Monday, 25 August 2014

Feeling the Force – Emotion within the Religions of Star Wars

A topic covered extensively by many Star Wars enthusiasts concerns the links of the Jedi religion to that of various schools of Buddhism. I, for one, have definitely noticed (not so much when I first experienced the series as a child, more so now that I have done some peripheral research into various Buddhist topics) how readily certain ideas within the Jedi religion lend themselves to comparison with some ideas within the Buddhist belief structure. 

Of course, there are many who love the series who would argue that such comparisons are of no merit, as we are dealing with a fantasy world here. To those individuals I would say, fair enough, you can consider it to be pure escapism if you wish, but also that the world we live in is so amply called a world, as it is our entire realm of experience. Thus, it informs any attempt to escape it, it bleeds into the fantasies we create for ourselves and there are many of us who enjoy picking apart these fantasies, not with the intention to be critical of them (at least not all the time) but to use the ideas presented within it as a kind of thought experiment, as a projection of thought which might be able to reveal to us something about the world beyond the escapist fantasy.
Star Wars
S - Lpis
Image posted by Quark Master

My intention is not to replicate a post drawing such comparisons, for sources (which are far more informed than I) have already done so. However, to provide an illustration of the kinds of comparison I am discussing, one need only look at the concept of the Force. Within the Star Wars universe, the Force is a power which resonates throughout the whole of creation, a metaphysical power which is linked to life itself. This in itself can be compared to eastern ideas of the Chi, though the more interesting comparison comes with the examination of the idea that Jedi strive to become unified with the force after they die. Likewise, within Buddhist thought, the goal is to avoid rebirth through relinquishing attachment and achieve a unity with the rest of creation, ultimately relinquishing one’s individuality, which is, within Buddhism, often viewed as illusory. Of course, some of those who achieve such unity remain as force ghosts, though this in itself is comparable to the idea of certain figures within Buddhism who are able to return to this world in order to help guide those who have yet to attain Nirvana. 

Now that I have addressed such cavils, it is time to turn my attention to that which I wish to focus on in this entry: Emotions.

Jedi Catechisms

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Presented above is the Jedi Code, the central tenants of their religion, the principles which inform their actions, which guide them on how to behave. True enough, the code itself does not provide instruction in the same as, for example, the ten commandments of the Judeo-Christian faith. Instead, this code present a series of assertions which are phrased somewhat metaphysically. They are presented in pairs, denying one thing and affirming its opposite. On one reading, we could consider this to be actively denying the existence of certain things, though a more likely interpretation is that they are presenting certain ideas as undesirable. 

Emotion, ignorance, passion, chaos and death all exist. They are not things which can be denied, at least not in the same way that certain metaphysical concepts (with the exception of chaos, which is one such metaphysical concept) can be doubted, for they are each very real parts of the experience of life. 

Thus, I consider the code to be largely arguing against certain concepts, prescriptively instructing its adherents to move away from them and instead embrace certain other ideals, which are contrasted against those prohibited. 

Some of these contrasts, however, seem to be somewhat questionable. When someone is peaceful, they often say that they “feel” peaceful or they “feel” at peace. Likewise, we experience our emotions as a “feeling”. This does not entirely deconstruct or disregard the comparison which has been established here, but it allow us to contrast the two concepts without viewing them as being in complete opposition. Likewise, serenity and passion are by no means entirely opposed, for the former is a lack of trouble and the latter is simply and enthusiasm or desire. Naturally passion can often lead away from serenity, but, unless we understand serenity as opposed to excitement (which is possible), then there is no reason to see them as in direct opposition. Finally, chaos and harmony are by no means opposed. Chaos is opposed to orderly, whereas harmony means without opposition. I consider it possible for something to be without order yet without opposition. Of course, here chaos is characterised in its links to destruction, though we need not consider these two ideas wed. 

“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi's life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love.” - Anakin

Fundamentally, the Jedi are against emotions, against attachments. On the surface, this seems relatively unproblematic, for it seeks to attain an ethical ideal in which one surrenders their ego, their self-centeredness and attempts to give themselves entirely to others generally, rather than to another individual. It seeks complete equality, to open up compassion to all with not conditions required. At first, it seems like this is a good thing, that this is something we should all try to work towards. Whilst I agree that a little more selflessness would be a good thing and that I would more than encourage others (and myself) to seek to act with greater depth of compassion, striving to undo attachments does cause a few problems.

First of all, this kind of extreme equality completely deconstructs and eliminates what we can term “Relationships of Preference”. By this I mean any kind of relationship which, by definition, requires preferential treatment. The most iconic of these would be marriage or committed romantic attachment. You save your loved one over a stranger because they are your loved one. In virtue of being your loved one, granting this kind of preferential treatment is, in a way, required. Of course, this has limits. It is more justifiable to save your loved one over one stranger, less so to save them over five strangers and almost completely non-justifiable to save them over one thousand strangers.

Of course, Jedi, like many members of religious orders, are discouraged from forming romantic attachments, engaging in sensual relations and producing children, so these love relations are openly forbidden by them, thus weakening the criticism. This is true, but romantic relationships are not the only Relationships of Preference. Another, more important one is friendship.

Friendship too is a relationship of preference, for you favour your friends over those you do not know. If you do not, then the integrity of the friendship is called into question. Obviously, friendships, as with all human relationships, are complex and vary infinitely based on the difference combinations of individuals and circumstances. Yet, underneath the specifics, the very concept of a friendship is one based on preference and attachment.

Yet, these two things are forbidden by the strict ethical aspirations of the Jedi, at least in theory. In practice, attachments are obviously going to develop between masters and padawan and between members of the order more generally. However, underneath this, their spiritual philosophy does not encourage them to embrace such attachment, but to attempt to transcend it.

I am not sure on my thoughts on this, at least not entirely, though I think it difficult to build a belief system based on compassion if, at its very centre, it conceptually forbids all preference and therefore the very idea of friendship. 

The Dark Side

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” - Yoda

Now, the Jedi have their reasons for this opposition to emotions, as they seek emotions themselves as a link to what they deem to be the evil, Dark Side of the Force. According to their believe system, anyone who attempts to wield the force and yet who embraces their emotions is doomed to fall from the light side of the force and become corrupted by a force of destruction, leading away from equality and peace and into rage, domination and passion.
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Presented above is the Sith Code, which presents itself more as a pathway than the code of the Jedi. It opens through establishing passion as truth, contrasting it to peace and then showing how this can lead one onwards into other, stronger concepts, with the ultimate goal being that of freedom.

If they Jedi seek unity with the force and to undo the bonds of individualism, the Sith seek to wholeheartedly bask in their ego, in their individual identity. This comes with a terrible narcissistic side effect, in turn leading to megalomania. Essentially, the Sith embrace what the Jedi try to escape: emotion, particularly the darker feelings of fear and hatred. In embracing these feelings and harnessing their strength, the Sith gains great power, but they do so at the expense of their own control, for ultimately they become slaves to their own unfettered emotions, which they are unable to impose control over, for fear of losing them and thus the source of their own power. 

Sith are powered on uncontrolled desire and there is a possible allusion to the philosophy of Nietzsche, more specifically the idea of the Will to Power, which is loosely considered to be the driving force behind all humanity: the desire for influence and power. Likewise, the Sith ultimately seek control, corrupted by their uncontrolled desires.

