Heart of Darkness, Angel of Light – The Defense of Sephiroth

More Final Fantasy essays, metas, and examinations can be found here.

Warning: Discussions of rape. 

What we are told and what we are shown in a narrative are not always one and the same. Ever since I played Final Fantasy VII many years ago, the idea that Sephiroth was the main villain never seemed cohesive. Though the story parallels Paradise Lost with the fallen general fulfilling the role of Satan and the world’s enemy, there are paradigms presented that tell an entirely different tale.  What is seen and much of what is deemed important is in reality a veneer, a multi-layered puppet show, a mummer’s farce for the unobservant.  The player is directed to pay attention to particular details, while ignoring others, leaving them for the silence, but it is this well of silence that resonates most deep.

Video games being a visual medium like film or TV affords the creators the better ability to employ the act of literally showing whereas the medium of writing forces the author to use words to do the same.  With a video game like FFVII, because it has a text base (being an RPG) what is said can be held on the same or similar level to what is visually interpreted.  In writing, authors are almost universally prompted to “show not tell,” because telling your readers that a character is ambitious has far less of an impact than showing him usurping the throne.

A good storyteller has the ability to tell one thing, but show another, essentially lie to the reader in narrative, forcing them to divine the truth within the folds.  An example of this can be found in George R R Martin’s illustrious and epic A Song of Ice and Fire Series with the character of Sandor Clegane, the Hound (there is an even better and more comprehensive defense of the Hound located here on Patrick Sponaugle’s blog).  Everything we are told about the Hound insists that he is a soulless murderer who will obey the commands of his equally disturbed master, Prince Joffrey.  The Hound himself encourages this image, spewing vitriol towards Sansa Stark prior to and during her captivity in King’s Landing.  He treats Arya Stark, her sister, much the same (the younger girl; however, being far more adept at handling it), and Clegane’s interior seems to match his veneer, a horrible, twisted monster.

But there is as much of dichotomy in his heart as there is on his face.  Despite the horrible things he says, Clegane protects both of the Stark sisters in turn.  He is the only “knight” of the Kingsguard to not beat Sansa while she is captive, and he gives her his cloak to cover herself when Joffrey strips her bare.  This last act is actually a metaphorical marriage as wedding customs of Westeros dictate.  The Hound also eschews the vows of knighthood, believing it to be a hypocritical order as his brother, the truly monstrous Mountain Gregor Clegane is a knight and it was he who caused the horrific injury to Sandor’s face.  Ironically, because of this, the Hound could very well be the truest (male) knight Westeros has ever seen (Brienne of Tarth would be his only competition,

and…considering she bested him, that gives us food for thought) because he keeps the vows he never made.  He hides his true face behind the burned, and hides his true self beneath the bitter.

Staying within the same series for another instance of what we are told vs. what we are shown also presents us Rhaegar Targaryen.

Rhaegar TargaryenThe first we hear of Rhaegar is from Robert Baratheon, the king of Westeros at the start of the series, and the sitting monarch has nothing good to say about the late Targaryen prince.  From Robert’s lips, we learn that Rhaegar is a kidnapper, rapist, and warmonger.  He abducted Robert’s betrothed, Lyanna Stark, raped her repeatedly and was the engineer of her untimely demise.  The Crown Prince was Paris to Robert’s Agamemnon who dared steal his “Helen of Troy” away.  However, when Robert is airing his grievances to Eddard Stark, Lyanna’s brother and the Lord of Winterfell, Eddard seems strangely unaffected, which makes no sense since Lyanna was his sister.  Wouldn’t her brother have feelings just as harsh if not more so for the man who kidnapped, raped, and essentially murdered her?  Later, we find out that the only person who hated Rhaegar was Robert, nor is the Baratheon king a moral paragon himself.

ASOIAF deploys the use of unreliable narrators in droves.  It’s what drives the story.  We have only the knowledge a particular character has with no omniscient point of view to speak, and though Robert feels he was more than justified in going to war for his supposed bride-to-be, later we discover he is truly the subversion of the “fat, jolly man” trope.  He is no “Ole King Cole,” but when we first meet him that’s what we are led to believe…that he’s this gregarious, corpulent fellow who might like to dive into his cups every now and then, but is still a decent human being. Then as the narrative continues we find out that he sanctioned the death of Rhaegar’s children (Rhaenys and Aegon), sent assassins after other children (Viserys and Daenerys), beats his wife, turns a blind eye to injustice, and has beggared the realm.

