Book review: How to kill a god? Anna Della Subin dissects myths of men turned divine

29/1/2022 7:27:00 AM

Book review: How to kill a god? Anna Della Subin dissects myths of men turned divine

4 out of 5In Jamaica in the 1930s, a newly crowned Ethiopian king began to be hailed as a god. In spite of Haile Selassie I's protestations, the African diaspora started seeing signs wherever he went and in whatever he did.Tens of thousands gathered at the airport when he finally set foot in Jamaica in 1966, tugging at his robe, falling at his feet.

The ensuing chaos scared the so-called god-king, who retreated to his plane and was trapped there for hours, fearing for his own safety.This unlikely exaltation of the head of the Rastafari movement begins Anna Della Subin's meaty debut, Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine, which blurs the lines between the sacred and profane.

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Available here 4 out of 5 In Jamaica in the 1930s, a newly crowned Ethiopian king began to be hailed as a god. In spite of Haile Selassie I's protestations, the African diaspora started seeing signs wherever he went and in whatever he did. Tens of thousands gathered at the airport when he finally set foot in Jamaica in 1966, tugging at his robe, falling at his feet. The ensuing chaos scared the so-called god-king, who retreated to his plane and was trapped there for hours, fearing for his own safety. This unlikely exaltation of the head of the Rastafari movement begins Anna Della Subin's meaty debut, Accidental Gods: On Men Unwittingly Turned Divine, which blurs the lines between the sacred and profane. Subin is a senior editor at Bidoun, an arts and culture- focused non-profit organisation founded for those from the Middle East and its diasporas. She deconstructs the divine myths that people have spun of men who walk, talk and eat among the rest of humanity, and argues that these superstitions cannot be dismissed as forces in history. She writes about British socialist and later Indian National Congress president Annie Besant, who was grooming a boy as a vessel for the next coming of Christ while she was agitating for Indian home rule - a story synchronous with that of Mahatma Gandhi, whose own religious charisma caused him to turn himself in to the authorities after it sparked fatal violence. She tells also of British explorer Captain James Cook, who was lynched by the islanders of Hawaii in 1779, supposedly because some among them thought they were re-enacting their creation myth of Kumulipo. When Cook failed to resurrect, this act of deicide was seen by some islanders as the beginning of their society's disintegration, even as their indigenous queen desperately sought to prove behind prison walls that she herself was linked to the beginning of the universe. But Subin's stories are not just curiosities. They make the point that those who are deified are almost always white and male, shoring up power structures that have allowed white societies to propagate the notion of their own superiority. By explaining how these myths have come about - mistranslated and exaggerated by those set to benefit, then retaught to the colonised and codified in text - Subin wants to kill some gods herself. "How do you kill a god, if not by bludgeoning, stabbing, piercing, splitting, dismembering, boiling, roasting, distributing? Is it through rewriting history, by exposing the machinations beneath myths, by breaking open syllables so that whatever is sacred inside spills out?" she writes. Her fascinating project is one that asks what is stopping everyone from becoming gods, rather than the select few. In the beginning, the serpent tempted men by suggesting that"Ye shall be as gods". Subin allows herself to be tempted, but only if the infinite suits all humanity."I follow the serpent," she pledges. If you like this, read: Maoism: A Global History by Julia Lovell (Vintage Publishing, 2020, $27.95, available here ) on how the Chinese leader became deified in his home country, a role model in South America and a symbol of popular resistance in the West. More On This Topic