So, I heard on Journalista the other day that Neil Gaiman is offering his novel American Gods for free online for a month. I’d never read it, having had a friend read it for a high school project and haaate it. I’d always meant to give it a shot for myself, though and hey, free’s free, so I went ahead and started it. I just came to this passage, where the main character, Shadow, is talking to a girl, Sam, about Herodotus.
“And there’re battles in there, all sorts of normal things. And then there are the gods. Some guy is running back to report on the outcome of a battle and he’s running and running, and he sees Pan in a glade. And Pan says, ‘Tell them to build me a temple here.’ So he says okay, and runs the rest of the way back. And he reports the battle news, and then says, ‘Oh, and by the way, Pan wants you to build him a temple.’ It’s really matter-of-fact, you know?”
“So there are stories with gods in them. What are you trying to say? That these guys had hallucinations?”
“No,” said Shadow. “That’s not it.”
She chewed a hangnail. “I read some book about brains,” she said. “My roommate had it and she kept waving it around. It was like, how five thousand years ago the lobes of the brain fused and before that people thought when the right lobe of the brain said anything it was the voice of some god telling them what to do. It’s just brains.”
“I like my theory better,” said Shadow.
“What’s your theory?”
“That back then people used to run into the gods from time to time.”
“I bet it’s like space aliens,” she said. “These days, people see space aliens. Back then they saw gods. Maybe the space aliens come from the right side of the brain.”
American Gods was published in 2001. In the the collected version of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, published 1999, Moore expands in the appendix on something his character Gull says:
Gull’s remarks about how divine visions are reported quite routinely in ancient historical accounts are born out by everyone from the historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth, to the Old Testament including a mass of old parish records along the way. One account in the Roman military logs tells how a column of troops had reached a river which they suspected was too fast and deep for them to cross, even though the delay might add days to their march. At this point, the log records, the Great God Pan appeared, picked up one of the heralds trumpets, waded easily across the river and blew a fanfare upon reaching the opposite bank. Unsurprisingly, the soldiers took this to auger that they should cross the river, which they did in perfect safety and continued with their march as planned. As Gull remarks here, medical researches seem to indicate that the corpus callosum–the strand of neural gristle that connects the twin lobes of our brain–has become more complex and efficient across the centuries. As a purely personal speculation, I would point out that in today’s world, the act of crossing a busy road is similar to the problem afforded the Romans by the river. We judge, by looking and listening, how far away the approaching cars are, which way they are coming and how fast they are bearing down upon us. Somewhere in the depths of our subconscious an extremely complex calculation is performed at lightning speed, telling us how fast we need to walk in order to cross the road in safety. That message is then flashed from our unconscious right brain to our conscious left brain across the narrow causeway of gristle that connects the two
If we accept that in the past the connection between the two halves of the brain was less sophisticated, then presumably there would have been a different relationship between our conscious and unconscious minds. Perhaps the subconscious of the Roman soldiers was perfectly capable of making lightning calculations as to the river’s depth and the speed of its current, but was unable to pass it to their conscious minds int he direct manner that modern brains employ. Could it be that the visions of gods or supernatural figures that populate our histories are projections, messages from an unconscious that was at the time unable to communicate in any other way?
Carl Jung has suggested that even such comparatively modern phenomena as UFOs may be projections of what he calls the mass unconscious.
Reference to Pan? Two lobes of the brain? UFOs? I guess Alan Moore’s influence on Gaiman didn’t stop when Gaiman stopped making comics.
Originally published at The angriest rice cooker in the world. You can comment here or there.