|Lu Song 'Bonfire Night'|
Akeldama: The Field of Blood
The legend goes something like this. Judas accepted 30 coins for the betrayal of Jesus Christ. In some legends it is said that this is the land in which he died through committing suicide. The blood of this act becoming the fertilizer of connection. In other accounts this money was used to purchase a piece of land to bury foreigners and those not of local customs. In short, the 'other.'
Known now as a 'potter's field,' most cities use these places for the burial of those who had no family, no money, or were not able to be identified. In crass language, these places are the burial grounds for what the normative society considers (whether explicitly stated or not), detritus, dross, that which is perceived as providing no purpose.
The name potter's field comes from the ruddy clay found here and its use among ceramicists. The potency of which is unmatched. If we take this as a metaphor for society at large we may say that the most superb works of artistry and grander, the very vessels which contain the constituents of our active lives (the water which we live on) are kept in form by solidified blood of those unknown to us. The black gold which fuels the entirety of modern society being just one example of this.
Hart Island, NYC
Perhaps the most infamous potter's field in the United States is that of Hart Island, NY. Not far from the Bronx borough, this small island has been used to bury the unknown for hundreds of years and still remains so to this day. Thousands of victims of the coronavirus were recently buried here. By the time of this writing the island remains practically inaccessible to the public, with only a handful of sanctioned visits allowed every year for those with the proper documentation.
A worthy charity and resource for information, the Hart Island Project is a non profit dedicated to accessibility and information around this highly guarded locale. You can find more information here.
Central Cross, a place of gathering spirits, on Hart Island, NY. Via Untapped Cities.
To this day the island is maintained by prisoners from New York's Riker's Island, cementing its status as a place for those who have been deemed other by the society at large. With over a million burials, many comprising the epidemics of AIDS, the Spanish Flu, and the recent Coronavirus, there is no doubt that this most foreboding place carries on the associations with all potter's fields; that is, as a gathering of forces deemed anti life, or against the order.
Whether it be the prisoners who maintain this land or the ill and unidentified personages who constitute its soil, we see the parallels in contemporary guise to that which is Judas-like. And where, if anywhere, might there be redemption for these tales of utter tragedy? The biblical narrative has Judas guilt ridden and suicide bound. From here on we follow the Passion and the eventual resurrection of Christ as the primary message of import. As this is the story we are all familiar with there is no sense in rehashing it. That said, what of the discarded parts? What happens to the ones who are placed out there for their crimes?
One primary pre-Biblical analogue to the story of Christ's betrayal is that of the Egyptian gods Osiris and his brother Set. With multiple variations on the story, the primary feature is the murder of a beloved figure by his own brother; the ultimate betrayal as it comes from one who is considered family and of the same blood. Set, representative of the color red, the desert and the hot winds therein, as well as foreigners and the like, is something of a Near Eastern archetype later embodied in the likes of Judas Iscariot. In his fratricide he is often seen as cutting his brother into pieces which he scatters into various places. From the biblical narrative we see the body of Christ and his murder equivocated into 30 pieces of silver; the scant material worth of this inexplicable deed.
Using the dialectics of astrology we see the body of Osiris as moon, split apart into various phases and pieces which will eventually recombine into wholeness once again. This is of course the lunar cycle of waxing and waning, the relationship of which is due to that between the sun, the moon and the earth. In this way, to look upon the moon as the only truth is to see Christ simply in material form. It is the shedding of the material form, in this case initiated by the betrayal, in which we see the spirit reborn as the rising sun. Therefore, the 30 pieces of silver are scattered about the field, the forms of the moon as material manifestation, and nourished on the blood of those who die in darkness. These are undoubtedly the seeds. Millions of spermatozoon, so few who reach fertilization. An ant colony with greater purpose; particulars damned to an unrecognized existence by the mass.
Of course the comparison to Christ and Judas is not the only one. Similar motifs are found in the story of Cain and Abel, wherein Cain murders his brother as the beloved of God and is consequently sent into exile. It is not by accident that Cain engenders the growth of industry and cities through his progeny; that is, those forces which seek to separate themselves from nature, god, or whatever macrocosmic definition you might use. City life as we know it is almost entirely built upon the backs of these same unknown persons. The laborers, the prisoners, the slaves, all of which constitute the potter's field of modern life itself.
Twilight, but, for real...
