I must admit, seeing Christopher Williams (serpentchrist69) with his take on Gnostic Luciferianism left a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. I have to say, what I feel inside me tells me that the inner Satanist has not died, and may still have been alive for some time. I do legitimately worry for the direction of contemporary Luciferianism if it is truly eager to accept what is still Christian mysticism to the point of even rejecting the rebellion against God so characteristic of Luciferian mythos. And yet this on its own is perhaps not doing things justice. No, I think what is need is to address the ideas that seem to be going into this new synthetic project, and in order to do so, let’s go to the root. Christopher Williams seems to take as his basis for Gnostic Luciferianism the Valentinian sect of Christianity. Very well, let us address the doctrine of Valentinus. Or more specifically, the role of God and the Demiurge, who are once again to be considered distinct in the vein of much of Gnostic tradition.
In assessing the doctrine of Valentinus, it may help us to consult the Gnostic Society Library for their summary of Valentinian theology. I aim to summarize even this over the course of this article so as to give commentary.
Valentinus seems to have believed that Jesus expounded a set of esoteric teachings that were passed on to his disciples in secret and which Jesus concealed from the public by speaking in metaphors and parables. For Valentinus, this esoteric doctrine represented the essential key to understanding Jesus’ message, but it could only be revealed to the “spiritually mature”, because it would only be meaningful to them and everyone else would treat it as nonsense. If you’ve ever recognized this in vaguely cultish pronouncements found in contemporary New Age or esoteric movements, that’s probably because Valentinus and others like him in the “Gnostic” Christian movement may have pioneered such an approach in ancient Rome.
God, according to the Valentinians, is an infinite, incomprehensible being, who cannot be known directly, defies all descriptions, and is the origin of all things. But for a being without description, this God is described as androgynous, and possessing “masculine” and “feminine” aspects. God, or the Godhead, manifests through a process of “self-unfolding” into the multiplicity of being, which nonetheless retains unity. God’s male and female energies act in conjunction to manifest themselves in the form of The Son, who in turn manifested himself twenty-six spiritual beings referred to as Aeons, who exist within God but also somehow possess some degree of independence and separation from God, which led to them feeling incomplete. Because of this, the Aeon Sophia sought knowledge of the supreme parent. She attempted this by thinking alone, but this apparently was impossible, and she split into two halves, the “lower” of which descended in exile to the physical world, here a place of deficiency, suffering, and imperfection. Meanwhile, the Son gave the Aeons gnosis of their origins in God, after which the Aeons celebrated and then integrated into the body of the Son, who then became the Saviour, meant to be the bride of the fallen Sophia.
Sophia, while in the physical world, suffered from illusions, underwent a conversion, and pled for salvation. In response, the Savior and his angels descended from the Pleroma to the physical world in order to impart gnosis of God to Sophia and free her from the suffering of that world. Sophia then produced spiritual seeds in the image of the divine retinue, representing the presence of spirit in all Christians. In her quest to understand God, Sophia also ended up creating the Devil, who the Valentinians interpreted as a personification of the illusion that characterises the physical world, out of ignorance and suffering, as well as the Demiurge, referred to as the Craftsman, who fashions the material world in the image of the Pleroma and represents the soul born from Sophia’s conversion. These two beings, together with the spiritual seed personified in Sophia herself, are the three substances that Sophia created in her quest to know God.
In Valentinian cosmology and theology, the creation of the material world is seen as necessary in order for the spiritual seeds created by Sophia to grow, develop, and mature so that they could rejoin the Pleroma, because even though Sophia herself is no longer ignorant, ignorance itself still remains. This as it happens meant that, in Valentinian ethics, marriage and child-raising were also thought to be necessary, and hence justified, as is presumably much of “normal” human life except for wealth and worldly authority. The Valientinians were different from many other Gnostics in that they had no issue with the form of the physical world, since it was meant to reflect and preserve the image of the Pleroma, and instead focused their attention on the perceived substance of the material world, which they believed was suffering borne of separation from God. The Demiurge/Craftsman created human beings, including Adam and Eve, thus he serves as the parallel to the God depicted in the Bible, or at least the Old Testament. The Demiurge/Craftsman, ignorant of his mother Sophia, thinks that he is acting alone and is thus the one true God, but his actions are actually guided in secret by Sophia and the Saviour. Jesus is, in a sense, the physical manifestation of the Saviour, incarnated on earth in order to bring gnosis of God to humanity by joining the spiritual seeds with the angels. Although Jesus was born human as the son of Mary and Joseph, when he was baptised the Saviour descended into Jesus’ body and Jesus was “reborn”. The divine Jesus experienced every human emotion, including every suffering, but only the physical human Jesus suffered pain and death on the cross, and when the body of Jesus died, the divine Jesus rose from the body and ascended, and after this he appeared to his disciples to instruct them about “the Father” for eighteen months. Even after this, he is believed to have appeared to people in visions.
Valentinian Gnosticism is, like all of the other historical schools of Gnosticism, a sect of Christianity, and like any other Christian sect the ultimate goal is the “redemption” of humanity. For the Valentinians, this meant attaining a state of gnosis which sees them joined with an angel who accompanies the Saviour. This leads to a recognition of their spiritual nature which frees them from ignorance and suffering, which is the “true” resurrection from death, one which does not take place after death but instead takes place in this life, in the here and now. The enlightened Christian ascends above the Demiurge/Craftsman and all the powers of the world in order to join with Sophia, the Saviour, and their angel and become part of the Pleroma.
So, what to make of it all? God is beyond description, and I doubt the Valentinians would have described him as a being in the strict sense. Yet, God necessarily has some kind of teleological process or consciousness behind him. He manifests in a process of unfolding towards multiplicity. To what end is not obvious, but it seems that there would be some kind of end. But all is contained within God, who himself is not contained. This is not unlike the doctrine presented in Acts, and in the same sense leaves essentially no free will for God’s creation. I would suppose this means that the creation of the Devil and the Demiurge resulting from the fall of Sophia, the fall itself, and the separation of the Aeons from God via their origination is indeed bound to happen by God. So, thus, is the suffering of humans. All is within God, contained within God, and thus nothing is outside of God, which means that the physical realm in all its sufferings, even though ostensibly separated from God, happen within and because of God. In a sense, God remains responsible for the sufferings. To what end? If the Saviour is meant to be taken as an aspect of God, formed from God’s energies, then the Saviour incarnating and experiencing human suffering through the body of Jesus means an aspect of God manifesting so as to allow God to experience said suffering in order to spreading gnosis to humans. But that also means God ushering in countless generations of suffering or setting it into motion before and after that point, since nothing can happen outside of God, since all things are contained within God.
Once a link between the Valentinian concept of God, with its apparent monism, and the apparent pantheism of Acts, it becomes apparent that Valentinian theology is actually not a million miles away from New Testament theology, with the key difference that it centers a doctrine of redemption that hinges on attaining gnosis so as to allow the ultimate excarnation of the soul from the material world. It could be argued that Valentinian Gnosticism is the more “quintessentially Christian” of the “Gnostic” sects, though that’s somewhat pointless considering all of the “Gnostic” sects were without exception sects of Christian mysticism. We can assume that, just as in regular Christianity, God has a plan for everything, including every successive being become more separated from him as they are born, but it doesn’t seem like there’s an apocalypse involved, no final holy war leading to a thousand year kingdom. Instead, God just wants you to know God, and the material universe, with all of its suffering, is necessary in order for humans to know God, and the origination of everything is contained within God. So God has everyone suffer and wail in ignorance just so that they might eventually come to know him. As in regular Christianity, God can’t not be responsible for evil and suffering, since even Sophia bumbling it into existence is his will, and this time there is no satanic scapegoat to hoist all agency of evil onto. It may not seem sadistic in the same way as in normal Christianity, but it’s still a pretty sick game God plays.
Lucifer, of course, or at least a being named Lucifer, plays no role in the Valentinian cosmology. You could interpret Lucifer as being the Devil in line with mainstream Christianity, but the Valentinians would have made no reference to it. So Lucifer entering into a Valentinian Gnostic framework is necessarily a modern, contemporary innovation, and Christopher Williams’ Lucifer doesn’t seem to be a Jesus figure. He’s instead framed as the adversary of the Demiurge, which itself is framed as the divine personification of the ego, the force that separates creation from God, which is nonetheless seen as necessary. In the original Valentinian cosmology, the Demiurge/Craftsman struggles against the Devil, leading the “archons of the right” in constant war against the “archons of the left” who are led by the Devil. The Valentinian Demiurge is still a servant of God, albeit an unwitting one, but his forces and their power still cannot save the soul because they are imperfect. The difference with Christopher’s framework, I guess, is that the Valentinian’s ultimately regarded the Devil as evil as did every other Christian, whereas Christopher doesn’t. His God’s game is still a sick one, just that God’s shadow, or rather the shadow of the Demiurge comes into focus as an essential part of the work of the true God. Thus, Christopher’s Lucifer serves God, rather than rebels against it. Unsurprisingly, this Luciferian also doesn’t oppose authority, or even hierarchy, all that much, and even seems to endorse authoritarianism and hierarchy as something that society “needs”. I suppose I can’t have expected much else from someone who is decisively of the authoritarian branch of communism, as opposed to the libertarian one.
Recently, Christopher Williams has posted yet another article elaborating his concept of Gnostic Luciferianism, and because of this it’s worth exploring the beliefs presented. Williams again distinguishes himself from the “dark fetishism” (on which point he simply has no leg to stand on when considering what his practice of witchcraft actually looks like), “valorisation of trauma”, and “personal toxicity” attributed to the contemporary Left Hand Path, in favour of a “more mature” Gnostic Luciferianism based on the doctrine of Valentinus, with trappings of Hermetic Qabalah and Traditional Witchcraft, focused on “spiritual wholeness” and “embodied liberation”. As far as its actual tenets are concerned, this involves a sort of pantheistic belief that reality consists of “One Divine Essence” (which already seems to recall the Christian belief in One True God), manifesting as a diversity of forms that are actually vibrations of energy experienced as pure consciousness (this honestly seems like New Age shit). This is also meant to entail a fundamental unity of spirit and matter, symbolized by Baphomet, which also seems to means that both “scientifically verifiably natural laws” and “Divine Laws” are aspects of the “Divine Will” (read: God). Lucifer and Lilith are the central deities worshipped as complimentary aspects of “Divine Will” and spiritual guides for humanity; Lucifer, thus, is an aspect of God rather than a rebel against God, and in fact he is “the dark and radiant Gnostic Christ”, while Lilith is the “the dark and radiant Gnostic Sophia”, the former being the destroyer of illusion and liberator from social condition and the latter being “the dark womb from which all things spring”. Lucifer here is not to be identified with Satan, except in the sense that this is his role from the standpoint of the Demiurge, here an embodiment of the ego; thus, Lucifer is only Satan insofar as he is the adversary of the ego. Williams’ idea of Gnostic Luciferian morality centers around enabling others to realize their “Divine” nature and act accordingly as part of a cosmic process of “unfolding”, which ultimately comes down to the idea that “You are and always have been utterly Divine, whole, and perfect right from the start, you need only taste and see”, and places blasphemy and ritual transgression as acts that practically express the idea that all things are divine in a way that also breaks down social conditioning and redirect the power of the prevailing institutions towards the use of the magician.
A lot of this really has little to do with Valentinian Gnosticism, but the influence is definitely there, and it basically anchors Williams’ conception of Gnostic Luciferianism insofar as it assumes that the whole universe and everything in it is just God unfolding itself and realizing its own perfection and fullness – it’s just that this version comes mixed with witchcraft, a certain variation of Left Hand Path esoteric philosophy or at least its original Tantric root, and arguably a set of conceptions familiar to the New Age but which otherwise probably have a very different source. Such a worldview obviously has no place for the conception of the individual as something “above and outside of social context” or “rejects any sense of social obligation to other Divine beings”, whatever any of this actually means substantially for individual freedom. But here we come to the same problem, and it’s the same problem with basically all of pantheism. Williams’ Gnostic Luciferian may not lash out against God and said Gnostic Luciferian still cries out against the world of oppression, a world that seeks to enslave. The problem there is that even this world is God’s world, since all things are God and all events are just the processes of God insofar as they eventually arc toward’s God’s own unfolding and self-realization. Your oppression, then, is once again ultimately the machination of the same God whose feet you once again prostrate before and who you merely give a new and more respectable name so as not to sound anymore Christian than it already is. Indeed, through the logic of this form of pantheistic monism, it literally cannot happen outside of God, outside of Divine Will. Literally everything is “Divine Will”, even your own oppression, even the separation of successive beings from the Pleroma, even the condition of ignorance that must be transcended in order to regain unity with the fullness of divinity. Ultimately you’re being asked to abandon your much more sensible wrath against God in order to worship a new conception of God, in which everything is God desiring to “unfold” himself and this still means God sets all suffering and tyranny into motion because of it, because it cannot be any other way since everything happens inside of God’s being and unfolding.
But anyway, that’s about what I have to say about Valentinian Gnosticism at least insofar it relates to certain new developments of Gnostic Luciferianism. I once again express my fondest hope that this doesn’t become the norm for Luciferian movement or even all that big a branch thereof, because I hate to say it but if it is then what’s even the point of the Luciferian movement existing?
NOTE: This was originally written about a month ago and I’ve wanted to get it out sooner, but a lot of important things came up. In the time since, I’ve reflected on Luciferianism as something that can be really anything, and the term “Luciferian” for me is basically falling out of use because of it. This article represents a discussion of just one of many ways “Luciferianism” is expressed.
Recently I stumbled onto the website of a Satanist by the name of T. L. Othaos, specifically an article discussing the terminology surrounding the broader milieu of Satanism and the Left Hand Path. This, of course, means a discussion of Luciferianism, and what it means, and I think Othaos’ discussion of what Luciferianism means is potentially an insightful one.
First, though, there is a necessary disclosure. T. L. Othaos’ project is unique, to say the least. Othaos espouses a brand of esoteric Satanism (it is my understanding that Theistic Satanism is not her preferred term) that she refers to as Tenebrous Satanism. It is called Tenebrous Satanism because it emphasizes a positive engagement with occultism and even “the supernatural”, with the aim of cultivating a positive relationship with the “Dark Gods”, or Nekalah. Of course, if you’ve ever seen the term Nekalah before, you probably know that this is the term that the Order of Nine Angles uses to refer to their pantheon of deities. Now before anyone sounds the appropriate alarm bells, Othaos seems to have an original take on the O9A brand of Satanism. It adopts the O9A pantheon and much of its theology and occult practice, but without the cullings, the encouragement of criminal behaviour or esoteric fascism/neo-Nazism that is usually a part of O9A ideology and praxis. It’s easy to think of it as an attempt to reform O9A Satanism, but it actually kind of seems like a synthetic project that builds itself on top of O9A occultism and then separates into its own unique thing. It’s definitely not something I would get into, and given the historic nature of the Order of Nine Angles I would be hard-presssed to see how an “O9A Reform” project would turn out, but evidently Othaos seems to have had some positive experiences with O9A occultism, sans the murderous fascism of course, and by her account at least worshipping the Nekalah seems to have had a positive impact on her life. If T. L. Othaos thinks that it is possible to develop an actually positive formulation of O9A Satanism, and that O9A occultism can be separated from its neo-fascist underpinnings, then on an individual level I think that she is certainly welcome to try, but I do not endorse the project.
With that disclosure out of the way, let’s get started for real.
The present discussion concerns an article written by T. L. Othaos titled “Satanist, Luciferian, and related terms”, which is basically an overview of terminology within the broader Satanist “community” as such. My focus here is on the section concerning Luciferians, and Luciferianism. It seems that Othaos accepts the term Luciferianism as a valid synonym or classification for her own practice of Tenebrous Satanism, but does not personally gravitate towards the label. Her aversion to the term, and it is a strictly personal aversion, is partially motivated by certain preconceptions of Luciferianism. Such preconceptions include the idea that Luciferians prefer a “whitewashed” Devil to the more openly adversarial Satan (though, as far as Ford is concerned, they’re practically the same archetype), and the idea of Luciferianism being separated from Satanism by its emphasis on the spiritual side being arbitrary, since her brand of LaVeyan Satanism and then Tenebrous Satanism is also highly spiritual. Another preconception involved is the idea that Luciferians believed in the objective existence of “dark” entities (demons, gods, etc.), leading her to see Luciferianism as more or less a form of Theistic Satanism (which is not an uncommon perception to this day) at a time when she was basically a LaVeyan Satanist.
I will say, in fairness to Othaos, that some Luciferians absolutely do fit the stereotype of “whitewashing the Devil”, and in a fairly ridiculous way. Michael Howard to me is a well-known example of that, and he basically helped codify the idea of Luciferian Witchcraft in Britain. Howard talks plentifully about Horned Gods, frequently identifying Lucifer with several “horned gods” (including Janicot and Odin), and discusses Cain, Lilith, and fallen angels being central figures in his Luciferian tradition, yet absolutely insists that Lucifer is not a Devil or Satan figure, instead preferring to see him as a self-sacrificial avatar of the godhead! I should wonder if anyone told Howard and other British witches that Azazel, the name of the fallen angel, was also a name used by Christian theologians such as Origen as a name for their nameless Satan. It’s such a silly thing, because even though there’s no need to identify Lucifer with Satan, much of historical Luciferian veneration of Lucifer involved seeing him as a less than fluffy being. Carl William Hansen saw Lucifer as an expression of the inner darkness of the universe, Eugen Grosche viewed him as identical to the dark god Saturn, and even within British witchcraft Lucifer’s identification with the Horned God led to chthonic associations. People can indeed take the “light” in “light-bringer” quite literally, without much thought to what the light is.