However, the Jedi have seemingly tarnished all emotion due to the threat of the Dark Side. Rather than acknowledging that darker emotions can bring a great amount of power and corruption and yet realising that this corruption is not only linked to darker emotions but also to the manner and degree with which they are embraced, they instead treat the very concept of emotion as the element of corruption. 

One possible argument, which I personally do not regard highly, is that the Jedi are not at all contra emotions, but instead they oppose themselves to uncontrolled emotions, to wild and unshackled passion, which, alongside the emotions involved, seems to be half of that which leads to one’s becoming a Sith. However, the very first line of the Jedi code “there is no emotion” defies this interpretation, as it sets their entire philosophy up in opposition to the very idea of emotion.

Fundamentally, I consider attachment and emotions as something which has an important role within the life of a human being. I sympathise with the Buddhist viewpoint, as a great deal of suffering lies within such things and I definitely contend that there is something important in their attitudes. Releasing yourself of some attachment and feeling can be excellent, but removing it entirely, seems to strip you of one of the most innately human aspects of being a person.
Maul
By:rashomike
Image posted by Tobuyaz


Of course, we cannot go the other way and wallow in our feelings all the time, as reason as an equally important part to play within the framework of being. A concept which is explored within the work of Plato is the idea that passion and desire are both important for the individual to be a complete person, yet must always be guided (not controlled, as some might think) by reason and rationality. 

Star Wars however, does not do this. Its narrative, especially within the film series, less so in the expanded universe (which is, in my opinion, the best part), very clearly establishes it as a fight between good and evil, with the Jedi and their “emotionless” philosophy firmly presented as good with any alternative presented as wrong or associated with the Dark Side. Ultimately, Star Wars seems to hold a strange message that emotions cannot be trusted, that those with power (shown within as the force) must always strive to abstract away from the emotions which make us fully fleshed out individuals.

My attitude it simple: both sides are wrong in their approach to emotions and this is why neither of them ultimately manage to succeed, as even though the films conclude with the fall of the Dark Side, one glance at the expanded universe reveals that light and dark have struggled and overcome one another cyclically throughout history. 

Therefore, I consider neither the Jedi nor the Sith to have the ultimate philosophy due to their inability to deal with emotions in an understandable manner. Emotions are fundamentally important to us both as indicators of identity, and also as elements of morality (those moral systems which attempt to abstract away from emotion seem to ultimately prove hollowly impractical) and thus cannot be expunged, as the Jedi would have it. However, they cannot be allowed to run riot, otherwise we result in an inability to exist within plurality. Uncontrolled emotions allow the ego to swell, make an individual truly that, individual with no ability to recognise the full humanity of another person. Only through tempering emotion with empathy and compassion can this be achieved. 

Thanks for reading :)

Monday, 18 August 2014

Javik - Beneath the Surface

Though it was included in my first MBTI series, I have not written extensively on characters from Mass Effect outside of this initial series and have decided that, seeing as it is such a supremely rich narrative, that this would definitely have to change. Thus, I have been thinking about which character should receive the 'honour' of being the first Mass Effect character to undergo deep analysis. After some discussion, and a little bit of coercion, I have come to the conclusion that the subject of this entry is to be Javik.

Image posted by Madame de Fer

Remnant of a Fallen People

Devised by the Intelligence (one billion years, or so, before the plot of Mass Effect begins), an advanced race of synthetic beings known as the Reapers are created to preserve organic life and solve the recurring problem that organic life will always seek to create synthetic life which will in turn attempt to eradicate and overthrow those who made them. These Reapers proceeded to create a cosmic cycle in which they arrive and tear down civilisation, harvesting the races to create new Reapers and then attempting to hide all trace of their presence once they have gone, clearing the way for new species to develop until it is their turn to be harvested. 

In the cycle immediately prior to that which is featured in Mass Effect (fifty thousand years before the narrative begins), the ruling people were the Protheans. This term exists in two senses, for there was a biological species of Protheans, from whom the name came, but it was also applied to members of many other races who were forced into becoming part of the Prothean empire, which pleaced the Prothean species at its head. The empire was formed in response to an encounter with a threatening machine intelligence (not the Reapers). In uniting the other races beneath them, and crushing those peoples who did not join with them, the Prothean people were victorious in what came to be known as the Metacon War. 

"Vengeance is the goal, suicide is not."

However, when the Reapers arrived, their first act was the retaking of the Citadel, which was the centre of Protehan government. With access to all their records, the Reapers turned the unification which the Protheans had forced on all of the races, which had been their greatest strength, into their greatest weakness. Their Empire was shattered and over the next few centuries, the remaining Protheans were found and destroyed. 

Yet, the Protheans were set on survival and a plan was set in motion. A Protehan Avatar, an individual selected to embody one of their societal virtues, of Vengeance, Javik, was selected to enter status on the remote planet of Eden Prime, alone with one million warriors. Their task was to sleep out the Reapers and awaken once the danger had passed in order to rebuild the empire. 

Their plan failed. Betrayed to indoctrinated spies, Eden Prime was attacked and where one million Protheans should have been preserved, only one endured. Javik. 

Legacy of a Primordial Empire

In the previous section, I have attempted to present Javik's story as concisely yet fully as possible, though in doing so I have perhaps done some disservice to the narrative employed within Mass Effect itself. The Protheans are mentioned from the very first level of the very first game and yet the few answers which are given as to who they were (some of which have been mentioned above) are not revealed until the end of the third game.


Importantly, the Protheans have had a profound impact upon the peoples of the follow cycle, including humanity. Thus, in order to understand Javik, it is important to discuss and illuminate the ways in which the Protheans are considered and presented prior to his appearance. 

Images posted by Mythic Beast

From the offset of the series, we are given a certain picture of the Protheans as this exceptionally advanced, progenitor race who possessed exceptional technology yet who are shrouded in mystery, for they are known to have vanished, though nobody knows exactly why. 

Prothean technology is able to do things which that of the species cannot. 

Though they are wrongly credited with the creation of the Mass Relay network and the Citadel (both of which are, in fact, Reaper tools to manipulate development and allow a more streamlined harvest) the Protheans' expansive empire has lead to discovery of Prothean ruins and technology across the Galaxy. Most importantly, the Prothean cache on Mars is responsible for giving humanity a technological leap, allowing them to join the galactic community two hundred years earlier than they would have done otherwise, before the coming of the Reapers. The discover of a Prothean beacon in an important Asari temple, as well as Prothean-like figures appearing in Asari mythology, may indicate that the technological prowess of the Asari can also be attributed to the use of Prothean technology.

Thus, the image of the Protheans which is established from the outset of the series is that of an exceptionally advanced race and much of our early impressions of them is established through the character of Dr. Liara T'soni, who has spent half a century researching the Protheans and is considered to be an authority on them. Liara is evidently highly respectful of the Protheans, somewhat regarding them as having set a cultural and technological standard to which she appears to aspire.

Before discussing how Javik himself relates to these expectations, there is one final aspect of the Prothean legacy to discuss: the Hanar. This betentacled race view the Protheans as Gods, referring to them as the Enkindlers, giving them the responsibility for having given them speech and uplifting them. Therefore, whilst the Protheans seem largely responsible for enabling technological advancement for most of the races, they are also viewed, by some, as deities akin to the extraterrestrial figures present in Ancient Astronaut theories.

 

But how does this relate to Javik himself?

Primarily, Javik defies the majority of these expectations and he does so by both serving to enlighten us as to what the Protheans were truly like, but also by not being, in and of himself, the best representative for his entire species.