These two examples prove how a narrative can lie to you or at the very least make you wary of the words.  We have an unreliable narrator in FFVII as well in Cloud, and his recounting of the events in Nibelheim, the crux and location of the turning point, are further obfuscated by the fact that things are not as he said they should be.  Now granted this is due to a supreme cover up by the Shinra Corporation; however, examining shows just how fragile words can truly be.  It serves as a warning that what you are shown cannot necessarily be trusted and what you are told may not be the truth.

Final Fantasy VII is neither the first nor the last game in the series to utilize the paradigm of layered manipulation.  Final Fantasies IV, VIII, and IX all present the question of “Who is holding the puppet strings (a query that is also at the center of ASOIAF, but that is for later essays)?”  FFIV portrays it with Kain being controlled by Golbez who is in turn being manipulated by Zemus;  FFVIII has the same paradigm with Seifer in thrall to Edea and Edea under the sway of Ultimecia.  FFIX may have the most tragic (and complex) multi-layered manipulation of all (barring ASOIAF…) as the source it trickles from is pitiable.  Queen Brahne is being enspelled by Kuja who is under the command of Garland (though Kuja still has free will), and Garland’s directive comes from the people of Terra who only wish for a way to save their souls.  Even Final Fantasies I and II show an inkling of this motif with (the original) Garland being in the potential thrall of the four fiends and the emperor of Paramekia from II perhaps being in service to the devil himself.

This is no strange trope to the Final Fantasy series, this layered manipulation, and this motif shall be the foundation of the defense.

Sephiroth Angel of Light 2“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.”
-2 Corinthians 11:14

The interpretations for the above (like the layers of manipulation) are manifold.  Taken at its simplest, it means that Satan will try to deceive you by appearing as a beautiful angel of light, as once he was.  It’s impossible to ignore the parallels between the Father of Lies and Sephiroth (who could arguably be called the same…we shall get to that because they are not his lies).  Both considered the most beautiful and the best of God’s creations (one of the possible meanings of the name “Shinra” is “dark god.”)  Both rebelled and subsequently fell to become the worlds most dire enemy.   Satan strove to corrupt man’s soul; Sephiroth strove to corrupt the Lifestream, which contains the souls of all things.  The “light bringer” will lead you to darkness.  Believe not one word he says.

Sephiroth The Promises of DarknessAnother interpretation of the quote could be “not all that glitters is gold,” the age old don’t be fooled by appearances.  Just because something looks beautiful, doesn’t mean it carries beauty at its heart.  The Hound example above shows this by inverse, and we could also cite Joffrey Baratheon in the same stroke.  Sansa is obsessed with Joffrey’s beauty and her subsequent husband Tyrion’s ugliness, but it is the latter suitor who treats her the best.  She is beaten bloody by the “true” knights of the Kingsguard, but protected by the one who refuses to say the vows.  Do not be deceived by appearances.  Light is not always good especially if that is the disguise Satan uses.

Beauty, though, is an odd thing within narratives.  It is a rare occurrence where a beautiful character is not at the least given some benefit of the doubt (a bit of meta for this analysis itself).  This is because beauty equals goodness.  It is very difficult for humans to accept beautiful evil.  It’s incongruent.  This manifests in fairy tales; it bleeds into real life.  Beauty must have a defense.  If no defense can be given then it is highly likely that the “true form” is ugly or observers will start to see the purveyor as such.  Sansa began to see Joffrey as hideous to match his interior, something Arya had always observed.  The evil queen in Snow White became a hag and Cinderella had her ugly stepsisters.  The trope is flipped a bit in Shrek; however, it’s still hard to find Fiona ugly.  She’s not a “fair maiden,” but she’s still a reasonably attractive ogress.

We have a hard time sympathizing with truly ugly characters, and an equally hard time seeing beautiful characters as evil.  Either the ugly characters will fall into the realm of “ugly cute,”because their other qualities will be so much more endearing

or we will find reasons to defend or explain their incongruent nature.

Why is it that any character that is seen as beautiful always has a defense?  Why are beautiful villains lauded, claimed to be misunderstood, or have the entirety of their evil deeds explained away in often very convincing rhetoric?

  1. Authors/creators are aware of this paradigm and utilize it as a show vs. tell dichotomy.  They will tell and show that a character is bad, but purposely put in sympathetic factors to make readers/consumers question if they truly are evil.  There will be some tell/show binary put in to challenge.
  2. Authors/creators are aware of this paradigm, but do not purposely use it.  However, either through their awareness, the motif finds its way into the work.  Authors/creators can either accept or challenge the claim that they made a villainous beautiful character sympathetic on purpose.
  3. Authors/creators are not aware of the paradigm and can therefore not purposely use it.  However, through the universal awareness of the zeitgeist it finds its way into their work.
  4. Authors/creators are not aware of the paradigm and can therefore not purposely use it.  They claim the character that is beautiful may be visually appealing, but they are still evil.  They were never meant to be a sympathetic/tragic character, and any sense/inklings that they are is misinterpretation.