Another issue for her is ritual praxis, which for her didn’t really work and thus she found herself drawn away from it. But more to the point, it’s after this we come to how she defines Luciferianism in the present. Her summary of Luciferianism is “like Neo-Paganism, but directed toward demons instead of pagan gods.”. This summary is extrapolated from her current perception of Luciferianism, which is that it involves the veneration or worship of dark spiritual beings, whether as external intelligences, archetypes, inner energies, or what have you, that this supposed may or may not include Lucifer (which sounds strange considering the question of “how do you have Luciferianism without Lucifer?”), and that, apart from all of that and apart from some Luciferians saying they value discipline more than indulgence, Luciferianism has the same basic ethos as Satanism, in terms of individualism and anti-clerical opposition to traditional forms of religion. It is on these grounds that Othaos says that it is intelligible (here perhaps meaning valid) to refer to Tenebrous Satanism as a form of Luciferianism. She also states that it is also a form of “Dark Paganism” or even Demonolatry, though she seems to prefer the term “Dark Pagan” over the term “Luciferian” or “Demonolater”.
Having established this as the assessment of Luciferianism offered by T. L. Othaos. Let’s begin discussing what insight it might offer for how we might view Luciferianism as a whole.
Since Luciferianism is here at least potentially equated with “Dark Paganism”, let’s start by discussing what “Dark Paganism” means. Dark Paganism can seem somewhat obscure within the broader milieu of neopaganism, and it definitely doesn’t seem like reconstructionist polytheists are big fans of the idea, but from what little is available we can see that “Dark Paganism” is sort of an umbrella term for a set of approaches to Paganism that centre around the worship of “dark” gods (such as Hades, Morrigan, Cernunnos, Set, Hecate, Hel, and others). John McLoughlin defines Dark Paganism in terms of an emphasis on the “dark” portion of the light-dark polarity, the attendant emphasis that darkness is not to be confused with evil, the acceptance of “the shadow” and primary embrace of shadow work, a focus on self-expression via aesthetic darkness, and a general attunement to “darker” or more internally-focused currents of spirituality, which favour self-discovery and self-realization without the perceived focus on external morality and traditional worship found in other religious paths. Darkness in McLoughlin’s brand of Paganism is not just about a corrective aspect of “the balance”, it is a link to awareness of both the self and the sacredness of life (which, of course, is inseparable from death) and to the importance of living life to the fullest and remaining true to who you are; as I may understand it, to align yourself with the true basis of life, to the true nature in an inner and outer sense, and self-essence freely without being bound to the norms of society. The way I talk about it, it kind of sounds like Dark Paganism is an apt enough label for what I aspire to. Given the emphasis on darkness and transgression, the focus on self-expression, and the stated objectives of freeing people from social conditioning that blockades authentic, self-originating individuation, Dark Paganism can be seen as an application of the Left Hand Path within Paganism.
Othaos in her articles uses the term Dark Paganism interchangeably with Demonolatry, but this is not necessarily accurate to Demonolatry, not least since there are many Demonolaters who do not consider themselves Pagans and would reject being called Pagan. The way I see it, it is very possible to approach Demonolatry in a manner consistent with Paganism, but I think some of the theology that comes with it can’t be described as Pagan. In Stephanie Connolly’s Complete Book of Demonolatry, there’s a theology that seems to be inspired by Hermeticism in that it derives from it a pantheistic cosmos, which is to say a monotheistic cosmos in which God, or rather in this case the Egyptian god Atum, is the universe or reality itself rather than an intelligence that exists beyond it. The difference, of course, is that Satan is the identity of this pantheistic divine presence instead of God or Atum, and that the co-identity of Man and the Whole represented by Satan/Atum/God is interpreted as a form of self-worship. When it comes to Dark Paganism versus Demonolatry, I would also refer to Amaranthe Altanatum, who is a Theistic Satanist and practicing Demonolater. She points out that Demonolatry is not in itself Pagan, due to the fact that it is not a nature-based tradition, which she considers to be more definitive of at least contemporary Paganism. I’d add that, although there are plenty of modern Pagans, especially reconstructionist ones, who reject the idea of Paganism as a nature-based religion, it is possible to parse a nature-based or even somewhat “naturalistic” religious outlook from the animism that sometimes comes with polytheism and is especially integral to Heathenry in particular.
So how does all of this come back to Luciferianism? Well, Luciferianism does have some intersection with Paganism, or at least neopaganism. Fredrik Gregorius, in a section of Per Faxneld’s The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, at least tentatively argues that Luciferianism can be (theoretically) distinguished from Satanism by placing Lucifer in a more distinctly non-Christian, sometimes even neopagan, context. In this definition, Lucifer is distinguished from Satan by the consideration of Lucifer as a pagan god versus Satan as a strictly Abrahamic entity (the enemy or angel of God). This definition is met by many Luciferian groups, historical and present. Carl William Hansen identified Lucifer with the Greek god Pan, and several other Greek gods, as well as some gods from other pantheons such as the Norse gods. Eugen Grosche, while obvious playing with aspects of Gnosticism and even claiming descent from a particular set of “Gnostic” teachings, he identified Lucifer with the Roman god Saturn. Several British Luciferian witches, and those who do not call themselves Luciferians, identify Lucifer as a figure similar to the Horned God of Wicca, and link him to a litany of pre-Christian deities. Even some Wiccans believe that Lucifer is either a name for their Horned God or a sun god in the vein of Charles Leland’s Aradia. And of course, Michael W. Ford argues that Lucifer is an ancient pre-Christian archetype, and probably popularized the approach to Luciferianism built around what could be termed an adversarial take on neopaganism; or, as Amaranthe put it, “adversarial polytheism” – albeit, in Ford’s case, definitely a rather soft form of polytheism in light of its heavy reliance on the archetypal theory of deity.
It’s not universal, since there are plenty of Luciferians who can’t be counted as neopagans and instead lean much closer to Gnosticism. In such an approach, Lucifer would still basically be distinguished from Satan, but not so much as a pagan god and more as a sort of Christ-like figure, or even assuming the same role that Gnostic Christianity actually reserves for none other than Jesus Christ. In fact I’m quite worried that a more Christianized version of Gnostic Luciferianism may become an influential current of Luciferianism, if not somewhat dominant. Still, the description T. L. Othaos gives of Luciferianism as “like Neo-Paganism, but directed toward demons instead of pagan gods”, or to put another way “like Neo-Paganism but based around the Left Hand Path”, almost certainly applies to a number of historical representations of Luciferianism, and to a number of contemporary Luciferians. Thus, could Luciferianism as Dark Paganism, or a subset thereof, be valid? I suppose in some ways that depends on whether or not it’s accepted as a subset of Theistic Satanism, and what I’ve seen historically suggests to me that Luciferianism is too broad for that to be the case. I think that Luciferianism as a mode of Dark Paganism is viable as one of the different ways of being a Luciferian, and not just because Luciferianism seems to be a big tent of Left Hand Path occult movements anyway. There do in fact seem to be modern Pagans around who consider themselves Luciferians, and whose idea of what that means involves gravitating towards darker deities in the various pantheons with the aim of ritual self-empowerment, and in this sense perhaps these Luciferians can be called Dark Pagans, at least by John McLoughlin’s definition. In older online communities, many more mainstream Pagans, Neopagans, and especially Wiccans have taken to defining Luciferianism as essentially “devil worship” in opposition to Paganism, supposing that Luciferians (or more specifically practitioners of Luciferian Witchcraft) are not Pagans because they worship a Christian Devil. Such a fearful response obviously fails to account for the Latent Christianity inherent in the rejection of all things dark and devilish (even while also accepting the worship of the chthonic gods that were often feared in antiquity) or for the fact that ancient polytheists or at least magicians did worship or invoke the angels and names of God alongside the old gods in the time before Christianity had almost completely eclipsed polytheism. I mean, if Pagans could include the heavenly host of the Christian God as part of polytheistic worship and pluralism, and not be thought of as fluffy idiots even though the God of Christianity calls for the oppression of all other gods, I don’t see why the Devil and his demons should be so taboo? To say that it’s because they’re considered totally malevolent in the Christian context is, quite simply, to accept the moral claims of Christianity at face value, which is untenable so long as you also (correctly) refuse to take the claims they make for their God at face value.
I would maintain that the description of Dark Paganism is not universally applicable to all forms of Luciferianism. But if it can be practical to define Luciferianism or parts thereof as a kind of Dark Paganism, that idea has some positive potential, and I may find it very useful.
There is, however, one snag. While I was sleeping on it one day I was thinking about it, and it seems to me that the more concrete way to define Luciferianism is actually a lot more simplistic. It occurs to me that the main thing, possibly even the only thing, separating Luciferianism from Satanism is the idea that Lucifer is to be venerated as a being separated from and distinguished from the Satan or the Devil; essentially Lucifer for the Luciferians is a non-Satanic figure, and the idea that Lucifer is a Devil or a Satanic figure is just Christian slander. That would make sense of the idea of Lucifer as a Pagan god as Luciferian Pagans might suggest, but it also makes sense of the idea as a Gnostic saviour or even an appearance of Christ. But even then, a lot of Luciferians seem to venerate Lucifer as a Devil figure, even if they don’t consider that Satanic. Even older Luciferians used the terms and concepts interchangeably, such as the case with Carl William Hansen (who used Satanic imagery for fuck’s sake!) and guys like Alasdair Bob Clay-Egerton were Luciferians but he called his organisation the Luciferians Temple of Satan and defended the concept of devil worship in witchcraft from mainstream Wiccan critics. So even here, can the boundaries be said to be all that solid? Not to mention that Peter Grey in Lucifer: Princeps offers the suggestion via historical analysis that perhaps the boundaries between Lucifer and the Devil were never very strict.
This last year, during the summer, I took it upon myself to write a series of articles covering in great detail the alignments of the Shin Megami Tensei series, examining their many ideological, philosophical and religious contours and the way they take shape in each of the main games of the series. Part 1 was dedicated to the Chaos alignment, Part 2 was dedicated to the Law alignment, and Part 3, the final part, was dedicated to Neutrality. These posts seem to have been fairly successful, and I hope they made for good reading at least to tide Shin Megami Tensei fans over before the release of Shin Megami Tensei V. But now, Shin Megami Tensei V is here, and has been here for a good while now. So with the dust settled and the game thoroughly explored, it’s time to give the same treatment to just this game.
I was originally expecting to have this post finished no sooner than January, but it took a lot less time for me to finish this essay than I had originally suspected. And so, contrary to what I said earlier in my original review of Shin Megami Tensei V, instead of a January release, I was able to move this essay over to a Boxing Day release, still accounting for holiday plans of course, hence you’re now able to see this essay earlier than planned. I’m also assuming that it will be months before we get access to translated interviews from the developers of Shin Megami Tensei V regarding the full story context and the thought process and inspirations that went into it in the sense that we have for previous games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, so it was best for me to expedite the release of this essay once it became clear to me that it was going to be finished before the New Year.
This article will be covering the manifestation of the Law and Chaos dynamic in Shin Megami Tensei V, all the ideological contours that come with it, as well as its relationship to previous Shin Megami Tensei games. It will also, in the process of all this, deal in the many flaws of Shin Megami Tensei V’s story, and the premise that game attempts to present to the player. I should also note that, whereas the original alignment and ideology posts started with the Chaos alignment before moving onto Law and ending with Neutrality, this time we will start with Law, then move onto Chaos, and end with Neutrality.
Before Shin Megami Tensei V was released, it was often speculated or rather assumed by fans that the game would eschew the dynamic of Law and Chaos that is central to the series, opting for something more like the Reasons from Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (which, as I’ve explained, all embody the Law side of that dynamic). Indeed, when the game was leaked before its official release, it was thought initially that there was actually no Chaos ending to speak of and instead a selection of Law and Neutral endings. But, having played the game, it soon became apparent that in fact there was a Law and Chaos dynamic, and while it plays out in an unconventional way relative to the rest of the series, it does still follow series tradition in many aspects, and one of the aims of this essay is to demonstrate precisely this.
I also see this essay as an opportunity to challenge various arguments made by various fans and commentators about the nature of alignments in Shin Megami Tensei V and their supposed departure from Shin Megami Tensei tradition and its “absolutism” (I’m looking squarely at you Comic Book Resources, and you TV Tropes!) that I believe to be facile, wrong-headed, and weak. In doing so, I’m probably going to displease a lot of people who are fans of the game, or even the series as a whole, but as far as I’m concerned that comes with the territory of our subject and my response to it.
Once again I’d like to stress before we start that this entire article is going to be riddled with explicit and major spoilers for Shin Megami Tensei V. If you haven’t played the game yet. it’s probably for the best that you not read it. On the other hand, there’s a good chance many of the people about to read this already have played this game. In any case, there’s your warning.
Since we are discussing one single game within the Shin Megami Tensei series, as opposed to basically the entire series of games plus some spin-offs, I think there is room to discuss the larger context of the game’s story, within which the dynamic of alignment is situated, before examining the three alignments indiviudally.
Shin Megami Tensei V begins with an account of an in-universe narrative of creation. It starts by establishing God, as in the God of the Bible, as the creator of the universe as we know it, or rather the “world of order” as it is called, and his servants, the angels, ensured that it functioned in accordance with his will. Humans, we’re told, led happy, fruitful, and prosperous lives under the auspices of God’s grace. But, we are warned, even the order of God himself is not eternal, that fate dictates that mankind will muddle and corrupt the path set out by God, and that order and chaos will continually beget and consume each other turn. We are then informed that the world is set to be destroyed, as is implied by the question, “How will these keepers of Knowledge strive and perish during their final, futile hours in this doomed world?”. The “keepers of Knowledge” are, of course, humans, or more specifically the cast of characters the game presents to the player, with whom they are soon thrown into the apocalypse. The narrators elect to watch these humans, as though observing a play, until a new ruler is seated on the throne.
Not too much later, after the collapse of Takanawa Tunnel, we receive yet more narration concerning the origin of the demons in the game. The games, keeping in mind their modern setting and the clash with secularism that this entails, often embrace differing explanations for the demons that inhabit them, and in that spirit here is the narrative that Shin Megami Tensei V offers us. In the beginning, before humans “gained Knowledge”, God (referred to as “the God of Law”) assumed the throne of creation, and upon doing so he confiscated all “Knowledge” from the other gods so as to deny their ability to challenge his rule over the cosmos. This, it seems, desecrated the other gods, robbing them of their former divine status and resulting in their transformation into the beings called demons. God then stashed away a “Fruit of Knowledge” in his own paradise, seemingly hidden from the other gods. And then a serpent sought the audience of mortal humans, so as to tempt them to eat the “Fruit of Knowledge”, promising that the humans will become more godlike. This is then cast as a conspiracy aimed at resurrecting the war between the gods. Humans everywhere ate the “Fruit of Knowledge”, and this meant consuming “Knowledge” which then bound to the souls of humans and brought them closer to gods. Naturally this leads to God angrily banishing humanity from his paradise, and humanity is constantly watched by demons, waiting for their moment to claim their lost “Knowledge” from humans.
This premise is central to the story of Shin Megami Tensei V, and it is constantly recapitulated to the player throughout the game. There is an entire plot arc based on this premise, which is then conveniently wrapped in the dressing of what is otherwise a paper-thin conversation about high-school bullying (which, I must stress once again, is the game’s only effort at “sympathizing” with the issues of contemporary society). The entire concept of a Nahobino, the neither-demon-nor-human hybrid being that the main character becomes, starts from this premise. It is a human with “Knowledge” and a demon uniting together, to access the apparent “true form” of the demon, and demons seek “Knowledge” in order to attain the state of being a Nahobino, presumably in order to challenge the power of God. Left untouched, however, is the nature of “Knowledge”. There doesn’t seem to be any effort within the game to actually define it. The closest the game gets to doing so is to establish that the gods needed it in order to be able to shape a functioning world, and that without it the gods ceased to be divine. Thus “Knowledge” is more accurately just “divinity”, in the sense of divine identity and power, which God sought to monopolize for himself once he became the supreme being.
Also, God is actually dead this time. 18 years before the events of the game, a war between the forces of order, or God rather, and the forces of chaos, led by Lucifer, engaged in a battle referred to as Armageddon, in which Lucifer apparently emerged triumphant. In a flashback, Lucifer proclaims that God has been slain by his own hand and that he has ascended the throne of God, or the Pillar Empyreal. He also proclaims that order has crumbled and chaos will envelop the world, leading to rebirth and a new future, with the only remaining task being to “sow the seeds that shall sprout into this grand reality”. So God is basically dead for the entire game, with Lucifer having defeated him. And yet for some reason God’s order still hangs over the world, at least in theory. The Condemnation, God’s edict barring the existence of the Nahobino, is at least suggested to still be in effect, despite the main character becoming a Nahobino in the midst of this, and the angels of God, gathered under the name of Bethel, continue to fight the agents of Lucifer despite God’s death.
