More Final Fantasy essays, metas, and examinations can be found here.
Content Warning: Discussions of rape and suicide as pertains to narrative in symbolism and subtext. Graphic image of violence and death.
Somewhere between Final Fantasies VI and VII, a well of darkness grew. I say between, but that’s not quite so. The shadow spread after inception. FFVII would’ve been a far different tale save for a life-changing and tragic event.
Note: So…the above is actually wrong and apparently based on misinterpretation/mistranslation. I’m not the only one to make this error, especially considering I garnered it from Do You Know Gaming, which has *counts* over 2 million subscribers on its YouTube channel, so it’s a fair mistake. (Ugh…that video features JonTron). I’m…actually not too sad that I was wrong about this, because something about it bothered me, and that something was how games prior to VII seemed to have a similar vibe, and it turns out I was actually not wrong about this at least. I was actually going to revert this entire essay to draft until I could fix this error among other things, but I figure this little update would suffice until I get the time. Also, I have to credit Continuity Nod for relieving me of my ignorance. Go read his articles!
Grief is a great impetus for stories, but it does make the shadows grow. There are definite motifs of macabre laid throughout the entire series, but the seventh has a deeper mien of it throughout for the cosmic horror at its heart, the stark subtext of rape, the unknown name of mother’s bane, and the silence in “blackest” of labs. All of these culminate to show what happens when the truth is kept by those who yearn for power.
The Name of the Mother
The core of my Sephiroth defense hinges on the idea in the macro: the name of the mother unknown. It is a valid debate that had he this information, the story would’ve been quite different, but this knowledge was cast to the silence by his terrible, manipulative, Josef Mengele-esque father, Hojo, the only definite complete monster in the story, and, as some have argued, the real villain.
The so-called professor literally “created” his son through experimental measures and continued to use him as such throughout Sephiroth’s “first” life. Hojo attempted to forcibly breed Aeris to Red XIII/Nanaki, and while this scene could be glossed over, it is a brief inkling into the yawning maw of VII’s multilayered rape subtext.
Hojo purposely exposed people to Mako and Jenova’s cells, the latter of which can cause horrific mutations; both can cause sickness and madness. His work is reminiscent of the unspoken “black labs” (there is no link for this, nor will I look) where such atrocities were performed, and though many of the mad scientist’s are only implied, two victims of it, Cloud and Zack remain as shining examples. The former is catastrophically ruined by it, while the latter is dead.
Denying the rape subtext in FFVII is like denying the sun on an overcast day. It may not be visible to the wandering eye, but it’s blatantly there in the layers. What makes this under layer more fascinating is its alignment with the triple goddess motif, a paradigm that, like the entirety of the Final Fantasy Series itself, also shares connections with the moon.
Briefly, there is a moon and “crescent” theme that runs throughout the series starting in I with Crescent Lake, moving to IV with the moon(s) being major plot points *spoiler* the main character Cecil is half-Lunarian, so part of him is literally from the true moon, *end spoiler* Moving on to VI, we have Crescent Island, and, in our current subject of VII, we have this IV connective theory. Once realized, it is also difficult to ignore how slit pupils mimic the crescent moon and how Sephiroth’s last name could arguably be considered Crescent (like his birth mother before him). FFVIII has a the Lunar Cry, and IX has two moons reminiscent (and most assuredly a throwback to and) of IV. It should also be noted that “levanah,” the moon chakra is associated with Yesod, the “foundation” of the Holy Sephiroth.
The goddess has three commonly known faces and a fourth hidden one. These faces are associated with the moon: the Maiden for waxing; the Mother in full; the Crone who wanes; and the fourth face unspoken “dark, vengeful mother” known as Ama in Qabalistic teachings and associated with Binah. This is truly the “unface,” when the moon hides her own, and all light is swallowed by the emptiness between the stars.
Plucking a Flower, “Stealing” a Maid
The Maiden is blatantly Aeris, a flower girl killed by being impaled upon an exceptionally long sword.
*******Graphic, violent artwork/image to follow*******
Aeris is the last of the Cetra, the Ancient race that lived in communion with the Planet In killing her, Sephiroth commits genocide of a people who were almost certainly as matriarchal as they were matrilineal.
The White Materia was given to Aeris by her mother Ifalna, which suggests it was a power passed from mother to daughter in eternal perpetuity ending with Aeris in death. This makes the death of the last Cetra more tragic in its rape metaphor than “merely” being a “flower” used as a sheath. She is not only the last of her people; she is the end of a matriarchal race that lived in harmony with the Planet killed by a man who’s true, unknown mother has the same name as a figure made famous by her defilement. Nor should it be ignored that the etymology for the word vagina is “sheath,” which is literally the place to stick a sword.
