Myth and Movie: How Sherlock Holmes Came to Rule the World
Sherlock Holmes is a modern representation of the Apollo archetype, and the Apollo archetype is in supreme power thanks to his ability to dominate our brains . . . by influencing the way we process information.
Image from PBS.org. (Used under assumption of fair use.)
We live in a world run by logic, science. We break down information into its component parts in order to understand what it all means.
Even reading these words, your eye is proceeding sequentially across the screen, taking it in line by line, word by word, letter by letter. I can mx up my letrers nda psell tihings rong and u still procss th nifornamtion. The process is slowed down a little, but you still get it. Your brain is breaking the information down and understanding it.
Now look at this picture:
Your brain looked at that and processed that image in a single moment.
You can probably spend more time looking at the picture and you’ll notice more things. But still, you got immediately that it was a picture of a girl doing a dance (…or something) in a tree, that she was in a dress. You even processed the mood of the picture and her expression (even though her face is at an angle). You did that in much less time than it’s taking you to read this very un-detailed description of the picture.
Our brains process words and images differently. The way a literate society processes information and looks at the world is very different than the way a non-literate society looks at the world. Author Leonard Shlain explored this in his book “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess.” (It’s not a perfect book, but he’s got some very good stuff going on in there.)
Shlain says, “I propose that a holistic, simultaneous, synthetic, and concrete view of the world are the essential characteristics of a feminine outlook; linear, sequential, reductionist, and abstract thinking defines the masculine.”
So archetypally speaking…
Masculine: Logical, rational, linear, mind/intellect, WORDS & LANGUAGE
Feminine: Intuitive, gut-feelings, holistic, heart/emotion, IMAGES & SYMBOLS
The theory in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess is that with the rise of dominant religions that valued the written Word, the human mind learned to work in a completely different way—processing information by breaking things down into a linear sequence, as opposed to processing information by looking at an image and understanding a gestalt—and as our minds shifted in the direction of masculine processes, we learned to value men over women.
“Whenever a culture elevates the written word at the expense of the image, patriarchy dominates.”
Sherlock Holmes is the king of logic.
He is famous for his ability to quickly break information down into its component parts and deduce the truth.
Here’s Leonard Shlain talking logic:
“Logic is not holistic, nor is it conceived as a gestalt. It click-clacks along the left brain’s linear railway of sequence. If-then syllogisms, the basis of logic, have become the most reliable method of foretelling the future. They have all but replaced omens, visions, and intuition. The rules of logic form the foundation of science, education, business, and military strategy.”
Sherlock Holmes is intellectually superior to just about everyone, and he’s arrogant about it (with good reason). He’s emotionally distant. It’s not that he lacks emotions or is a sociopath; it’s that he has the power to put his emotions aside and examine situations objectively. He has very little patience for common people with common minds, but does like to be admired for his superiority.
Sherlock Holmes plays the violin, which makes sense because music is essentially math (logic) in its most beautiful form.
Now it just so happens that Sherlock Holmes is an almost perfect example of the Apollo archetype.
Apollo is the intellectual Masculine.
He’s an emotionally distant god but supremely clever, so much so that he’s a little eccentric and lives alone—often in a tower close to the sun (being the Sun God and all)— so he can do a lot of thinking and inventing things without being bothered by common people with common minds. From his tower, he gets a bird’s eye view of things and is able to solve problems (or what he considers to be problems), without getting his hands dirty.
In her book “Gods in Everyman,” Jean Shinoda Bolen says “Apollo is the embodiment of the masculine attitude that observes and acts from a distance . . . he could aim for a target and hit it with his bow and arrows, or create harmony with his music.” He could be cruel and arrogant.
Sound like Sherlock? (Spock is another example.)
A good way to understand Apollo is in contrast to his twin sister, Artemis.
She’s the Moon Goddess, he’s the Sun God. She represents nature, he represents civilization. Artemis is about being free and raw and wild. Apollo is about creating order out of what he sees as chaos (nature). He tames, builds, and shapes. He’s about USING nature. BUILDING things.
Artemis comes to visit her brother and can’t work his things.
It’s awesome, right? Apollo is responsible for everything we’ve built, including order in our societies. Apollo is even responsible for the linear thought process that allows you to understand these words.
But he does have a dark side. He’s been running a little unchecked in our culture for a long time now. Ideally, he’d be balanced by his sister, Artemis, but with the rise of industry and information and the sciences and business, he’s just paving over all her paradises with parking lots. He doesn’t much care for the natural world.
