All along the U.S. / Mexico border, government agents and armed vigilantes mobilize to stop the invasion of dirty (diseased), or lazy (go on welfare), or persistent (take our jobs away) “illegal aliens.” But mostly, we build walls to keep out the Other (unless we need him to work in our fields, mow our lawns and wash our dishes). Politicians regularly call for funding to extend the Southern California border wall all the way to East Texas.
In the previous essay I wrote about the (mostly negative) images that the American paranoid imagination has projected onto Mexicans, and the social price that both nations have paid for our refusal to acknowledge our own fantasies of liberation from the Puritan repression of our indigenous souls. When we see those images instead of actual persons, we are seeing stereotypes.
But when mythologists hear of stereotypes, we take the cue and look deeper, in search of the archetypes. We think of other famous walls built to keep out the barbarians in China, in the West Bank, in Jericho, in Berlin. We know that when it’s convenient, gatekeepers such as Ronald Reagan will happily stand with the majority (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”) for a photo-op. And when it isn’t, they won’t.
And we remember the great walls that were unable to keep Dionysus and his bacchants out of Thebes. Dionysus is the archetypal Other who destroys inappropriate boundaries. Here is his basic rule: the higher and thicker the walls, the greater the repression (or oppression), the more furious and unforgiving his response. Like the mestizos (hybrids of Spain and Native America) coming to reclaim their territory – or like the Palestinians who are indigenous to their land – he penetrates the defenses on his way home, because he is our own self. But Dionysus can destroy the walls – and perhaps the whole city – when he is disrespected.
His half-brother Hermes offers us an alternative to the explosive return of the repressed. He mediates the boundaries (physical, social and mental) rather than destroying them. So Hermes is the patron deity of those who live at or attempt to cross the borders: traders, translators, gamblers, furniture movers, psychotherapists, negotiators, diplomats, bankers, smugglers, thieves and all travellers, including immigrants. For a more detailed discussion, see my blog # 71: https://madnessatthegates.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/barrys-blog-71-the-con-man-part-three/
Hermes is Trickster and Guide of Souls, leading the dead into the underworld. But he is also the awakening angel who leads Persephone and Eurydice back out of the darkness. Trickster offers us the possibility of seeing the world from a new perspective, challenging our rigidities and privileged perceptions. This boundary-crosser can also create new boundaries, borders, symbols, metaphors and forms of community. But, as Lewis Hyde explains, if we close the borders to the healing that Hermes offers, we must face the rage of Dionysus:
There is no way to suppress change, the story says, not even in Heaven; there is only a choice between a way of living that allows constant, if gradual alterations and a way of living that that combines great control and cataclysmic upheavals. Those who panic and bind the trickster choose the latter path.
As I have written before, in certain schools of Native American wisdom it is highly recommended to invite trickster into the tent so that he is pissing outward, rather than keeping him outside the tent and pissing inward. So we recall one more stereotype: “making a run for the border,” both the movie trope and the Taco Bell ad.
Imagine the gatekeepers relaxing their vigilance long enough to acknowledge the truth that both Hermes and Dionysus have been offering: the Other has so much to offer. Imagine the good citizens happily running into the arms of the Other, moving gladly into liminal space, taking refuge in otherness. There is a graffiti on the Mexican side of the border fence: Turn this wall on its side and make a bridge!
D. H. Lawrence was willing to listen to the Other:
What is the knocking? What is the knocking at the door in the night? It’s somebody wants to do us harm. No, no, it is the three strange angels. Admit them, admit them.