Mystics have a bad reputation in our materialistic, scientific culture. Mysticism is seen as wishy-washy, irrational or infantile. A mystic is out of touch with reality, more interested in their visions and inner truth.
For many people, their idea of mysticism is embodied by Maryann the Maenad in HBO’s True Blood season 2. A worshipper of Dionysus, she cavorts in the wild, revelling in her animal nature and spends most of her time drunk or stoned, enticing others into debauchery and anarchy. So here is why Maryann was deluded and why she had to die.
There’s a great scene in episode 9 (I Will Rise Up), where Tara confronts Maryann about losing control. Along with her boyfriend, Eggs, Tara has been experiencing blackouts; neither of them can remember what they’ve been getting up to. In an earlier scene Maryann feeds them a blood soaked pie containing the heart of Daphne, a hapless and fatally deluded shape-shifter. Fuelled by the pie and Maryann’s ‘energy’, Tara and Eggs beat the shit out of each other in an orgy of twisted ecstasy.
Over breakfast the next morning, feeling their bruises, Tara and Eggs try to figure out what’s going on and Maryann reveals her true motivation…
MARYANN: Why be ashamed of letting go?
TARA: Because I’ve never been this out of control.
MARYANN: Control. (beat) Control is just a cage this stupid culture uses to lock up who we really are. We need to be out of control. We crave it.
TARA: But there’s gotta be some kind of control or things would be chaos.
MARYANN: Sounds good.
EGGS: I do like a little chaos.
MARYANN: Of course you do. Everybody does. They just can’t admit it.
TARA: I don’t wanna be blacking out.
MARYANN: Is that what you think it is? Because I have a little theory about blacking out. Maybe you rose to a higher state of consciousness.
TARA: We’re all bashed up. There’s nothing higher about that except for we must have been high. My mamma blacked out for months at a time. I’m a blackout expert.
MARYANN: Are you?
MARYANN: What about the saints of India? What about the mystics of every religion?
EGGS: What about them?
MARYANN: They would black out. Run and dance through the streets, levitate, act like monkeys, run around naked. Everybody thought they were crazy.
TARA: They were crazy.
MARYANN: No, Tara. They were ecstatic. All that fake civilisation bullshit just fell away so they could dissolve into the infinite, so they could lose themselves and unite with their God.
MARYANN: Look at you. A few bumps and bruises. That’s a small price to pay for bliss.
Hmmm. Bliss, indeed.
This is not freedom or liberation. This is regression and self-indulgence, the loss of consciousness signalling an autistic denial of life – nihilism – a theme running through the whole of season 2.
True mystics are not blacking out – they retain awareness in all states, even in sleep. They know exactly what they’re doing, having attained self-mastery through surrender.
Maryann’s desire to burn through ‘fake civilisation’ and embrace chaos is irrational. It’s impossible to have life or freedom without structure. A hint of this is shown in an earlier episode when Maryann gets her knickers in a twist because the boiler has broken and she can’t have a hot shower. She has her minions running around trying to fix it while she sits and bitches. The smooth running of her life is completely dependant on the structures provided by others: the endless supply of fresh, exotic fruits and the houses she squats in while their owners are away. One tiny detail goes wrong and she throws a tantrum.
If everything really were chaos we couldn’t exist and life couldn’t know itself. The chaos would remain in the dark, unconscious. Without consciousness life simply is. Life can only mean something if it is conscious. True freedom means embracing your human consciousness, your ability to choose and be aware.
The Ancient Greeks gave equal importance to consciousness and chthonic ecstasy by putting the gods Apollo and Dionysus together in the same temple at Delphi. So the trick seems to be to honour both gods, find a balance between civilisation and bliss.
In the end, Maryann gets her wish. She surrenders to what she believes is her god and embraces death. But things are not what they seem. Maryann’s God Who Comes is really Sam in disguise as a bull (shades of the Minotaur myth here). He guts her with one of his horns, then rips out her heart, watching as her body shrivels and blackens – a meaningless death. Meaningless because it was deluded.
Unlike Godric, a 2000 year old vampire, who meets the sun in episode 9, having found some peace and consolation in the company of Sookie at the end of his too-long undead life. He meets his death in full consciousness of what he has done, the choices he has made and the way he has lived his life. It’s a death burning with joy and hope – an affirmation of the best in life.
And ultimately, that affirmation is what mysticism is all about.