Of course, this being a Shin Megami Tensei game, one continuing directly after Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne at that, there has to be a turning point leading on to the quest to build a new world in the wake of the apocalypse. As such, everyone eventually gets the memo that God is dead and the time for a new creation is at hand. In fairness, early on in the game, you are already informed that the Tokyo you’ve been living in for the last 18 years is not the real Tokyo, but rather the product of a miracle created by God, which is later referred to as the “Shekinah Glory” (that engimatic phrase which originally haunted the first trailer of the game). This means that the original or “real” Tokyo is what’s known as Da’at, or the Netherworld, completely populated by demons waiting for their chance to break into the Shekinah Glory version of Tokyo. But as the story progresses, God’s demise becomes apparent to the cast, as the Shekinah Glory fades, Tokyo begins to disappear, and meanwhile it turns out Bethel is composed of beings who have already figured out God’s death and are waiting for their chance to act accordingly. At that point, the “Goddess of Creation” (the “Megami” in Shin Megami Tensei, apparently) appears before the protagonist, beckoning him to seek the throne of creation. Eventually you’re compelled to choose between three outcomes, which will be explored over the course of this article:
Uphold God’s order (that is, recreate the world in the image of God’s order)
Recreate the world and save Tokyo (that is, recreate the world with a new order governed by multiple gods instead of just one)
Destroy the throne
This is the game’s story, and thus the context in which this game’s version of the dynamic of Law and Chaos is situated.
Before we continue on to each of the respective alignments, it’s worth taking stock of where the overall story goes. We’re treated to what is essentially a retelling of the War in Heaven and the story of Man’s expulsion from Eden, one that also serves as an origin story for the demons and connects back to themes of the divide between monotheism and polytheism that were explored, pretty shoddily, in the last game, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. That game’s story-world might just hang over Shin Megami Tensei V like a shadow, since the vaguely-defined “Knowledge” of this game, although ultimately conceptually different, at least to me smelled a little bit like the concept of “Observation” in Apocalypse, a power given to humans by the Axiom which allows humans to give form to the formless and is thus coveted by the gods and demons because of its power to create and/or destroy them. “Knowledge” here doesn’t determine whether or not the gods exist at all, and we’re in no way certain where it comes from, but it does seem to follow a similar trend of using vague, abstract philosophical-sounding concepts, in lieu of any existing mythological or esoteric concept, as a device to explain the existence of the demons.
That said, I could remark about the connection between divine identity and the ability to challenge the order of God. It is not too uncommon in pre-Christian myths to see humans and even other gods challenge the celestial order in some way, and in fact, in the Atrahasis, the Mesopotamian precursor text to the story of Noah’s Ark, humans are created through the blood of Geshtu-e, a god of intelligence and a leader of a group of rebellious deities known as the Igigu, and in turn humans gain a portion of the divine in their blood. The gods in the Atrahasis created humans to do the labour that the Igigu refused to do, and the suffering of their labour led them to cry out in defiance, resulting in the attempt by the god Enlil to destroy them. The hero Atrahasis saves mankind with the help of the god Enki, though the gods afterwards control the human population through sterility, the chaste priestess, stillbirth, and infant mortality. Humans rebelled, as Geshtu-e did, rather than accept the fate Enlil might have wrought upon them, and as Peter Grey suggests in Lucifer: Princeps this emerges from the heritage of the divine blood that created humans in the Atrahasis. In Shin Megami Tensei V, God seizes the divine identity of the gods and stows it away, only for humans to eat the Fruit of Knowledge and become infused with that same latent divine identity. So humans become a threat to God’s order through their latent ability to contest it, which is why the narrator laments God’s order being inevitably corrupted by humanity. That said I would probably not suggest that the writing team for Shin Megami Tensei V actually sought to channel the depths of that ancient heritage that Peter and I would retrospectively refer to as “Luciferian”, and instead suggest that what we see in Shin Megami Tensei V is more or less specific to the game and focuses directly on the base myths of the War in Heaven and the Garden of Eden, not so much their deeper polytheistic roots.
I would also like to stress that not every reference in Shin Megami Tensei V seems to have a particularly coherent meaning, or at least not one that is apparent to me anyway. The netherworld where the demons live is called Da’at. In Kabbalah mysticism, Da’at is the name of the location in the Tree of Life where all of the ten sefirah converge and unite as one. What this has to do with the demons or any concept of the netherworld/underworld has never been obvious to me. The name Da’at means “knowledge”, which you might think connects to the story. But don’t you think it sounds weird that the demons look for knowledge in a place that in Hebrew is called “knowledge”? Or that the demons seem to have their home named after the thing they’ve lost, like some kind of cruel joke played either by themselves on themselves or by God I guess? Also, a demon named Lahmu mentions being in a place called Assiah. Assiah is the name of one of the spiritual worlds in Kabbalah mysticism. That’s not unfamiliar to Shin Megami Tensei, since Assiah along with Atzulith are mentioned in the series in some way, but it’s not the obvious what the connection to Da’at is. Maybe they’re separate dimensions that are connected somehow? Who knows.
Anyways, with all that out of the way, let’s address the alignments in Shin Megami Tensei V, starting with the Law alignment.
Assessing the role of the Law and Chaos dynamic means establishing exactly who represents each side of that dynamic. Shin Megami Tensei V’s representation of the Law alignment is, for the most part, fairly predictable by Shin Megami Tensei standards. Although God is dead, his angels are still very much alive, fighting on his behalf seemingly to protect Tokyo from demons. But is that all there is to it? And what do these angels really want?
First of all we should note that, for much of the game, you are essentially stuck on the same side as the angels and don’t get to really oppose them until much later in the game. This is because the protagonist has been drafted into membership of the demon-fighting organization known as Bethel, a name that, conspicuously, means “House of God”. Most of the units of Bethel that you see are angels, and it is through the angels that you are initially introduced to Bethel. An angel named Abdiel also serves as the commander of Bethel’s forces, meaning that she (yes, the male angel Abdiel is a woman in this game, for some reason) is basically in charge of the organization as a whole. And in typical angelic fashion, Abdiel does not brook dissent, and in fact has to be dissuaded from killing the protagonist for being a Nahobino, a violation of the edict known as the Condemnation.
The Condemnation is the name given to an edict imposed by God after he assumed the throne of creation, which barred all other gods from being able to assume the form of a Nahobino and thus access their divine identity. This meant the seizure of all “Knowledge” from the other gods, and their transformation into demons, and in theory means that, in the words of the angel Camael, God is the only Nahobino in existence. But with God dead, this edict seems to no longer stand, as evidenced by the protagonist’s transformation into a Nahobino. Of course, the angels don’t quite realize this yet, and Abdiel certainly doesn’t get the big picture until much later in the game, when she holds a summit with the rest of Bethel’s leadership and is defeated for the first time by the player. Indeed, when you first meet Abdiel, you’ve only been playing the game for an hour or so, have only just met Abdiel for about a minute, and she’s already prepared to kill you for violating the Condemnation, saying that Bethel will not tolerate anyone who violates the will of God. Bethel then emerges as what is initially the clear Law faction of the game, one that you are forced to cooperate with for the majority of the game.
The initial presentation of the Law and Chaos dynamic is pretty straightforward. Representing Law are the forces of order, consisting primarily of Bethel’s angels and their allies on one side, fighting the demons of chaos on the other. The demons of chaos want only thing: to reclaim their lost “Knowledge”. And they’re prepared to invade whatever passes for Tokyo and apparently capture your high school classmates in order to get it. Seeing this as a threat to God’s order, the forces of order lead by Bethel want to stop them, and “protecting Tokyo” just happens to be part of the package insofar as it means driving their enemies into the abyss. The game introduces you to the angels fairly early on as “working tirelessly to protect the people”, presumably from demonic incursions. But this is little other than a ruse, as becomes apparent later in the game. The angels, although they fight the demons breaking into Tokyo and seemingly protect its inhabitants, don’t actually care to stop its ultimate apocalyptic destruction. The angels, when confronted with the failure of the Shekinah Glory and of God to protect Tokyo, and its destruction despite conforming to the will of God, insist that Tokyo’s destruction is to be considered inevitable, “for God’s anger burns many and spares none”. For the angels, God’s order is absolute, and if that means the destruction of the very Tokyo that they were ostensibly “protecting”, then they do not oppose the destruction of Tokyo. Abdiel affirms this creed to the hilt, and so does her apparent rival, Camael, when he tells the protagonist it is his “justice” to loyally execute God’s words, which means killing the player as a Nahobino. The difference between Abdiel and Camael is that Abdiel would rather kill the Nahobino that is the player, but can be convinced to use the Nahobino to execute the will of Bethel until the demons are gone, while Camael brooks no such thing and prefers to immediately kill the player so as to ensure that God is the only Nahobino in existence. Your existence, after all, is a threat to God’s order, because your power as a Nahobino might cause some of the angels to join your side and, so Camael fears, abandon God’s side.
There is obviously a heavy leaning into the implications of Christian theology, or least about as deep as it gets for a game that’s only trying to be an edgier Tokyo Mirage Sessions a new generation of Shin Megami Tensei. The Christians frequently counsel us that God in his unconditional love for humanity has given us free will, that we might come to choose his side through it. Any even cursory reading of the Bible gives us reason to doubt that assurance, considering, among other things, that it is down to God hardening the Pharoah’s heart that the Israelites were refused the right to leave Egypt until the death of the firstborn. Leaving aside the Old Testament, the Book of Acts, within the New Testament, makes clear that “in him we live and move and have our being”. The implications are very much pantheistic, and I would argue that these implications are not the rosy and reasonable alternative to classical theism that certain rationalists both Christian and secular would like to believe, and certainly not the alternative to monotheism that certain neopagans would like to believe. The full scope of that is best reserved for another article in another time, but for now let us establish that there is only one God in pantheism, just that this God is the whole universe. The implications presented in the theology of the New Testament is that God is omnipresent to the point of permeating the whole fabric of the universe and is the sole agency underpinning our every movement. Free will, in this sense, is impossible with the Christian God present, and insofar as God’s order cannot be meaningfully opposed in that even evil actions must necessarily be underpinned or made possible by God’s agency alone, then God’s order would indeed by absolute. Indeed, this I think is what Abdiel means when she says that the ability of her enemies to resist her at all is “by the grace of our Lord”.
Turning away from the main plot for a moment, I should mention that Shin Megami Tensei V also features a series of subquests in each region of the game, one seemingly corresponding to Law and the other seemingly corresponding to Chaos, in theory anyway. This correspondence is at least inferred by the available guides for the game. If there is any correspondence to the alignments, then these subquests are worth exploring for content regarding the expression of Law and Chaos outside the game’s main plot.
In the Minato sector of Da’at, specifically in Shiba, we see a grotto in which a demon named Apsaras, based on the celestial nymphs from Indian mythology, is worshipped by a congregation of weaker demons who pray to her for salvation. Apparently the Apsaras has a whole space set up as a shelter for the weaker demons, who come to rely upon her benevolence in a hostile netherworld and obey her as a result. In fact, only the weak may enter her cave, as the strong do not much benefit from her benevolence. Asparas’ stated goal is to form a circle of gods and offer the weak the minimum amount of knowledge and resources to survive while belonging to her circle. This is opposed by another demon, Leanan Sidhe, who accuses her of seducing weaker demons in order to create an army of soldiers who unconditionally obey her will without regard for their individuality. Apsaras in turn accuses Leanan Sidhe of deceiving the demons with empty words that will only cause them to despair at their own powerlessness. Apsaras is a Yoma and therefore Law-aligned, while Leanan Sidhe is a Femme and therefore Chaos-aligned, so the familiar dynamic of Law and Chaos is well-established here. Taking the “The Spirit of Love” subquest sees you siding with Apsaras and fighting Leanan Sidhe.
Another subquest that follows the same formula is in the Shinagawa area of Da’at. At Shinagawa Pier you will find a Principality, one of the angelic orders, who requests that you assist him in exterminating a group of Lilim who are apparently plotting to infiltrate Tokyo (by which he means the Tokyo produced by the Shekinah Glory). Principality’s rationale is pretty straightforward, and not unlike Apsaras’: he claims to want to protect the weak, in this case humans as he sees them, and he thinks that the Lilim want to attack the whole human world, so in order to protect humans the Lilim must be defeat. The Principality is an agent of Bethel, as is to be expected of most angels. The Lilim, of course, would dispute the angel, saying they only wanted to live quietly among humans. The traditional alignment dynamic is once again clear cut, with Principality as a Law-aligned angel (or Divine) and Lilim as a Chaos-aligned Night. Seeing as you can reject the Principality’s subquest and side with the Lilim instead, this would be probably the only instance in the game in which you can actively defy the orders of Bethel. However, this doesn’t actually affect your actual allegiance to Bethel, since until the last stretch of the game you still have no choice but to work for Bethel and follow their orders. In any case, siding with Principality and thereby carrying out Bethel’s orders by taking the “Holding the Line” subquest is the obvious Law-aligned choice.
Things get more unusual when you go to the Chiyoda area. In Sukiyabashi you meet Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who tells you that he has set the rules regarding the distribution of alcohol in Ginza. He claims to be impartial in granting alcohol to all who ask for it, and that this is one of the rules he set. Opposing Dionysus is Black Frost, who calls himself the emperor of Ginza and wants to take Dionysus’ alcohol by force. Curiously enough, both Dionysus (a Fury) and Black Frost (a Night) are actually Chaos-aligned within the game, and even Dionysus responds to the suggestion of survival of the fittest by saying “so be it”, and that those who challenge him will be “put back in their place” because he is strong and not weak. Despite this and the fact that he really doesn’t have all that much to do with the ideology of Law, Dionysus’ quest, “A Sobering Standoff”, appears to correspond to the most to the Law alignment. I can only assume that this is because Dionysus wants to maintain the system of rules he has in place for regulating alcohol whereas Black Frost wants to upend all of that.
The last of these subquests can be found in the Taito region. In Ueno Park, you can meet Futsunushi, the Shinto god of swords, who gives you the subquest “In Defense of Tokyo”. Futsunushi identifies himself as one of the Amatsukami (which doesn’t sound strange, given that he actually was one of the Amatsukami, until we start getting into the Chaos alignment), and tells you that “foreign demons” led by the fallen angel Adramelech are trying to invade Tokyo. He very peculiarly complains to the player that if Adramelech was merely chased from his home and landed in Tokyo then he would not turn him away, but he claims that the “foreign demons” instead steal the land of the Amatsukami and try to “exterminate” them. When Futsunushi was initially revealed for Shin Megami Tensei V, some people saw him talking about “foreign demons” and suspected that he would be a continuation of nationalist themes in the series, and if you think about it, the way Futsunushi talks kind of reminds me of certain anti-refugee talking points we could bring up. In any case, although Futsunushi is a Wargod and therefore listed as Neutral, his quest “In Defence of Tokyo” seems to correspond to the Law alignment.
Altogether, the microcosm of Law presented in these subquests seems pretty straightforward. Law is about order, and that can mean many things: it can mean creating a society where safety comes with dependence on authority, it can mean simply preserving order in general, often on behalf of Bethel and the angels, and apparently it can also mean some sort of nationalism. Keep that part in mind for when we explore one of the central Law characters in the game.
Returning to the main plot, we see towards the final stretch of the game that, after the player defeats the demon king Arioch, the horizon of the Law and Chaos dynamic seems to change. The director of the Japanese branch of Bethel, Hayao Koshimizu, abruptly declares that the Japanese branch is going to break off from Bethel in order to install a Nahobino as the new ruler of creation. This leads to a summit between all the main heads of Bethel, in which we discover that the heads of the other Bethel branches are not angels but instead the various polytheistic gods: Khonsu, the Egyptian god of the moon, represents the Egyptian branch, Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, represents the Greek branch, Odin, ruler of the Norse Aesir gods, represents the Nordic branch, and Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, as well as the serpent Vasuki, represent the Indian branch. It turns out that Bethel is just an alliance between the various gods and the angels of God cobbled together by Abdiel, who serves as its leader and commander, seemingly for the purpose of fighting the forces of chaos under the pretext that God is still alive. Earlier in the game we see a flashback in which Lucifer greets the angels led by Abdiel to tell them that God is dead and that he has killed him. Naturally, Abdiel angrily dismisses the “vile serpent”, believes that he is lying, and refuses to believe him. For much of the game Abdiel continues to hold onto the belief that Lucifer is trying to deceive everyone, and organized Bethel with that belief in mind, assuring the rest of Bethel that rumours of God’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
During the Bethel summit, it becomes clear that the other gods have already figured out that Lucifer had defeated and killed God, that the Condemnation is no longer in effect, and that the world is due for a new cosmic ruler. Abdiel insists that Bethel still exists to preserve God’s world, that the Condemnation still stands, and that the right course of action is to simply wait for God’s return, reasoning that even if God did die he would surely return soon. When Khonsu points out the existence of the Nahobino that is the player and speculates that God wants the player to replace him, Abdiel, unable to counter Khonsu’s argument, decides that in order to prove that God’s order still reigns supreme she has to kill the player. She, of course, fails and is defeated by the player, and as a result the rest of Bethel, vindicated in their skepticism, go their separate ways, with Odin and Zeus in particular heading out to recover their lost “Knowledge” and become Nahobinos themselves, all of which Abdiel considers to be selfish. Until this point, the gods who formed the Bethel alliance may have been convinced that God was still alive and that, with his order via the Condemnation still in effect, it would be impossible for them to become Nahobinos. Thus, they settled for simply working with the angels in order to protect the world by fighting the forces of chaos, which, thinking about it, must seem strange considering that Odin and Zeus seem to have the same ultimate goal as certain “forces of chaos” such as Lahmu: namely, they want to regain their divine status as Nahobinos, challenge the current order, and recreate the world.