As Javik is the only Protehan remaining and thus the only one which is encountered (there are a few virtual intelligences modelled after Protheans, though these are computer simulations, not individuals in their own right) he is the de facto representative of his entire race. When Javik speaks, he speaks with the only remaining, 'pure' Prothean voice. There are no other examples to which we can point, he alone remains and thus we, rightly or wrongly, judge his race by the standards which he presents.

This in itself allows us to form a very narrow opinion. One can illustrate this by pointing to the real world. Those who have only ever met one person from a certain part of the world inevitable shape our opinions based around this individual. This is only lightly linked to cultural manifestations such as stereotyping, and it certainly should not be considered to be, in and of itself, racist, as it is not something which is chosen, it is simply a natural, mental faculty to base your expectations off your experiences. The narrower your experiences, the more limited of an understanding one can possess. Of course, this can lead to discrimination and other kinds of poor behaviour, though this is not a necessity.

Images posted by Vertigos

In our considerations of the Protheans, we are given this picture of an advanced culture, a place where both art and science flourished and things we could not even dream of were considered to be part of the everyday. Upon finding Javik, Liara is elated at the thought of conversing with one of the greatest scientific minds of the Prothean race, of debating philosophy and learning all she can of the Prothean culture.

But Javik is a warrior, not a scientist. He was for all intents and purposes bred to embody the very virtue of vengeance, created to fight and kill Reapers. He does not understand how the advanced technology of his people functioned, though he is certainly vocal about his dislike for current technology, which he views as clunky.

Furthermore, Javik never saw the great Prothean empire in its prime. He was born after the coming of the Reapers, his entire life has been one of struggle and confrontation. This fact is an exceptionally important one when it comes to understand Javik, for it is at odds with the purpose for which he was created. His mission was to hide in stasis, emerge with his soldiers and rebuild the Prothean empire, yet how can he rebuild that which he never truly knew? True enough, Prothean memory shards and their ability to share information and memories through touch (which will be discussed later) has allowed him to learn and experience much, he has only been able to know that to which he was created to aspire through such means, he has never truly experienced it for himself.


Yet, he has had Prothean ideas and values instilled within him. Understandably then, upon his awakening it takes some time for him to exhibit any warmth. Not only is he dealing with the loss of his people, which is to him as fresh as if it had happened moments ago, rather than 50,000 years, he is surrounded by the evolved forms of races all of his given memories and ideas tell him are underdeveloped, they are his lessers. This is where his arrogance comes from, his superior attitude. It is not because he is a terrible individual, but his very life was created to preserve a culture which tells him that we are beneath him and he is loathe to allow the viewpoints of his people (as vastly outdated as they may be) to be eroded, for as they are weakened so too is his purpose.

Furthermore, Javik reveals to us the Cosmic Imperative, which he, at least, considers to be a central concept with Prothean philosophy. Effectively, this is simply an understanding of the cosmos in which evolution is considered to be the fundamental driving force and is given greater importance than other methods of understanding. This belief sets Javik at odds with other individuals, notably Liara, and also serves to highlight that Javik is an exceedingly pragmatic individual. He is not the idea-oriented thinker Liara and many others might suspect a Prothean to be, he is a soldier and a firm believer, for it is his role to preserve them, in the Prothean Imperial attitudes. It is also suggested that the Prothean empire was exceptionally strict with heavy emphasis on discipline, thus these ideas will have been drilled into him further.

Therefore, Javik is the last representative of a culture he himself never really knew, yet one which, if her were able, he would restore. The failure of his plan has meant that his mission has failed, for he is the last of his kind and his empire is little more than somebody else's memory within his own head. He has only one goal remaining, though this is his goal only because there is nothing else he can do: ending the cycle and defeating the reapers.

Images posted by Oerbayun

Uneasy Intimacy

As a Prothean, Javik possesses a physiological ability similar to psychometry, which allows him to recall the experiences of others through physical touch, also allowing them to glean similar information from objects. Furthermore, this ability allows the communication of complicated ideas, with a single touch enough to attain complete fluency in another language or reach a competent level with a complicated skill. One might think that which such an ability, Javik would have little ability assimilating into a new world. However, this ability is as much a hindrance as a help.

True enough, Javik adapts must faster than most to his new environment, though he has come from a world in which everyone he knows is able to communicate entirely through the medium of touch, which, I assume, meant that Protheans were a far more open people (more so considering that they can pick-up memories from objects as well). 

In a society in which all members (or at least the majority) are able to access this ability, it would allow individuals to become exceptionally close in a very short space of time, both able to reach the same level of understanding of the other. However, when Javik uses such an ability, the other individual cannot reciprocate in the same way, and though he is able to transfer some of himself to them, this side of his ability appears to be more limited and thus there remains an inequality. Thus, he is able to discover and "get to know" others much faster than they are able to get to know him, which other individuals find alienating and intimidating, thus creating a gap between him and they. 

Image posted by Renegade Paladin

Much of this stems from the fact that the way in which he can reach such intimate understanding is through memory, which he is able to view without the consent of another person, who is usually required to actively share their own memories. Thus, with a single touch, he crosses lines which our culture considers to be unacceptable, though he cannot switch off this ability, at least not easily.

Furthermore, whilst he can learn from others and view their memories, he is doing so through a Prothean lens, without a full comprehension of the cultural cues and concepts which others possess. Thus, he can view as many memories as he wishes, but these alone do not allow him to fully understand their significance and often serve to further confuse him. 

Identity is something that is, even at a very fundamental level, shaped by one's connections to other people. Cultural, social, dialectical constructions of identity all rely upon such connections and whilst it is possible, to some degree, to consider the mind of an individual independently of the external, such solipsistic attempts at understanding personality are less comprehensive that others (though there are some merits to them). Javik's links to others are fragmented and damaged, for he truly comes from a completely different world, and is thus unable to understand where he has found himself. However, he never truly knew the world which he was created to recreated and has lost all of his comrades and fellow Protheans. Javik is caught between two worlds and is kept in the middle of them entirely alone. The world of the past is forever lost and can never return and yet, it is so heavily present within him that he cannot fully embrace the present into which he has been hurtled. 

Conclusion

Javik's role within Mass Effect is more than just a representative for the Prothean race, though he is certainly used in this way, being the only living Prothean encountered in the game. He additionally serves as a reminder that, whilst the devastation caused by the Reapers is horrific in this cycle, that there exists infinite worlds and peoples outside of those known of by humanity. In Javik, the Protheans and countless other beings find one to speak for their loss, find an individual who fights for them more directly than Shepherd, who has huge stakes in defeating the Reapers in this cycle. Javik too, wishes the cycle to end, but it is not his race on the line, for his people have already fallen.

In many ways, one can consider Javik to be a ghost, little more than a remnant of the past, though he has a spirit in and of himself. Whilst much of that which defines him is his being Prothean, he should not be considered as typical, but rather as what the Protheans became when their empire was in ruins and they were desperate to survive. In many ways, he represents the darker aspects of the Protheans, just as the savage children in The Lord of the Flies represent the darker aspects of humanity. When civilisation falls, a Hobbesian conception of "rationality" begins to grow, though at least in Javik it never achieves full fruition.

Image posted by Mahariela
From an MBTI perspective, I would likely consider Javik to be a ISTJ, sharing this typology with Samara. This is due to his focus and reliance on using his senses, increased due to his ability to essentially see across time into the past, as well as his strong identification with a strict hierarchy, based in cultural tradition, which he adamantly defends. This is further enhanced by his disregard for abstract ideas and focus on facts and statistics. His enneagram personality type would likely by Type 8, the Challenger, for he seeks protection and safety, though at great risk to himself, yet draws close to losing himself to vengeance.

