The word psychopath is derived from the Greek words, psyche meaning “mind” or “soul” and path, meaning “sickness”. An encounter with a psychopath certainly leaves one feeling sickened. Scars from psychopathic encounters leave a person and community indelibly traumatized and transformed as the contagion reverberates through the social fabric and forward through time.
Anytime a person or community is shaken to the core, the human mind tries to recreate order, to make sense out of the experience and to protect itself from ever encountering such a disruption again. Mythology, as an attempt to explain what cannot be understood, was the perfect vehicle for primitive peoples to illustrate the destructive effects of psychopathic behaviors.
Mythological or Psychopath?
In Daniel Brinton’s, American Hero-Myths, there are several myths about an Aztec god named Tezcatlipoca. While many mythological creatures fit the profile in Dr. Hare’s PCL-R list, the myths about Tezcatlipoca are striking in how well they detail a psychopath’s modus operandi.
Tezcatlipoca means Smoking Mirrors — which is a tell in itself, since psychopaths are all about deception. In pictures, he is depicted with an obsidian mirror on his breastplate and a missing foot (Yes, he has a limp just as many other mythological characters do). The foot is often replaced either by a mirror or a snake.
Tezcatlipoca is a tempter who urges humans to do evil, a deceiver and a trickster. The god of material things, he was known to give wealth and then take it away. Psychopaths exert control by being the giver and the destroyer of wealth as part of the roller coaster ride of ups and downs they create. They understand that the lows feel much lower after a ride to the top.
He has many names including, Necoc Yaotl, the “Enemy of Both Sides”. Psychopaths are liars, betrayers and loyal to none. They enter ALL relationships with the express intent of betrayal. During any negotiation, they are a double or triple agents, lying to each side for the purpose of being the only one who is not deceived. They use deception for control.
Another name is Titlacauan, meaning “We are his Slaves”. Psychopaths see humans as their slaves. They take away autonomy. Most of all they take your personhood and your purpose. They subjugate you to their own purpose – which is only to gain more power.
Another name for Tezcatlipoca: Moyocoyatzin, a name which was given to him because “he could do as he pleased no one could prevent him”. Psychopaths are the epitome of willful. If you ask him why he would want to hurt others, his answer will be “because I can.”
In one myth, Tezcatlipoca plots to disgrace and depose his brother, the beneficent god Quetzalcoatl. First he approaches Quetzalcoatl with a mirror wrapped in a rabbit skin, promising to show him “his own flesh”. When Quetzalcoatl sees his reflection he is mortified by how he looks to others. He is ashamed but Tezcatlipoca promises to fix all that. Some green and red paint on Quetzalcoatl’s face and some green feathers for a beard, seem to do the trick. But Tezcatlipoca isn’t done yet. He persuades Quetzalcoatl that he has brought him medicine but it’s actually an intoxicant. When Quetzalcoatl drinks the intoxicant, he rapes his own sister and is shamed into abdicating his throne. Psychopaths always enjoy bringing about the shameful down fall of those in high places. Ingesting the drink and breaking the incest taboo is an analogy to internalizing the shame of crossing boundaries .
In another myth, Tezcatlipoca appeared in the market place of the mythic city of Tollan in the disguise of a naked foreigner. When the king’s virgin daughter sees him naked it causes her to be love-sick for him. This was his plan so that she would marry him and he would become a prince. Psychopaths commonly use sex and love in their pursuit of power. The myth describes the king’s daughter as being ill from longing for this foreigner because she saw him naked and desired him. In fact, psychopaths do create an “addiction-like” feeling of longing more intense than a normal romantic love. The myth specifies though, that the princess’ desire was for sex with the foreigner. Sex for a psychopath, is one method of creating addiction to them because of the bonding hormone, oxytocin, released in a normal person’s brain during sex. Though psychopaths feel nothing at all, they are very aware of the emotions they elicits during sex. They are obsessed with human emotions. Eliciting emotions is how they feed their need for power.
