By Crom!

Some time back I pointed to a discussion of fantasy literature as a way of way of exploring religious themes. I was thinking about the sorts of religion found in fantasy recently, and stumbled across Michael Mock’s posting of the prayer to Crom from the first Conan movie:

Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

Dated acting aside, it’s an interesting piece. As Mock points out, “It reflects a completely different relationship with the Divine – one in which humility isn’t necessarily a virtue, and a god who doesn’t help his worshipers is worthless.”

It goes back to an ancient view in which the line between Gods and humans was much thinner. Crom will forget the causes of the battle, just as any human would. In time, Conan himself could have become a demigod or a God, much like Hercules.* It also shows a very practical approach to worship. Gods were honored because it was believed it would bring rewards to the worshipper. A God who granted a miracle would find more worshippers, while a God whose followers were defeated in battle might be supplanted by the God of the victor.

I don’t believe the above quote came from anything that Robert Howard wrote, but it is in line with his attempts to make a primal mythology, influenced by everyone from Lovecraft to Thomas Bulfinch. In Queen of the Black Coast, Howard gives us a glimpse of Crom:

`Their chief is Crom. He dwells on a great mountain. What use to call on him? Little he cares if men live or die. Better to be silent than to call his attention to you; he will send you dooms, not fortune! He is grim and loveless, but at birth he breathes power to strive and slay into a man’s soul. What else shall men ask of the gods?’

In typically overheated prose, Howard also gives us Conan’s philosophy of life:

`I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.’

(*)Although, Pratchett’s dead-on parody of Cohen, the aging barbarian hero was far more realistic. Which reminds me, check out Dr. Jim Linville’s take on Pratchett’s Small Gods.

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  • trj

    vorjack, you’re missing a closing “em” tag, resulting in the rest of the page being borked.

    • vorjack

      Got it.

  • trj

    I think the ancient Jews had some of the same attitude to Yahweh. Their relationship with him was to a certain extent a business affair, where in exchange for worship, sacrifice, and tribute, Abraham and his descendants were promised prosperity, land, power, and plenty of descendants. And of course, every time his people failed to properly worship or obey him, Yahweh would punish them by taking these things away from them. God loved his people in the OT, but “love” had a more practical meaning than in the NT.

    • Kodie

      Isn’t that the same attitude many in the US have? God, of course, favors the United States; and the United States was founded by Christian people as a Christian nation. That is why it’s important to them to change laws and steer the country “back” into or remain in his favor, and project fear that if the nation doesn’t get on course, we are in danger of losing this favor, and that god becomes angry and will take it out on them if they cannot convince the rest of us to go their way, for the sake of god’s favor upon the US. That’s why he punishes places like New Orleans, to send a message, a threat, a brick in our window with a message attached. That’s why we have to save all the fetuses. That’s why you can’t be gay with any amount of freedom. God doesn’t like those things and if these people allow it to happen, if they don’t put up a fight, if they don’t keep the 10 commandments up in school so everyone knows even if their parents tell them something else, if they don’t beat the gay out of their children, if they don’t oppose things strongly and keep them from happening, god will just go somewhere else and the US will fall into “Sodom and Gomorrah,” or some other unpleasant place to live. They have to hate people into submission and conformity in order to please an angry and vengeful god and convince him to stay with us.

      And for that matter, I now think that when Jesus preaches love, he still means the same kind of “love.” Love your neighbor by hating him unless he’s just like god wants us all to be. Hating people diminishes their confidence and breaks their will, leaves them without the “love” of a social network, and makes them beg to get in, to change in order to fit, to desire approval. This is also how children are disciplined and make the kind of adults who are followers of the crowd and easily convinced and want there to be such a god to keep them in order this way. God is treated as a parent from whom one desperately wants approval, who can’t just give them candy any time they want. Without god, we become wild, we “can” do anything we want and probably would! This is an undesirable state! Obedience is the only way to remain civil, even if these ends are accomplished by being uncivil. If you really love someone, the only way to save them may be to punch them in the eye. All our lives and afterlives are threatened by some peoples’ sins and lack of concern.

      • trj

        No, I think it’s a different situation.

        Here’s my hypothesis: I think the kind of fundie Christians who believe that God doles out punishment OT-style (diseases, natural disasters, etc) actually want God to be vindictive and wrathful. They yearn for punishment, because they think it brings the sinners to justice (never mind that for every sinner God kills in a disaster he usually kills many more who didn’t commit the sin), or they think divine punishment is good because it teaches us a valuable moral lesson, or maybe they just get a thrill out of being reminded how worthless they themselves are in the eyes of God (since that is the view fundies often have of the human race).

        They don’t actually want a “business arrangement” with God that spares us his wrath. They want the wrath. Especially if the display of his wrath means God is getting closer to losing patience and preparing to start the Apocalypse.

