Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where does Evil come from..? -as a cultural phenomenon that is.

In Lynda’s post of March 10th she talks about perceptions of the theme of Evil that were the outcomes of the Audience evaluation. Again in this post I would like to ask a few question in regard “What is Evil anyway?” but try to retrace the ‘origins’ of Evil and look at cross-cultural explanations of Evil.

Illness, death, disasters, violence, crime – they are all considered to be evil influences and threatening and disruptive of the harmony and balance most people strive for in daily life. In this broad sense of the word ‘Evil’ is a concept and reality of all peoples of all times.

Evil or negative consequences happen to everyone at some point in their lives. Consequently people of all times and places have tried to protect themselves from that evil and ward of anything that could disturb the balance and harmony in their lives. People can protect themselves by wearing amulets or offering to protective gods and spirits to watch over them, or one can take preventative medicine and hope that this winter one will not fall sick. In most religions and belief systems there are laws and moral standards that followers should adhere to to ensure a good, virtuous and pleasant life (and sometimes even after-life). Derived from this many people accept superstitions and will not walk under a ladder, or get married on a Friday the 13th.

Interestingly though is that also from all time and places are stories that recall people that have wandered off the good path, have ignored the laws and moral guidelines, and were tempted and seduced by evil forces. The most infamous account in Western thought is off course Eve’s temptation of eating the forbidden fruit and condemning mankind to fall from grace and living a sinful existence. Other stories like in the Hindu-Javanese epic where the hero Arjuna is being visited while in deep meditation by seducing temptresses, similar to the occurrence of the Sirens in Homers Odyssee, or billabong dwelling female spirit beings, yawk yawk figures, in Aboriginal Dreamtime stories from Arnhem Land which may tempt people to ignore the Law of the Land by being tempted by these mermaid-like, female spirits.
It seems that stories and interpretations of Evil are universal and thus from all times and places, so in what way is ‘Evil’ relevant to us today.

How do we interpret ‘Evil’ today and how do we look back on it in our (not so) distant past? And also in what way are historical accounts, folklore, myths, and fairytales that deal with good and evil connected to the stories of good and evil in modern-day popular culture.
More to explore it seems...


  1. I think evil is very firmly rooted in historical ideas of the supernatural. Science has demystified a lot of things that were historically ascribed to evil or malevolent forces. Evil is not a word used very often these days but I think the idea still has currency. In fact it seems to be a good way to connect the present with the past.

    Maybe Feng Shui is a current manifestation of protection from evil? And possibly some new age ideas and practices?

    Also comics are a very relevant expression of ideas of good and evil in the form of villains and heros.

    I think corporations are more and more being seen as having evil methods and practises (maybe Wall-E as an example of the potential of corporatisation to ruin the world) and also governments eg in Africa - Mugabe.

    Satan has a recurring role in South Park, and Homer Simpson has occasional Angel/Devil internal monologues.

  2. Evil and negative consequence are not the same.

  3. Thanks vena-trix
    Thanks for your suggestions.

    It is interesting you mention historical ideas of the supernatural. I guess you are making the a reference to mythology(?)

    Through this exhibition development process we are thinking about the evolution of evil, from those strong spiritual and mythological references to the secular human connections today.

    It will be interesting to see where new age ideas and practices have come from and their significance in our world today.

    The notion of corporate evil is popping up a bit in workshops and facebook too so we'll definitely be exploring that idea further. It's tricky to think about how it may be illustrated in a museum display..

    Any ideas?

  4. the 'evil inside' spoof logo immediatly spring to mind on the topic of corporate evil. this website has a nice collection of bits from the web