7000 Wonders

7000 Wonders

ArticleFear As An Artform

Edward Porper

Edward Porper

4 min read

It must have been really challenging to be an actual caveman! Dangers were everywhere, and predators weren't the scariest and most threatening of them. Primeval people managed to defend themselves against predators - and even turn them into prey - because they shared space with them. That is, they saw them regularly, and eventually they learned that wild animals (big, strong and quick as they might be) were vulnerable. They bled when hit with an arrow, or cut with an axe; they could be outwitted (if not outrun) and tricked into a trap; they could get outnumbered, after all. However, none of those means could possibly make any impact on a far scarier enemy, the elements.

It wasn't even any physical damage that reduced poor cavemen to pulp and sent shivers down their spines. A loss of life caused by an occasional flood or a particularly precise lightning would be relatively insignificant. It was thunderstorm as such - the skies full of fire, and a deafening roar coming from everywhere at the same time - that left primordial humans helpless, defenseless and scared out of their wits. They couldn't even start relating to something that willful, random and, most of all, unfathomable - and it was the “unfathomable” part they had to grapple with, to survive as a species. The enemy seemed immaterial, and an equally immaterial weapon was needed to fight that enemy. That weapon turned out to be human imagination.

It could have been an inspired primeval genius (like the earliest incarnation of Leonardo da Vinci) or, possibly, generations of scared, haunted people kept rising above their fears and looking for a solution until it dawned on someone to suggest that the elements were tools, or even playthings of other “people” - a superior race living somewhere beyond the clouds. “They are just like us, only much bigger, smarter and much more powerful!”. The “just like us” provided for a much needed breakthrough, because it channeled human thoughts in a particular direction: that superior but similar race (eventually, humans started calling them "gods", to distinguish from themselves)  could be reasoned with, hidden from, flattered, bribed… Rituals and ceremonies appeared - and so did people responsible for conducting them. Religion, a medium for interacting with gods, was gradually born - and when that happened, the new weapon was applied to the ultimate challenge ever faced by conscious beings: the finality of life.

While the very concept of “finality” profoundly and violently disagrees with human nature, religion had taken the edge off it. By then familiar gods were just “assigned” a new domain (below the ground rather than beyond the clouds) but the nature of their interaction with humans remained essentially unchanged, just limited to a specific group of humans: the deceased. As Death was losing its status of the Great Unknown and becoming almost “business as usual”, it got more and more trivialized - hence such traditions as supplying the deceased with their earthly possessions (or even, servants and wives conveniently killed for that purpose - when the departing one was a mighty ruler). Hence the rise of spiritualism: after all, it's only natural to try and stay in touch with someone who had been around for a long time!

What happened next was a societal equivalent of what is known in mathematics as “the Paradox of the Turtle” - every development (or piece of reasoning) is perfectly natural and logical but the outcome/conclusion is completely absurd. In the paradox, a runner isn't able to overcome a turtle -in social reality, ultimate fear turns into not just acceptance but a celebration powered by art! While there are plenty of sources relating to the origins and history of the celebrations in questions, the following pictures of works of art willingly - even lovingly! - created by laymen, are self-explanatory.




Even if it happens only one day a year, that All Hallows' Day - a product of fear sublimated into an artform - can be considered one of the most mind-boggling wonders of the human psyche.