It is the fourth example with which I take the most issue.  Death of the Author trumps Word of God.  If the evidence is there to support the claim, not even the creator can deny it.  If there is compelling evidence for something the author did not consider and it is properly represented, the author cannot denounce it despite the fact that it is their work.  The evidence is in their very words.  All they can conceivably do is change the narrative to fit what they wished to say.  Authors/creators cannot divest themselves of the zeitgeist or discourse.  They were born into and shaped by it.  While their intentions do matter, execution of motifs and paradigms is far more viable in the examination of any work.

The Foundation of Lies

Tree of Life 2As the Tree of Life from which Sephiroth takes his name, his madness and subsequent actions are supported by three pillars.  However, it is a foundation of lies used to build the false/dark tree.  In my S5E9 Game of Thrones analysis I speak of the Qliphoth.

“…aptly termed the evil and averse Sephiroth, for they are not independent principles of factors in the cosmic scheme, but the unbalanced and destructive aspect of the Holy Stations themselves.  There are, in fact, not two Trees, but one Tree, a Qliphah being the reverse of a coin of which the obverse is a Sephirah.  Whoever uses the Tree as a magical system must perforce know the Spheres of the Qliphoth, because he has no option but to deal with them.”
-Dion Fortune The Mystical Qabalah

Sephiroth’s name is therefore ironic as it denotes the holy aspect of the spheres, those which flow from the right hand of God.  It serves as more than appropriate that the fallen general himself is left handed.  The averse nature is not only manifested here in outer symbolism, but in the game as well.  Sephiroth’s antithesis is Cloud Strife.  Cloud is a failure who ended up the hero, whereas Sephiroth was a hero who became the most fell.  Because the fallen contained the most cells of the corruption, he was the easiest to infiltrate.  While he was the most beautiful, the strongest and the best, the very things that made him so also caused him to fall.  Cloud maintained enough of himself to fight that which was within, and even their initials proclaim light and shadow.  Cloud’s are CS and Sephiroth’s are (arguably) SC (which…on a random side note are also the Hound’s).  Whether this was done on purpose or is a happy accident, it does not diminish its impact.

The foundation of lies robbed the now fallen of his origin’s truth and prove the importance of knowing where you come from.  He was told by his father (another arguable point, but not really pertinent her) whom he detests,  that his mother was Jenova, that she died in childbirth, and that she was an Ancient.  None of these things are true.  The only one that carries a grain of truth is the last.  While Jenova is not an Ancient, it is possibly ancient in terms of age as there is no way of knowing how long it has kept up the cycle of devouring the life energy of worlds.  This may have gone on since time immemorial, and ironically, the eldritch abomination could be more ancient than the actual ones.

Armed with only these lies, Sephiroth goes to what he believes is his last mission in Nibelheim.  There he finds what he had spent his entire life searching for, the thing he had been told was his mother.

Regardless of how horrible something might be, if you believe it is your mother, you will cherish it above everything else.

Picture source unknown, but it is not of my creation“Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children.”
-William Makepeace Thackery

There is a story entitled My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World.  It is a Russian folktale about a little girl who gets separated from her mother during the harvest.  She comes across some farmers and beseeches them for help.  When they ask the little girl to describe her, she says only, “My mother is the most beautiful woman in the world.”  So the farmers go and gather the most beautiful women they can find, but the child cries because her mother is not among them.  Then a frantic woman calls her name, breaks through the crowd and picks the little little girl up, overjoyed to have found her, but when everyone looks at her, they see that she is not remotely beautiful.  She is ordinary looking with a missing tooth and is in reality quite plain, but a child doesn’t care about that.  The general consensus (and this is said not to diminish or dismiss anyone who has/had an abusive mother, oddly enough to say here…) is that you would love your mother regardless of what she looks like.  All mothers are beautiful in their children’s eyes.

Sephiroth and Lucretia The Other Mother in Coraline looked just like her true one until horror’s reveal. She would’ve done the same thing to the other children before stealing their souls by letting her sew the buttons. What if Jenova made itself look beautiful to Sephiroth?  What if it made itself look like Lucrecia…though he knew neither his true mother’s name nor face, it would be an even crueler lie if this ancient evil mimicked that what he yearned for most, and as some of Jenova’s cells were contained in Lucrecia, this idea would not be so far-fetched.