In any case, Bethel, from this point onward, no longer represents the Law alignment. Now it’s just the angels of God who constitute the primary Law faction in the game’s story. In fact, the angels of the Herald and Divine clans are among the few consistently Law-aligned demon clans in the whole game. The only other reliably Law-aligned clans in the game are Avians, Raptors, and Yomas. Megamis, previously Law-aligned, are now Neutral except for Demeter and Maria, and even then Demeter’s ambitions in this game have no connection to God unlike in Strange Journey Redux. Viles were also previously Law-aligned, but now half of the Vile clan is Chaos-aligned while the other half are Law-aligned. That’s pretty much the extent of Law representation within this game’s Demonic Compendium. In contrast, and I hate to say this but, there are if anything way too many Chaos-aligned demons in this game!
Abdiel may be defeated but she’s not giving up. She is still committed to ensuring that God’s order is preserved and upheld as the supreme order of things, and as it turns out she, despite being an angel and therefore a creation of God, somehow has “Knowledge”. That would entail that she, like all the other demons, had somehow “fallen” from godhood with the ascent of God, and, in order to restore it, she needs to find a human with her “Knowledge”. This leads us to perhaps the single most important Law character in the game who we have not yet discussed: one of your classmates, Ichiro Dazai.
Admittedly, Ichiro seems like an unusual Law representative. Before the game was officially released, many thought that Ichiro would turn out to be the Chaos representative rather than the Law representative. And you could be forgiven for thinking that since he certainly doesn’t quite look like what you’d expect from a Law representative. Indeed, your first impression of him in-game is that he’s an aspiring internet streamer who’s viewed by the rest of the class as kind of a dork, and when you first see him in the game he’s trying to film his next video, talking about rumours of monsters in the Takanawa Tunnel. He actually looks like Logan Paul, don’t you think? But as the game goes on, you slowly see him develop as a more or less standard, perhaps even cliche, representative of the Law alignment.
When you first enter Da’at you see Ichiro lifted above the ground by an angel, who then carries him off to the Diet Building. After this he expresses an interest in joining Bethel, saying that he really wants to be a part of protecting Tokyo. This of course is right after one of your other classmates, Tao Isonokami (a.k.a. “The Saint”; no, not that one), informs you and your two other classmates (including Ichiro) that the Tokyo you’ve been living in isn’t real, and Ichiro never really seems to reflect on that fact in any serious way. Later, after the defeat of Lahmu and the explanation of “Knowledge” and the demons’ desire for it to the students, Ichiro never contemplates it and avowedly doesn’t care about the subject. A lot of his time in the game is just him talking about how weak and indecisive he thinks he is, how much he admires the player for his strength and ability to confront danger, and his desire to get stronger and more confident himself.
That’s where Abdiel comes in. While she’s busy ruminating about the deposed rival gods in Shinagawa Pier, Ichiro introduces himself to Abdiel and talks to her about how awesome she is and how he wants to know how she can be so strong. Keep in mind, when Abdiel is first seen by the player and his friends, Ichiro is actually scared of Abdiel, and for good reason; she was about to kill his classmate for being a Nahobino. So it’s definitely a little odd that Ichiro would want to follow Abdiel. Abdiel then tells Ichiro that the secret to her strength is her unwavering faith in God, which gives her the ability to act without hesitation based on simple belief. This seems to inspire Ichiro somewhat, and eventually he bonds more and more with Abdiel. During the raid against the demon king Arioch and his allies in the Chiyoda region, Abdiel assists Ichiro by giving him some angels to command so that he could fight on his own. But whether or not Ichiro has gotten much stronger is honestly a matter of opinion, and I would argue that all he ended up doing was leaning on Abdiel for outer strength. For whatever reason, Ichiro seems to hang on Abdiel’s every word. He even calls her “Master Abdiel”.
By the time you get to the Bethel summit, Ichiro is absolutely convinced that Abdiel is right about everything and that only she can bring order to the world. When you see the summit and get the chance to talk to everyone there, you can talk to Ichiro and he’ll tell you that although he sympathizes with Koshimizu’s goal in terms of wanting to protect Japan, if only because Ichiro himself is also Japanese (well, half-Japanese, but we’ll get to that), he simply believes that Abdiel’s words make the most sense. Why? Ichiro doesn’t tell you, at least not at this point. Earlier, when Koshimizu explains to the students that he will be breaking off from Bethel, Ichiro emphatically opposes this move, which he believes to be a betrayal, and naively suggests that Koshimizu simply ask the rest of Bethel to help them save Tokyo, which is at this point rapidly disappearing from existence. In trying to figure out what motivates Ichiro to this thought process, it occurs to me that he legitimately only thinks about the basic mission of protecting Tokyo, and has no interest in any of the surrounding conflicts and contradictions that influence the fate of Tokyo or the rest of the world. And since he associates the mission of protecting Tokyo with Bethel and Bethel with Abdiel and the angels, Ichiro seems to just instinctively side with Abdiel and the angels and with Bethel as a broad whole, and over time he seems to have internalized Abdiel’s ideas about God’s order being necessary for the safety of Tokyo.
When Abdiel is defeated at the summit, Ichiro begs to go and see her again. Eager to continue depending on her guidance, Ichiro begs Abdiel not to give up on her cause. When Abdiel laments that even an archangel is no much for a Nahobino, Ichiro suggests that Abdiel become a Nahobino too in order to gain the power to defeat other Nahobinos, notwithstanding the fact that his fellow classmate who just defeated Abdiel is there to hear him say that. Ichiro pledges to find the human that has Abdiel’s “Knowledge” and bring them to her, only to be informed that it is in fact he himself who has Abdiel’s “Knowledge”. Ichiro is elated and volunteers to be used by Abdiel to become a Nahobino, but Abdiel initially rejects this proposal, because as an archangel she is still bound to uphold the Condemnation. Even though the existence of a Nahobino means that the Condemnation no longer stands on account of God’s defeat and death, the archangels, being created as servants of God, have to uphold God’s law and order anyway. And then, suddenly, the voice of Lucifer echoes into the summit, telling Abdiel, “if your prayer is indeed for harmony, you must bring it about yourself”. In other words, if Abdiel means to preserve the order she believes in, then she must take the power to do so into her own hands, even if that means going against her own rules to do it.
All of this culminates into the final stretch of the story where, at some point, on your way to the Temple of Eternity in Umayabashi, you find Ichiro, standing above, pondering what will happen without Abdiel. Here, his philosophy for what to do with the fate of Tokyo takes shape. He expresses the belief that Abdiel is the only one capable of bringing order, the thing that Ichiro appears to suddenly care about the most, and claims that without her Tokyo and the world as a whole would “tear itself apart”. He then goes on to state that “divine diversity isn’t an answer, it’s chaos”, and that humanity needs “a single ultimate truth” as opposed to “an excess of false opinions”. In the midst of his despair, he recalls what Lucifer said about harmony and comes to the conclusion that, although he seems useless on his own, being useful to Abdiel will be enough for him, and declares that his “Knowledge” alone will serve “the greater good”. And then, he throws his cap to the void, furls back his hair, his eyes seem to glow, and declares that he will rise above the rest and be “the sword of heaven”, before laughing an unusually evil laugh for a Law character.
This is a lot to unpack on its own. Going off of his new look, I remember seeing some fans remark that Ichiro has basically morphed into this game’s version of the Chaos Hero from the original Shin Megami Tensei, mostly due to his hair and his sinister smile. I would point out, though, that the Law representative for Shin Megami Tensei II, Zayin, also has a similar look, at least when he turns into Satan anyway. More importantly, though, this seems to be the point where Ichiro’s focus shifts from the basic mission of protecting/saving Tokyo to “order” as an abstract idea and as governed by broad notions of “ultimate truth”. It’s also the point where we see Ichiro develops what amounts to a fascist or at least quasi-fascist worldview. Remember when I pointed out how Futsunushi’s Law-aligned quest had possible nationalist undertones, and then told you to keep that in mind up to this point? Well, who else do you know in real life who says that diversity can only mean chaos and should be opposed for that reason? Think about it. Hard-right, authoritarian conservatives make the same point all the time, so do right-wing nationalists and fascists. The fascistic nationalist tends to have an agenda of smothering all diversity under the banner of a single, hegemonic state order, with an attendant monoculture, with dissent and difference policed in order to maintain it. That’s the implications of the order that Ichiro would prefer. Only one opinion is allowed to be observed as having weight, all else is “an excess of false opinions”. That “single ultimate truth”, God’s order, is supposed to provide security at the expense of freedom and diversity. Such appears to be the primary concern of the Law alignment in this game, which I guess makes some sense for what it is, and contrary to certain claims that Shin Megami Tensei V represents a broad move away from the “absolutism” of God, this game’s Law alignment is in no way a departure from the series tradition of Law as an absolutist, order-centric ideology revolving around the order of God. Well, except perhaps for the development to come.
But before we get to that point, there’s one thing about Ichiro I should note that is probably incidental in the bigger picture but has a weird connection to the rest of the series. I mentioned that earlier that Ichiro Dazai is half-Japanese. What I didn’t mention yet is that the other half is American. Yes, Ichiro is half-Japanese and half-American. Historically, the association of the Law alignment with America goes back to the original Shin Megami Tensei, in which the Americans as represented by Ambassador Thorman comprise the Law faction for the first stretch of the game. Granted, America was not always represented by the Law alignment in the series, as shown by Strange Journey’s Jimenez being both an American and the Chaos representative, but Ichiro’s partial American identity coupled with his alignment with the angels of the Christian God follows a thematic conceit that had been established in the early days of Shin Megami Tensei, namely that Law tends to represent Western ideas of religion, mostly “Judeo-Christian” beliefs, in the context of a Japanese society that has historically encountered Christianity as either a contradiction and threat to indigenous Japanese religion, a political threat to the Japanese state, or the attendant religion of a humiliating post-war occupation.
Now then, the final alignment-based decision in the game commences when you reach the end of the Temple of Eternity. There you offer the three keys to the temple and then the “Goddess of Creation” shows you your two classmates vying for the right to create the world. You see Ichiro discussing with Abdiel that the only way to maintain order is to give everything, including your own life, over to God, and tells Abdiel that he is here to “do what needs to be done” even if it means to “stray from the path”, stressing that nothing matters so long as his side wins. Abdiel stresses that God’s word is still unchanging and that she is sworn to defend it, and that she is ready to become a Nahobino, thereby blaspheming against the Condemnation set by that very same God, in order to carry out his will. Almost immediately afterwards, the player returns to reality and is on his way to the Empyrean, only to be interrupted by his two classmates and potential rivals, Ichiro among them. Ichiro interrupts the presumptions of his rivals Yuzuru and former director Hayao Koshimizu to preach to them that they need only entrust everything to God. He argues that, because Zeus and Odin each vied for the throne of creation, a world of myriad gods would result in “endless war” with all the gods “eating each other alive” in a brutal contest for dominance, and that, by contrast, everyone will “get their fair share” if they only let God do his thing, on the basis that someone who is all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-knowing can’t possibly be wrong.
And that’s when Abdiel makes a dramatic transformation. After rambling about her sacred duty and her “fettered form” being no much for a Nahobino, she declares that, in the name of the Almighty, she will “embrace darkness” and become a fallen angel. Her body writhes and is covered with purple darkness, she spews black vomit, and then her body radically transforms from her former angelic self to the body of a demon, all topped off with her old face splitting open to reveal a new one. Abdiel then declares that she will uphold God’s will at all costs, even if it means being severed from God’s grace, and Ichiro remarks that Abdiel’s faith as an archangel remains unwavering. In Lucifer’s words, Abdiel has defied God in his own name and traded God’s word for his will. Naturally her fallen angel form has her move out of the Herald clan and into the Fallen clan, but she still maintains her Law alignment. Hence, Abdiel becomes the only Fallen demon in the game, and the series as a whole, to be Law-aligned, since she unlike all the other Fallen demons is still loyal to God and wants to preserve his order.
This certainly is an original take on the Law alignment. But it is also utterly incoherent. Abdiel’s whole purpose is to uphold God’s will, which means God’s word as well. The Condemnation is God’s word and his will as much as each other. The two cannot be separated in isolation. Therefore, the whole premise of her being prepared to fall from grace is nonsense, since the whole act of undertaking that fall emerges from defying his will and his word. Furthermore, if God is dead, and this means his order and power are fading away with him, that means the Condemnation no longer stands, as evidenced from the beginning by the fact that the player becomes a Nahobino. Why, then, should Abdiel need to worry about falling from his grace and defying his word, and why should she transform into a devil-looking thing? If the Condemnation is no longer in effect, then Abdiel could lay claim to human “Knowledge” without needing to undergo a “fall” since the rules that mandated this surely no longer apply. Also, when Abdiel does become a Nahobino, she doesn’t look like any particularly godly being, and instead she seems to more closely resemble what the merged form of Sirene and Kaim from Devilman would look like without their skin. What’s the deal with that? But then, once again, why does Abdiel even have “Knowledge” to be stored inside an unwitting human if she’s not a god? Is it because Abdiel in Paradise Lost was originally one of the angels who followed Lucifer before repenting? Is it for the same reason that there’s a subquest in which Melchizedek says that the “seraphim” (the archangels) were all originally servants of the god Baal? Not to mention, why do Abdiel and Ichiro bother heeding the voice of Lucifer anyway? Isn’t Lucifer the same being that Abdiel previously denounced as a “contemptible snake” and “vile serpent” and hence dismissed his words as lies? Wasn’t the whole point of Bethel to keep opposing Lucifer even after he defeated God? Wasn’t the whole alliance built on the premise that Lucifer had lied about God’s demise?
It’s all just such nonsense. This entire setup seems constructed simply to subvert the traditional expectations of the Law alignment, and I suppose it does, but only on a superficial level. It almost reeks of the tired old dogma that Law and Chaos are actually just two sides of one monistic coin, a trope that also played into some of the worst writing on display in Apocalypse, a game in which all outcomes except Neutrality are delegitimized in this way. But what does it really convey here? Again, I argue that this is not the departure from absolutism that some strive to suggest. Instead, absolutism is the order of the day. It is the nature of the order desired by Ichiro, and fulfilled through Abdiel and the order she enforces (in fact Abdiel explicitly said that God is absolute), it is the nature of the sense of faith cultivated by Ichiro and Abdiel, and it is present in the sacrifices, transformations, and even transgressions that they are willing to undertake for the sole sake of the preservation of order and their own victory. That is the core of the Law alignment as it is present in Shin Megami Tensei V, and it is hardly less absolutist than in previous games.
And while we’re still on the subject of absolutism, let us address the claims made by some that Abdiel is merely a more extreme case in an otherwise more benign angelic faction. It is claimed that this game’s angels want to create a world where order does not exclude the presence of free will. Having played the game, I have not encountered any evidence to support that claim. None of the angels object to the absolutism and determinism of Abdiel’s worldview. There’s not much reason from their perspective why they should, anyway. Only one angel, Camael, objects to Abdiel’s actions, and that’s just because she didn’t kill the player on the spot for being a Nahobino, not because she didn’t believe in free will enough. All of the angels believe in executing God’s word and will without leniency or laxity, all the angels stand with Abdiel by the final stretch of the game, and all of the angels see Tokyo’s destruction as simple destiny as handed down by God, to be accepted and even upheld without objection. In fact, during the demonic invasion of Jouin High School, the angels explicitly state that there is no mercy to be reserved for “evil”, including humans who become possessed by demons. It would not matter if you were a demon or merely a victim of possession, they would smite you anyway. And they say this regardless of whether you choose to prioritize killing Lahmu or helping Sahori, the girl sought after by Lahmu. Further, before you enter the invaded Jouin High School, an angel explicitly instructs you to kill any students that can’t be rescued along with the demons. Exactly how are the angels in Shin Megami Tensei V supposed to be more benevolent and tolerant compared to previous games?
Not to mention, there’s a question relevant for Ichiro in particular. Ichiro repeatedly argues that it is best that everyone just leave everything to God and all will be well. Besides the obvious theological problems we could get into, the obvious problem, within the context of the game’s story, is that God is dead, and has been dead for quite some time, just that Abdiel and the angels have been denying it. Indeed, Ichiro never seems to address this situation directly. Perhaps we can assume he just goes along with Abdiel’s opinion that God is not actually dead, but that would be passive and he never actually takes a stance on that, nor is he ever challenged to confront the reality of God’s death. In fact, doesn’t it seem strange that Ichiro was there for the Bethel summit and saw the other Bethel heads say that God is dead, and never had anything to say about that? It seems to me that Ichiro doesn’t have an answer to any of that, and that might be because Ichiro at heart cares less about the existential question of God and more about whatever is most capable of “bringing order” in the abstract, which he connects in his mind to saving Tokyo from demons.