The “flower and sword” motif is hardly hardly unique to Final Fantasy VII. A Song of Ice and Fire uses it liberally, speaking of “maids freshly flowered,” “deflowering,” and “plucking a flower.” Bael the Bard did so in legend, Petyr Baelish (with “Bael” in the beginning of his name followed by -ish, as though he is only “Bael-like” and will therefore fail) is attempting with Sansa, and what Rhaegar accomplished with Lyanna, who was fond of and became associated with blue winter roses, bringing it all full circle.
Aeris and Sephiroth’s story (or at the very least their pairing) shares commonalities with the myth of Persephone and Hades, the daughter of Demeter, the harvest goddess (Planet) and the God/Angel of Death.
The God of Death carries her off against her will, which aligns with the motif of rape, whose etymology comes from the Latin “rapere,” literally “to steal.” There is a momentous issue of considering women property to be carried off (present multiple times in the “flower/sword” discussion above), but rape is also a bitter erasure as in the case of rape of the mother.
The Mother Silenced
Lucrecia Crescent is Sephiroth’s true mother, whose name is based on the Lucretia of Shakespeare’s narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece.
Lucretia, the wife of Collatine, is raped by the king’s son Tarquin after her husband extols her virtues while the men are encamped. As result of the rape, Lucretia kills herself, her body is paraded around the city, and the Roman monarchy is banished in place of counsels. Lucretia is barely a person; she is merely an object who has things done to her. Her father and husband use her rape and subsequent death as an excuse to overthrow the established order.
“Lucrece is described as if she were a work of art. Tarquin’s rape of her is described as if she were a fortress under attack—conquering her various physical attributes. Although Lucrece is raped, the poem offers an apology to absolve her of guilt (lines 1240–46). Like Shakespeare’s other raped women, Lucrece gains symbolic value: through her suicide, her body metamorphoses into a political symbol.”
-Wikipedia entry on “The Raped Woman”
Lucretia is not a person; she is a device used to advance an agenda, and FFVII is disturbing in how it parallels this.
“The name Lucretia means “profit,” but neither she nor the other reap this profit for themselves. She as a person doesn’t matter… [FFVII’s Lucrecia] is “raped” in a metaphorical sense insofar as her body is used to produce something useful to a man.
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. There are no records that speak of her; there are no files that contain her name. It was washed from the annals of 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, while the only person who speaks of Lucrecia 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.”
-Heart of Darkness, Angel of Light
The name of the mother is drowning in rape; the name that has ever been lost. The name that her son will never know, that remains not even a whisper. “Noli nomen vocare” is the pall in his song, but you can’t speak what you’ve never known.
In terms of the “metamorphose” mentioned above, VII’s Lucrecia literally experiences such, as well, but instead of transforming into a metaphorical political symbol, she is forcibly mutated by the inhuman experiments spoken of above, and while it could be argued that she was complicit, Hojo’s very nature suggests that he wouldn’t have taken no for an answer had she the audacity to change her mind. There is a coercion in the reference of her name, and though it’s not directly stated that she attempted suicide, it is expressed that she could not die. Instead she chooses to hide herself, encased in crystal, picking this form of metamorphosis instead of another more horrifying one. It is the only agency that Lucrecia has.
Her body was used and changed for profit in creating the perfect soldier, a babe she never gets to hold, a child whose face she never sees, a son who never knows her name. It is the ultimate act of thievery, not the falsehood of being “stolen.”
Defiling the World
Finally we come to the rape of the Crone, which is the Planet itself, the all encompassing wisdom bearer, the holder of all our history. It is being defiled by humanity’s greed in the Shinra’s siphoning of the Lifestream, but it grows darker than that. As in our world, killing the Planet is killing ourselves. In VII, though the world and humans are even more intricately intertwined for the souls of those living and those who have died flow from it in endless repeat. In taking it from this flow for power’s greed, humans are literally destroying the future. Again this idea is not unique to VII’s world, but is also mirrored in our own, and like in VII those who want power couldn’t care less about what it will cost. It doesn’t affect them directly (now) only trickling down to the most destitute.
So long as raping the Planet garners profit, the defilement will go on and on. What the Shinra does in FFVII is a microcosm of Jenova’s corruption, but the former is far more disturbing. Jenova is an eldritch abomination that’s very nature is to feed off of the lifeblood of worlds. It’s how it survives, and though it is an unfathomable horror, parasites do what comes natural. Humanity has a choice, and in VII and reality, we choose to use whatever means to bolster ourselves with more power.
The Bitter Glass
Final Fantasy VII is about the war between the sky gods and the earth gods, and humanity’s hubris in thinking we can control them both. If that means using the “dark mother” for profit then damn it all and be it so.
Without question the fourth face of the goddess is clearly Jenova, the only face ironically known where the name of the true mother Lucrecia and her brightness is left for the shadows. Jenova parallels in darkness all of the aspects. It is arguably the true adversary as Aeris is the true light. Their “wounds” even match with the sword coming out of the frail flower girl in the spot where the tube tranfixes. It is in the same space as the human womb.
