Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Tarim and the Other Gods" (Religion and Spirituality in Cerebus, Part One)

In the beginning, Cerebus was conceived by Dave Sim as taking place in roughly the same world where the Conan comic books by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith, based on Robert E. Howard's famous barbarian, took place: a lost ancient world where magic worked and multiple gods were not only believed in but actually existed.

Gods mentioned in the first six issues, that is the first year of bi-monthly publication, include Clovis, Terim, Tarim, Tauran, Set, Ishtar and Ashtoth (in order of first appearance)

Dave says "Terim" began as a misspelling of "Tarim" (although "Terim" actually appears first). After the first two issues it does not appear again until it is used in a completely different context.

"Terim" first appears as part of a spell spoken by the Wizard in the first issue: "Ak-Aman ra taak se Terim sera" I'm guessing about the capitalization, as of course all letters are in all caps, just like most comic book lettering.

What's interesting is that this is just *before* the first appearance of "Tarim," when the spell goes awry and misses its target and the Wizard says, "Tarim! My aim is getting lousy, too!"

We next see Terim in "The Eye of Terim," a valuable and presumably sorcerously powerful gem guarded by the Demon Khem. We know that Terim here is meant to be a god of some kind, because the narration mentions "priests of Terim" in describing the Eye and its history.

The thing that makes one wonder whether Dave is telling the whole truth (I can see no motive for him to lie, but it may be a case of not remembering correctly), is that two pages after the introduction of the Eye of Terim, Cerebus sees it -- or what he thinks is it, and the narration says:

"The Eye of Terim, the most precious of the Five Spheres of the Gods!"

Yet reacting to it, Cerebus says, "Tarim! What a prize!"

There seems to be a clear delineation here, and both times "Terim" occurs there's a "Tarim" right nearby

In any case it's very clear that Terim was not a female version of the all-encompassing God of monotheists, as she became. Indeed, she does not seem to have originally been a she. Carrying what he believes to be the Eye of Terim, Cerebus is described by the narrator thusly:

"The aardvark soon learns that the eye of a northern god is weighty indeed . . . "

So Terim was originally a northern god -- not goddess. Of course, eventually the Tarim/Terim dichotomy grew into something more, a bone of contention between the Orthodox Tarimites and the Cirinists/Kevillists, who were likewise monotheistic but believed God to be female.

But all that came later. Originally, these were just names thrown around. "Tarim" is, from the first, by far the most common god name in the early issues of Cerebus, appearing 25 times. Clovis is next with 12. But Tarim is clearly not THE GOD in the early days, but one of many. You can tell this not only by the oaths that are thrown around, but by statements lumping him together with others. In #5, the narrator describes Cerebus looking at the idol that looks so much like him:

"He stands before the idol. It seems diminished at close quarters -- a decoration, perhaps . . . But a god? Tarim, Ashtoth, these were gods -- they brought war, pain, they killed without reason or apology . . . "

And in #8, there is the son of the Conniptin King, Hezzreth, who says early on "I am the son of a god in-car-nate! My personal mystic has declared me a god as well . . . " Later, the following exchange occurs between Hezzreth Jr. (who is not actually given a name) and the Conniptin Commander (likewise):

JR: Tarim!

COMMANDER: Your Lordship?

JR: Not now, idiot -- Tarim and the other gods are in need of my aid in a great god war! I'm coming Tarim!

That sums up Tarim's position in the early days of Cerebus: "Tarim and the other gods."

There is also "Demonhorn," which falls between issues #5 and #6 and describes an encounter between Cerebus and a minor god called M'isly. This establishes pretty firmly that in Cerebus' world, gods are real entities, taking usually humanoid form and subject to human-like emotions and capable of being harmed. They are absolutely, positively NOT the all-powerful, all-knowing, somewhat abstract and ultimately unknowable God of Abraham on Whom the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths are all based.

As we shall see, Tarim would come to be a rough analog for Christ, a "living God" who once walked the earth as a man and is worshipped by a Church with a hierarchical structure of priests headed by a Pope (actually two Popes, but that's a story for another time). But there can be no mistaking the fact that this is an evolution of the original idea and the idea of Tarim in these early stories really doesn't mesh with the later Tarim-as-Christ analogy that allowed Dave to lampoon modern televangelists and the like.

Next, we'll examine this evolution, and how it may have been already underway before the Big Vision -- and if not, was put into action IMMEDIATELY after.