Monday, September 26, 2011

Leviathan: The Mythology of Supernatural, Update #1

Okay, Supernatural writers … so … you brought out the LEVIATHAN, eh?

My hat is off to you, Supernatural writers. You guys (or girls?) certainly kicked off Season 7 with some seriously “old school” baddies of Judeo-Christian lore.

Let me start by putting at least one thing straight … I have noticed that a lot of people are referring to Leviathan as an “old demon.” However, this would technically only be “half-correct.” Leviathan (a.k.a. “The Slant Serpent”) is definitely old, VERY OLD. Leviathan is so old, in fact, that this gargantuan chunk of beasty was a part of Semitic folklore long before (possibly a couple thousand years before) the concept of demons had even entered into the later Judaic tradition.

The name Leviathan, simply put, refers to one of the original bad boys who occupied the dark side of the cosmic balance in the very first days of the Creation.

Remember this early line from Genesis? (no, not the band … the BOOK): "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Well … you might say that Leviathan was one of the VERY nasty things that were among “the deep,” a creature of “the void,” a titanic occupant of “the waters” … more or less referring to the primordial waters of creation. And, as any woman who has ever birthed a child could attest … creation can be a violent and frightening occurrence. And we aren’t talking about the birth of just a single human being, here … this was the birth of a pretty big chunk of the cosmos (if not the whole thing). There are a large number of references to Leviathan in demonology. However, the creature’s mentions in biblical texts can be pretty limited or vague by comparison.

So … let’s have a look then, shall we?

First of all, it is important to note that (in Supernatural 07.01) Leviathan entered Castiel out of PURGATORY, not Hell. Since, in the Supernatural mythos, demons are kept in Hell and the souls of monsters are held in Purgatory … this makes sense. Leviathan is not a demon, as I have already stated, but something far older and more along the lines of what Judeo-Christian texts often refer to as the “Serpent of Old.”

So, by this rationale, the use of “sea monster” would definitely seem a fitting description. Leviathan certainly is said to have, at least at one time, dwelled freely in the dark realm of “the deep” and “the waters.”

And remember that whole “Jonah in the Belly of the Whale” story in II Kings (or the Book of Jonah in Judaic texts)? Well … that was no “whale.” Jonah was swallowed by the Leviathan (at God’s/YHVH’s bidding), because he refused to deliver a divine message from the God of the Israelites to the people of Nineveh and had fled his duty as a prophet (at the time, the Israelites were not on very good terms with the people of Nineveh, a powerful Assyrian city in which the Israelites were held captive for a time, around roughly 720 BCE). However, there are some Jewish midrash texts (midrash texts are sort of like commentaries) which claim Jonah was actually swallowed by a giant fish … which was then almost swallowed by Leviathan. These versions of the tale usually state that Jonah avoided being devoured by Leviathan (more or less, avoided being in the belly of a big fish that was itself in the belly of a sea monster) by brandishing the “Seal of Abraham” (which is, more or less, an 8-pointed star). Needless to say, there are some holes in this version of the story ... but that's not really the point.

But why would YHVH send such a frightening and uber-powerful monstrosity to threaten (or swallow, depending on which version you go with) the wayward Jonah? Well … Judeo-Christian tradition states that Leviathan is, after all, but one of the many creations of God/YHVH. In fact, Psalm 104 even gives thanks to YHVH for all of creation, including Leviathan: “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches. So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships; there is that Leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.”

And here we have a reference to a later prophecy, with the whole "in due season" part, which is discussed in Isaiah 27:1: “In that day the Lord with His sore and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the slant serpent, and Leviathan the tortuous serpent; and He will slay the dragon that is in the sea.

Notice that the above excerpt seems to mention Leviathan as if there is more than one? Well, this is because Leviathan itself is not one entity, but a combination of all the embodiments of the ancient forces of creation & destruction. Depending on the source, Leviathan is said to be a monstrous beast that combines (but is not limited to) such ancient baddies as Samael, Ashmodai, one version of Lilith (see the below excerpt from the book), and Behemoth. Later on in the tradition, however, it must be mentioned that Behemoth and Leviathan came to be viewed as two separate entities. Think of it like this: Behemoth is thought of as a Leviathan, but not as the Leviathan. This is likely due to the fact that the word Leviathan eventually came to be used as a general term for any large sea creature (including whales … hence all the confusion in the Jonah story).

Lastly, the above quote from Isaiah is believed by some religious/myth scholars to have found a place in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation 12:7-12: “And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon along with his own angels fought them, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in Heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

Below is an excerpt from The Mythology of Supernatural, which I have noticed that some people are already quoting on the internet forums … so I figure it is not too big a deal if I post it here. This excerpt discusses Leviathan’s relation to Lilith and his combined nature (FYI – this was written halfway through Season 6 … so I find it interesting that the writers of Supernatural ended up using the concept of Leviathan):
Judaic demonology and folklore states that it was in the depths of the sea that Lilith became the wife of one of the Four Demon Princes of Hell, Samael, in his form as the ‘Slant Serpent’ Leviathan, to which Lilith became the female version counterpart. The coupling of these two figures came to be called Leviathan, the name by which this creature is now known. During the end times, as written in the Old Testament book of Isaiah 27:1, ‘In that day God, with his mighty sword, shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that Slant Serpent; and He shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.’

Okay, I am going to end this post here. However, if anyone has further questions regarding Leviathan, the mythology of the new season, and/or The Mythology of Supernatural, feel free to post them in the comments here on the blog, send them to me on my Twitter page (NatRBrown), or in the “Discussions” section of my Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Nathan-Robert-Brown/e/B002OIHVIK/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

I will keep posting updates each week (and responding to reader questions) for as long as there are updates to post and/or questions to answer.

As always, thanks to you all for your support! Looking forward to seeing where Season 7 takes us!

Nathan R. Brown

3 comments:

  1. Hi there, nice article - I have an issue with your statement "Think of it like this: Behemoth is thought of as a Leviathan, but not as the Leviathan"

    According to the book of Job, Behemoth is a land creature while Leviathan is a sea creature!

    ReplyDelete
  2. To 1st post anonymous:

    Ill spell it out for you =)

    Behemoth is thought of as A Leviathan, but not THE Leviathan

    "Think of it like this: Behemoth is thought of as a Leviathan, but not as the Leviathan"

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like the research you got going here. But if you want the true image of a Leviathan, check out Job 43. (the entire chapter) it's not that long but it's pretty indepth :)

    ReplyDelete

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