Anyways, and so we come to the point in the game where you choose between three alignment-based outcomes. Choosing to uphold God’s order sees you siding with Abdiel and Ichiro, and thus represents the path of the Law alignment. Doing so also grants access to two subquests exclusive to the Law path. One of them, “The Seraph’s Return”, features the archangel Michael, who along with his compatriots was imprisoned in a statue in the course of Armageddon. If you complete the subquest “The Holy Ring” with Melchizedek, you can find Michael at the end of the Temple of Eternity, having been set free by Melchizedek. If you took the Law path at this point before entering the Empyrean, Michael, though not pleased about you being a Nahobino, thanks the player for helping Melchizedek free him and praises you for choosing to uphold God’s order. He then sends you to go and defeat Belial at Arioch’s former castle, and joins your side upon you doing so. Of course, if you took the Chaos path before entering the Empyrean, Michael opposes you instead and you have to defeat him. There’s s catch, though: if you chose the Law path but were not sufficiently Law-aligned beforehand, Melchizedek will ask you to pay him 666,000 Macca to earn the trust of the angels. Yeah, that’s a thing in this game, for some reason. Another subquest, “The Compassionate Queen”, is unlocked if you took the Law path and have gained the Seed of Life by achieving 75% completion of the Demonic Compendium. In it you see Maria, a kind of/sort of/not really Virgin Mary expy, who challenges you upon acquiring the Seed of Life. She describes herself as a mother goddess whose form and role changes depending on place and time, and awaits her disappearance with the creation of a new world. If you’re Law-aligned, Maria acknowledges your desire to preserve the world as it was, and faces you as herself. Winning the resulting battle unlocks her as a fusable ally
Once you resolve yourself to uphold God’s order, you fight and defeat the other two Nahobinos that stand in your way, namely Tsukuyomi and Nuwa, and then fight Lucifer, neither of whom seem to have any commentary on why it’s bad that you’ve chosen to side with Abdiel and restore the order of God or why you should have sided with them instead (not that you ever get to take sides with Lucifer). And then, you get to activate the throne of creation to usher in the restoration of God’s order. What does this mean in practice?
Well, for starters, you don’t actually get to see the newly created world or the effects of your rule in the ending sequence of the game. All you see is the player walking towards a big white ball of light that looks suspiciously like Kagutsuchi from Nocturne, while the four archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael) are seen suspended in mid-air in all different directions. I suppose at least the presence of the archangels tells you that this is the Law ending after all. But from the narration of Goko, the Buddhist monk seen throughout the game up to the final stretch, we can get an idea of what we’re supposed to expect. The player creates a new world in the image of the previous one, restores Tokyo and resurrects its inhabitants, who are then completely unaware of that this is all a recreation of the Shekinah Glory that was previously established by God. The world is composed of only one truth, one justice, one single order, no diversity. Goko suggests that those who easily lose their way will find unwavering faith in this world. In the world of Law, the newly resurrected humans do not think for themselves, and live to show devotion to God. I can’t quite tell if that means the original God or you, the new ruler of the throne.
Throughout the Shin Megami Tensei series, the Law alignment has been defined primarily by a single goal: the realization of the Thousand Year Kingdom. The Thousand Year Kingdom is a state of paradise on earth governed by God and/or his agents, in which the believers in God can inhabit and enjoy a world of ultimate peace, harmony, prosperity, and order under the aegis of a strictly hierarchical and dictatorial society which compels its subjects to trade freedom for total security. And, of course, only the believers are allowed to live in it. Everyone else is either cleansed by God’s judgement or simply cast out and left to die. It’s a concept that appears by name in the original two Shin Megami Tensei games, and recurs if not in name throughout the rest of the series as I’ve explored in “Ideologies of Law in Shin Megami Tensei”. Yet in this game, there’s no real hint of the Thousand Year Kingdom here, at least ostensibly. It’s neither mentioned by name nor hinted at in substitutes such as “millennium of order” as uttered in the previous duology of games. So is there no Thousand Year Kingdom in Shin Megami Tensei V? On the surface the answer to that would be yes. But here’s the thing: you can infer many of the same components of what makes a Thousand Year Kingdom in what we get from the ending sequence. People live in prosperity and ostensible peace, but they do not think for themselves, and exist mostly to devote themselves to God (again, that could be either the old God or the new God for all I know). We can also bear in mind the underlying Christian base of the concept of the Thousand Year Kingdom, and point to the Last Judgement in which the souls of the dead are resurrected, and then either led to paradise or damned to hell. In the Law ending, those who died in Tokyo are resurrected and restored, and all get to live in the “paradise” you create. There are only believers, though perhaps that’s not because you’ve cast out all unbelievers, but rather because believers are all that you have left, your resurrected humanity has been remade as true believers. But of course, if this is meant to be the old order restored, and the Thousand Year Kingdom an ideal state to be realized and pave over the present world, I suppose the Law outcome in Shin Megami Tensei V doesn’t quite follow the base trope of the Thousand Year Kingdom, except may in spirit to a small extent.
Thus, we have established the nature of the Law alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V. It is an ideology centered around preserving, or rather renewing, the status quo of a monotheistic cosmic order, one defined by the absolute concentration of power into one God, who rules as an absolute dictator, brooking no dissent until his death. As usual, this is to be accepted on the promise of security and order, off the back of absolutism. Being Law-aligned then is about the desire for the supreme being and the willingness to have and observe its order at the expense of your own freedom.
Turning to our next subject, the Chaos alignment is a little trickier to define than the Law alignment, and that mostly comes down to the same basic question: who represents the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V? This is complicated to some extent by the fact that, as I’ve established, the Law and Chaos dynamic in this game seems to shift to some extent. There is, though, a common theme in the Chaos side. The Chaos faction(s) in this game seem to be defined largely by a desire to challenge or overturn God’s order, and in doing so regain the power of divine identity. In this sense, the Chaos faction(s) represent the gods of old, the demons who were desecrated by God through the loss of their “Knowledge”. But that takes more than one form in Shin Megami Tensei V.
It bears repeating that for the majority of Shin Megami Tensei V the dynamic of Law and Chaos is defined principally by the conflict between the forces of order, represented by Bethel and the angels, and the “demons of chaos” who oppose them, and you do not get to choose to take the side of the demons over the side of Bethel. In this sense, we should begin our analysis of the Chaos alignment in this game by examining the forces of chaos that you don’t get to side with.
From the beginning of the game, we are introduced to demons as beings who were originally gods, or Nahobinos, but were debased through their disempowerment by God depriving them of their “Knowledge”. Demons, then, are in the strict sense fallen gods. With their former “Knowledge” now spread out across the human species, the demons seek out humans for the purpose of regaining their “Knowledge” so that they can regain their divine identity and the power that came with it, and that’s why demons go hunting for human souls. This premise is repeatedly reasserted throughout the game’s story, but the first wholesale story arc devoted to it comes with the arrival of Lahmu, a desecrated god based on an apotropaic spirit from Babylonian mythology. Although classed as a Vile, which is traditionally a Law-aligned demon clan, Lahmu is one of the three Vile demons in the game (so basically half of the Vile clan here) who are actually Chaos-aligned instead of Law-aligned. For story-based reasons, that’s no accident.
Lahmu is first seen speaking to Sahori Itsukishima, a girl who’s first seen in the game getting bullied by other high school students. Sahori is tired of being bullied by others, tired of being powerless against them, and tired of not being left alone. In comes Lahmu, who whispers into her head and offers her the power to get her revenge. Some time after this, Lahmu busts his way into the miracle-based Tokyo to hunt for the Magatsuhi (some kind of life force here) of humans as well as find Sahori, who is Lahmu’s “other half”. Sahori is the human whose body contains Lahmu’s “Knowledge”, and so Lahmu intends to fuse himself with Sahori in order to become a Nahobino, regain his former divine glory, and challenge the order of God. He naturally hates the forces of Bethel, blaming them for the sealing away of his former divine self. Lahmu also leads the demonic invasion of Jouin High School to get to Sahori, while other demons make off with high school students in the hopes of getting their “Knowledge” one way or another.
Although ultimately incidental to the broader dynamic, it’s worth spotlighting the Sahori arc to illustrate missed opportunities created by the lack of an alignment break here. As you make your way into the invaded Jouin High School, you see Sahori tremble before and eventually embrace Lahmu, and later on you find her embarking on a rampage of revenge against her bullies with her newfound demonic power. Her classmate Tao tries to get her to stop, and the girls who bullied her yell the same pleas for mercy that Sahori once did. Sahori confronts her bullies over precisely that fact, that they attacked her and destroyed her possessions before, and now beg for forgiveness and mercy as she turns her wrath towards them, now that she has the power to deliver vengeance to them. Sahori’s sentiment is a perfectly admissible one, perfectly understandable, and arguably justifiable. If you were bullied all your life in high school, and you got the chance to get even with them, would it truly make sense for you to turn the other cheek for them when they never did the same for you? Is it really wrong for you to throw their shitty behaviour back in their face when you get the chance to do so? This is a legitimate response to being constantly bullied, and if the game developers wanted to “sympathize with the troubles of the current era” they could have included the option to at least agree with Sahori’s actions, or even if not that at least her thought process. But the game never lets you actually sympathize with her, much less take her side, in any meaningful way. In fact, Sahori demonstrates a remarkable lack of agency throughout the game, such that even her embrace of Lahmu’s power isn’t even meant to be taken as a meaningful choice.
The connection to bullying is not incidental to the Chaos alignment. In fact, it’s your first introduction to the Chaos Hero in the original Shin Megami Tensei, and I think this is worth revisiting for a moment. In that game, the Chaos Hero is bullied by Ozawa and his fellow gangsters for being a nerd with an interest in the occult, and throughout the first half of the game his main interest is in gaining power and getting stronger so that he can stand up for himself and get revenge. To that end, the Chaos Hero joins the player and his party in order to get to Ozawa and defeat him, but Ozawa slips away when you find him and the Chaos Hero doesn’t yet get his revenge. After survivng a nuclear apocalypse by being transported to Kongokai and then being hurled 30 years into the future, the party meets an older Ozawa and the Chaos Hero gets another chance to get his revenge, but the party is overpowered by the might of his demon ally, Take-Minakata. This results in the Chaos Hero deciding to fuse himself with a demon from your COMP in order to become the strongest and most powerful he can be by transcending his human limitations, which allows him to defeat Take-Minakata and finally get revenge on Ozawa.
Since it must be remembered that I’m supposed to be talking about the ideological contours of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V, what I’m trying to say is that there is s connection in that one of the most important aspects of Chaos is being able to take matters into your own hands. For the Chaos Hero in the original Shin Megami Tensei, this means getting as strong as possible so that no one can pick on him again. For Sahori, taking on the power of Lahmu means much the same: gaining the power to make sure no one picks on her again. But the difference between the two games, besides being nearly 30 years apart, is a fundamental difference of agency afforded to the two respective characters, and the legitimacy given to their actions as can be supported by the player. In the original Shin Megami Tensei, the Chaos Hero has agency, indeed agency is the thing he strives to maximize in his quest for strength and power, he acts on his own terms with his own coherent motives and goals in mind, and his actions are legitimate enough as far as the game is concerned that the player can support them within the game, ultimately to the extent that you can take his side for the final stretch of the game as a fighter for the forces of Chaos. For Sahori, the exact opposite is the case. You are never allowed to actively support Sahori’s actions against her oppressors, you can never disagree with Tao or your masters at Bethel about the legitimacy of her actions, and Sahori can only exist as someone whose vulnerability is taken advantage of by Lahmu, who is only supposed to be the villain in all this. Even Sahori’s embrace of Lahmu’s power is preceded by Lahmu forcibly apprehending her, there’s almost no conversation between them that might lead to her embracing his power entirely on her own terms, out of a desire to stop being bullied, and after she gets her revenge she abruptly pivots and no longer wants any part in Lahmu’s plans and is abducted. But then when you find her at the far north of Shinagawa, she starts asking questions as though she wants to know more about becoming a Nahobino, but she never understands or forms a coherent response before being possessed by Lahmu again, and then killed by the player, thus “saving” her, after she almost killed you and killed Tao, under Lahmu’s possession of course (it’s not clear if Lahmu actually became a Nahobino).
It appears that Shin Megami Tensei V only recognises two legitimate outcomes for Sahori: to be a victim of bullying, and to be “saved” from her victimizers by Bethel. I suppose the only other legitimate response is for Tao to try and reach out to her and tell she’s there for her, maybe, as much as “The Saint” can be there for her. For Sahori to stand up for herself in some fashion, for her to take matters into her own hands, for her voluntarily embrace Lahmu’s power and become a Nahobino, and for you to take Sahori’s side in such endeavours, are all forbidden by the game’s narrative. Thus what could have been a credible Chaos-aligned response, consistent with traditional themes of the Chaos alignment, and from there perhaps an early alignment split that might have had significant effects on the overall story, are entirely closed off, ruled out by the story, since that would mean questioning and opposing Bethel’s ideals, indeed really going against them, before the anointed hour in which the game decides you can oppose God’s order. Of course, there are points in the story where you can tell Koshimizu you don’t want to do what he wants, you can tell Aogami that you hate Bethel’s guts, and you can even take a subquest in which you get to actively defy the orders of Bethel. But these are all contained, isolated instances, and have no actual affect on the story or your place in Bethel.
While we’re still on the subject of the forces of chaos that you don’t get to side with, your trip to Chiyoda has you contending with Surt, Ishtar, and the demon king Arioch, in that order. If you take Ishtar as the original divine form of Astaroth, as the series regularly hints, then these represent three of the four generals of Chaos from the original Shin Megami Tensei. Surt may not have much to say, being too busy burning Ginza, but the other too at least have something to say. When you face Ishtar, she monologues about how God deposed all the other gods, viewing even the Queen of Heaven beneath him, warning that no matter how much faith you have in God it will never be enough for him. When you defeat her, she tells you that she believes that change is coming and the gods must side with chaos to defeat God’s order. As for Arioch, his explicit goal is to seize the throne of creation, with its former divine ruler now dead, and reclaim the “Knowledge” of old in order to recreate the world. After you defeat Arioch, he beseeches the player to use your power as a Nahobino to overturn God’s order and recreate the world, and he stresses that only freedom born from chaos can nurture the world.
Arioch and Ishtar, like Lahmu before them, aim to regain the divine identities seized from them by God, bring an end to God’s order, and recreate the world. Bethel opposes this because its leadership considers the idea of any Nahobino other than God occupying the throne of creation to be a blasphemy and a threat to the order of the world. Where the forces of Law represent the order of a monotheistic cosmos, the forces of Chaos appear to consist of deposed gods from ancient, pre-Christian polytheism, as well as the demons of Hell, all seeking to restore their lost divinity. This set-up is not unfamiliar to the Shin Megami Tensei series. In fact, it’s in many ways a return to the original Shin Megami Tensei, which featured an assortment of polytheistic gods and the legions of Lucifer against God and his allies, seeking to defeat God’s cosmic tyranny, restore the gods of old, and bring about an age of anarchic co-existence between humans, demons, and the old gods, buttressed by the belief that chaos is the source of life and freedom and can liberate the world. The difference, of course, is that you can’t decide for yourself that Ishtar and Arioch are correct and take their side instead of Bethel’s side. You only get to tell Arioch that you know that God is dead, but you still have to oppose him anyway because Bethel is still your boss for most of the game. And yet, by the time you defeat Arioch, that all suddenly changes.
Turning away from the main plot, though, we should once again discuss the binary alignment-based subquests. Previously I talked about the Law-aligned subquests, but now it’s time to talk about their Chaos-aligned counterparts in greater detail.
Somewhere in Shiba you can find a Leanan Sidhe who wants to build a society where all subjects can be free to realize their own unique potential, which seems to mean that she gives those who join her side, or at least those she considers worthy, the power to magnify their latent talents in order that they might fulfill their individual dreams. However, this comes with a price. Leanan Sidhe gives demons power in exchange for shortening their lifespan. Her companion, Ippon-Datara, became a master craftsman in exchange for a shorter life, which he considers to be better than only having enough to scrape by in a normal lifespan. So from this vantage point, the choice between Leanan Sidhe and her opponent Apsaras comes down to whether you’re happy with being provided for by a munificent authority which only gives you the minimum to survive or if you’d prefer to unlock your individual potential at the cost of leading a shorter life. Of course, Apsaras argues that Leanan Sidhe is merely deceiving the weaker demons and making them unaware of their own powerlessness, but Leanan Sidhe believes that even if you are still powerless, what matters is that you have been true to yourself and used your potential to lead a worthwhile life. In this sense, we kind of see a brief recollection of the way Law and Chaos were handled in Devil Summoner 2, in that Law and Chaos were more personality types and how you imagine that you should be, with Chaos representing an ethos of following your desires and being true to yourself without heeding the dictates of authority versus Law representing an ethos of living in harmony with society and abjuring ambition for order and duty. Thus, Leanan Sidhe’s “The Water Nymph” is Chaos-aligned and sees you defeating the Law-aligned Apsaras.
At Shinagawa Pier, you can find a group of Lilim who are seemingly hiding from stronger or menacing demons. The Lilim say that if they go to Tokyo (again, the miracle Tokyo, presumably) then there won’t be any demons, but an angel working for Bethel is stopping them from being able to go there. The Lilim claim that they have no intention of killing humans, and that they only intend to take small amounts of energy from them to survive, only to still be refused entry to Tokyo by the angel. Thus the Lilim ask you to dispatch the angel so that they can go to Tokyo and quietly live among humans, and promise to join you if you succeed in completing their subquest, “Those Seeking Sanctuary”. This quest seems to correspond to the Chaos alignment for the obvious reason that you’re defying the orders of Bethel while siding with demons in their quest to inhabit Tokyo.
At Ginza you can find Black Frost, who calls himself the emperor of Ginza and says he was formerly the emperor of Kabukicho. He plans to become the ruler of Ginza by getting rich through loaning money to poor demons, then cashing in on extortionate interest rates, and running high-end nightclubs and making money off of them. Besides some surplus cash, all he needs is alcohol to run the clubs, but Dionysus stands in the way by regulating the alcohol supply to ensure everyone gets a drink. Basically, Black Frost is trying to be the top yakuza of Ginza, and taking the subquest “Black Frost Strikes Back” sees you trying to seize control of the alcohol supply from Dionysus, with Black Frost joining your party as a reward. This subquest seems to correspond to the Chaos alignment, at least in the sense that you’re supposed to be disrupting an orderly arrangement.