Referring again the The Mystical Qabalah, Fortune makes a note about Saturn/Kronos being “the bringer into life as the giver of death.’  This is discussed in the chapter about the Sephirah Binah (Understanding). In the Advent version of “One Winged Angel,” the haunting lyric “Veni fili veni mi fili hic veni da mihi mortem iterum,” which translates to “Come my son bring me my death again.”  Jenova as the false/dark mother perverts that “holy” name (Mother is the name for god…).  The mother is the giver of life, but it is the bringer of death, despair, and destruction.

Saying that Jenova is an eldritch abomination and should therefore be anathema to Sephiroth (as it is to everyone who sees it) is a poor argument, since he had been told all his life that this was his mother who was dead.   Let us say that you are a character like Sephiroth, Jon Snow or Tyrion Lannister, and you were told your mother died giving birth to you (or in Jon’s Snow case you’re not told anything at all), and you believe it because you have no reason not to.  You have no other truth. And then let us say you discover one day that she’s not dead at all, and there are things that she wants you to do.  Because you’re her child, you should obey.  You should be a “good son.” Even though you now have this cognitive dissonance because you believed all your life that she was dead, but now she’s here, whispering in your ear and telling you to do awful things, promising you she speaks the truth you’ve forever been searching for, dispelling the lies of the past. What would you do? You’re a child who’s been lost for a very long time. No matter how much it goes against everything you’re been told, you want to believe.  Who among us can say that our mothers don’t drive us insane?  Who among us can claim they don’t fear turning into our mothers in the worst possible way?  We tend to believe what she tell us regardless of the reason, unless we have a history of knowing that she lies.  This is not even considering the motif of manipulation and mind rape, because what is above is enough without.  With this last perilous paradigm, there is no chance nor hope for salvation.  Who among us can state that in a similar situation we would not be tempted, especially if we were convinced that she was being hurt and cruelly wronged.  Step forward and I will call you a liar to your face.

Unknown Truth and the Tragedy of Silence

Lucrecia - She has lingered too long forgotten...Sephiroth never knew of his real mother, who was a Shinra scientist named Lucrecia Crescent. She was married to Professor Hojo (his dickhead dad…we’ll get to that soon) and “decided” to allow her body to be used as a vessel for experimentation.  That experiment produced Sephiroth, a combination of Jenova’s cells and Mako infusion.  During her pregnancy, Lucrecia is plagued by nightmares of what Sephiroth will become, and after he is born, she is tormented by endless agony.  She cannot take the pain and leaves, abandoning him to his father’s “mercy.”

There is a fantastic essay by a brilliant blogger named Cantuse.  He writes manifestos and meditations on A Song of Ice and Fire.  In his entry Broken Bonds he speaks of how mothers who abandon their children especially sons are accursed.  This essay is haunting in how well it aligns with the fate of a mother in a different narrative.  Lucrecia is unable to die.  The fact that these words are specifically said in the telling of her story implies she tried to kill herself, but the corrupted cells would not even give her that dark salvation.  So she hid herself away in a cave behind a waterfall.  She cannot die; she cannot move on.  She lingers alone in her pain.   She is a ghost with substance, tortured by what she has wrought.  I like to think though that she is waiting, always waiting for her son to finally find her, and call her “Mother” at the last.

Lucrecia’s name derives from a poem by the Bard himself entitled The Rape of Lucrece, which concerns the violation of the titular Lucretia by the Roman king’s son.  As a result, she kills herself (as just mentioned FFVII’s Lucrecia was unable to die and there is an implied suicide attempt laden in those words).  The name Lucretia means “profit,” but neither she nor the other reap this profit for themselves.  She as a person doesn’t matter. All that matters is what was done to her and the subsequent action of her father and brother as they use her defilement as a reason to go to war. She is less of a person and more of an object, a fact that is not lost in FFVII’s incarnation. She is “raped” in a metaphorical sense insofar as her body is used to produce something.

Lucrecia is absent throughout the entire narrative save for an optional side quest.  This very mechanic is telling. She is a side quest, a memo, consigned to the obscure. When the dark mother is all you have, what else can you be?  There are no records that speak of Lucrecia; there are no files that contain her name.  It was washed from the annals of the history and replaced with a horror’s voice.  She is the unnamed; she is the unmentioned.  In the Advent iteration of the song of her son, they chant “noli nomen vocare,” which means “do not speak that name,” yet his is said over and over again, but the only person who speaks of Lucrecia throughout the entire narrative is Vincent who is himself falsely imprisoned and left to the ashes.  Her own son never knows her name.  She is remembered only by the forgotten.

The layers of illusion run deep in VII, but once the idea of manipulation has been introduced, nothing can be taken at face value, and it is so well obscured that we, the observers/players, think the truth is finally being revealed when it is only another layer of the lie.

