This chapter explores the construction of evil and the strategies of violence in purification. Prurient fascination and righteous revulsion both recreate and repel each other, developing an anxiety of confusion that has resulted in many circumstances in community efforts to cast the subject, the symbol, of that confusion. Erotic prurience into the nature and deeds of Evil may remain as a living genre for centuries without lending itself to societies as legitimation for purge. Dramaturgy and procession can contribute to brutal but cathartic narratives of saints and monsters, martyrs, and their persecutors, into the immediate festival lives of communities. Furthermore, brutality and atrocity are recurrent characteristics of any culture, often aggravated in situations of historical stress independent of religious systems.
This chapter investigates how violence gets into religious texts and how it gets out of them, into action. Religious literatures clearly help to provide archives of cosmologies, memories, personalities, and symbols for collective imagination. Trauma, terror, pain and the like are among the fundamental components of religious literature, and conjure a violent imaginary, which, by definition, takes shape in violent acts. It surely modifies wartime actions constituted within ancient literature, in some cases saturating warlike acts with sacrificial themes. Upon reading, hearing, or seeing, it is hard to imagine that any conscious being would not be focused by a spectacle of violent destruction, grasping immediately the specter of his or her own demise.
This chapter reviews the selected religious myths of violent death under three rubrics: when death is primordially wrong; when violent death is cosmically right; and when violent death, particularly in the form of suicide, is enshrined as martyrdom. A brief speculation on religious imagination and its peculiar obsessions is given. There are few themes in religious studies that justify a sweeping overview, but violent death is recurrent enough to be one of them. The biblical Chaoskampf theme needs death, rescue, and restoration. Two motifs that illustrate the violent deaths are the dema and the Chaoskampf. The first focuses on the victim, the other on the victor. The spectacle of violent death has concentrated individuals and mobs across traditions. Although the examples presented consider the mythology of violent death, the ritualistic display of violent death could have been treated in equal breadth.