The Headless Hydra

The Headless Hydra

August 17, 2020 0 By Anton

In 1996, Brian Warner released his most iconic album to-date, Antichrist Superstar. The album marked his statement as an artist and delivered what many regarded as one of the most potent, shocking and aggressive criticisms of “modern” society. In the song which bears the album’s title, he sings:

“Cut the head off

Grows back hard

I am the Hydra

Now you’ll see your star”

That was my first encounter with the idea of the Hydra, almost 20 years ago. As both Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade have explained throughout their works on the world’s religions and mythologies, the Hydra (sometimes portrayed as dragons or water serpents / beasts) typically represent the Unknown, a lack of structure, or Chaos 1.

The Hydra is an ancient concept, charged with all the fears and frustrations that are wired in us as creatures of stability, order and guidance. For example, in ancient Babylon, the myth of Marduk, the multi-eyed god, fought and killed Tiamat, a water dragon made of “watery” chaos. As a result of Marduk’s victory, the ordered world came to be.

Tiamat, Mesopotamian Mother Goddess: From Chaos to Creation ...
Source: Public Domain, Marduk vs. Tiamat

There are many such stories around the world, in which the representation of Chaos is slain2 and the world of order emerges. For example: Lotan and Hadad, Leviathan and Yahweh, Illuyanka and Tarhunt and so on.

Source: Public Domain, The defeat of the Leviathan

But Chaos cannot be contained – it inevitably returns, in a different form, with different intensity. Brian Warner’s career as a singer is one such manifestation, for example.

The primary medium through which the Hydra recovers and reveals itself is the realm of thought manifested through language: words, metaphors, concepts, stories, myths, ideologies and so on – all such linguistic constructions carry within them the seed of chaos, because their existence is fluid, like the nature of Chaos. However, language need not be written – various art forms such as painting, music and film are also venues through which the Hydra can regain its forces.

Note that we are speaking here of “constructions”, which are forms of order, the antithesis of Chaos. This is a key aspect of the Hydra: it forever leaks or drips through everything, even through Existence, which is the “highest” manifestation of order. So, to repeat: Chaos cannot be contained.

Due to new technologies which enables faster and therefore, quantitatively more engagement with such constructions of language, the Hydra no longer needs to recover its heads to wreak havoc on forms of order. What this means is that the times when a fully fledged work of philosophy or theology or science was needed to shake the foundations of the current socio-cultural and economic paradigms are gone. An image, a song, a line and a click are all that it takes to weaken order’s dominance over disorder.

In other words, the Hydra no longer needs its heads to spit fire. It has evolved – the Headless Hydra.

That said, the speed and scale of Chaos’s impact is not simply due to new technology – the groundwork for ideas, sets of ideas (ideologies, moral values, cultural norms) and institutions which enforce these ideas must be done before, not necessarily with the view to create disorder but usually with the intention to generate change.

Change however comes through force: it occurs when the previously constructed structures are under siege for enough time so that their foundations (metaphysical or concrete – fundamental ideas or pillars of cement) weaken, tremble and eventually start to collapse. This is neither positive nor negative, good nor evil – moral qualifications of any sort are inappropriate when discussing Chaos for it is amoral. Chaos is fair – it simply happens in us, through us and with us.

Chaos however is not entirely destructive – it is both destruction and creation in one. Chaos is also not an uncontrollable state, for it succumbs when the right mix of cognitive processes is put in motion. Reason, imagination and emotion, together and not in isolation create this mix with which and through which we, as human beings – forms of order, can manifest states with which Chaos “cooperates”.

More specifically, the Headless Hydra responds to choice: each one of us, individually, chooses and with each choice, part of Chaos transforms into more ordered states – of course, these outcomes are on a spectrum of order: the more abstract structures are more chaotic in nature than the less abstract ones. However, the key idea for now is that choice is the key in handling Chaos.

  1. See as examples: Carl Jung’s Red Book and The Collective Unconscious, and Mircea Eliade’s Myth and Reality or A History of Religious Ideas. You can also see Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning
  2. See here and here