There is a “reveal” scene where Cloud flashes back to Nibelheim and Sephiroth says to him, “What you have remembered is an illusion.  What I will show you is the truth.” (Forgive me if I have not accurately recalled the quote.)  This is both a meta and an irony.  How can you show anyone else the truth when you don’t even know the truth about yourself? Sephiroth’s words to Cloud are a meta statement meant for the player in that we think we know what’s going on now because the fallen is revealing it to his “clone,” the villain is performing his monologue, but it is still an illusion because Sephiroth doesn’t know the truth and never does.  The narrative of FFVII even obfuscates the “big reveal,” forcing you to still question.

How can you remember something you never knew? How can you accept what you are if you’ve never seen it?  How can you bring any light when you’re lost in the darkness? You can’t be the Light Bringer in this state (though the “light bringer” is whom he mimics). How can you know who the “others” (Cetra) are if you don’t know yourself?  Nosce te ipsum…

Sephiroth only thinks he knows anything; all he knows are the false mother’s lies. Like Jon Snow he knows nothing; like Jon Snow he doesn’t even know who his mother is, and even his supposed father is questionable, but whether Hojo is Sephiroth’s real father or whether Jenova is his “real” mother, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is what you believe, and he can only base his belief on what he’s been told/shown.  He has no other truth.

So who do you listen to?  What do you obey?  The duty that’s been instilled and (more than likely) beaten into  you your entire life or the will of the “mother” you’ve forever been searching for?  Thus can despair become madness…

The Nibelheim Incident

Before Sephiroth went to Nibelheim, he invoked “retirony,” which is to say he declared that this would be his final mission (a concept that was more than likely considered in the title of Last Order).  The general had nothing but disdain for the Shinra Corporation and even darker judgment for the man who was (supposedly) his father.  Whether Sephiroth knew and whether or not this was even true are two other silences present in the story, but it makes sense to abhor your more than implied torturer, a man others before me have correctly labelled a psychopath, the one who laid the first foundation of lies.

“‘It all goes back and back,’ Tyrion thought, ‘to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them.  We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance in our steads.'”
George R R Martin “A Clash of Kings”

Sephiroth is initially a pawn of his father, the Shinra scientist and psychopathic Professor Hojo, and he both knows and loathes it.  He has a greater and ironic respect for the murdered Professor Gast, ironic in that Gast is Aeris’s father, but though the once general is only a piece, at least he is still free to hate and not be caught up in the evangelical zeal reserved for Jenova.

He goes from being an unwilling pawn of his father to a willing pawn of his “mother.”  Prior to the Nibelheim Incident, Sephiroth has free will of sorts (as much as any of us), at least he believes he does.  He is able to make the decision that he’s done with the Corporation after that fatal mission, words which should have immediately drawn suspicion to anyone playing or watching.  Though…they are true in a way.  He is finished with the Shinra, but once he encounters Jenova, he is robbed of any free will.

If Sephiroth is supposed to represent Satan/Lucifer, the most fallen of the fallen and the worst of the worst, but his (Seph’s) will was subverted and taken over by something more terrible, how much darker is the universe?  If Satan isn’t the worst thing of all, what other horrors can this plane possess?  This could be the block that upholds the argument about Sephiroth as the true villain, because to think of something worse than the world’s enemy is to court madness itself in a meta-textual layer.  To conceive of something fouler than that is more than the human mind can bear, but Sephiroth is not the puppet master; he is the master puppet.

If your omnipotent “parent/creator” puts something into your head/makeup/being, how are you at fault for that?  Sephiroth, also, arguably has two “god complex” parents.  The name of Jenova is derived from Jehovah, and is an amalgamation that implies “new god.”  Hojo, his father, saw all livings things as beneath him, mere specimens for his amusement.  He is the Josef Mengele of the narrative (and I have a separate essay planned to compare certain themes in FFVII to Naziism.  The eugenics angle alone lines my veins in ice) and only cares about what purpose the living can serve him.  Sephiroth was the culmination of years of experimentation and not really Hojo’s son at all (if he even was).  He kept silent the true name of the mother, replacing it with abomination, and “mother is the name for god.”  When your god is an abomination, and you follow the path that leads to such, what but horror can you be?

Angels must have something to serve.  To that end, they are like knights..  Not only do they serve a higher power, but they must have a higher power to serve.  A knight without a lord is like an angel without a god.  They are greater servants of a higher power (valar dohaeris…).  It could be argued that Sephiroth like Satan took it upon himself to take that place, but because Jenova exists, its influence has to be considered.  The Great General had no designs on godhood before coming to Nibelheim; he had no ambitions of apotheosis before encountering the horror in the reactor.  He didn’t even want to study war anymore.  He was a lost child looking for the truth, but he found the un-mother instead (thanks to Daendrew and his brilliant essays for that name’s inspiration).