Though I doubt that Javik will make an appearance in Mass Effect 4, I think that BioWare did an excellent job with his character in Mass Effect 3. The idea of introducing a living Prothean could have destroyed many of their plotlines had it been done badly and yet I certainly consider Javik to be an interesting and compelling character who is a welcome addition to the crew.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Chosen Undead - Beneath the Surface

Welcome to my 101st entry and the second in my Beneath the Surface series. Today's character is going to be somewhat non-standard, as they are not a character in the traditional understanding of the term. Rather than being a thinking, speaking individual in their own right, the object of this entry never speaks and serves as little beyond the avatar of the player. Yet, I feel that there are several things we can say about him.

Due to the nature of this game and this character, some of what is said in this entry will be my own interpretation of things from the game, so I expect and encourage you to challenge me on some of what is written here. 

Without further ado, I introduce our subject of discussion: The Chosen Undead of Dark Souls.

Image posted by Retro Time Attack

In The Beginning

When one begins playing Dark Souls, one quickly realises that the game gives you nothing easily and this works on two levels. Yes, the game is significantly harder than most others (at least for someone like me who plays games for the story whilst usually being absolutely awful at the mechanics (especially when those mechanics involve the possession of actual reflexes)) and it makes you work in order to progress, turning death into a mechanic for learning. However, secondarily, the story itself, the characters you meet and the lore of the world is never given to you in an information dump such as is evident in other roleplaying games like Skyrim (nothing against Skyrim, it is an amazing game, but the storytelling is rather straight forwards). Dark Souls is an incredibly rich game, leaving a huge amount of stuff open to interpretation by the player, leaving tiny little hints and facts, rather than presenting you with a single, complete narrative. 

So, you load up the game and create your character and then you are met with this...


After watching this introduction (which I personally think sets up the atmosphere perfectly) one immediately notes that your character only appears at the end, and is not mentioned in the voice-over. Aside from knowing that you have been led to the Undead Asylum, no history is given to your character. 

All that is known is that you are a human who has been branded by the Darksign, which has appeared on your flesh, marking you as undead. As an undead, you cannot truly die, instead awakening after each death by a bonfire, which is a piece of the First Flame, whence came the four Lord Souls, as stated by the introductory video. With each such resurrection, the undead begins to Hollow, a lengthy process in which the individual loses themselves, eventually passing a point of no return, when the undead is a mindless creature. Only once fully hollow can the undead be permanently killed. Hollowing can be postponed, however, if the undead acquires humanity, a black sprite (presumably part of the original Dark Soul found by the Furtive Pygmy) which represents human ambition, drive and purpose. In offering humanity to the bonfires, thus fueling the flames, an undead an reverse their hollowing. Thus, the undead have great incentive to gather as much humanity as they are able. 

The Silent Treatment

Apparently, the Chosen Undead was given no voice, save for the occasional grunt when wounded or slain, in order to allow them to become an "Everyman" character. Such characters have been used throughout literary traditions, especially when the story itself is being used as a kind of allegory. Commonly, everyman characters have little in terms of personality and background, allowing them to be equally empathised with by everybody and serve as placeholders for nobody in particular. Notable examples of this can be found in the work of H.P. Lovecraft, who uses such characters to represent humanity in general, which cannot begin to comprehend the Old Ones and various other creatures he presents in his Cthulhu Mythos.

I certainly think that we can read the plot of Dark Souls as allegorical to human experience, especially when it comes to the concept of the undead. The Undead are given, practically, eternal life and yet this is a curse to them, for it leads to their eventual Hollowing, losing themselves before they die. In order to prevent themselves from going Hollow, they must gather humanity, which can be understood as the spirit of determination. Furthermore, Hollowing is slowed, if not reversed, in those who have a strong purpose, who live for some cause.

Image posted by Lovelife-Bepositive

Likewise, in our lives, continuing to survive is, on its own, not enough. We need to live and that involves giving our lives some kind of purpose, even if that purpose is simply to seek comfort and pleasure. Indeed, some purposes are more noble than others, one could argue and one could argue that a whole branch of moral philosophy and ethics is devoted to analysing which purposes are worthy of devoting one's life to. 

Dark Souls provides a series of purposes your character can devote themselves to, though it does not attempt to evaluate them for you, instead allowing you, the player, to weigh the benefits of each. The end you devote your character to is what ultimately defines the Chosen Undead. 

We shall now devote some time to each such purpose in turn. 

Part of the Prophecy

During your flight from the Undead Asylum, the protagonist will encounter Oscar, a knight of Astora, the individual who throws the hollow corpse into your cell, granting you the key and a chance at freedom. Originally intended to play a greater part in the story, Oscar's role changed during development, leading to his death during your attempt to leave the Asylum. However, before he dies, he says something important to your character.
"Thou who art Undead, art chosen...In thine exodus from the Undead Asylum, maketh pilgrimage to the land of Ancient Lords...When thou ringeth the Bell of Awakening, the fate of the Undead thou shalt know"
Oscar introduces this to the player as a saying that has been passed down through his family, though it does not take a keen eye to note that this mere 'saying' has prophetic undertones. So begins your journey and several of the characters you shall meet seek to encourage you to follow this prophecy.

The general gist of the prophecy is that the Chosen Undead shall make pilgrimage to Lordran (the land of ancient Lords) and ring the bells of awakening and thus open their way to Anor Londo, the City of the Gods, where the Chosen Undead can receive the Lordvessel from Gwynevere, Queen of Sunlight. This Lordvessel can be filled with power souls, notably those of the Witch of Izalith and Gravelord Nito, to open the way to Lord Gwyn, who has given himself to the First Flame in order to preserve it for a little longer. Ultimately, the prophecy declares the Chosen Undead to be the one who will defeat Gwyn, who has become Hollowed, and who will then, in turn, give themselves to the First Flame, linking it and allowing the Age of Fire to endure a little longer.

I bequeath the Lordvessel to thee.And beseech thee. Succeed Lord Gwyn, and inheriteth the Fire of our world.Thou shall endeth this eternal twilight, and avert further Undead sacrifices.

Thus, we could read the Chosen Undead as simply that, an individual who is destined to fulfill the prophecy and sustain the Age of Fire. If so, your quest is a righteous one, your intentions pure. On this reading of the Chosen Undead, they are seen as a paragon of what is expected of them, devoted to others, stereotypically (one might say) good. Naturally, it ties with religion, as linking the First Flame empowers those Gods who have fled from Anor Londo, possibly allowing their return, as well as playing into the hands of Gwyndolin, the great manipulator, God of Moonlight.

Furthermore, in linking the First Flame, the player gives up their very life, dying for the world. An act one could quite easily compare to a certain Messiah from Christian theology.

Oscar, Knight of Astora
Oscar gave his own life trying to serve as a catalyst for Prophecy.

One could view that Chosen Undead who pursues this purpose as a champion of the status quo, or as one who restores the world to a state of Light and prosperity, even if there exists this rigid hierarchy in which the Gods rule over humanity. They can be seen as an individual who stands against the corruption of the Abyss and of uncontrolled humanity and darkness.

Or, one could view them as the pawn of prophecy.