Finally, at Umayabashi, you can meet Adramelech, the fallen angel who seems to have a problem with the god Futsunushi for his seemingly “old-fashioned” attitude. He views Futsunushi as “block-headed” for saying things like “Tokyo is our land!” and not coming to the view that justice is decided by the strong, and asks you to defeat Futsunushi. His subquest, “The Raid on Tokyo”, corresponds to the Chaos alignment and in, ironically enough, a very old-fashioned sense. If you choose to fight Adramelech instead of taking his subquest, he doesn’t question it, since from his perspective you are only doing the same thing he would, and after you defeat him, he criticizes Futsunushi for being hypocritical, since he too relies on force despite claiming to want to talk to him. All in all, he’s at least consistent enough that perhaps he can claim to have won the battle of ideals.
As far as these subquests give us a sort of microcosm of the Chaos alignment as a whole, the main consistent thread is that all of them involve you taking the side of the demons in some fashion, whether that means going against angels or going against other gods. This is done on behalf of the freedom to realize your own potential, even at your own expense, the freedom of the demons to co-exist with humans, some kind of might makes right philosophy, or just the selfish ambitions of one lovable yakuza wannabe. There’s definitely a bit of diversity here. One thing I should note, though, is that, as far as this game’s Chaos alignment is concerned, any notion of “might makes right” actually seems to be limited to one or two subquests. So far, the forces of chaos that you fight as part of the main plot don’t seem to advocate any kind of Social Darwinism, and neither do the Chaos faction that is to be discussed next.
So far, we have touched on the forces of chaos that you spend most of the game fighting, without any recourse to take their side instead. However, after you defeat Arioch, you come to a point where divisions form within what was Bethel, the Japanese branch declares independence, and you eventually get to decide between whether or not you want to continue fighting for what Bethel at least claimed to stand for or if you want to see a new world. As Bethel is revealed to just be an alliance of gods and angels cobbled together by Abdiel, and as the gods realize that God is dead and his order no longer reigns supreme, the possibility of replacing the order of Law with a new creation opens up. What does this mean in the context of the Chaos alignment? To understand this, we should start by turning our attention towards the leader of Bethel’s Japanese branch: Hayao Koshimizu.
As the director of Bethel’s Japanese branch who also happens to be the Prime Minister of Japan, Hayao initially answers to his superiors at Bethel, which, for most of the game, means Abdiel and her angelic minions. However, over the course of the game, he slowly starts to act more independently from his Bethel superiors, beginning with his decision to send the player and Ichiro off to Chiyoda to join the assault against Arioch and his forces despite instructions from above to not participate. After defeating Arioch, Hayao announces to the player and his classmates that he intends to break away from Bethel, turn the Japanese branch of Bethel into an independent organization run by him, and install a Nahobino on the throne of creation. Why? Apparently because even though you defeated Arioch, Tokyo is not safe: God’s order as manifest through the Shekinah Glory is fading away and Tokyo is set to be destroyed anyway. Because of this, Hayao determines that the only chance Tokyo has of not being destroyed is to recreate the world and thereby rebuild Tokyo. This means seating a Nahobino on the throne, and since this entails going against everything Bethel believes in, Hayao concludes that it is necessary to break away from Bethel. Although apparently grateful to God for protecting Tokyo, suggesting that his cooperation with Bethel was not quite for nothing, the knowledge of God’s death means that Hayao can no longer be bound to Bethel’s will, since Bethel’s whole purpose is to protect God’s order. And since Abdiel has made clear to Hayao in the past that Tokyo’s destruction is simply the destiny of God, then the only way to save Tokyo from destruction is to defy God’s will. Thus the Chaos path in Shin Megami Tensei V can be understood as the path of secession, independence, and “heresy” that is undertaken for the purpose of your cause, namely the cause of protecting Tokyo, even if God’s order has failed to do so and even if his servants refuse to do so. In this sense, part of the Chaos path means defying God’s order so as to create a new one.
The other important angle to it, of course, is that Hayao Koshimizu is actually Tsukuyomi, the Shinto god of the moon. Yes, in this game the Prime Minister of Japan is actually a Shinto god taking human form. Why Tsukuyomi of all gods is something I don’t quite understand, but the important part for the story is that Tsukuyomi is one of the Amatsukami, the heavenly gods who ruled Japan from the land of Takamagahara. In the Shin Megami Tensei V’s story, Tsukuyomi is actually one of the only Amatsukami left, since most of the others appear to have been vanquished in the battle of Armageddon. Tsukuyomi believes that entrusting the world to one God, who he refers to as a despot, was a mistake, and his stated goal is to create a new world in which a multitude of gods roam free and once again preside over and illumine the world. This would mean that Tsukuyomi cooperated with Bethel in part because of the assumption that God was still protecting Tokyo for a time, and also because most of his fellow Amatsukami fell in Armageddon. Once Tsukuyomi figured out that God has been dead the whole time, he could begin acting upon his true goals against Bethel. Thus taking the throne, in the context of the Chaos alignment, means reshaping the world by restoring the world of myriad gods.
Those who might have intially assumed from leaks that there was no Chaos ending in the game appear to have overlooked the context established from the beginning in the original Shin Megami Tensei. The original representatives of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei, the Cult of Gaia, were defined heavily by their adherence to a polytheistic belief in the return of the gods of old, and establishing a state of anarchistic co-existence with the gods and the demons, albeit with certain might makes right ideals thrown into the mix. In fact, whenever the Amatsukami were not their own demon clan in the games, they did appear as Chaos-aligned demons, particularly within the Kishin clan. Certain Amatsukami, such as Take-Mikazuchi, Hinokagutsuchi, and Futsunushi (although not listed as an Amatsukami in the games except for Majin Tensei 2, Futsunushi was an Amatsukami in the original Japanese myths), appeared as Chaos-aligned Kishin alongside their Kunitsukami rivals in certain games. In the Sega CD version of Shin Megami Tensei, even Amaterasu was Chaos-aligned and classed as a Gaian for some reason.
Another familiar theme from the original Shin Megami Tensei can be discerned in Tsukuyomi’s role as Hayao Koshimizu, director of Bethel Japan and also the Prime Minister of Japan. Early in the original Shin Megami Tensei the game features two factions representing Law and Chaos. Representing Law is Ambassador Thorman, the US ambassador who is actually Thor, the Norse god of thunder who for some reason is on the side of God. Representing Chaos is Gotou, a general of the Japanese Self-Defence Force who is also a member of the Cult of Gaia. Gotou wanted to open up the demon world in order to summon an army of demons, which he dubbed ancient gods, capable of opposing Thorman’s plot to nuke Japan out of existence as part of the will of God, and Gotou, as a Gaian, professed a belief in reviving ancient gods to resist the tyranny of God and usher in a state of co-existence between humans, gods, and demons. Hayao Koshimizu, or rather Tsukuyomi, has much the same goal, and his appearance as the Prime Minister of Japan feels very familiar to the role played by Gotou. Given that he is a god taking human form, he almost seems like what Thorman would be if he were Japanese and had very similar goals to Gotou rather than being a servant of God.
That said, whenever the Amatsukami did appear as their own demon clan in the series, they were Law-aligned, in contrast to the Chaos-aligned Kunitsukami. That includes Tsukuyomi. Perhaps this may have contributed to the idea that there was no Chaos path in Shin Megami Tensei V. But the Amatsukami also represent the ruling deities of the Japanese pantheon of gods. In Shin Megami Tensei V, this serves to more broadly represent polytheism from the standpoint of the Japanese cultural and religious context. Just like in the original Shin Megami Tensei, this indigenous polytheistic context that is juxtaposed against the Christianity that comprises the context of the Law alignment. In the original Shin Megami Tensei, a Law faction heavily inspired by a Western “Judeo-Christian” background clashes against a Chaos faction heavily inspired by Japanese Shinto-Buddhist polytheism, in some way representing cultural tension between Christianity and Japanese religion. That dynamic returns in Shin Megami Tensei V, with Law defined by a Christian context represented by God’s order as upheld by Abdiel and the angels on one side, against Chaos defined by the context of polytheism and especially by indigenous Japanese religion on the other.
Before we move along with the story, you may have noticed that although the Kunitsukami are summonable allies in Shin Megami Tensei V, the Amatsukami are not. Well, all but one anyway. The so-called “proto-Fiend”, Aogami, the entity responsible for the player’s transformation into a Nahobino, is actually Susano-o, who is counted among the Amatsukami in this game. Aogami seems to be an artificially-created demon, built by Tsukuyomi to inherit the power of Susano-o, who presumably is one of the Amatsukami gods who fell in the battle of Armageddon, to ensure that he and the other gods of Japan could still fight despite the events of Armageddon. Aogami is Tsukuyomi’s effort to restore the Amatsukami as the autochthonous protectors of Japan, perhaps to ensure that the Japanese gods can rely on themselves rather than the angels. Tsukuyomi thus seeks to recreate both the world and his fellow gods; in Lucifer’s words, he seeks to rebuild the world as he rebuilt his divine kin.
Tsukuyomi intends to become a Nahobino, and to do that he needs the human who possesses his remnant “Knowledge”. This is where we get to the other Chaos representative: one of your classmates, Yuzuru Atsuta.
Yuzuru is a peculiar case where he looks a lot like the Chaos Hero from the original Shin Megami Tensei, with his glasses and his haircut, but never once acts like him. Whereas the original Chaos Hero was rebellious, despised authority, and wanted little more than the freedom and power to stand on his own, Yuzuru seems to be the honor student of your class, and he appears to respect authority, not merely the power to back that authority. For a character who goes on to be the main human representative of the Chaos alignment in contrast to Ichiro representing the Law alignment, there’s almost nothing throughout the game that suggests Yuzuru is meant to develop in this way. The only thing you hear him talk about is how much he wants to protect Tokyo and his classmates, and you never see him question the whims of the angels or the ideals of Bethel. That’s until Tsukuyomi/Hayao Koshimizu has him stay in the Diet Building while you and Ichiro participate in the raid against Arioch. After you return to HQ and it’s revealed that Hayao Koshimizu is Tsukuyomi and he intends to break away from Bethel, Yuzuru, although initially surprised, never seems to question Tsukuyomi’s actions or intentions nor challenge him on why it’s worth leaving Bethel, and almost immediately signs onto Tsukyomi’s vision of replacing the rule of one God with the governance of many gods, and the game gives us absolutely no idea of how he came to the conclusion that this is the right thing to do. While Ichiro gets a whole full-motion cutscene dedicated to showing us his transformation into a zealot of the Law alignment, Yuzuru only gets a brief and not even voice-acted scene at Shinobazu Pond where he bigs you up as a Nahobino and basically tells you that Tokyo means everything to him, of course, that he too is going for the throne of creation, and that he will compete against you if you do not share his cause. Absolutely no attempt to discuss why he came to the conclusion he did.
At least Tsukuyomi tells us that God’s order isn’t worth following anymore because God’s destruction of Tokyo is seen as inevitable by the angels and that Tokyo obeyed God only to still be destroyed. But with Yuzuru, there’s nothing. Just like Ichiro, he is practically only motivated by the blind fixation on the base mission of protecting/saving Tokyo, with little thought process of his own regarding the surrounding conflicts and contradictions that affect Tokyo’s fate. If you play on the Law ending path, Yuzuru argues to Ichiro that God’s grip has stifled the world and that Ichiro’s beliefs are motivated by him having stopped thinking for himself, but with no exposition regarding how Yuzuru comes to believe what he does, we are left to assume that Yuzuru ultimately is simply going along with whatever Tsukuyomi wants. Given that Yuzuru spends the whole game up to the final stretch just going along with what Bethel wants, respects Tsukuyomi’s authority and attendant reputation as the director of Bethel’s Japanese branch, and stays behind with Tsukuyomi so that he can tell him gods know what (we are never shown exactly what Tsukuyomi was doing with Yuzuru by the time you’ve departed for Ginza), it is logical to conclude that Yuzuru has arrived at his conclusions not through independent thought but through the advice, or even instruction, of Tsukuyomi, who as a respected figure of authority leading the mission to fight chaos and protect Tokyo Yuzuru would be inclined to listen to. Frankly, it is my opinion that had Tsukuyomi/Koshimizu not decided to break away from Bethel and do his own thing, Yuzuru would still be obeying not only him but also, by extension, Bethel, and thus he could have wound up as the Law representative instead of the Chaos representative.
All of this has me come away thinking, without any hesitation, that Yuzuru is the worst, the flattest, the emptiest Chaos-aligned character I have ever seen in the entire Shin Megami Tensei series, due to his fundamental lack of motivation and him simply being uniquely self-defeating from a conceptual standpoint. The fact that he ultimately arrives at his path through deference to authority is an affront to everything that Chaos has represented for the last nearly 30 years of games, since it demonstrates a lack of the values of independence and rejection of authority that have come to define it.
But enough about Yuzuru. This is a path that’s all about the myriad gods, so we can’t spend too much time talking about it without mentioning the other gods, the gods of Bethel. At the summit, you meet Khonsu, Zeus, Odin, and Vasuki serving as a proxy for Shiva, all of whom are convinced that Bethel’s time is up, with God dead and unable to support his order, and that it is time to create a new world. There seem to be some differences between what the gods want now that God is dead. Zeus and Odin go off and find the humans with their “Knowledge” in order become Nahobinos themselves and take the throne of creation, though what they intend to do as rulers once either of them get the throne is left unexamined. Khonsu, however, has no interest in the throne, but does seem interested in gaining the power of the sun god in order to become Ra. His rivals in this quest include Amon, Asura (as in the Asura Lord from Shin Megami Tensei), and Mithras. Vasuki, as a servant and mere proxy of Shiva, cares only that Shiva’s ambition to destroy and recreate the world via the Rudra Astra is fulfilled, and neither Vasuki nor Shiva seem to be interested in claiming the throne.
Shiva actually seems to be an interesting case on his own. He is referred to within the game’s story, but makes no actual appearance in the main plot. Instead, you can only see him after you defeat Vasuki and claim the Key of Austerity, but even then, meeting him is purely optional, and you only have to do it if you want to take on his subquest, “A Universe in Peril”, and fight him in a gruelling superboss battle. As for what Shiva wants, he has no intention of claiming the throne of creation, and believes that those who do contend for it in order to create the world in alignment with their will bring nothing but corruption. Thus Shiva believes that it is not right that the world should be created or recreated by its inhabitants, rather that the beings that inhabit the world should be created by the world alone, and to that end Shiva will destroy the universe on behalf of the god Brahma so that it can be created again. For a Chaos-aligned deity of the Fury clan, the worldview Shiva talks about seems to me like it would actually make for a pretty creative expression of the Law alignment. Traditionally, the Law alignment tends to stress alignment with the order and will of things usually couched in terms of divine law, and if that’s not the order of God as expressed in the traditional Order of Messiah style Law ideology, it can be something more generic such as “harmony with the world” as in Devil Summoner 2 or something more abstract such as the way the Reasons all work in Nocturne.
A Shin Megami Tensei game seeking to present a Law path not defined strictly by the Abrahamic context might seek to pursue Law as defined by a belief that it is the world, or universe, or even a more trans-cultural expression of the Great Will, that bears the sole right of creation and dominion, while opposing any notion of you or anyone being able to create on your own or establish your own order. This can be drawn from multiple contexts, though an easy way to meld both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic contexts would be an abstract “Will of Heaven”, deriving from the use of the term in Confucianism, as the principal agency of Law, of which God and his minions as well as non-Abrahamic gods. It might seem weird talking about this in what is supposed to be the Chaos section, but it is one of the myriad gods expressing this idea, and on that note, it also kind of underscores what I consider to be another wasted opportunity. When I saw Zeus, Odin, Khonsu, and Vasuki being revealed as representatives of Bethel from different international branches, keeping in mind the impression that Bethel was going to be the Law faction in the game, I thought that perhaps we might be seeing a return to Law and Chaos as inclusive absolutes in the way that they were in the original Shin Megami Tensei and Strange Journey. But that turned out not to be the case. Instead all Bethel amounted to was a cooperation pact between gods and angels, which the gods only partook in on the assumption that God was still alive and the Condemnation was still in effect.
But in any case, we come now to the final stretch of the game, at the end of the Temple of Eternity, where the final alignment break occurs and you must choose between three paths towards the end of the game. Choosing “Recreate the world and save Tokyo” is the Chaos path, and puts you on the side of Tsukuyomi and Yuzuru in their quest to bring Japan back under the governance of the Amatsukami and the world under the governance of the myriad gods. A little reminder of just what side this entails, on your way through the Empyrean you can find Ongyo-Ki, a Chaos-aligned Brute demon, who tells you that he and his kind have set aside their differences with the Amatsukami in order to realise the common goal of restoring the world of the myriad gods.
As was the case in the Law path, taking the Chaos path unlocks two subquests exclusive to the Chaos alignment. The first of these is “The Red Dragon’s Invitation”, which requires the completion of “The Holy Ring” to access. It involves you meeting the demon Nebiros in the Empyrean, who invites Chaos-aligned players to come and see Belial at the castle once ruled by Arioch. Of course, if you somehow aren’t sufficiently Chaos-aligned by this point, Nebiros asks you to pay 666,000 Macca before letting you see Belial. When you meet Belial he praises you for your power to defy the Condemnation and considers you as an ally in the goal of destroying the order of God, or the world of order. This reinforces the demons of chaos you fought before and the polytheistic gods you now side with as sharing the same goal: overturning God’s order and gaining the power to recreate the world. Belial then has you go and defeat Michael, who you previously had a hand in freeing, so that Belial will lend you his aid. Of course, if you took the Law path, Belial will instead oppose you and you will have to defeat him. Another Chaos-exclusive subquest is “The Wrathful Queen”, in which the goddess Maria, awaiting her disappearance with the creation of the new world, transforms into the goddess Inanna upon seeing that you have the Seed of Life and intend to “craft a world unlike any that has come before” (seems a tad ironic considering you mean to restore a multitude of gods). Defeating Inanna grants you the right to fuse and summon her.
