Koravas.
- The Pinkshas alias the Ginger, formerly called Pali (shepherds), and afterwards Yonis (vaginas).
- Antonin Artaud, Héliogabale, in: OEuvres Complètes VII, p. 78.
- Cf. Chapter 1, Le berceau de sperme, in : Ibidem, pp. 38-43.
- Cf. Appendice II : La religion du soleil en Syrie, in : Ibidem, p. 131.
- Antonin Artaud, Ibidem, p. 46.
- Antonin Artaud, Ibidem, p. 47.
- Antonin Artaud, Ibidem.
- Antonin Artaud, Ibidem, pp. 50-51.
- Antonin Artaud, Ibidem, pp. 58-59.
- Antonin Artaud, Appendice I, Le schisme d’Irshu, in: Ibidem, p.130.
- See also, Nirmala. V, “The concept of nada and bindu in Tirumantiram’ International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Volume 2, Issue 5, May 2012 1 ISSN 2250-3153. https://www.ijsrp.org/research_paper_may2012/ijsrp-may-2012-96.pdf
- Alain Daniélou, “Mantra, les principes du langage et de la musique selon la cosmologie hindoue”, Cahiers d’ethnomusicologie 4, 1991 [on-line], 4 | 1991, put on line 01 January 2012, consulted 25 October 2012. URL : http://ethnomusicologie.revues.org/1575. English translation in Transcultural Dialogues n°3, December 2019 – Winter Solstice.
- First epigraph of Artaud’s Héliogabale, in: OEuvres p. 9.
- Antonin Artaud, Lettres autour d’Héliogabale, in: OEuvres p. 475.
- Antonin Artaud, Ibidem, p. 476.
- Antonin Artaud, Ibidem, p. 477.