The Liberator / Scion of the Dark

The prophecy states that the Chosen Undead shall defeat Gwyn and link the First Flame, allowing the Age of Fire to continue and the power of the Gods to endure. Yet, all this talk of Prophecy and Pilgrimage and setting oneself aflame, all of it could quite easily be propaganda, a tool the Gods (in particular Gwyndolin) are using to trick a powerful undead into sacrificing themselves in order to restore their power, allowing them to retain their dominance over humanity.

"Your ancestor claimed the Dark Soul and waited for Fire to subside.And soon, the flames did fade, and only Dark remained.Thus began the age of men, the Age of Dark."

Certainly, Darkstalker Kaathe thinks so, encouraging the Chosen Undead (should they meet) to defeat Gwyn and like the First Flame die, ending the Age of Fire and ushering in the Age of Darkness (which is interestingly called the Age of Man). It is argued that this is the natural course that the world must take, that all fires must die and that all lights must go out, so why prolong the wait for the inevitable? Why defy the course of nature?

You must destroy the fading Lord Gwyn, who has coddled Fire and resisted nature,and become the Fourth Lord, so that you may usher in the Age of Dark!

Thus, the Chosen Undead can be responsible for ending the Age of Fire, allowing the power of the Gods to die, allowing the world, as we know it, to come to an end.

Perhaps we should read this Chosen Undead as the true hero, for they liberated us from the influence of the Gods, freed us from their tyranny, evened out the playing-field by removing their power and allowing us all to become equals. 

And yet, we can see clearly from Oolacile what becomes of humans afflicted by the unchecked corruption of the Abyss. They are no longer people, but monsters, twisted and abused. So overwhelmed are they by their own humanity that their bodies become hideously altered and warped, more monster than human. Without the light of the First Flame to keep the darkness of the Abyss in check, what is to stop the same fate befalling all of us?

Bloathead Sorcerer
This is what becomes of those humans who fall into the Abyss.

Thus, perhaps we should consider such a Chosen Undead to be the ultimate nihilist, rather than a hero. 

The Explorer

Perhaps the Chosen Undead does not devote themselves to prophecy, yet does not take the approach of staunchly opposing it. Instead, they simply seek answers, searching everywhere, killing those which get in their way if they have to, yet otherwise sowing no unnecessary harm. Through gathering the pieces of the puzzle and assembling them into a picture of the world, the Explorer is able to understand what is going on and ultimately discover what their place in this world can be.

I would consider all players to exist as Explorers at one point or another. Starting a game with little context and without much to guide you beyond the cryptic hints given to you by strange NPCs tends to leave one very much in the dark. All this talk of prophecy and of being Chosen can seem to ring very hollow (no pun intended) when one knows nothing of the world, nothing of who you are and how you link to that which is going on outside of Lordran. 

One must understand the world before one decides whether or not it is worth saving. 

With no context given, the character thus begins the game with no external ties, and thus nothing to define them beyond those options selected at character creation. Your gender, appearance and general skill-set is yours to chose, but as for where you came from, who you are, nothing is provided, thus you must chose who you are solely through your actions in the game.

A character who becomes a true explorer, one who passess through the world on a never-ending quest to amass as much lore as possible will eventually have to kill to get it, thus tying them to the fourth and final kind of Chosen Undead. 

Image posted by Unforgettable Gaming Moments

The Egoist

Caring little for prophecy or lore, the Egoist is the Chosen Undead who quickly realises and embraces that the more things they kill and defeat, the more power they gain for themselves. Thus, this is the purpose they strive for: bettering themselves at the expense of others. They strike down all they encounter, as soon as they have no more use for them, gorging themselves on souls in order to augment their own powers. 

In truth, there is little difference between such characters and the Hollows and Demons they encounter, for all are but seeking to increase their own strength without any great end in sight (one could argue that the demons indeed to have some further end (the protection of the Chaos Flame which birthed them)). 

Such Chosen Undead are a bane to everything they meet, for they consider all things to be a means to their own end. Their morality is severely lacking, for they have not a shred of empathy with those they encounter, rarely stopping to consider the implications of what they are doing beyond whether or not they could be more effective at that which they are doing. 

Image posted by Unforgettable Gaming Moments

Thus, we have the four archetypal identities of the Chosen Undead.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Morrigan - Beneath the Surface

Welcome to a particularly special entry! It is with no small amount of pleasure that I announce that this here is the 100th, published entry of Counting Reflections, which has been running for about four years. Honestly, I am rather pleased with myself for having reached this number of entries, but hope that I will be able to reach 200 in less than four more years. Here's hoping!


Considering my fascination with identity and all of its nit-picky little aspects and incarnations, not to mention its dire complexity and strangely stubborn-yet-volatile nature, and given that I have discussed identities on here before, I thought that a nice idea would be to delve deeper into these topics and do a whole series of character analyses, devoting an entire entry to the character in question, putting them "under the microscope" to examine them as comprehensively as I can.

Unlike the MBTI series, this series of entries will not have a clearly marked beginning and end, nor will I attempt to cover all characters from a given series. Instead, I shall pick the characters I most wish to write about, when I wish to write about them, though suggestions are always welcome! 

Without further ado, let me introduce the first character to be discussed in what I shall call my "Beneath the Surface" series: Morrigan of Dragon Age: Origins.


Image posted by Maria Barring

Daughter of the Wilds

Morrigan is a "Witch of the Wilds" an Apostate Mage living in the Korcari wilderness, on the very fringes of civilisation. She grew up far from other people, raised only by her mother, the insidious Flemeth, infamous witch of ancient legend, from whom she learnt the art of working magic, as well as the powers of the Shapeshifter, allowing her to wear the form of an animal. Her mother is a complicated character in her own right (so much so that another of these entries may focus upon her) and she has sought to instill Morrigan with a steadfast resilience against anything she may encounter, producing a tough daughter. Though they have fought off Templars in their time, Morrigan and her mother have evaded capture by the Knights of the Chantry, able to live as Apostates: those mages who live outside of the restrictive confines of the circle and its religious enforcers.

"The Chasind have tales of we witches... I have prowled shadows that you never dreamed existed. Am I an unnatural abomination, to be put to the torch?"

In spite of her reclusive upbringing (and perhaps in no small part due to it), Morrigan has wandered into civilisation before, though each time she has returned to her mother, having always faced some kind of deeply alienating experience or profound rejection from her brief interludes into the "civilised" world. Hence, she has remained by her mother's side...until the Warden came with their quest to save the nation from the Blight and she was instructed to take her leave and aid the Grey Wardens in the preservation of the realm and the downfall of the Darkspawn. 

Such is her story, now to probe a little further...

A Mother's Love

"I raised her to be as she is! I cannot expect her to be less."

When first introduced to Flemeth and Morrigan, it is clear that, in spite of her obvious desire to assert her own capabilities and independence, Flemeth has kept Morrigan under her thumb and there is no question as to her authority over her. This is understandable, for the pair have lived alone together for the majority of Morrigan's life and such a hierarchy (and a level of dependency, fostered by custom) has had time to become firmly cemented. In spite of this, Morrigan is certainly not entirely kowtowed by her mother, she fights back, struggles and asserts herself, though Flemeth seems to take little notice of such outbursts, able to cripple her daughter's efforts with a few words of cutting mockery. 

There does not exist any great warm between these two, that much is apparent on both occasions in which they are met together, though there is a certain degree of sentimental respect on Morrigan's side. When she bids goodbye to her mother, she does so in a very roundabout way, presenting "false" concern which masks a genuine desire not to have to leave. Of course, she very much desires to leave and see the world for herself, rather than to only hear of it through her mother's tales (which is possesses a keen interest in, if Flemeth is to be believed), but this desire can only be achieved by leaving behind the only world she has ever known: the Wilds and her Mother. True, her mother has never been a great source of emotional strength, but she has protected her and raised her, naturally there is a connection there. Morrigan is accustomed to the relative comfort and safety of her environment and is now having to leave it. In spite of her capability and outwardly displayed self-confidence, she is very much a child leaving home. She is vulnerable.