After his marriage to the princess, Tezcatlipoca throws a big party and invites everyone to celebrate with him. The crowds joined him in swarms of intoxicated revelry. Psychopaths can be as charming and irresistible to the masses, as to the individual. At midnight, still dancing and singing, Tezcatlipoca led the crowd over a bridge which he had “secretly destroyed”. The bridge collapsed and the revelers fell into the river, turned into stone and sunk out of sight. It is significant that the bridge destruction was done in “secret”. This implies sabotage. Sabotage is what psychopaths do, in every sense of the word. They create a perfect façade which inevitably fails at a critical moment because it was sabotaged from the inside. Sabotage can be done on your confidence, your career, your reputation, your economy, your car or your aircraft. Anything that you depend on to keep you functional will be sabotaged if a psychopath has anything to do with it. The bridge failure was particularly apt because the result was a fall from a high place. Psychopaths will kill literally in the same manner in which they kill metaphorically. The sabotage of the bridge was the biggest red flag that a psychopath was at the center of this story.
After the bridge collapse, Tezcatlipoca tells the crowd that he was the cause and that they must stone him to death to prevent this from happening again. So they stone him and a sacrificial ritual is established.
All Myths Are Lies With a Grain of Truth.
Girardian Theory interprets this myth as all myths, as being about mimesis, crisis and a sacrificial victim. Girard’s theory asserts that there actually was an incidence of violence and the story is told in symbolic language to disguise the reality of the scapegoat mechanism. In other words: smoke and mirrors disguise the truth. The important elements in Girardian interpretation is that there was chaos, as symbolized by the revelry and by the water, and it ended in the stoning death of the scapegoat. Somebody was held responsible for the chaos and scapegoated. The ritual of sacrificial victims is not just a commemoration but also a reenactment to polarize the mimetic violence of the community toward one responsible victim.
To this Girardian interpretation, I would add that it is the story of psychopathic influence on an entire community. The myth describes not only the chaos, but also how he operates and what he did to bring about the chaos.
Tezcatlipoca brings about Quetzalcoatl’s disgrace by showing him a mirror after unwrapping it from a rabbit skin. All psychopaths mirror their victims. As they approach they wrap themselves in the guise of a harmless being. A psychopath I knew wore a sheepskin coat without any shirt underneath. Was it a tell?
Tezcatlipoca’s manipulation of authority and his climb up the hierarchy using sex, illustrates his lack of boundaries. Psychopaths are obsessed with authority and like to start at the top, they don’t care how they get there. Shame as a tool for overturning power is another classic psychopathic maneuver. Confusion, illustrated by the drunken revelry of the crowd is another tool of the psychopath.
The Victor Gets to Write History.
The psychopath is found in every myth because they are agents of change. Always bored and unhappy with the way things are, they REQUIRE drama and upheaval. They have no limits about what they will do because they are unbound by social convention or morality. They don’t care about human suffering except to revel in it as proof of their power to manipulate.
A traumatizing event will spawn stories for generations as the community seeks to reassure itself that it learned its lesson and will never suffer such a catastrophe again. The myth is a warning so that it will never again be caught off guard by a psychopath. And yet, the story repeats, in myth and in life. The psychopath makes his appearance over and over again. Why can’t humanity learn to recognize and avoid these mythological creatures?
In seeking to understand how the psychopath could have so much power over the community, the myth explains that he must be a monster or a god with superhuman powers. It seems the only way to explain how he transforms and performs.
Likewise, a psychopath seems to have superhuman abilities to charm, mesmerize, convince and connive. Their self-confidence is magnetic and sex with them is hypnotic.
What humanity has to recognize is that when a psychopath says, “because I can” he means, “because you let me.” We give away our power to the psychopath when we don’t want responsibility. The psychopath gladly takes the power and we assume that he will also take responsibility, but he doesn’t. Psychopaths always slither away from responsibility. It’s never their fault or their problem. They couldn’t care less about you and when it comes time to pay, you are left holding the bag with all the responsibility and no power to pay the price. The psychopath left with your power.
The Truth About Denial: It Comes off in Layers
Here is where Girardian Theory offers an intriguing answer: The key is responsibility, which is the antithesis of scapegoating. Becoming an individual is the process of accepting responsibility for yourself and the things you can control. It involves setting boundaries so that your power and your responsibility stay connected and balanced. Each grows as the other grows. Never let power separate or become unbalanced from responsibility.
Ancient myths give us clues about how to recognize evil but fail to teach us how to deal with it. Instead they reinforce the human tendency toward denial and the refusal to see any reality that is too painful to see. Evil gains power when it is denied. Rene Girard explains that only in the stories of the Gospel is the hidden scapegoat mechanism unveiled for what it is: Denial of our own responsibility for allowing evil to prosper.
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