Reading through Claude Lecouteux's The Secret History of Vampires one is reminded of their revenant-nature. Though pop culture has done much to play up the more seductive elements of vampirism, we have very much lost touch with the vampire's connection to the restless dead; in particular those who were not given the proper funerary rituals and the like. In this case there has been a disturbance of some kind wherein the soul's passage to the afterlife is interfered with and they are left betwixt worlds. This also occurs when someone dies violently, suddenly, or in most cases out of the ordinary. Another element that remains from the folklore is an insatiable hunger. Often times this comes from a lingering attachment to bodily desires. Yet what is the context of hunger we see the most? Well, blood, of course.
The constituents of Akeldama are surely of a vampiric nature. Our brief list of the above criteria says as much. How is this so? The Field of Blood, ruddy, rich with material, is the land of hopes, dreams, and all of those impulses towards desire which remain dashed or seemingly unfulfilled. This redness, signifying passion, is not the passion of an ascetic saint and especially of Christ himself. This is the passion of his opposite. Debauchery, intoxication, and all forms of blood drinking as consumption of the stuff of life, constitutes the field in which the seeds of the moon come to fertilize. Nocturnal musings of the poetic variety as well as all forms of grotesque artistry may be found here.
In a less romantic light we see the desires of working people, humanity at large, ground down by industry and hard labor into world in which we see before us. This is passion of another variety. The so called American Dream and the like.
Judas in Guatemala
One of the most popular folk saints of modern Guatemala stands as a testament to these same interplays. San Simon, also known as Maximon, is of the people. More often than not the requests which are delivered to him pertain to everyday needs sought by the working class and impoverished people's out of true necessity. In this way he exists as folk saint, a hero to the people, and like most folk saints rarely encouraged or sanctioned by the official religious structure in which the people reside.
His feast day is celebrated on October 28th, not only nearing the festivals of the Dead and the Underworld but also marked by the sun's entrance into tropical Scorpio, or the place wherein the solar Christ will be betrayed by the backbiting sting of the scorpion. October 28th is also the Feast of St Jude, interestingly sharing a name with Judas Iscariot as well as being patron for those people and situations which are considered 'lost causes;' in other words, the saint for those who populate the field of blood.
In his article Judas Off the Noose, C. James MacKenzie illustrates the incorporation of the Judas-like San Simon into a syncretic Mayan cosmology:
"Judas, in his incarnation in the Guatemalan tradition of San Simon, is not, at least for those most interested, an object of scorn; his image (with a few exceptions) is not destroyed. When considered "Judas," my consultants often stressed their opinion that Iscariot repented, through his suicide, and was subsequently forgiven and even blessed for his betrayal of Christ. Through this process of cosmic betrayal, Judas accrues spiritual powers of a rather different order than his more straight-laced, orthodox cousins in the church, such as his own stand-in, Saint Jude. Judas's death in the Maya context is not so much a solitary suicide, but a communal execution which itself transcends death, and domesticates age as well as wild and chaotic spiritual power - the noose, here, is comparable with the cross as an instrument of sacrifice necessary for rebirth."
As there are a multitude of diverse perspectives among various Maya and indigenous communities, it cannot be said that they all hold any one opinion universally. This in mind, for the sake of generality, one may say that the perspective on polarities amongst indigenous communities is often times complimentary rather than purely oppositional and separately dualistic. Taking a general look at marginalized groups (those who have been oppressed through colonization, racism, slavery, poverty) we see a similar phenomenon. The necessity of work, of survival, of material concern in general and the dangers therein, are not in themselves mutually exclusive from spirituality or religious concern.
The Potter, The Artist
Contrary to the lesson learned in Christ's renewal, we are left with choices that do not seem as clear as a charitable sacrifice for the good of humanity. Saints and artists are often likened to one another through their similarities in sacrifice to 'something greater.' One to the spirit of a particular religion. One to the spirit of their creativity.
As we see within the mystery of the moon's changing shapes, the path for those who wish to shape the forms of life (remember the progeny of Cain) is one fret with danger. The field of blood is populated with these same hopes; that is, the desire to make a mark, to be seen, to love, but also those of revenge and certain madness. What is the lesson of the potters? Those who use the richness of this clay for their most beautiful creations? Herein we return to the mysteries of creation itself; God's breathing of life into the clay which begets Adam and the human race. This great work is each time reenacted, yet we must be aware of our intentions and the materials therein. We must be aware of our results.