i could literally talk about this all day—about how gods and monsters move at the phantasmal boundaries of the human, at the limits of what we can bear to see and know and understand.
it’s often said that Latin monstrum means “sign” (ancient Greek τέρας, monster, also means marvel, wonder, divine sign, omen), and both God and monster are bound up with the idea of showing, unveiling and revelation, that which can’t be fully shown. (the idea of apophasis, of things so overwhelming that they can be described only in terms of what they’re not, often occurs in how we talk about gods and monsters.) if they could be seen entire by human eyes they’d cease to be divine/monstrous. religion speaks of hierophany, the epiphany of the holy, the moment when a god shows themselves (the “holy terror” described by St. John Chrysostom, as when the prophet Isiah beholds the throne of God), and there’s an equivalent in every monster-story, when light falls slantwise on the dreadful creature enough to illuminate it a little, and your fear has a shape, and unholy eyes gazing back into you.
in human imagination God and monster are excess: God is the divine excess of capability and love and order; monsters are the profane excess of horror and chaos and uncertainty. Rudolf Otto writes of the holy as numinous—that we experience God as mysterium tremendum et fascinans, a mystery before which we tremble and marvel, afraid and desiring. sometimes it’s like a gentle tide of silent and worshipful calm; sometimes sudden violent convulsions of the soul, a frenzy with wild and demonic forms. horror and shuddering.
monsters are an ontological riddle, they ask terrible questions: if all things come from God, is God the creator of evil and chaos, as well as good and order? (c.f. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which asks who is more monstrous—the creature who endures the world, or the creator that formed them and put them there?) are some creatures cursed to live as abominations in the natural order, and forbidden redemption? (should we pity them?) monsters might be the shape of divine judgement, beautiful and awful—or a sign that there’s no divine plan steering creation at all. often, unexpectedly, monsters are a revelation or sign of God. (what is an angel?)
and the idea of God disorientates us because we associate the Good with self-identity and sameness, and Evil with exterior and alien and invasion; God is radically Other (sometimes pure presence; sometimes the dark of the abyss). God is ineffable, sometimes in an aspect that seems monstrous: there’s the ὀργὴ θεοῦ, wrath of Yahweh, in the Old Testament—God the destroyer, who sends plague and flood and fire—analogous to an idea in many religions of ira deorum, the wrath of gods, before which humans can only cower and wonder. and yet humans dream gods and monsters in our own image; they belong to us, and we to them, our rational and irrational fear and want reflected and refracted over and over. gods are undying, and monsters are undead—they always return to us, in different shapes.
it goes back to the idea in Hebrews 13:2, that we should not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels. the strange and disquieting thing that comes might be god or monster, or both; you don’t know until your door is already open, and you’ve dared to look.