Sunday, August 10, 2014


Gun Worship

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Malaya," Complete Essays, Vol. II: 1926-1929 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000), pp. 504-539 (at 508-509):
Near the Penang Gate lies an old brass cannon, half buried in the mud. It has no history, it is quite unornamental. A more commonplace piece of ordnance never issued from an eighteenth century arsenal. The world is full of such old brass cannons. By all the rules it should have been melted down long ago or stuck muzzle downwards into the ground to serve as a post, or mounted on a little wooden carriage and left in the weather outside the door of a museum. But destiny decreed otherwise. Instead of suffering any of the ignominies usually reserved for its kind, this superannuated popgun was turned into a god. It lies there in the mud, wreathed with gardenias and orchids and a whole conservatory of paper flowers. The ground all about it is planted with long-stemmed paper lanterns, and incense burns perpetually before its muzzle. Two or three hawkers are encamped all day beside it, under the trees, like the sellers of books and plaster saints and candles in the shadow of a cathedral. The gun god's worshippers are numerous; they do a roaring trade in offerings and souvenirs. Great is the Cannon of the Batavians.


There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet. No doubt. But a cannon is cylindrical and, long before they became Moslems, the Javanese were worshippers of the reproductive principle in nature. An immemorial phallism has crystallised round the old gun, transforming it from a mere brass tube into a potent deity, to be propitiated with flowers and little lanterns, to be asked favours of with smoking incense. Men come and, standing before the sacred symbol, silently implore assistance. Women desirous of offspring sit on the prostrate god, rub themselves against his verdigrised sides and pray to him for increase. Even white ladies, it is said, may be seen at evening alighting inconspicuously from their motor cars at the Penang Gate. They hurry across the grass to where the God is lying. They drop a few gardenias and a supplication, they touch the God's unresponsive muzzle; then hurry back again through the twilight, fearful of being recognized, of being caught in the flagrant act of worshipping at the shrine of a God who was being adored a thousand generations before Adam was ever thought of and beside whom the Gods of Zoroaster and the Vedas, of Moses and Christ and Mohammed are the merest upstarts and parvenus.

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