'Envy is a hungry ghost with a pinhole mouth'

Posted 6/18/20

This is the second article in a series on envy. The previous one had a painting of La Tuerta, the one-eyed incarnation of evil, who floated above the Taos horizon just at dusk, tempting us with the worst of the seven deadly sins - envy.

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'Envy is a hungry ghost with a pinhole mouth'


This is the second article in a series on envy. The previous one had a painting of La Tuerta, the one-eyed incarnation of evil, who floated above the Taos horizon just at dusk, tempting us with the worst of the seven deadly sins - envy.

Children living on La Loma who had to use the común after dark took as many same-sex cousins and siblings along as possible. We made the sign of the cross continuously, without stopping, even while rolling pages of the Montgomery Ward Catalog against our thighs to soften them. Always with your left hand because it was especially dangerous to cross yourself with your left hand in an emergency. After dark the cirguelas (plums), where the outhouse was located, was a permanent, immanent emergency.

Everybody knew about that place - about the man who shot an owl (it was stealing his chickens) and how it fell into the bushes. An old woman with a bullet wound in her shoulder staggered out of the cirguelas, her eyes glowing like flashlights. (It wasn't certain that her blood was really green, but we were sure about the flashlight eyes.)

In Catholic, Spanish-speaking Taos, witchcraft, envy and the evil eye shaped the dreams and childhoods of generations.

Collective images like La Tuerta or witches turning themselves into owls are universal archetypes, or psychic organs common to all humans. There is no language without a word for the evil eye, witchcraft or envy. Just as we all have livers, hearts and intestines, we all have the same psychic organs or archetypes. We all have origin myths, hero myths.

And we are all driven by envy, whether by its positive or negative form, because envy is a universal impulse (not an archetype) but a drive as compelling as an instinct.

We all have a mother archetype, even if we never saw our mothers. In every human brain there is a composite psychic image of "Mother." She can be positive like Our Lady of Guadalupe, Quan Yin, Mother Earth, or negative like Kali, Coalique or a witch.

That long-ago covey of squeaking little girls, clustered together like frightened mice, knew nothing about history. But from the 12th to the 14th century, just before our ancestors brought Catholicism to Turtle Island, the Holy Inquisition executed so many European women for witchcraft that in some villages only one woman was left.

An old historical trauma was possessing our young imaginations, a holocaust that had swept European consciousness 300 years before. Generations of Europeans, over a period of four centuries, had watched women burned alive in public - mothers, sisters, wives and especially the old women, who were the carriers of indigenous European healing knowledge.

It was a religious war, and patriarchal, celibate Christianity wiped out the indigenous matriarchal religions.

Woman-centered healing and spirituality were criminalized, demonized and that mindset migrated to these shores along with colonialism. Remember the Salem witch trials? The witches of Abiquiú? Colonization brought the seven deadly sins to Turtle Island along with steel, smallpox and a particularly virulent form of misogyny.

Let's do a follow-the-power thought experiment.

The first peer relationship - siblings - is the original seedbed of envy. Cain and Abel. Horus and Set. Quetzacoatl and Huitzlipotzli. Is there a continent or tribe without its myth of sibling envy?

And it's always a big myth, one that shapes destiny. Because envy carries a tremendous charge, and therefore it has political, social, historical and psychological power.

Who did this serve? Who benefits in a system where it is a sin to envy? The powerful. If it is dangerous to envy the oppressor - then we envy our peers. Envy becomes horizontal. Was the natural impulse to envy (and destroy) too much power turned into a hungry ghost with a pinhole mouth?

Who benefits when we envy our equals instead of power? Who benefits when two women become enemies over a philandering man who lies to them both? In a group struggling against inequality, who benefits if internal envy undermines the leaders?

Envy is the infiltrator's and saboteur's wet dream. Peer envy is the Trojan horse racism that rides into marginalized communities, and turns allies into worst enemies. Toxic envy and internalized racism work together to defeat the struggle for racial justice.

Four hundred years of continuous terrorism could program people to twist not only their envy, but any instinct, to benefit the terrorist. If envying power is taboo, then the alternative path of least resistance is peer envy.

But what if envy was not always negative? What if envy is inherently creative, motivational and a communal safety valve against tyranny and the accumulation of too much wealth?

If so - then we can decolonize it and reconquer the energy of creative envy. Decolonizing envy would be deeply democratic and revolutionary.


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