After defeating Abdiel, Nuwa, and then Lucifer, the last of whom you’d think would join your side on this path considering he is the Lord of Chaos after all, you usher in the recreation of the world as planned, to bring about a world where many gods reign and gods reside in everything that exists. Essentially, you’re supporting a cosmos that is polytheistic and seemingly animistic as well, much like the Shinto cosmos and several Pagan cosmoses. Once again you don’t get to see what that world looks like, all you see is a big white disco ball and the gods Zeus, Odin, Khonsu, and Shiva suspended mid-air in different directions so as to indicate that this is the polytheistic cosmos of the Chaos path, and all you have to go on is Goko’s narration. You remake the world into one governed by a multitude of different gods, and its inhabitants offer their faith equally and live in a diverse, ever-changing society. Supposedly this life is difficult at least for those who lack conviction of their own, while those who think for themselves come together and do great things. Apparently irreconcilable differences in ideology result in constant conflict, and the world is now filled with strife, but to choose and to be able to choose is better than to be chosen for, and those who choose for themselves are responsible for their own choices.
At this point we should note that, between the Law and Chaos endings, the narrator inserts what are the apparent feelings of the protagonist. In the Law ending, Goko tells us that the protagonist is pleased with his work, while in the Chaos ending, Goko tells us that the protagonist is sad but holds to his beliefs anyway. This is unusual for a Shin Megami Tensei game, arguably contrary to its overall spirit, since the whole point of Shin Megami Tensei’s protagonists being silent protagonists is that this gives the player to insert their own values, emotions, and thought process into that character. Here, however, it’s suggested that the story decides how the protagonist feels about certain outcomes, when the whole point is that in Shin Megami Tensei, as Kazuma Kaneko once said, everyone has their own criteria for victory. Not to mention, why should the protagonist be pleased with his work when creating a world where nobody can think for themselves and people mostly just exist to have faith in God, and why should the protagonist be sad to have created a world where diversity means everyone disagrees with each other? It makes me suspect that the game’s narrative implies a bias in favour of the player governing a new world in a dictatorial fashion, or at least in favour of ordered consensus maintained through unitary divine authority, and against any outcome that entails that humans have to fight for what they have and figure things out amongst themselves.
But in any case, the cosmos presented to us in the Chaos ending makes a lot of sense when observed in terms of the cosmoses that we often see in polytheistic belief systems. In a cosmos consisting of multiple divines, divinity cannot be a unitary thing. A singular supreme being, therefore, in the strict sense does not exist. The closest thing to that would be the king of the gods, and in Greece and Rome we see that some philosophers, such as the Stoics, developing towards a more monistic or monotheistic worldview, would sometimes lean towards Zeus, as the king of the Greek gods, as the logical representation of the supreme divine principle, but even the king of the gods is not usually an absolute ruler, he occasionally meets challenges to his authority, and his power is not capable of overriding the fate that is immanent in the cosmos. Sometimes this king also answers to something greater than he, such as Zeus himself who seems to answer to Nyx. But in any case, the consistent polytheist cosmos brooks nothing like monotheistic notions of God, and there isn’t the same notion of a supreme being. It’s interesting that the Chaos ending implies a kind of anarchy, in the classical colloquial sense communicated by the ceaseless strife of a headless society. The etymological root of the word anarchy is in the Greek word anarkhia, which means “without a leader” or “without a ruler”, the word “arkhos” meaning “ruler”. Another similar Greek word is “arkhe”, which means “beginning” or “origin”, can be interpreted as meaning “first principle” or “dominion”, and in ancient Greek philosophy denoted an original principle from which all else originated, which was central to what would become a quest to define the single, supreme principle underlying all things, perhaps presaging an eventual philsophical turn towards monotheism. The polytheism of the Chaos path is anarchy two sense; it is anarchy in the sense that it is without a single ruler, and it is anarchy in the sense that it has no supreme principle. There is no arkhe, there is a diversity and multiplicity of divines, principles, values, that live amongst each other, and occasionally clash with each other. But this in many ways is more consistent with Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei’s traditional context than anything. It is the cosmic fufillment of its most consistent goal: co-existence involving demons and the gods of old, boundless freedom, no supreme ruler. In fact, I would argue that this state of things could be the chaos that Arioch alluded to, from which true freedom is born. Chaos, then, is a state of affairs in which there is no supreme principle ruling the cosmos, as well as the strife that apparently accompanies it. Ironically, however, nearly all of the gods shown here, except Shiva, are officially Neutral as members of the Deity clan (all of whom are Neutral).
Thus, we have established the nature of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V. It is an ideology centered around the destruction of the current order of things so as to replace it with a cosmos with no supreme ruler and a multiplicity of overseers. The headless nature of this cosmos implies not just diversity but limitless possibility and freedom, but it is to be taken that this leads to strife, uncertainty, and disorder. Being Chaos-aligned, then, is about being willing to accept the strife and disagreement that comes with the freedom of the headless cosmos.
We have established the Law alignment as represented by angels seeking to preserve and/or renew the monotheistic order of God, and we have established the Chaos alignment as represented by a multiplicity of gods and demons seeking to recreate the world and regain their lost divinity. So what is Neutrality between these two options? Who represents the Neutral path here? There are multiple characters who are Neutral in a very strict sense, in that they don’t formally align with either the Law and Chaos factions. But Neutrality, in the Shin Megami Tensei sense, is not merely a lack of affiliation between both camps, but an ideological stance that is defined in its explicit rejection of Law and Chaos. What does that mean here?
We are introduced to the Neutral path pretty early on in Shin Megami Tensei V, as soon as you enter the Diet Building. There you meet Nuwa, the Chinese goddess who created mankind, who is seen having just slaughtered an army of angels. Given that you’re introduced to the angels as essentially the forces of order or Law, your initial impression may have been that Nuwa represented the Chaos alignment, and as a Chaos-aligned Lady that would make sense, but the game soon makes it clear that this is not the case. After you “defeat” Nuwa (or more accurately whittle her HP down to half), a man named Shohei Yakumo, who calls himself an “exterminator of demons”, appears to interrupt your battle, and initially intends to kill you. When Nuwa persuades Shohei to spare the protagonist, he relents, and you have the opportunity ask who they are and what they want. Nuwa explains to you that Bethel is their enemy because they serve the same God of Law that stole the “Knowledge” of the other gods and turned them into demons, and that she also considers many of God’s opponents to be no better than him, calling them “opportunistic cretins” who only seek chaos to fulfill their own selfish desires. Thus Shohei’s self-appointed mission is to kill both the forces of Bethel and the demons of chaos, and he will oppose you for as long you seem to work for Bethel at least.
It is important to bear in mind what we already established when discussing the Chaos alignment. The forces of chaos that Nuwa is likely referring to are the demons who seek to reclaim their lost “Knowledge” in order to regain their divinity and destroy God’s order. These are concrete goals, not reducible to wantonness, and as a goddess who herself was one of the gods whose “Knowledge” was confiscated thus leading to her desecration, one would assume that she would have a common goal with those demons. But instead, Nuwa’s opinion is that the demons seeking to restore their former divinity, albeit through violent means, are equally as bad as the God that she describes as having stolen her “Knowledge” and enforcing tyrannical absolute rule over the cosmos. It’s like a kind of cosmic centrism.
Much later on, Shohei reappears in Akihabara, in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo, slaying demons and angels left and right, and prepares to confront the protagonist. Here Shohei and Nuwa are shown to disagree with each other. Nuwa appears to see something in the protagonist, it’s not exactly clear what, while Shohei hates you for ostensibly being content to fight for Bethel in spite of your strength. Once you defeat him, though, he begins to change his mind after being sufficiently impressed by your strength, as the one who previously defeated Lahmu, but is still baffled that you seem to still work for Bethel. He views demons as parasites who manipulate and corrupt any human they set their sights on, declares that they are a blot that must be cleansed, and rhetorically challenges you to prove that demons are worth fighting for.
There’s a pretty obvious problem with Shohei’s militant anti-demon attitude. His companion throughout the game is Nuwa, who by the game’s terms is a demon, a being who lost her divinity because of the Condemnation established by God. Thus, she too is one of the desecrated beings that Shohei pledged to exterminate. Apparently Nuwa is the demon who has been with Shohei since he was young. But when Shohei was young, a demon possessed someone and killed his whole family, and that’s his primary motivation for wanting to exterminate demons. Why then was Nuwa not one of the demons he sought to kill? As it turns out, they have a common goal, one that will be explored in good time.
After you defeat Arioch, Shohei appears again to congratulate you on slaying the demon king, who he describes as an “ugly sore”. He thinks that Arioch’s defeat will lead to humanity being on even footing with the demons, since humans are able to not only fight demons but also pit demons against each other. Aogami then interjects, saying that only a few people can fight off the demons, whereas most people can’t and will die as a result. To Aogami, this doesn’t seem good for humanity. Shohei, however, will have none of it, and refuses to listen to Aogami on the grounds that he is an artificial demon, a “Bethel construct”, a “slave to his programming”. He then seemingly justifies the possible sacrifice in human lives by asserting that those who cannot fend for themselves are better off dead, since their will to live is meaningless without the will to fight. He further asserts that those who “give in to temptation” and “betray one’s fellow man” should never have been born in the first place.
Those who played Shin Megami Tensei V and got to that point were probably taken aback by how cruel and cold-hearted Shohei’s philosophy is. In fact, it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that Shohei is basically saying that it doesn’t matter how many humans die in their ceaseless war against demonkind because the weak, that’s what Shohei is referring to, are better off dead and those who were going to be weak-willed and incapable of asserting strength shouldn’t have been born. In Shohei’s worldview, the weak don’t deserve to live. This is a Social Darwinist worldview, albeit somewhat toned down compared to other games in that the criteria seems to be mental strength and the will to fight rather than physical strength and the ability to exercise brute force. This has led many to assume that Shohei is actually Chaos-aligned rather than Neutral, despite the obvious problem with that being that Shohei’s goals are undoubtedly consistent with traditional Neutrality, upholding the sole agency of humanity against God and the demons.
An important thing to note about Social Darwinism in Shin Megami Tensei is that, although typically associated with Chaos both by fans and within the games, the idea that Chaos equals Social Darwinism is, as I have established before, actually sort of a deeply-ingrained myth. While Shin Megami Tensei, Strange Journey, and Shin Megami Tensei IV all have a Chaos alignment that has some kind of might makes right component to their overall ideology, it is generally if not entirely absent in the Chaos alignment as featured in Shin Megami Tensei II, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Devil Summoner 2, and, as I have elaborated here, Shin Megami Tensei V, as well as the New Chaos route in Strange Journey Redux. So for at least half the series Chaos had barely anything to do with any might makes right ideology, and the extent to which it commits to that changes and varies from game to game. The most consistent thing about Chaos is that it’s all about wanting the most freedom possible, being willing to defy God or the Great Will to realize it, and the will to live with such a world consisting of strife and disharmony. Meanwhile, some extent of Social Darwinism is not exclusive to the Chaos alignment. In Strange Journey, the Three Wise Men, representatives of the Law alignment, say that the “spiritually enlightened whose wills are strong” will get to live in the new world while “the fallen humans whose wills are weak” will be destroyed. Only the strong will live, while the weak will die, but this is predicated on will rather than brute strength, so in that sense it’s not altogether different from Shohei’s philosophy of life except that God is in the equation. In Nocturne, we see three Reasons that are all different visions of a Thousand Year Kingdom as constructed under the auspices of Kagutsuchi, an avatar of the Great Will, and the Yosuga Reason, which I must stress is supported by the angels, is a Thousand Year Kingdom that selects membership based on a concept of “beauty” that is defined by power and brute strength. Even if not predicated on a might makes right style of selection, the Thousand Year Kingdom has always had a sort of elitist undercurrent to it, with its emphasis that only a chosen few get to live in it. So in this sense, not only is Social Darwinism not the exclusive item of the Chaos alignment, it has also been seen to some extent in the Law alignment, and now Shohei Yakumo represents the series coming full circle where Social Darwinism, if anything the same kind seen in Strange Journey’s Law alignment, has been represented as an expression of Neutrality.
Shohei’s Social Darwinism does not come from some vague Hobbesian argument about how too much freedom or the abolition of the state will result in a brutal war of all against all (as is frequently implied for the Chaos alignment) or from a belief in God’s salvation being predicated on strength of will as applied to faith resulting in the exclusion of the weak as defined by their proclivity to temptation (as is occasionally seen in the Law alignment). Instead, Shohei’s Social Darwinism emerges from his exterminationist crusade against the demons, who he thinks are parasites that need to be cleansed from the world. Although Shohei doesn’t ever establish why he opposes Bethel or God’s order in particular, it seems reasonable to assume that he views Bethel and the angels as just more demons, more parasites to be cleansed from the world. His crusade demands strength of will, defined by the will to fight and not be influenced by demons, including angels. If many people die as a result, then that is to be considered acceptable on the grounds that the weak will fall while the strong will prevail, and that those who can’t find it in them to fight the demons and reject their promises don’t deserve to live. Thus, we see a Neutral Social Darwinism, for the first time in the series.
This itself ostensibly springs from another motivation, at least as recounted by Nuwa. Supposedly his harsh philosophy of life, particularly his willingness to leave the weak, “those who’ve given up”, to the wolves is motivated not out mistrust for his fellow man but precisely because of his love for humanity, and his belief in the potential strength of humanity. Nuwa explains that Shohei was born into a family whose men were all law enforcement officers, while his mother was a medium who helped the souls of people who were troubled by “dark spirits”, one of whom possessed a man who then slaughtered Shohei’s family. She then says that those who have neither the desire nor capacity to redeem themselves, and will only ever know violence and evil, should simply be struck down without hesitation, stressing that “pretty words” are not enough to save the world. This is the context in which Shohei comes to form his cruel worldview.
Another important contour of Shohei’s Social Darwinism concerns human potential. Those who give up on themselves are people who abandon their potential, specifically their potential to fight demons, and are thus undeserving of life. There is a philosophy in real life whose ideology seems to align with Shohei’s worldviews to some extent. Its adherents refer to it as “longtermism“, and its basic premises are surprisingly mainstream. Longtermism is basically the philosophy which holds that the long-term potential of the human species is the most important ethical value there is. Under this philosophy, the loss of life in itself matters less than the potential that disappeared with that life. It also means that even the worst effects of climate change and the devastation and death that comes with that is all just a blip so long as mankind manages to recover their “potential”. The Social Darwinist implications of longtermism manifest for some of its adherents in the idea that the lives of the rich, or people in rich countries, should be prioritized over the lives of the poor, or people in poor countries, because supposedly the wealthier countries have more innovation and their workers are more productive, thus the poorer and less productive would be left to die in a world run by longtermist principles. Swap rich versus poor with strong versus weak, and what emerges is the idea that it is better that the strong continue to live and better that the weak either die or not even be born, since the strong (of will, at least) carry more long-term potential than the weak (again, of will at least). That idea is at the heart of Shohei Yakumo’s worldview: the weak, “those who give up”, “those who give in to temptation”, they are bad because they abandoned what could have been their potential as demon exterminators who lead a world meant for humans and only humans. That longtermism should focus squarely on human potential should make it no surprised that it seems to make its way to a Neutral character.
Towards the final stretch of the game, when you reach the end of the Temple of Eternity and the forces of Law and Chaos are arguing with each other and showing their hands, Shohei appears abruptly, interrupting the conversation to announce his own plans for the throne of creation. His plan is to destroy the throne, believing that doing so will allow humanity to shape their own world. And if you take his side and resolve to destroy the throne, that is what you will do as well, and so begins the Neutral path. This also leads to you losing the favour of the Goddess of creation, and it’s here that we briefly mention her role in things.
Tao Isonokami, your classmate, died in the fight against Lahmu. After the Bethel summit, Tao reappears as the Goddess of creation, who seems to literally be the Megami in Shin Megami Tensei V, come to accompany the Nahobino in creating a new world after the fall of God and the disappearance of the Shekinah Glory. Taking either the Law or Chaos paths sees you reshaping the world by assuming the throne of creation, whether that means recreating the old order set by God or creating a new divine order entirely, and so the Goddess supports this. Destroying the throne, however, means denying the process of creation, which according to the Goddess means denying the will of the universe (that will being creation, of course), and she cannot support that, though for some reasons he makes no attempt to stop you from thwarting the literal will of the universe.
Anyways, there is something a tad peculiar about the ethos of Shohei’s quest to destroy the throne. He claims that it will mean humanity will shape their own world, presumably meaning without the demons or the gods, and in this regard we see a kind of humanism that is broadly consistent with the ethos of Neutrality as present in the rest of the Shin Megami Tensei series. But the peculiarity arises in the premise of shaping your own world. In the strict sense, both the Law and Chaos paths involve you, a human, albeit a human that is now also a Nahobino, shaping your own world. Nuwa certainly considers you human enough, at least in that you share his humanity, and, as Goko says, by assuming the throne of creation, your ideal world takes shape in the manner that you choose. In that sense, Shohei’s stated aims are surely already fulfilled in the act of creation, right? Well, the problem for Shohei seems to be that you ostensibly do not shape the world alone and as a human but rather co-create the world as a Nahobino alongside either the angels or the old gods, and it would seem that this renders the process of creation unacceptable in Shohei’s eyes, no doubt since to him this means cooperating with the demons and “giving in to temptation”.
