Thursday, May 19, 2011

"Skull Honey"

So, because it's been asked, the name of this blog, "Skull Honey" is a roundabout biblical allusion. Though I'm not religious myself, I love a lot of the mythology* of the Bible, particularly in the old testament where events are bizarre, cruel, and weirdly tribal. The story of Samson in the book of Judges is one of my favorites.

Samson is basically a murder machine. The Biblical rationale is that his direct purpose from God is to smite down the Philistines, which is why it's so upsetting to his parents that the first thing he does is get himself engaged to a Philistine woman. On the way to court her, Samson is set upon by a lion. Being a generally Herculean type, he breaks its jaw open, leaves it dead just off the road, and tells no one, though he is much impressed by how clearly this shows that god favors him. When he comes back the same way to attend his wedding, he finds the dead lion still there, but bees have made a hive inside its head. He sticks his hand inside the sun-rotted animal head full of angry, stinging insects, gives it a taste, and finds it's genuinely delicious. That's just how Samson rolls.

At his wedding, he poses a riddle to his Philistine groomsmen: "Out of the strong, something sweet; out of the eater, something to eat." Please bear in mind at this point, Samson is the only person in the world who knows about the lion. His groomsmen threaten to burn his wife and his family alive if she doesn't find out the answer, so she asks Samson, and once she's got the answer, she gives it to the Philistines, causing Samson to lose a bet in which the stakes were nice clothes.

Samson's response is to murder thirty random people for their clothes, which he then gives to the groomsmen. Then he burns all their fields. They respond by killing his wife (whom he had abandoned by this point as untrustworthy) and her father. So he murders a great many more people and goes to hide out in a cave.

The Philistines at this point very sensibly send in an army, and Samson kills them all armed only with the jawbone of an ass. He leads Israel as a hero for many years before the part of the story people are familiar with, wherein he goes to a whore house and meets Delilah, who coos up to him, plies him with sex and big pouty puppy dog eyes and very unsubtley asks him his secret weakness.

He lies to her. Twice. Both times she attempts to cripple and murder him. Then, because Samson is apparently terrible at pattern recognition, he tells her his power is in his long beautiful hair, which is a sign of his covenant with God. So, after he's passed out from yet another go with this woman of ill repute, she cuts his hair off, puts out his eyes, and sets him to work doing hard manual labor, which he suffers for years until his hair has grown back out sufficiently. Then, as soon as he gets the chance, he pulls out the load bearing pillars of a Philistine temple on a big feast/holiday, dying, but taking hundreds of his enemies with him.

What always gets me about this story is the totally unquestioned assumption that Samson is not only a hero but a righteous man of God. The conventional wisdom is that God wanted to punish the Philistines and Samson is the flawed tool by which he accomplished that end (his flaw being in this case less the unprovoked murder and more that he got distracted from it by one of the worst romantic choices in the history of literature), but if you take God out of the equation, you have the portrait of a violent psychopath who is accepted by those around him as a hero and a holy man. The gulf between interpretations and all the room to play around within it is what draws me to the story.

Slightly more specifically, I'd had an image in my head for some time of a rural character who was convinced they were a warrior for God and had built a pile of animal skulls in which they were keeping bees, after the fashion of Samson. When I was looking for a blog title ("Digital Ululation" was the first runner up), I thought about that image, and I liked all that the phrase "skull honey" brought up for me. In addition to the literary illusion, it was grim and sweet, and sounded like a really roundabout, poetic way to say "thoughts".

And that's the story of my blog.

*People will sometimes take issue with applying the word "mythology" to the Bible. I don't dispute anyone's right to take it as literal truth if they like, and I've known a number of both kind and clever people who do. But I do ask that people, irrespective of their belief in its truth or not, admit that it also walks in the fine company of works like the Iliad and the Bhagavad Gita: a collection of semi-historical stories and lessons couched in a specific religious context. A body of work we collectively refer to as myths.

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