        • Kodie

          You do make a good point. I think there’s both kinds.

        • tony in san diego

          I think you are on to something there. WHen Jesus tells people to love their neighbor as they love themselves, what happens when people hate themselves?

      • Summer Seale

        It’s very different. You do make a good point about the fundies, but they don’t have the same mentality that the ancient Jews had. Ancient Jews were completely tribal. We *are* talking more about a warrior tribe like Conan’s tribe (yes, I know it’s fantasy….I meant if it were actually real). Judaism only became a little more philosophically “universal” later on after so many defeats. At the onset, it’s nothing like in any way whatsoever. That’s why Judaism remains, to this day, tribal and completely different from Christianity and Islam. The latter two may make claims about being related, but they have almost nothing to do with Judaism in reality whatsoever.

        BTW, it’s also the reason why Jews don’t try to convert others. You were either born into the twelve tribes, or you weren’t. And if you wanted to become one of the tribes, you had to go through some very special process, just like joining any other tribe. It means they had to accept you as one of their own. That’s also why Judaism is less a “religion” as most people think of them, and simply a set of originally barbaric tribal rules which later evolved into something a bit more tame and different. That’s why I get a little pissy when people start lumping all religions together as if they’re the same. They aren’t the same. I’m not saying that Judaism is better, or worse, or even slightly less full of divine bullshit than the rest. What I’m saying is that it is not a “religion” like Christianity or Islam in the sense that it doesn’t talk about anything much outside of its own borders, it says almost absolutely nothing about the afterlife and focuses more on good deeds in this one, and it doesn’t give a damn about “saving” the rest of the world of their “sins”. It only mostly matters to Jews if they’re Jews. If you’re not a Jew, you’re not really part of the philosophy.

        One thing which *is* slightly better that comes from that is that you don’t get Jews knocking on your door to ask you if you’ve heard of the Bible, and wouldn’t you like to switch your world view to theirs or burn in hellfire for eternity. That much, I can appreciate. However, in Israel, the religious fundamentalists (a minority still, please remember) are a real pain in the ass. Since this is a majority Jewish country, they *do* try to tell people what to do, and that’s bad. Outside of Israel, not so much. The reality is, however, that most Jews aren’t “religious” in the way that Christians and Muslims are. It’s more an identity for them than a religion of the supernatural. It would be nice if the ultra-orthodox stopped breeding like rabbits, however, as they present a very bad image of Jews around the world and, quite frankly, they’re total backwards primitive assholes. But they don’t represent the majority of Jews in any way whatsoever. Remember, when you’re talking about Jews, you’re mostly talking about an ethnicity and less a religion.

  • vasaroti

    “a brick in our window with a message attached. ”
    The note always seems to get detached enroute.

    • Kodie

      But they always know what it said.

      • UrsaMinor

        “Deliver $100,000 in unmarked bills to the collection plate this Sunday if you ever want to see your soul again”.

        • Kodie

          I’ve never been able to see it anyway, but ok!

  • Markus

    That’s a very cool prayer indeed. The only thing that sounds weird is the use of the word ‘Hell’ which is kind of anachronistic/ill-placed there … given that it’s a Jewish/Christian concept.

    • Summer Seale

      Hell really isn’t a Jewish concept. It’s a Christian concept. Jews had/have almost nothing to say about the afterlife.

  • Rayceeya

    Pratchett’s “Small Gods” is one of my favorites.
    Personal favorite is “Reaper Man” though.

    For those who haven’t read his works,

    In Pratchett’s Discworld, gods don’t exist unless people believe in them. “Small gods” is all about a god who used to be huge but was reduce to one grumpy turtle because he only had one believer left.

    “Reaper Man” is about Death (an actual recurring character in Pratchett’s books). Death is forcibly retired and momentarily replaced with thousands of more specialized deaths. The other half of the story pits the wizards of UU against the “Death of Cities”, which is in actuality…

    A shopping mall.

    Like I said, it’s my favorite.

  • Yoav

    Cohen’s response to finding out the gods don’t reword the hero is much more logical then how religion tell us we should react, he doesn’t accept that the gods work in mysterious ways or such BS, he goes up the mountain to the house of the gods in order to blow them up.

  • L.Long

    I say that if yehway ever proves his existence I would join the group trying to destroy him.
    I think I will look up this Cohen fellow he sounds interesting.

  • Michael Mock

    For a particularly interesting bit of Fantasy theology, check out Victoria Strauss’ The Burning Land. The story is well worth it, but the prologue (“The messengers’ Tale”) is particularly relevant here: a creation story which features a dualistic theology, the original paradise, the end of that paradise and the introduction of evil into human nature, and the promise of an eventual return to paradise. The origin and history of magic (called “shaping”) figure prominently as well.