"Morrigan is innocent. She is beautiful. She is vulnerable." - Kate Mulgrew

Image posted by Everything Dragon Age

Needless to say, Morrigan's relationship with her mother is a touchy subject and one which she covers up with humour, trying to appear as if she does not care when in truth she cares very deeply beneath the surface. When asked what she would do if her mother died, she responds with "Before or after I stop laughing?". She evades any such questions as to how she feels and the Warden can lose her respect if they attempt to engage in a sentimental discussion with her about her mother (or any kind of sentimental conversation, which Morrigan, though she does connect with sentiment, openly speaks against). That being said, she evidently respects her mother a great deal, for any attempt to argue against the lessons Flemeth has taught her (that independence is a virtue, that emotional connection is weakness and unnecessary, among other things) is met with open hostility. Though she fights against her mother, she very much respects her and acknowledges her authority and power in a complementary (as opposed to purely cold) manner.

Their relationship is darkened upon the discovery of Flemeth's Grimoire, which had somehow ended up in the Circle Tower. Upon reading it, Morrigan discovers that her mother's longevity has apparently arisen from a cyclical ritual in which she births and raises a daughter in order to take that daughter's body as her own when her previous body has aged beyond usefulness. It is thought that the stronger the daughter is with magic, the easier it is for Flemeth to take her over, thus giving her a motivation to send Morrigan with the Warden, otherwise Flemeth would have sought to protect her greatest asset.

Image posted by Ozoi

This discovery is evidently shocking to Morrigan, who still cannot quite believe the level of "betrayal" within her mother's plot. Though, at the same time, she evidently knows her mother is capable of doing such a thing, for her immediate conclusion, seemingly without much need for consideration, is that the Warden must kill her mother, and she reaches this conclusion without professing any desire to speak with her or displaying anything beyond a basic sentimentality. She does care for her mother, but having discovered her intention to exploit her, Morrigan, who has taken Flemeth's lessons to heart, does exactly what her mother would have done in her place. Though Flemeth, through magic, ultimately survives, Morrigan proves herself as both very similar to Flemeth, but also fundamentally different - for she does open herself to her more emotional side, something which we have yet to see from Flemeth (though there are indications, with her discussions with Merrill in DA:II, that she suffers deep regrets. For what, we do not yet know). 

Morrigan gains her clinical pragmatism and her mistrust of others from her mother and with it comes an inability to understand and correctly handle her own emotions. Though her mother has given her great magical talent and taught her to control it, she failed in giving her the emotional development from which she may have benefitted and, due to the isolation, there was no other source which could have provided her with such. However, compassion comes naturally to human beings and Morrigan evidently has a great deal of it, as well as the ability to empathise. Neither of these are expressed to any great degree, for Flemeth has tried to fashion her daughter into her own likeness. After all, if all goes to plan, Morrigan will one day be Flemeth. 

"I'm not sure whether she's your daughter or your enemy."
"Neither is she." 

Image posted by The Heart Is A Home For Ghosts

Civilisation and Isolation

Having been raised in such an isolated environment, Morrigan is profoundly alienated when it comes to dealing with other people, more so than almost any other character within the series (I would argue even more so than Sten, who may hail from a vastly different culture, but a culture nonetheless), though she is an exceptionally determined individual, so her lack of understanding of social situations is masked behind a veil of apathy. Morrigan has only ever learnt of people "in theory", rather than meeting them, talking with them, developing even basic social skills and thus she views all other people more as ideas and caricatures than as people. She does not care for many others and tells herself that she does not care for those for whom she does care because she has never learnt how to care for others appropriately.

"Ah, look how they moan and wail and gnash their teeth. 'Tis sad to watch how helplessly they scurry about."
We learn our culture and our place within it, and thus, a portion of ourselves, through exposure to it, through being inducted into it. Basically, we learn our culture through living it. Morrigan has never had this, for she has been raised outside of a culture. Flemeth kept her apart from other people and, upon discovering that Morrigan had been occasionally venturing into the "civilised" world, responded with anger enough to leave quite the impact on her daughter. Her mother's desire to hide comes from two motivations: the desire to keep their magic hidden (mainly to avoid hassle rather than danger, considering how powerful Flemeth is) and elitism. Flemeth, rightly or wrongly, considers herself to be better than most others (despite her attempts at presenting herself as humble) and this arrogance has washed off on Morrigan, who ultimately tries to see others are less intelligent than herself. This is again due to her underdeveloped emotional understanding, though she certainly is intelligent.

"I left the wilds more than once when I was young, to seek more of the world of men."

This having been said, Morrigan's responses to civilisation are birthed from a fear of that which is beyond her understanding and yet which inspires within her such a deep curiosity. Though somewhat paradoxical, this is certainly the case and this paradoxical nature is what causes so much strife within her. Flemeth herself says that her daughter wants to venture into the world and see it for itself, but that she has, until the arrival of the Warden, been unable to do so. Morrigan wants to understand other people, she has the capacity to and the desire to come to know them better, on an emotional level, but she is scared of doing so, as such an act requires trust and an open channel with one's emotions, neither of which she is open to experimenting with. Again, this is very much down to her mother, who never responded in such a way as to open up those channels. She is very much stranded in the wilderness, looking into civilisations with a child's curiosity, yet the cynicism of an old crone. 
"I... have never seen such a collection of merchants and people before. 'Tis always so?"
Interestingly, Morrigan's solitude has led to her seek solace in animals, for her Shapeshifter abilities allow her to enter into their world wearing their shape. When asked about it, she reveals that she had occasionally felt the wilds call to her, that she would slip away from Flemeth and take the form of some animal creature, and pass hours with beastial companions. Yet this has not given her any great love for nature, nor has it transformed her into this enlightened "earth mother" character. She is almost as cynical of animals as she is of people, only less so towards them due to her acknowledgement that they cannot scheme and plot as people do. Though she has drawn strength from nature, she does not identify herself with it, thus preventing her from being fully identified with it, though she has certainly been shaped by it more than she herself might wish to believe. 

Image posted by Maria Barring

One could certainly argue that Morrigan's closeness to animals has highlighted to her how different she is from the beasts whose forms she can wear, a difference which she perhaps fails to see in many other people, thus leading her to be cynical about their "human nature" (or elven, dwarven, etc.). Perhaps it is the case that she views other peoples much like she views animals, though she has more respect for the animals who do not pretend to be something that they are not, whilst many people pretend to be better. She does seem to have a preoccupation with considering others to be lying to themselves, deluded or simply misguided.

“The world of man... is dangerous.”
“And frightening, I imagine. Especially for someone ill-prepared for it.”


Apostasy

In so fervently opposing the Chantry and its rulings, Morrigan comes to define herself in opposition to the structures she so hates. As for what she specifically hates about the Chantry, there are a few things to chose from, though I find it interesting to note that there is a degree of bravado present even in her attitudes towards the Chantry.