Sephiroth & Jenova - Are You My Mummy

No…no it’s not.

This…creature, this abomination from beyond the veil of the stars decimated the true Ancients, the Cetra, with its mutations and mental manipulation that in harsher terms can only be called mind rape, and when such is introduced into a narrative, everything must be questioned especially in the case of such a drastic personality change.  Humans, the sister race to the Cetra, hid and so survived while the others withered until there was only one full Ancient left, Ifalna, the mother of Aeris who was half.  Their race had been able to seal this ancient evil away…until humans uncovered it to use to pave their way to power.

When we dig deep enough and pierce through the layers, the truth is humans were the catalyst of it all.  Yes, Jenova is an eldritch abomination, a horror, something that should’ve never been uncovered or touched, but it could be argued that it was only following its nature.  It was humanity in its endless thirst for power that revealed this creature and decided to use its cells to grant humans greater abilities (though it could also be argued that this is only human nature…).  It was humanity that decided to siphon the lifeblood of Gaia for energy, essentially raping the Planet, raping the mother.  It has always been a crime of power.

Conclusion

“I will never be a memory.”

If not a memory, what then shall you be?  Shall  you be an ever presence or shall you be forgotten?  The former seems to be Sephiroth’s implication.  He will never leave; he will never fade; he is the shadow that dwells behind the light; however…the implicit sorrow of these words cannot be ignored.  There is a name that means memory, and that name is Zack.  Sephiroth was once considered a hero, but he fell the farthest of them all.  Zack died a hero, but because of the corruption that took him over, Sephiroth never will.  Whether it is the true him or just a mimicry of the abomination, he is too attainted to ever truly die (though arguably he is dead…wheels within wheels).  He will never be a memory.  He will never be Zack.

Sephiroth Creepy and Gothic

“Shall I give you despair?”

You cannot give what you do not have.  Sephiroth would not be able to give despair if that wasn’t what the undying and burning rage did conceal.  The foundation the fallen stands upon is built of lies not of his own making, and anyone who does not see sorrow on his face when he finds the supposed “truth,” does not know how to recognize such emotion.

The word of God declares that Sephiroth is the true villain, but the narrative does not support this claim, and it is trumped by Death of the Author.  Authors/creators are part of the zeitgeist in which they create.  They cannot be separated from it.  There is no in between.  Regardless if this was done on purpose, the sympathetic aspects to Sephiroth’s character can be no more denied than Satan’s in Paradise Lost whom he parallels with the added bonus of something far worse lurking beneath.  If the creators had just made the fallen General decide on the path of apotheosis with no outside influence then I would be forced to believe he was the true evil.  Even the claim that Sephiroth had the stronger will falls weekly before.  His will might have been strong, but it was corrupted by an alien influence.

He was once considered a hero, but that hero’s path was distorted like the false path that leads to god.

“Where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god…”
The dark mother is the false god, an abomination made endearing by that “holy” name.

“Where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves…”
In killing Aeris he murders the true triple goddess motif as Aeris is maiden, mother and crone in one. Maiden for obvious reasons; mother as her actual name was supposed to have translated as “Aerith,” which is an anagram of “I Earth.” She is the representative of the Planet, which is the mother of us all, and Aeris is an Ancient, which invokes the motif of the Crone. Also…she and Lucrecia, the true mother, look remarkable similar

IMG_1879adding another layer to this sad symbolism (Note:  I am aware that Lucrecia does not have green eyes, and that was this particular artist’s rendering, but the other similarities cannot be denied.)

“Where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence.”
Jenova operates by devouring the essences of worlds before moving on to the next, but to do this the essence of that world must be occupied.

Sephiroth Hush“And we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” *
The reunion…

“Who has choices need not choose…”
But do any of us really have choices?  Is freedom really life’s greatest lie?

“We are puppets dancing on the strings of those before us, and one day our children will pick up our strings and dance in our steads.”  We can only utilize the strings that are so laid out for us, and even if we have the will to pick up strings of our own, this does not mean we are in control of the dance.