The dark mother, the false mother, the empty mother is mirrored in the transfixed maiden. It becomes meta in its representation in Binah, the third Sephirah
“[It} is two-aspected and distinguished as Ama, the Dark Sterile Mother, and Aima, the Bright Fertile Mother.”
-Dion Fortune “The Mystical Qabalah”
Jenova is the opposite of Lucrecia (Mother) in tragedy that the false name is the only known and the true “bright” matron is usurped and less than forgotten. It is the the devourer of the Planet (Crone), and the adversary of Aeris (Maiden). This leads me to the subject of…
“The shadows come to dance, my lord, dance my lord, dance my lord. The shadows come to stay, my lord, stay my lord, stay my lord.”
-George R R Martin “A Clash of Kings”
VII creates a meta-darkness in its unknown. The prior discussed silence in the name of the mother is at least a mundane ignorance, but the pall of eldritch abomination and cosmic horror casts a shadow over all of what we can only wish existed in the light. A story doesn’t have to be cosmic horror in order to speak of them. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire Series has the mysterious Drowned God of the Ironborn that is a near clear cut analogue of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.
As the Father of Horror used the motif so did Tolkien, the Father of Fantasy himself in his own masterpiece.
“Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.”
-JRR Tolkien “The Fellowship of the Ring”
These are things even Sauron, the essential Satan of that world, knows nothing of, and lest we forget the Watcher in the Water, which brings it back to “drowned god.”
Jenova is an eldritch abomination, an horror from beyond the veil of stars. No one knows where it comes from, nor how long it has kept up this cycle of migration and destruction. In the link to the ASOIAF forum, the discussion quickly turns to ancient aliens, and while there may be a bit of crackpottery for Song’s narrative (though with the appearance of the comet and how it potentially relates to another of Martin’s stories The Plague Star, this may not be that farfetched), it is certainly not for FFVII with an alien that was literally believed to have been an Ancient. It is another arguable true enemy of the game, a concept that oscillates between the blatantly presented Sephiroth (which I think of as more the obfuscating veil), the Shinra in general and Hojo specifically.
Jenova’s age is unknown; all that is revealed is that it destroys all life on any planet it lands on before taking a remnant of that world in order to move on to the next. It infects you with a virus that will mutate and/or kill you, but worse, it can mimic your loved ones as a lure, and then take part of you into itself in order to ensnare others. The fact that humans were the ones to unseal what the Cetra died to vanquish in order to create better soldiers both obscures and points a damning finger at the “true enemy” question. We were the ones to unleash this horror in a new and “darker advent.”
“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned…”
-William Butler Yeats “The Second Coming”
The Ancient sister race was decimated in order to save us from this. While humans hid away like cowards in order to foul the future. In loss of knowledge, we were responsible for a horror re-threatening the world. There is no power greater than knowing, which leads to the conclusion…
No greater darkness exists than an ignorance no light will dispel. The catalyst of VII is an existential crisis; in truth, there are two, one bleeding from the other. The main character Cloud spends most of the story trying to separate himself from Zack, attempting to weed through whispers and memories to find the truth within. He’s tormented greatly by Sephiroth or a horror wearing the silver general’s skin.
There is a theory that the Sephiroth did die in Nibelheim all those years ago, and what you see, and what you chase is Jenova all the time. As such is its nature, this can’t be dismissed, and the second crisis is Sephiroth’s. Orchestrated by an eldritch abomination and used by a complete monster in order to make perfection. The wheel of blame could spin eternal, and each mark could be argued for all, but there can be no doubt that horror breeds horror, and lies are the downfall of heroes.
What makes Final Fantasy VII truly the darkest is how closely it aligns with our world. “Through a glass, darkly” we must peer and through that night we see ourselves. There were “black labs” (and probably are still) and rape is more real than metaphor. The Planet’s abuse for humanity’s greed is an every day occurrence, and while Midgar, “middle-earth,” our analogous plain, separates the elite from the poor in neat layers, the mirror remains high in hand to cast clearly how it happens here. The world of FFVII is a mere twenty minutes into the future, and it’s both haunting and terrifying to watch played out in mimic one of the darkest stories I know. To watch us descend down night stained ladder as the light retreats above.
To realize that history will ever repeat even in stories that touch the future. We revel and profit in environmental destruction, ignoring all warnings of harm. We make up excuses for why it can’t be and portray whose who speak as alarmists. With all of our knowledge and evidence plain, we still insist we’re not at fault. We pretend that poverty isn’t pervasive and blame those mired within.
The shadows in VII can never be quelled because they are rooted here. We would do anything for war, victory at any price. The path to power is paved in blood, but those above keep their hands clean. They escape the rain as it torments below, the way it “must” always be. All the other FFs have their shadows, but the seventh is the darkest.