Before explaining further, perhaps I should briefly summarise what the Chantry is. Basically, it is the major religion of Thedas (literally "The Dragon Age Setting" The-D-A-S, Thedas, which is the world in which Dragon Age is set). They are heavily influenced by Christianity, their history revolving around Andraste, the messiah of their God, the Maker, who arrived to spread his word to the world and was betrayed and burnt at the stake. Most importantly, the Chantry have a very low opinion on magic in general, which stems from the words of their prophet. Essentially, they see it as a curse, as something which "exists to serve man and never rule over him". As with anything taken from a religious text, the scriptures have multiple meanings. Whether it is because they see them as evil, easily manipulated by demons or any other reason they can think of, the Chantry, at minimum, require Mages to be accounted for. This means that most of those who can use magic are forced to live in a Circle of Magi, which is meant to be a safe place for them to live and learn together. It is, in truth, as much a prison as anything else. 

Image posted by Hawkules

In typical Morrigan style, she expresses no sympathy for the Circle Mages upon discovering that the veil has been torn and that Abominations (possessed mages) are running amok, with many magi having been slaughtered. This is a moment in which we can see, perhaps more vividly than elsewhere, the impact of Flemeth's teachings. Morrigan sees magic as something exceptionally important and miraculous, something that should be cultivated and explored and embraced. This is true. However, what she values more is independence, liberty and the individual asserting themselves over an authority which would attempt to constrict it. By willingly, in most cases, allowing themselves to be captured and live under the rule of the Circle, these mages have committed, in Morrigan's eyes an ultimate offence, surrendering of the self to some greater dogma, which she considers exists only to exert control.
"It would be a silly thing, prolonging your life. A waste."
I believe that this is what Morrigan opposes most about the Chantry: their dogma. I know that many consider Morrigan to be atheist, though David Gaider's tweet (displayed below) suggests that this is not the case. I would consider it more likely that Morrigan is an agnostic or that she believes in some kind of deeply personal deity. She is certainly a free thinker, one who opposes limitations or anything which tries to box her thinking. This desire to constantly assert herself and subvert others is what gives us so much to talk about. She wants nothing more that to be herself, though she is not quite sure who that is yet, but she is quickly finding out. Restrictive hierarchies are her anathema and those that follow them are, to her, lost and weak. Though this attitude is shaped by Flemeth, I think it safe to say it is as much her own opinion than hers.
Interestingly, Dragon Age: Inquisition will see her taking a place in a hierarchy as she becomes the Arcane Advisor to the Empress of Orlais. It will be interesting to see how this has changed her, for Morrigan has certainly seemed to have matured (from what little we have seen of her in the trailers and pre-release materials) though I have no doubt she remains fiercely independent, even if she is beginning to work in with the system to a degree. This is but speculation, for answers, we shall have to wait.

Image posted by Maria Barring

Getting Dialectical - Wynne

A trend I have noticed in both Dragon Age games (though to a lesser degree in the second), when it comes to companions, is that there appears to be two characters of each class, one of which serves to subvert the norms whereas the other seems to support them. In Dragon Age: Origins, we have Alistair, a fighter who supports tradition, mostly, and Sten, who is Qunari and thus would change the whole of Ferelden if he could. Likewise, Zevran is an outsider assassin whereas Leliana is a believer in the Chantry. Morrigan is the subversive mage, making her counterpart the mage who supports the circle and what it stands for: Wynne.

Wynne and Morrigan seem, at least on the surface to be completely opposed. The former is an established member of the Circle, who has devoted her life to it and to the task of protecting young mages, who fosters a philosophy of extreme selflessness and whose focus is in magics which restore and heal others. Morrigan hates the Circle, the Chantry, has only ever been devoted to herself (in fairness, she never really had anyone else) and whose magic is far more oriented towards the degradation of her opponents. 

Again, we can define Morrigan through her opposition to Wynne.

“But the Circle is no place of safety. 'Tis a place of subjugation.”
“Is it? It is by no means perfect, I agree, but consider the alternative. At least other mages can understand our struggle. We can help each other.”
Of course, it would be easy to simply say of their relationship that they are polar opposites, impossible to reconcile and, whilst there may be some truth to this, I think there is more to be said. During one of their exchanges, Morrigan almost seems to be swayed by Wynne's view on the Circle as an imperfect place of safety, leading her to perhaps question some of her assumptions slightly. Whilst ultimately she remains resolutely against it, I believe what began to make Morrigan reconsider is the mention of helping one another, a concept which Morrigan would ordinarily claim to find abhorrent or weak and yet it is something which she evidently desires. She wants to be appreciated, she wants the gentleness that comes from being understood and yet Flemeth has prevented her from being able to express herself with enough clarity that she can actually attain any of these things.

'There is no writing on my forehead that says "Please, guide me!"'

Morrigan opposes Wynne's position of authority. I think perhaps she considers her to be in some ways similar to Flemeth, and older woman of considerable magical ability (though nowhere near Flemeth) who seeks to promote her beliefs in others as a guide and a teacher. Morrigan has already suffered under the oppressive dogma of one mother and is in no rush to find another, though at the same time, Wynne has many motherly traits which likely force Morrigan to reflect on the role her own mother has played in her life. Undoubtedly, this is an uncomfortable topic, resulting in heightened hostility towards Wynne, only exacerbated by their oppositional views.

"I am not Alistair, who sees in you a surrogate mother."

Image posted by Warden Cortana Croft

Her Namesake

There is power in a name, such a concept is one of the most ancient, featuring in stories, both fantastical and otherwise as far back as there have been stories. Whilst Dragon Age itself has not implemented any kind of magical power involving names, at least it has not done so to the best of my knowledge, Morrigan bears a particularly interesting name, one which hails from Irish mythology.

The Morrigan is one of these elusive figures which varies according to which source one is reading. She is widely referred to as both the "Phantom Queen" and the "Great Queen" and many sources depict her as a Goddess, one associated with Battle, Strife and Sovereignty. Some theorists consider her to be the Irish counterpart to the Norse Valkyries, female minor deities who would decide the fate of warriors in battle and collect the worthy dead for delivery to Valhalla. This connection is strengthened by the fact that the Morrigan was known for her ability to wear the shapes of many animals, and is associated with the crow, whereas the Valkyries were associated. Both small, black birds.

Morrigan of Dragon Age is, of course, a shapeshifter and, whilst the game rules limit her to being able to assume the forms of a spider, a bear or a swarm of flies, she professes to be able to assume the shape of whatever animal she has had the chance to observe for a sufficient amount of time. Thus the shape of a bird is perfectly possible. Additionally, one need only glance at her original robes to note the black feathers upon her pauldron (shoulder). Crow feathers, raven feathers, either are possible. Such references are present.

Image posted by Lemmy Leyra

Additionally, the Morrigan is often considered to be a Triple Goddess, one aspect of a three-part being, which is at once one being and three. There are many examples of these deities throughout history (the Graeae, which were covered in a recent MBTI entry would also fit this category), most notably one could consider the God of Christianity to be a Triple Deity, as he exists as the trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, when it comes to the presentation of witches, three is consistently a number associated with them. A prime example of this would be the Witches three in MacBeth.

Interestingly, the other two deities which are part of her trio are considered to be her sisters, all three of which were born of a single mother. We know from Dragon Age: The Silent Grove, that Flemeth has another daughter, Yavana (who interestingly sees the ritual possession Flemeth is seeking to perform on Morrigan as a gift), and there is nothing to indicate that she does not have others. Thus, there are possible links in the story there.

Therefore, we can see how parts of Morrigan's character, though perhaps not her personality, stem from her Irish namesake. A shapechanger, part of something greater than herself, associated with crows and ravens, bastion of strife.