Layered manipulation is by no means unique to the Final Fantasy universe.  The fore mentioned epic A Song of Ice and Fire heavily implies it in regards to the Night’s King and warging or controlling an animal (or person though that’s considered an abomination) with your mind.  In the former example, the NK’s abilities may trickle down into the White Walkers/Others who then control the undead wights.  In the latter, there are humans who can control animals and sometimes more than one at once.  There is also the matter of the Children of the Forest and greenseers who can see past, present and future through the roots of weirwood trees and also send people dreams…

In Dear Esther, a video game by The Chinese Room, no matter what you do, no matter where you go, there is a predetermined end.  There are debates about whether or not Dear Esther is an actual video game; however, any game with only one ending has the same paradigm.  If you play FFVII itself to the end, it has only one conclusion, nor are non-RPG games immune to this.  Dear Esther just streamlines the process, cutting out the fallacious middleman that what you do matters (and the inability to die before your time).

Are we all merely ghosts following the path so laid towards oblivion? Are the choices we make truly important? Do they forestall or expedite the inevitable? And does it matter if they do if we all come to the same end? Is choice really just an illusion?  Is hope a bitter lie?  Is there any happiness to be garnered from this bleak abyss?  If all are lies and illusion and if the absolute is so dark, what does it matter what we do?

Perhaps a gleam of hope does exist beyond the veil of despair and madness. The true face of the tree may not be light but neither must it be shadow. The one bright factor is the promise of renewal and second chances to take. The cyclical nature, the great revelation that leads to revolution and growth. Realization is the key. Knowledge is the answer. Being either given or offered a way to uncover the hidden truth, but if all pathways to this are blocked, there is no other fate for you but to fall.


*Quote from Joseph Campbell The Hero With a Thousand Faces


Disclaimer and Picture Sources – None of pictures used in this essay are mine.  Where able, all pictures should link to their sources; however, in case this feature is not available all known sources are listed and linked below in the order in which they appear.

ASOIAF/Got – Sandor Clegane/The Hound

ASOIAF/GoT – Rhaegar Targaryen

Sephiroth w/Quote from 2 Corinthians
Screenshot from Crisis Core

The Promises of Darkness Macro
Original Picture
Macro

Shrek – Fiona

The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Quasimodo

Marvel – Loki

The Tree of Life/Holy Sephiroth

Jenova

Sephiroth w/Jenova and Lucrecia
Original Picture – Unknown Source
Macro

Sephiroth and Lucrecia
Original Picture
Macro

Lucrecia

Sephiroth in the Flames

The Combined Picture of Lucrecia and Aeris
Lucrecia
Aeris – Source Unknown

Sephiroth – I Will Never Be a Memory
Screenshot from Advent Children

Sephiroth – Shall I Give You Despair
Source Unknown

Sephiroth Finding Jenova

All credit goes to the respective artists.

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50 thoughts on “Heart of Darkness, Angel of Light – The Defense of Sephiroth

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  16. Wonderful article. I just wanted to add, though you did touch on it, is the matter of Sephiroth’s paternity. In Dirge of Cerberus it became canon that Vincent was actually Sephiroth’s father, which is something most assumed (due to the nature of Vincent/Lucretia’s relationship and how similarly Sephiroth/Vincent look to one another/ also Hojo’s apparent disdain for Sephiroth). Does this thicken the dynamic in your eyes?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I actually thought that it was still up for debate! I’ve heard many, many theories that Vincent is actually Sephiroth’s father, but I didn’t know it was confirmed in Dirge. I’ve played the original, seen Advent, played a bit of Crisis Core (watched most of the integral scenes), and watched a few of the scenes from Dirge. It’s on my list to watch a Let’s Play, but I know only bits and pieces of the story. It’s odd that there’s nothing about this on any of the wikis (unless I’ve just utterly missed it, which is entirely possible).

      Hojo is still without a doubt the worst monster in that entire story. Even if he knew Sephiroth wasn’t his son, he wouldn’t have cared either way, because people were only important to him in what they could provide for his experiments. It’s the most dangerous type of solipsism and narcissism, and I have to commend Squeenix for achieving such a despicable feat.

      It makes FFVII even sadder to know that Vincent had to help defeat/kill his own son. That is heartbreaking and adds another layer to his momentous guilt.

      Thanks so much for your comment AND this new information. I’ll have to bump Dirge up on my list. I’ve heard mixed reviews about it, but have also heard it reveals a great amount about the deeper story.

      Like

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  22. I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now, and I’m really glad I finally got around to it. Northern Lights already enlightened me about the Great General, but this masterfully written essay helped shed more light on this tragically misunderstood character. I’m really sad I missed the Lucrecia side quest in VII… I hope I get to see it in the remake that’s currently in development!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Aw thanks! I SO need to clean up this essay. The actual substance of it is fine, but there’s some messiness like with how I did the picture references and whatnot.

