The ancient myth-makers knew beneath the glittering palaces of worldly power there were bullish beasts like the Minotaur lurking in the labyrinth. Likewise, beneath our surface palace there is a cavern, a cellar, a dark and bewildering labyrinth. Each of us has his own Minotaur—the fearsome blend of the man and the beast in us.
In Spain the huge black bull stumbles into the ring. There, before the cheering crowd, the matador—that curious cross between a ballet dancer and a sword fighter—engages in a duel to the death with El Toro. Like some ancient horned beast of the underworld, the black bull—virile and snorting with rage—is lured to his sacrificial death.
How strange that the Bull was worshipped across the ancient world! From the ghostly images on the walls of the caves of Lascaux to the constellation Taurus in the stars, the bull was a sacred beast.
Among the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Minoans, images, masks, and idols of the bull god abound. Whether it is the huge bulls wandering the streets of Kolkata or the golden calf worshipped by the Hebrews in the wilderness, the bull became an image of the divine. Not only was it considered a kind of god, but bulls were the supreme animal of sacrifice. On the altars of Baal, Mithras, Marduk, Jupiter, or Jahweh, the bulls would be offered and slaughtered.
Why the bull? Why did they worship the golden calf? Because the bull represents potency and power. He stands for all that is earthbound, earthy, and strong. The gold is the worldly wealth they worshipped and the horns of the black bull hint at that other horned god—the Lord of Lust and Darkness, Balrog, Baal, and Beezlebub himself.
I proposed that to understand how Jesus saves we must first understand the true nature of evil. To understand evil we must face the Minotaur. If the Black Bull stands for the drooling, lusting, potent demons of the dark, then the Minotaur stands for the terrifying hybrid of the demonic and the human, for if you remember the myths, the minotaur is a beastly blend of man and bull. A muscular giant with the head of a bull, the minotaur is the horrible result of a Queen named Pasiphaë who, in her panting lust, mated with a bull.
Asterion is the Minotaur’s name. He has the virile power of the bull combined with the intelligence and pride of man. He blends the brute strength and malice of the bull with the cunning deception of a wicked man. At once stubborn and aggressive, he is at the same time shrewd and brutally handsome. Most intriguing of all, Asterion the Minotaur is hidden in the dark.
The Minotaur is the monster under the bed—lurking in the corridors and corners of your darkest dream.
In the ancient myth, Minos the King has locked Asterion in the labyrinth—a network of passageways beneath the royal palace. The subterranean maze is made up of confusing corridors that turn and return on themselves—hallways that lead into cul-de-sacs and doors that open into empty rooms. In the center lurks the Minotaur ready to murder anyone who dares to confront him.
The citizens of Athens had killed King Minos’ son. To make reparation for his death and avoid the terrible plague, the Athenians sent seven young men and seven maidens to the palace of Minos to be sacrificed to the minotaur in the labyrinth below the palace. The hero Theseus, helped by the princess Ariadne, set out to penetrate the labyrinth, rescue the young people and kill Asterion.
The ancients understood that the real evil in the world lurks deep beneath the surface. The ancient myth-makers knew beneath the glittering palaces of worldly power there were bullish beasts. They knew beneath the king’s chambers, bright with morning light and filled with earthly delights, the Minotaur was lurking in the labyrinth. Indeed, they understood that the king’s treasures, his sumptuous banquets, his courtly courtiers and lovely ladies were all built over the labyrinth, and derived their power from the daemonic powers of the underworld.
That is why Asterion the Minotaur lives in the center of the labyrinth right below the royal palace. He is the beast bellowing below. He is the heart of evil beating beneath the shimmering surface, the lust throbbing in the heat beneath the cool façade.
It is tempting to stay in the palace. Not only are the people wealthy, kind, and good, but they seem to be doing good things in the kingdom. Perhaps they are building hospitals and schools. Certainly they are feeding the poor and improving the water supply. They are helping the homeless and raising money for worthy causes. It seems good to stay in the marble palace.
So it is with the surface life of the majority of believers. They stay in the palace of the church with nice people doing nice things to make the world a nicer place. They never approach the entrance to the subterranean labyrinth. They ignore the roars of the Minotaur, and as long as they do, they will never truly enter the battle. They will remain in the silken palace where all is comfortable and smooth.
However, in the labyrinth below, Asterion the Minotaur still bellows. Notice that the word “minotaur” is a blend of the king’s own name “Minos” and “taur” which means “bull.” In other words, the minotaur is the bestial side of the king himself and it is the king who has imprisoned Asterion in the labyrinth below. This is what we do: We lock away our demons. We hide the evil creatures of the night. This is what we do as individuals, as a family, as a church, and as a society.
The labyrinth is not only the lower level of the world. It is our underworld too. Beneath our surface palace there is a cavern, a cellar, a dark and bewildering labyrinth. Each of us has his own Minotaur—the fearsome blend of the man and the beast in us. Deep below the surface the wild things lurk in each of our hearts.
What will we find as we descend into the underworld? This is not just any maze. It is devised with the most amazing cunning. It is a complicated network of smoke and mirrors—a world of false images, lies, and deception.
Nothing is what it seems, for everything here is a lie. You thought that was a door? No, it was the reflection of a door. There is nothing there. Did you think that light at the end of the passage was the way to follow? It was put there to fool you. If you follow it you will fall into a pit. Did you think that floor was solid and sure? It is quicksand.
This labyrinth is full of traps. You enter what seems to be a banqueting hall with a table laden with a sumptuous feast, but the food turns out to be rotten and crawling with worms. Did you hear the lovely ladies singing in a room far, far away? Follow the sirens and before your eyes they will turn into harpies and whores: foul crones muttering incantations for your destruction. This is the labyrinth you must navigate to find the Minotaur.
Then when you do find the Minotaur, beware. He may have changed his appearance and seems to be a charming gentleman. He will offer you all the kingdoms of the world. He will lure you further into the trap, for he is a liar and a manifestation of the Father of Lies.
This essay is an abridged version of the second chapter of Fr. Longenecker’s book Immortal Combat.
The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.
The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay.