T-shirt “Life is Nothing” – 2020 reissue

“Life is bound up with death and death is bound up with life. A human does not live forever. The days of his life are counted. Even if a human lived forever, and evil sickness of man were to be present, would be not a grievance for him?” – Excerpt from the Hittite Kantuzzili’s prayer, translation by Itamar Singer.

We are pleased to announce that the first official Mordor’s T-shirt named Life is Nothing, originally self-released in 1994, is now reissued by Archivist Records with additional elements, and is available through the Music Hall webshop. We owe special thanks to the graphic designer Ben Havlicek, who kindly worked on the layout of this new version.

Flyer designed by Ben Havlicek.
Click here to view larger.

This conceptual T-shirt was related to the track “In Search of the Pure Negation”, our first one directly dealing with the Tantric Left-Hand path, initially featured on the 1993 thematic compilation “The Way of Nihilism” before being used as bonus track on the Wild Rags CD version of Csejthe in 1995. Consequently, the novel version of Life is Nothing includes one strophe inserted into the Mordor seal from a Sanskrit hymn in praise of the Dark Goddess Kālī, ascribed to the famous Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, founder of a Hindu monastic tradition, who not only consolidated the nondualistic metaphysical doctrine of the Advaita Vedānta school, but also composed several devotional odes. From a henotheist perspective, the Goddess equated with the attributeless, formless brahman (the highest principle) is beyond nāmarūpa, “name and form” (i.e. archetype and aspect), as Her dark complexion may suggest, and She is in a way the negation of the negation constituted by the manifest cosmos compared to the unconditioned Absolute: “Just as all colours disappear in black so all names and forms disappear in Kālī”, as a Tantra says.[1] She is the supreme, inconceivable Darkness beyond both speech and mind prevailing before the emergence of the pair of opposites such as daylight/night, good/evil, subject/object, etc., which are but mutually dependent correlations, and of the worlds, the nature of nature.

The provocative motto “Life is Nothing” was borrowed from the lyrics of “In Search of the Pure Negation” and was later used as title for the rare bootleg tape “Life is Nothing!” issued in 2009. It emphasises the transient character of life, its deepest incertitude, especially in an absurd and flawed world, and the fact that all conditioned existences are subject to suffering, decline, and destruction: all that is born must perish, all that is produced or composed must disintegrate. As Schopenhauer wrote in The World as Will and Representation: “Dying is certainly to be regarded as the real aim of life; at the moment of dying, everything is decided, which through the whole course of life was only prepared and introduced.” In a song, the great Nahua king-poet and philosopher Nezahualcoyōtzin asks:

“Is it true that we are happy,
that we live on the earth?
It is not certain that we live
and have come on earth to be happy.
We are all sorely lacking.
Is there any who does not suffer
here, beside the people?”[2]

According to several schools of Hinduism, the only possibility to escape from the slavery of the cycle of multiple births and deaths is spiritual liberation and recognition of our real nature, by different means, like gnōsis or jñāna[3], a suprarational knowledge that is in the end not theoretical information about things by rational cognition, but liberating, experiential wisdom able to release man from the primal ignorance (ajñāna) and all bondage. At a lower level, it may already result in an internal transformation of the human condition, the existential plane, and the view of the world: the crude “living more” or “will to live” should give place to a “more than living”. Dóxa (common belief or opinion) and epistḗmē (in the sense of “knowledge by reasoning”) may be possibly useful tools or mostly insurmountable obstacles on the path, but eventually we really know only what we have directly experienced. According to the words of the Kulārṇava Tantra, more than ever relevant: “Once this essence, this Truth is known all other knowledge is useless […] Jñāna, real knowledge alone can give the liberation. Neither prescribed stages of life [the four āśrama-s] nor philosophies nor sciences can give the deliverance; only jñāna can give it.”[4]

Garlanded Nāga, Ghoravadi Caves, Pune, India, photo taken in 2017 by Anandajoti Bhikkhu, cropped and converted into greyscale tones, license CC BY 2.0.

The T-shirt also includes a Gnostic serpent with a moon representing here the hidden nocturnal wisdom opposed to the limited diurnal knowledge related to the mind. If serpents – as corporeal animals or animistic entities appearing as snakes – are both worshipped and feared throughout the world, while being symbolically ambiguous, they are often considered creatures of renewal, wisdom and power. Several serpent cults like those of the Nāga-s and Nāgī-s in India, Nepal and other countries, “keepers of the lowest levels of the Lower World realms”, or the domestic žaltys “grass serpent” in ancient pagan Lithuania to name a few, are attested. To be swallowed during an ecstatic travel by a serpent, a dragon “son or daughter of earth” or an “earth monster” may be a way to access to the centre of the Earth and be possibly granted with knowledge of some of Her chthonic mysteries or others. In Angel and Titan: an Essay in Vedic Ontology, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy cites a significant passage from the Pañcaviṃśa Brāhmaṇa, that says: “By that sacrificial session, the serpents conquered Death; he conquers Death who follows the same course. Thereby they shook off their old skin, and crept onwards, put away Death and conquered him. The serpents are the Ādityá-s [a distinct class of Vedic deities, later linked to the months of the year]. He who follows the same course shall shine with the Ādityá-s’ glory.” The author remarks: “To put off the snake skin corresponds, accordingly, to putting off the old man”, and escaping in the Vedic context to the negative bonds of the god Varuṇa, who has contrasted aspects and whose name is interpreted as “He who covers or binds”.

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve, illustration to Milton’s Paradise Lost, 1808, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, public domain.

An interesting reference to the serpent as liberator of mankind is found in Gnosticism, more specifically in the Ophites, a designation for a variety of Gnostic sects maybe coined by a Christian theologian. We know that in the Book of Genesis the snake played a deceptive role for Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. However, it is worth noting that in the Gnostic tractate The Hypostasis of the Archons for example, the narrative is inverted: the garden is a prison and the “female spiritual principle” entered a serpent to instruct Adam and Eve, created materially and psychically by a blind demiurge who arrogantly stated “I am god; there is no other but me” and forbade them to eat from the tree of knowledge, for they will die. The snake advised Adam and Eve to transgress the prohibition: “It is not the case that you will surely die, for out of jealousy he [the chief demiurge] said this to you. Rather, your eyes will open and you will be like gods, recognizing evil and good.”[5] Then Eve took the fruit from the tree and gave to Adam as well as herself, “and those beings, who possessed only a soul, ate. And their imperfection became apparent in their lack of knowledge. They recognized that they were naked of the spiritual […]”.

They were expelled from the garden and cursed by the demiurge and the rulers, but for Adam and Eve it was the necessary awareness of their condition and ignorance; their disobedience was an act of liberation. Later, among their progeny there were spiritual human beings like Seth – the perfect man – and her young sister Norea in contrast to the psychic (Abel) and the material (Cain) sons born from the union of Eve with the Archons, according to one interpretation of the text. Norea, “the virgin whom the forces did not defile”, will defy the Archons who want to rape her as they had her mother, and Noah (she burns the ark with her fiery breath), before receiving the knowledge of her true nature, and the origin and fate of the archontic rulers by one of the four Sethian luminaries, Eleleth. Norea may exemplify the arduous Gnostic quest for wisdom necessary to spiritual liberation.

Text and notes under the license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

[1] Quotation from the Mahānirvāṇa Tantra taken from Kali, The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar by Elisabeth U. Harding. In Arthur Avalon’s translation of the first portion of the Tantra, the probable aforementioned verse is rendered as follows: “As white, yellow, and other colours all disappear in black, in the same way, O Śailajā! [Born of the Mountain] all beings enter Kālī.” An alternate translation by Manmatha Nath Dutt is: “O daughter of the mountain, as white, yellow, and other colours immerge in black so all objects [of the universe] finally disappear in Kālī.” The name of the Goddess may be translated as “The Black One” or “The Deep-Blue One”, and one of Her many names or descriptions, Tāmasī, also attributed to Durgā, as “The Dark One”. Another epithet shared by the two Goddesses, Kālarātrī, is variously rendered as “Night of Darkness”, “Night of Destruction”, “Night of Death”, or “Night of Time”, all translations pointing out that She is the night of dissolution at the end of the worlds.

In addition, Sir John Woodroffe (aka Arthur Avalon) explains in The Garland of Letters: “When Kālī withdraws the world, that is the names and forms […], the dualism in consciousness, which is creation, vanishes”, knowing that the present universe is “but one of a series of worlds which are past and are yet to be.” (The Serpent Power). The Mahānirvāṇa Tantra in Avalon’s translation states that “At the Dissolution of things, it is Kāla who will devour all, and by reason of this He is called Mahākāla [“Great Time”, a tamasic form of Śiva of terrific aspect], and since Thou [Kālī] devourest Mahākāla Himself, it is Thou who art the Supreme Primordial Kālikā [another name of Kālī, which means perhaps “Little Black One” or “relating to time”, glossed by Avalon as “Devourer of Him who devours”].” A quotation from an hymn used for magical purposes, published in the compendium Kālīrahasya and translated into English by Mike Magee, may fittingly summarise some of the most iconic characteristics of the Goddess: “Kālī, destroyer of time, goddess of skeletal form, taking the form of a raven, blacker than black, I worship you O Dakṣiṇa Kālikā!”. Dakṣiṇa is, inter alia, an epiclesis of Kālī and other deities, with several meanings; in the context of the hymn, the term has probably a sinister significance related to the south, when this cardinal point is viewed in Hinduism as the region of the god Yama, the dead, cremation places and pyres.

[2] Excerpt from Fifteen Poets of the Aztec World, by Miguel Léon-Portilla.

[3] Both words (Ancient Greek and Sanskrit) are ultimately derived from the Proto-Indo-European root *ǵneh₃ meaning “to know”. Another Sanskrit term sometimes used to indicate spiritual knowledge is vidyā, derived from the verbal root vid (from PIE root *weyd-, “to see; to know”), found also in the word Veda. According to the Devī Gītā, the highest knowledge and goal of the yogas is brahmavidyā, “knowledge of brahman (the supreme reality)”, which in the perspective of the scripture means knowledge of the Goddess (Devī) Herself as “the true form of brahman”.

[4] Summarised translation of the Tantra by M.P. Pandit in Arthur Avalon, Kulārṇava Tantra.

[5] All quotes from The Hypostasis of the Archons, also known as The Reality of the Rulers or The Nature of the Rulers, an anonymous tractate of the Nag Hammadi library, are from The Gnostic Bible, translated and edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer. We have not mentioned the complex theogony, cosmology, anthropogony, and the important role played by Sophia (Koine Greek: “Wisdom”) in the text. Incidently, a Hindu Śākta Tantric tradition devoted to the Goddess Lalitā Tripurasundarī is called Śrīvidyā, which literally means “Auspicious Wisdom, Knowledge, Lore”, also one of Her names in a hymn. In a similar way to Tantrism, Gnosticism classifies men in three types: material, psychic, spiritual; in the Tantric system, the tripartite division comprises the following categories: “beast, domestic animal”, “hero”, and “godlike being”, corresponding to the three guṇa-s “quality, tendency” that weaves in their interplay the universe. The term “Gnosticism” was not a self-designation used by its adepts, but is a modern scholarly construct, as indeed “Tantrism”, “Hinduism” and many more; however, we use them for the sake of convenience.