      The eerie thing about Lucrecia is that she IS a side quest, yet in terms of the narrative, she’s one of the most important people, arguably THE most important person barring Aeris. If she’d stuck around or left her son a letter, the entire story would’ve been completely different. All of the events hinge on the fact that Sephiroth was given false information about his mother and his origins, and that was the catalyst for his fall. It’s absolutely brilliant of Sakaguchi and the other writers that they made Lu so important, and then hid in this out of the way place in the game. Vincent, too. He’s actually an optional character, but he’s the only character in your party who was there at the beginning of it all.

      So..I have this pipe dream for the Remake that I know they’re just not going to do. I so wish they’d give my poor Seph a redemption arc DLC. Omg the amount of money I’d throw at that, or a true reunion with his REAL mom. Ahhhh *sobs incoherently*

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t see any of this messiness you speak of. It seemed perfect to me! I plan to read more of your essays when I get more of this time thing I keep complaining about.

        They really should have made her a bigger part of the story! I hate that I missed out on this, and Vincent too. Luckily, your Northern Lights fan fiction and this essay have shown me what I missed.

        Wow, that would be SO awesome. It would probably the DLC that finally makes me break my longstanding ‘no paid DLC’ policy. Make this happen Squeenix!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh it’s more of the references at the bottom. I’m not fond of how I have that organized and want to do some cleanup. I think the essay is still pretty sound, though I could possibly add/incorporate some of the points I have in later essays. Heart of Darkness is the first FFVII essay I ever wrote. Hm, I think it’s the first Final Fantasy essay I ever wrote, but it took me ten years to organize hehe.

          They want you to miss out on them in a way! Like, it’s so clever how they do it. They hide this extremely important part in an out of the way place, and even if you do discover it, it really doesn’t hit it. It’s like George R R Martin level of subtlety with extremely important things!

          Omg I would throw so much money at that DLC, but I know they’re never going to make it *grumble*

          Liked by 1 person

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  30. Glad I finally made it over here haha. Very interesting! One thing that I’d add is that the references to Satan/Lucifer are fascinating, because most people use “Satan” as a name, when in reality the Hebrew “satan” (sa-TAN) is a word that means “tempter.” This is why in the book of Job, Satan appears able to wander up to Heaven and have a chat with God, even after Lucifer has fallen. At any rate, some believe that the satan (sa-TAN) actually works for God, providing temptation for humans to either resist or succumb to. It’s interesting that Sephiroth would be compared to “Satan,” then, because he’s working for someone else, doing horrible things… maybe not tempting them, but acting under the auspices of someone else.

    Lucifer, meanwhile, is the fallen Morning Star. I’m trying to make his story fit with Sephiroth’s…. Lucifer was an angel, one of the closest to God, and could see the future in which God would become man, meaning that the angels – who were perfect – would have to worship an imperfect human (really simplified version, sorry). That’s what triggered the uprising.

    ….I really can’t figure a way to make this fit, so I think to compare Sephiroth to Lucifer (that is, the “bad guy”) indeed doesn’t make sense, other than to say that he is an angel who fell from grace. Hm. Very thought-provoking!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I found out not to long ago that Lucifer actually was not fallen/evil, but rather his name was confused with another angel who was.

      When I read Paradise Lost, I went off on this rant about how God was punishing Satan for literally doing what God created him to do. If God is infallible and God created Satan, then he must have created him for the purpose to rebel. It seems like God then created his own enemy and scapegoat all in one, but he made his enemy lesser than him, able to do nothing but lose, but with the ambition and drive to continue to try. In that Satan is working for God, but humanity sees him as acting on his own, and with that Sephiroth is a perfect parallel. His will was taken over by Jenova, which in looking at could be seen as meaning “new god” (Jehovah mixed with “nova”) though much of the argument is that he had the stronger will, but it was still taken over by an alien desire. I come down to this: there is no Sephiroth without Jenovah, just like there is no Satan without God. It’s actually…quite a disturbing though, so thank you for bringing it up!.

      The main reason I read Paradise Lost was because someone on the internet mentioned the one winged angel thing was from there. God took away one of Satan’s wings when he kicked him out, but alas, the internet lied to me (or I missed that part), because I couldn’t find it. There IS mention of a one winged angel in one of the gospels that was removed, I think the pseudoepigrapha (which I’m probably butchering). I don’t remember what his name is (nor can I pronounce it), but he was around the time of when Moses parted the Red Sea.

      I really want to reedit this essay at this point lol. It’s been two years and I have more notes and more refined points to make, but I’ve also talked about them in other essays, so I’m not sure what I’ll do. Thanks for reading it. Your input in invaluable!

      Liked by 1 person

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