We’ve added monsters

When our cave ancestors huddled around their fires, it was the light of burning logs and branches that kept the creatures of darkness at bay. Since those ancient times, werewolves, demons, dragons, satyrs, goblins, leviathans, banshees and bogeymen have peopled our stories by day and our dreams by night. By the Middle Ages, European mapmakers were filling the blank spaces on their charts with two-headed dwarves and one-eyed children, women with goat’s feet and women with snakes for hair, men with horses’ bodies and anthropods whose single foot doubled as an umbrella to shade them from the heat – monsters who all pointed to the wonder-filled and terrifying possibilities of God’s creation.

But how are monsters faring in a 21st century of central heating, instant communication, adventure tourism and year-round, 24-hour, neon lighting?

These days, we re-run monsters on the late-night movie channel, packaging them for easy, ironic consumption. We’ve left fear so far behind, we eat monsters for breakfast.

And yet.

Bestiaries still fascinate and phantasmagoria still thrill. Kids still shiver at campfire stories, and, over coffee, we recount unfathomable urban mysteries. When we pull back the covers, we find monsters in our heads and in our hearts, monsters we hide from, and monsters we hide behind, monsters we blame for atrocities we can’t otherwise explain, and monsters we may never fully glimpse. To Frankenstein and Leviathan, Grendel and the Wicked Witch, we’ve added monsters our grandparents couldn’t have imagined, plastic, polluting, disposable, heavily-armed, heavily-armored, highly-scheduled, commodified, mercenary, bio-tech-ed, and hairsprayed monsters of the heart, soul, earth, mind and sky. And, whew, do they scare us.

The shadows our cave ancestors kept at bay are roiling up around the edges, reminding us that they’ve never really gone away, reminding us that monsters have always embodied our fears, pointing us to meanings we might not otherwise face. In a creation full of wonders, fraught with dangers, peopled by strangers, and shaped increasingly by corporate values, monsters stand between our all-too-human fears and mysteries of the divine.

“Here be monsters.”

Miriam Meinders and Kathleen Venema are guest editors for Issue seven of Geez magazine.

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