There is a picnic at Armageddon.If you go, wear flowers in your hair. Along with Antichrist, Gog and Magog passed into the world view of medieval Christendom. And they also emerged, more and more clearly, as a new version of the age old chaos monster. It is characteristic of the chaos monster that, some time in the past, he was defeated by a hero and bound and imprisoned under a mountain. From the fifth century onward it was believed that Alexander the Great had built a huge gate to the Caucasus to contain the peoples of Gog and Magog; and he did this not as a pagan king but as a worshipper and instrument of God. Gog and Magog strive incessantly to break through the gate, but in vain, for Alexander has also provided ingenious devices for keeping it intact. Only just before the end, God will allow the terrible destroyers to break out and to devastate the world, until he annihilates them in their turn. Such severity tempered by such great compassion.
The prophecies concerning the coming of Antichrist and of Gog and Magog made it possible to bring the chaos monster into relation with contemporary affairs. The monster could be recognized in a specific tyrannical regime or a specific hostile power. Already in Revelation, the beast from the sea is identified with the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, dissident sects often decided that the pope or even the papacy itself, was Antichrist. The habit was continued by some of the Protestant reformers; and the engravings and woodcuts that accompany their propaganda show that when they talked of the Antichrist pope, what floated before their inner eye was indeed a chaos monster. As for Gog and Magog, they were identified in turn in each of the many peoples that invaded Europe, or who could potentially invade Europe, from the east.
Antichrist has already come, chaos has broken loose, the end is at hand. In time of exceptiional disorientation and anxiety, the conviction could become so intense that it generated mass movements in the most literal sense. Masses of people moved. In 1396, the Spanish Dominican Saint, Vincent Ferrer had a vision of the approaching Last Days and began to preach from country to country. He was followed by great crowds , all crying that the time of the Antichrist was at hand and imploring people to prepare themselves for the final struggle. In fact, Ferrer’s followers took to beating themselves; and he found himself leading processions of flagellants, covered with bruises and blood, through Spain, southern France and Italy.
Similar fantasies recurred in the days of the French Revolution, when the very survival of Christianity seemed, for the first time, to be in doubt. The anxiety that this produced in many devout souls was expressed by the German, Heinrich Jung-Stilling, an occultist. In two books he proclaimed that the world was witnessing the final struggle between Antichrist and the Holy Spirit. His thesis, was that Antichrist was based in revolutionary France and was advancing eastward, spreading the toxic virus of materialism and atheism. The true church mustspread back to her eastern birthplace, specifically, to Samarkand.
Jung-Stilling was received in audience by Czar Alexander I, who granted an area in Bessarabia as a refuge for the true church. It was not Samarkand, but viewed from Germany, at least it lay in the right direction; and multitudes of Germans, mostly memebers of dissenting Protestant sects, migrated there to avoid the inevitable assault of the western chaos monster. The modern day anti-American demonstrations in Teheran show many of the same reactionary similarities, where the West, epitomized by Washington is an antichrist.
Indeed, in the context of politics the same basic fantasy has persisted into our era. The propaganda of the first world war shows that the war was felt, on both sides, to be Armageddon. It is no accident that many British war memorials show Saint George piercing a furious dragon. Later, the same imagery came natural to Hitler, with the Jew being a heaven stormer to be sent back to Lucifer; the Jew being the unmistakable chaos monster rising from the abyss and the means of his destruction justified by the ends.
Have we outgrown the age old fantasy at last? Examples such as Pat Robertson claiming haitians made a pact with the devil, thus bringing a divinely enhanced natural disaster upon themselves show the idea is not so old fashioned after all. It seems rather, that half of it has dropped out of sight, while the other half remains as potent as ever.
In the past, people believed that though the ascendency of the dragon would be a great disaster, it would all end when the hero killed the dragon. They looked forward to Armageddon with dread but also with hope, since at Armageddon the forces of chaos were to be finally destroyed without sequel. Even in the Christian view, where the world does indeed end once and for all, the end is brought about bot by Satan or Antichrist, but by God and is followed by eternal bliss.
The present trend is different. No generation has has seen more prophesies of the imminent destruction of civilization, of mankind, of the globe itself; but the vision of ultimate salvation has faded. We may largely have outgrown the fascination of hero-saviors, notwithstanding the best efforts of the entertainment industry, but the Chaos monster, on the other hand, clearly fascinates us still.