And he doesn’t much care for women.
Apollo “never had a wife or consort . . . he lacked passion with respect to women (not a lover), and preferred to control women (particularly psychic women who were his opposite), pursued in order to possess (rather than woo), could be underhanded, narcissistic, arrogant.” Women were priestesses in his cult, though.
Sherlock Holmes is in the same boat.
Sherlock isn’t particularly sexual and he doesn’t really like women . . . although they seem to have a thing for him (not that they formed a cult or anything . . . at least until Benedict Cumberbatch came along). His friend Watson wrote that Holmes had an “aversion to women . . . he disliked and distrusted the sex.”
When a society goes literate and suppresses images (which happened with the Abrahamic religions—the Word was valued over everything, images of God were destroyed and forbidden), then Apollo is allowed to dominate indiscriminately. That’s when his dark side comes out.
He destroys nature. He dominates women. He breaks up beautiful things to see how they work.
So how did Sherlock Holmes come to rule the world?
It went like this…
Way back in prehistory, there were all these goddess worshipping peoples. A lot of books refer to them as “goddess cults,” but it was much more extensive. That’s like calling Christianity a “cult”. . . which it once was (but that’s a different topic). These days, it’s part of the organizing framework behind an entire culture; it’s not a “cult.” The goddess was the same way, once upon a time. It was a different world. And it was not a world of literacy. These people drew pictures and made art instead of writing. Their “goddess figurines” looked similar to this:
So they looked at the world differently than a literate society. Their brains processed information differently. They had Artemis brains. Not Apollo brains.
Then the grandfathers of the Hellenes come on the scene. These people were, essentially, the precursors to the Greeks. (Even the precursors to the Etruscans, who were the official precursors to the Greeks.) The new guys sweep into the lands occupied by the goddess peoples, and they bring with them their Sky Gods. This is the pantheon that eventually became Zeus and Apollo and the gang. The Sky God people also had better weapons and technology than the Goddess People, because Apollo will always have better gadgets than you. (He makes them in his tower out of old fuses, microchips, and computer code that he wrote in his sleep.)
There’s been a lot of research done on this time in prehistory, and this particular shift in power from Goddess People to Sky God people. One relevant book is “The Chalice and the Blade” by Rianne Eisler. It’s amazing, you should read it. (It might be outdated; new research is always happening. If anyone knows research that totally unseats this theory feel free to let me know.)
In The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, Shlain says, “Around 1500 BCE, there were hundreds of goddess-based sects enveloping the Mediterranean basin. By the fifth century CE, they had been almost completely eradicated, by which time women were also prohibited from conducting a single major Western sacrament.”
Another key we have into this time in prehistory is the Greek myths themselves, which are full of stories of gods dominating, raping, and subduing women. Some of this, I think, is archetypal in nature, emerging from patterns in the individual and collective unconscious. But some myths represent events in history, and it’s very possible these stories record the suppression of the Goddess People. . . by the Sky God people.
Fast forward to the dawn of the Abrahamic religions, with a single Sky God who valued The Word over all things—who started the world with a Word and whose sacred things were written texts—and who dramatically punished any depictions of himself as idolatry. No images allowed. No women allowed.
In a nutshell: Apollo kicked the goddess’s ass and set himself up as supreme ruler.
We still love Apollo. If we didn’t still love him, even Benedict Cumberbatch would not be able to redeem Sherlock Holmes for us. We would not be where we are today without Apollo. However, he’s gotten out of line.
Right now, Artemis is rising in our culture as women rise to full partnership with men. Apollo is finding it’s logical to respect her, to love her, to protect her.
It couldn’t be any other way, really. Apollo is compelled to place himself over everyone else. So that’s what he’s done for thousands of years. Now he’s seeing the effects of this, and has decided it’s logical to check himself. He is using his power of bringing order to bring order to himself.
And thank god. There is no warmth like that of the Sun God.
Apollo—defender of women?
What a revolution we are living in right now.
L. Marrick is an author, ghostwriter, and suitcase entrepreneur—which is a hipster way of saying she travels and works from her laptop. Her blog, LMarrick.com, is where she writes about history and myth. Her memoir, “Working Girl: 132 Somewhat Moral Values I Learned from a Sex Worker,” tells about when she answered a shady classified ad and wound up working as a sex worker’s personal assistant.
© L. Marrick 2015. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author at the above links to request usage.