Image posted by Dorian Xpavus

Finally

Bearing in mind what I have written here, I would class Morrigan as an INTJ, though her secondary type would definitely be INFJ. In terms of Enneagram of personality type, I would place her either as Type 4 (The Artist / Individualist) or Type 8 (The Assertist / The Challenger). Her tarot card would be the Queen of Swords. 

Certainly, it will be interesting to see how Morrigan's character will develop as she appears in Dragon Age; Inquisition, for, as mentioned, she seems to have matured a great deal. Who knows what Morrigan we will be presented with? I for one am sure that she will remain as sarcastic and fiercely independent as ever, though perhaps she will sacrifice some of her nature to aid in the winning of the war? I hope to find out!

So concludes the 100th entry. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Beastiary: Entry IV, Diplomats

Welcome to the final entry of my second, and vastly shorter, MBTI series. I admit, I have enjoyed this mini-project and it has definitely sparked some thinking when it comes to employing an MBTI typology for whole groups of people rather than individuals. True enough, stereotyping and generalising is to be often avoided due to its tendency to be false. Yet, there is some truth to almost every stereotype and I think that certain warrants some analysis.

Today, I will be concluding the series by discussing the Diplomat types: ENFJ, ENFP, INFJ and INFP. These types are united by Intuition and Feeling, which imbues them with the capability for deep empathy and compassion, allowing them to relate easily to others. This natural affinity for understanding earns them their title, for the Diplomat types will often find themselves in the role of peacemaker, existing to harmonise various elements and enable them to work in unison. This depth of feeling is excellent for ensuring that others feel comfortable, though it tends to lock the Diplomats in a "warm" setting, meaning that they can struggle when "cold", logical thinking must be applied. 

Let's take a look at which creatures these types fit...

MAMIHLAPINATAPAI
[noun]
(sometimes spelled mamihlapinatapei) derived from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the “most succinct word”, and is considered one of the hardest words to translate. It refers to “a look shared by two people, each wishing that the other will offer something that they both desire but are unwilling to suggest or offer themselves.” A slightly different interpretation of the meaning also exists: “It is that look across the table when two people are sharing an unspoken but private moment. When each knows the other understands and is in agreement with what is being expressed. An expressive and meaningful silence.”
[Séverine Pineaux]
Image posted by Victorious Vocabulary

ENFJ (The Giver) - Dryads

Yet another being from Greek mythology (so much to choose from, how am I to resist?), the Dryads are tree spirits (specifically associated with Oak Trees) which exist as expressions of nature. They are often described as minor deities and they seek to promote harmony and cultivate their environment to ensure that all living things can co-exist. They do more than simply inspire, they protect and the wrath of a Dryad is as fearsome as the rage of the natural world seeking to defend itself. 

Charisma and altruism are defining qualities of the Giver, whose central goal is to provide the emotional support (and occasionally the material means) required to allow other people to flourish and grow comfortably. Dryads are, traditionally, very beautiful humanoids in appearance, who possess exceptional charm and charisma, whilst also serving to empower and tend to their own environments. Plants themselves, Dryads have an affinity with all growing things and use their powers to encourage the prosperity of nature. This description compares neatly with the way in which the Giver takes the hand of all those around them and does what they can to aid in their flourishing, a practice which requires a great amount of tolerance, the ability to persist and endure no matter what the weather might be. Much like the trees they resemble, Dryads take root and stand their ground. Likewise, ENFJs are amongst the most reliable of folk, depended upon by their friends (both close and distant).

nature by ~dihaze
Image posted by Mere Recorder

ENFP (The Champion) - Fae

The Fae incorporate a wide variety of different beings, though the most central of which are Faeries, youthful beings of plenty and excess, known for their playful of not outright tricksy nature. Certainly, one cannot doubt their power, for they can do many things, though their powers often come with a price and nearly always teach their recipient and life lesson.

Champions are popular and friendly, excellent hosts who do their utmost to ensure that their guests are entertained and looked after, much like the Fae of legend, who are known for their fantastic gatherings and excellent conversational skills. They know how to unwind and images of Faeries relaxing quietly in the serenity of the forests and woodlands are numerous, for these beings are known for their luxury and their readiness to fully embrace the lighter side of life, which includes an element of sloth. ENFPs are curious creatures, as are many portrayals of the Fey, which present them as constantly interfering in the human world out of an interested in our lives and the ways in which we live.

Both the Fae and ENFPs are overly emotional individuals, who often wear their hearts on their sleeves and are capable of great depth of feeling. Unlike the introverted feelers, ENFPs very much express how they feel, meaning that their emotions have a profound impact on the world around them. Likewise, the Fae are known for their mood-swings, for how quickly their hearts can change, leading many to call them fickle. Indeed, this could be equally suggested of the ENFP, who often find focus difficult. 

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Image posted by Girl In Troubles

INFJ (The Counselor) - Angels

Angels are messengers of the Gods, bringing their gospel and their word to all corners of the world. Fundamentally, they perceive a truth which many cannot and their entire beings are dedicated to delivering this truth ubiquitously, which they see as the highest good. Though they are close to the Gods they serve, they are still very much reliant upon their faith, which can waiver and be lost much like that of any human being. However, so close to their deities at all times, Angels are constantly faced with the difficult questions, which they must seek to overcome. They are more than passive messengers, however, for they seek to heal those who suffer and alleviate their pain, as well as protect purity and goodness. Angels are divine warriors as well as benefactors and are not to be underestimated should the trumpets of war be sounded.

INFJs set extremely high standards for themselves and for others, a trait shared with many depictions of Angels who demand god-like perfection from themselves and all those they meet. This desire for perfection further manifests in the need to feel as if they are constantly improving and becoming ever-better; INFJs are not a type which likes to sit still. This leads to their disapproving of those who are more lax (which can be almost any other type) and can create hostility. 

Furthermore, INFJs are determined to make a difference to the world around them and whilst this often makes them exceptionally beneficial, they can become warped and twisted, resulting in their promoting a terrible order of things. Just as Hitler was an INFJ, so was Lucifer and Angel.

Image posted by Of Fire and Waves

INFP (The Idealist) - Muses

And, rather fittingly, we end with another set of figures from Greek Mythology. According to legend, the Muses are a group of female deities (though popular culture has begun to present some male incarnations, though their feminine image seems to persist) who personify the arts. They relate to the classical conception of the genius as being a supernatural entity which exists outside of the individual and endows them with talent and skill, rather than the modern conception, which portrays genius as being something which an individual is, rather than something outside of them which they can, temporarily, possess. Muses exist to inspire and rally the creative parts of the soul.

Some legends say that there are nine Muses, each of which governs over a different art (for example Tragedy, Hymns, Comedy etc.) and the picture above likely represents Urania, the Muses of Astronomy, who is often symbolised by a globe and compass. 

Fundamentally, Muses and INFPs are linked due to their natural affinity for creativity, no matter what form this may present itself in. Idealists, as their name suggests, are fascinated by ideals and concepts and, possessing great emotional character seek to play with such things, for which the artistic mediums are well suited. Idealists possess great enthusiasm for their work and anything about which they are passionate. Indeed, this type, much like the Muses are veritable wellsprings of passion and they often seek to inspire others, which is, of course, the fundamental role of a Muse.


Thus I bring to a close my second MBTI series and hope that it was at least somewhat interesting to read. I have already begun on the next entry, which will be on identity again (though not MBTI exclusively, this time) and which will be marking an important milestone as it will be this blog's 100th entry!