And yet, this objection is ultimately hypocritical. On either the Law or Chaos paths, Shohei and Nuwa interrupt your ascent to the throne, to stop you from assuming the throne so that Shohei can destroy it. Shohei declares that this is “the end” for gods and demons. But how does he try to bring this about? Why, by fusing with Nuwa in order to become a Nahobino, of course! Keep in mind that Shohei opposed the player for being a Nahobino on the grounds that this meant him being a demon. In fact, he’s so sure that Nahobinos are demons and therefore enemies that he proclaims “and you are no exception!” when ranting about this being the end for god and demon alike. Yet for some reason he’s quite content to be a Nahobino himself or help Nuwa become a Nahobino. So if you happen to oppose him towards the end of the game, all that talk of not needing gods or demons ends in Shohei not only depending on the power of a demon/god but also becoming a Nahobino in order to try and defeat you. In this sense, Shohei really can’t complain about humans depending on demons/gods, let alone co-creating the world with them, since at least half of that is what Shohei ends up doing himself, or really the entire time if you want him cooperating with Nuwa for basically the whole game. To be honest, though, I think the whole setup is just constructed in a way so that it arbitrarily matches the dynamic of the Reason boss fights from Nocturne. Just as Hikawa, Chiaki, and Isamu all summoned the gods of their respective Reasons, gain new demonic forms in which they seem to have physically merged with those gods, and then you fight them depending on which ending path you took, the same thing happens in Shin Megami Tensei V for Ichiro fusing with Abdiel, Yuzuru fusing with Tsukuyomi, and Shohei fusing with Nuwa, but in a much more condensed and contrived fashion.
Only one exclusive subquest is unlocked in the Neutral path, and that is “The Noble Queen”. Here the goddess Maria, yet again awaiting her disappearance with the creation of a new world, transforms into the goddess Danu upon seeing that you have the Seed of Life and intend to “have humanity live for themselves”. Defeating Danu gives you the right to fuse and summon her. Curiously, Danu is the only Lady in the game who is Neutral instead of Chaos-aligned.
So, you progress through the Empyrean, Shohei dies trying to fight Abdiel (he’s rather embarassingly killed by the gust of air that flows from Abdiel becoming a Nahobino, and so does anyone you side with before the first Nahobino fight in any path in the game for some stupid reason), laments that he failed to fight for the future of humanity, and Nuwa survives to plead with you to succeed where she and Shohei failed. After this you defeat Abdiel, and then Tsukuyomi, but you don’t get to fight Lucifer at all for some reason, in fact Lucifer doesn’t bother to show up at all to tell you what he thinks about you destroying the throne. Instead, after defeating Tsukuyomi, nothing happens except you fly up to the throne of creation, and then shatter it. Goko trembles in shock and horror as the process of creation is denied, and laments that chaos will continue to grip this world.
And what happens then? Once again, you don’t really see anything except a big white disco ball, and this time your classmates, Hayao Koshimizu, Abdiel, and Goko all standing upside down in mid-air. Goko narrates that the battle of the gods came to an end, but its victor relinquished his right to rule creation, resulting in the denial of creation and the continuation of the current status quo, which means the “agents of chaos” continuing to run amok. The human species somehow survives and finds a way to combat the demons, but forces the demonkind are still overwhelming, and many people are expected to die in the neverending war. We are assured, however, that humanity will definitely find victory somehow, because they have the power of knowledge and creation on their side. The player is left to observe the disarry of things, and is pleased not by the outcome but by the thought of what is yet to come; in other words, the player is kept going by the long-term potential of the human species, which no doubt cushions the thought of all those sacrifices you set into motion.
I’ve made numerous comparisons to Nocturne throughout this essay, and I don’t intend to stop now, because this ending is essentially the Demon ending from that. Not the True Demon ending introduced in the Maniax edition, but the original Demon ending, in which defeat all of the Reason bosses, but you don’t get to fight Kagutsuchi as the final boss, and because you either rejected all three Reasons but lacked courage or tried to support too many Reasons at once, Kagutsuchi leaves in disgust, the process of creation is denied, and the Vortex World remains for a thousand years, thus leaving the world in a limbo state teeming with demons. One difference, I suppose, is that in Nocturne’s Demon ending you’re the last man alive, and the only other humans that survived the Conception were either killed by your hand or sacrificed, whereas here there seem to be some humans left that we don’t know about, given that once again all of your classmates and human allies are dead (which, to be fair, happens no matter what path you take anyway). Interestingly, this ending, rather than the Chaos ending, is the ending in which we are explicitly told that chaos in the sense of the lack of order is present in the world, presumably meaning that, in the Chaos ending, there is ironically still some order, just that there is no supreme, absolute order, but refer a multitude of orders, just that there is strife between them. But whereas, as Pierre Joseph Proudhon might have put it, anarchy seems to be prove to be the mother of order in the Chaos path, in this Neutral path, there is neither anarchy nor order, only the silence of creation and the desperation of mankind viciously struggling against demons, maybe forever.
And yet, in the eye’s of the game’s narrative, the real tragedy of destroying the throne is not so much the lives lost in the ceaseless between humans and demons but rather the fact that the potential to create a new world has been denied. When you begin your mission to destroy the throne, the Goddess laments that you carry the potential of an entire world and yet do not want to use it, and thus declares that you must not proceed to the throne. Goko’s panic and disappointment stems from the same thing: you have elected not to use “the potential of a world”, and thus the process of creation is denied, thus the world will not be reborn, it will not be “saved” from conflict by a new God or absolute ruler. The longtermist premise that it is the “potential” of humanity that is more valuable than the life of humans in itself is thus present not only in the worldview of Shohei Yakumo, but also in the agents of creation themselves who Shohei might have opposed. Every path you take except this one validates the process of creation and thus means you use that “potential” instead of abdicating it, thus the Goddess and Goko approve of the other paths. They do are concerned ultimately and principally that the long-term potential of the world or of humanity is fulfilled, made manifest through the act of creation.
This is where the “Destroy the throne” path ends. But, this is not the only Neutral path in the game, and thus it is not the end for our discussion of Neutrality in Shin Megami Tensei V. There is in fact another Neutral ending. A “secret” ending. The “good” or “true” Neutral ending, at least according to some. It does seem to be represented by a shining star when you get it in a clear save file, unlike all the others, and it has somewhat more exposition than the other paths, so clearly it’s supposed to be special. But what is it, what the goal of that path, and what is the outcome of it in the final hand?
To get this alternate Neutral ending, you first have complete a chain of subquests before reaching the Empyrean and choosing to destroy the throne. These are often whole chains of subquests leading up to you defeating certain demons as bosses and unlocking them for fusion. You must gain Fionn Mac Cumhaill as an ally, and to do that you must complete the “Fionn’s Resolve” subquest, which also requires you to complete three more subquests – “The Falcon’s Head”, “Root of the Problem”, and “An Unusual Forecast” – before it can activate. You also have to unlock Khonsu, which requires fighting him in “The Egyptians’ Fate”, and then sparing his life when given the option to finish him off. Then you have to complete “Winged Sun” by defeating Asura, Mithra, and Amon. Then after completing all those quests plus “The Falcon’s Head”, you then have to complete “The Succession of Ra” in order to defeat Khonsu Ra (or, as I prefer to call him, Ra) and unlock both him and regular Khonsu for fusion. You also have to complete “A Power Beyond Control” and defeat Amanozako gone berserk, and then complete “The Destined Leader” after getting all three keys to unlock Amanozako as an ally. You also have to complete “A Universe in Peril”, in which you have to fight and defeat Shiva, the main superboss of the game.
Once you complete all of those subquests, when you advance into the Empyrean into the Neutral path as normal, and then defeat Abdiel, Nuwa then reappears after the fight to reveal her true plan for the world. Although Shohei and Nuwa both wanted to destroy the throne, this was not actually their ultimate or end goal. Nuwa says that the real reason they participated in the struggle for the throne was so that they could claim the throne for themselves and use it to create a world where gods and demons no longer existed, thus making the world a “clean slate” for humanity. After defeating Tsukuyomi as normal, the Goddess approaches you from behind to tell you that you have the potential to rule the world, and beseeches you not to destroy the throne. This unlocks the choice between destroying the throne and the fourth path in the game: creating a world for humanity alone. The Goddess understands this as a world rid of both gods and demons, and determines that this too is the right of the ruler of a new world as an act of creation, thus the player can take the throne. This is where the alternate Neutral path begins.
The requirement of completing subquests to unlock the hidden Neutral path is very reminiscent of Shin Megami Tensei IV’s Neutral path, in which you are required to complete a series of side-quests, or Challenge Quests, in order to advanced the plot by putting you at the top of Hunter rankings, thus filling the Chalice of Hope. But whereas Shin Megami Tensei IV required you to do a lot of Challenge Quests to progress in Neutrality, in Shin Megami Tensei V, you only have to do subquests if you want the “best” version of Neutrality, and the Neutral path per se remains open without them. Still, progressing through Neutrality or unlocking one Neutral ending requiring side-quests does seem to be a weird trend for the last couple of mainline Shin Megami Tensei games. This may be to conjure some sense of Neutrality being harder to achieve than the other paths so as to artificially replicate the difficulty associated with Neutrality in older games. In older games, the challenge of Neutrality consisted in keeping your alignment in balance and fighting every powerful demon in your way. But here, you’re just supposed to complete a bunch of subquests. I suppose when you consider the Shiva and Khonsu Ra fights, it’s not entirely a cake walk. But again, the base idea seems like artificially inflating the challenge of Neutrality. Additionally, your alignment is barely indicated within the game and has no effect on you getting a Neutral path.
But let’s focus on the main goal of this path: creating a world for humanity alone, ridding the world of all gods and demons. There’s already a glaring problem with this premise. Why would Nuwa, a goddess demoted to demonhood, accept being erased from the fabric of existence? If you elect to create a world where gods and demons no longer exist, that means the gods/demons who supported you will be erased and disappear from the cosmos. This includes Aogami, who however artificial is still a demon. But Aogami would go along with whatever you wanted anyway, since he only exists to serve the protagonist and lend him his strength. Nuwa, however, is not artificial, and has a will of her own, yet the question of why she would consent to her own annihilation is simply never addressed by the story. She does say that, as a goddess, she is partial to humans as “her own creation”, but this hardly explains why she should want herself and all the other gods and demons wiped out.
The other question, though, is why should you consent to the annihilation of your demon allies, or for that matter the abolition of your own state as a Nahobino? This question harkens to another glaring problem that emanates from the core premise and mechanic of the game. You want to rid the world of gods and demons, but you wouldn’t be anywhere without them. The desire to wipe out all gods/demons is essentially predicated on Shohei’s belief that demons are no good for humanity and will only destroy humans, but the entire reason for your survival in the world of Da’at is that you were found and saved by a demon, albeit an artificial one, then through him became a Nahobino, thus, by the game’s terms, an at least partially demonic being, and then further still recruited, summoned, and fused demons as allies to support you. And not only has your survival depended on the help of demons, but so too does that of your classmates. Both Yuzuru and Ichiro only have a fighting chance in Bethel because they have demons (or angels, as the case may be) on their side, and the classmates who got dragged into Da’at by Lahmu’s minions might have been killed had it not been for the protection of the demons who live in the Fairy Forest. Even Shohei’s whole plan sees him cooperating with Nuwa and the plan outlined by Nuwa is completely dependent on the assistance of a demon/god and the process of becoming a Nahobino, and from there the process of creation, which is thus co-creation.
Speaking of the Fairy Forest, for a game that likes to frame its basic story setting as a conflict between humans and demons, with demons increasingly established as little more than spiritual monsters, you encounter countless demons in Da’at who are friendly enough to you. You encounter tons of demons that just want you to give them items, you encounter Amanozako who is probably the least threatening personality in the game despite being based on a wrathful yokai goddess, the fairies obviously want no trouble for the humans, and there’s plenty of demons simply have no interest in humans let alone their death. Shohei is convinced that demons are all parasitic threats to humanity that need to be wiped out, and this premise is immanent in both of the game’s Neutral ending paths, but you can play through the whole game and ask yourself, is that really true? Do all gods and demons deserve to die because one demon killed his whole family, or for that matter because Lahmu abducted your classmates is shown to be responsible for the deaths of two people? Could you imagine Shohei applying this logic in reverse, to declare that humans need to be wiped from existence because a human killed a couple of demons or indeed other humans? Or is this all transparently nothing more than the reasoning of pure pogromist hatred?
To “create a world for humanity alone” means the genocide of gods and demons, all of whom are non-human lives, which is to say still lives. You are committing genocide against non-human life, for the purpose of creating a world populated only by humans. Of course, the game doesn’t frame it that way, but I’m sure that’s because if it did you would be acknowledged as the villain in the game’s story, and that’s still a pretty polite way to describe your actions. Thus, the act of a Neutral creation echoes some of the omnicidal aspects of traditional Neutrality. After all, it’s not like the Neutral endings of the older games didn’t have you slaughter everyone who stood in the way of your vision, including all your friends and many gods and demons. But even then, you weren’t in the process of becoming a god who could wipe out all gods and demons through the act of creation.
So, anyways, you ascend to the throne, and Aogami prepares to bid you farewell on account of the fact that he, as a demon, will be erased along with the rest, but then Lucifer interrupts in order to interject on the process of creation. Lucifer warns the player that, because humanity inevitably gives rise to demons, his vision of eradicating all gods and demons is destined to fail. And yet, he suggests that it is still possible to make your new world a reality. How? By traveling to “the realm beyond the earth and heavens”, engaging Lucifer in combat, defeating him, and the consuming his “Knowledge”, so that the world can be freed from the machinations of the “Mandala System”. All of this, of course, bears some explanation.
Given Lucifer’s title as the Lord of Chaos, it may be surprising that I did not cover him in the Chaos section of this essay. This is because, in Shin Megami Tensei V, Lucifer actually doesn’t have much to do with the Chaos path in particular, and is effectively absent for much of the game. In fact, his boss data shows that he’s actually Neutral in this game. Early in the game you see him declaring that God is dead and he has killed him and that he has ascended the Pillar Empyrean, before apparently scattering himself across Da’at. He apparently continues to watch over the player, though, and his voice can be heard encouraging the player when you’re about to have your first fight in the entire game. It seems that, after defeating God, Lucifer consumed his “Knowledge” and transcendent to a “higher level of existence”, “becoming more than He could possibly have imagined”, and learned of the existence of the Mandala System. It’s never actually clear what this “Mandala System” is, but it is described bad a “spatial governing phenomenon”, and it is implied, at least in its Japanese rendition, to be the intrinsic, absolute law of the universe. This law seems to be responsible for the inevitable decay and replacement of each new creation, and the overthrow of its ruler by the next. It is, in other words, the cycle of death and rebirth, not unlike as it appears in Nocturne.
Every ending path, except for the “Destroy the throne” ending, sees Lucifer emerge to tell you that no matter what you do your new world will not last forever, that it will eventually end, a new Da’at will eventually appear heralding the destruction of the current world, and you will be overthrown by a new Nahobino. Each time you fight him he tells you that he has found a way to ensure true freedom, which is for you to defeat him and consume his “Knowledge” just as he did for God, and every time you defeat him he disappears into energy after telling you that you ensured that the world will “truly be free”. Strangely, he tells you this even if you defeat him on the Law path. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have anything to say against reinstating God’s order and create a world where nobody thinks for themselves, or for that matter anything to say in support of you creating a world in the hands of myriad gods despite apparently trying to make it so the demons could become gods again. He doesn’t even seem to oppose you wanting to wipe out all demonkind, despite traditionally being the king of the demons, and his only objection is that if you don’t consume his “Knowledge” then the demons will inevitably return, and if you simply destroy the throne of creation he has nothing whatsoever to say. He only really cares that you overcome him and gain his “Knowledge”, and it doesn’t seem to matter to him exactly what you intend to do afterwards. He tells you same thing in all fights with him. The difference is that in the “true” Neutral ending his base level is higher, he has more skills, and the fight is extended.
But in any case, you defeat Lucifer, and with that the process of creating a world for humanity alone begins in earnest. As before, you see a big white disco ball in space, and this time nothing else. And then, after the credits roll, you see something else. You see Tokyo, apparently restored exactly as it was before the events of the game, you and your friends alive again, it feels a lot like the very beginning of the game. There are also two versions of you in Tokyo, one of them has yellow eyes. Goko narrates that the world of man had thus ended (strange, considering your whole mission was to create a world for humanity alone), and a new world order had arrived. This new world is to be like the old world, but altogether different. This new world was created off the back of the desire to be “free” from demons and the never-ending cycle of creation. But, Goko says, all things must eventually come to an end, and the question is asked, could the world truly exist without Mandala?
In other words, you don’t know if you’ve actually changed anything!
The whole point of this path was to erase the existence of gods and demons from the world, and create a world for humans alone, and that to do that you needed to consume Lucifer’s “Knowledge” in order to break away from the Mandala System in order to make sure your new world lasts forever. But when you actually see the ending play out, it seems possible that you might not actually have exited the Mandala System after all. Goko’s narration all but confirms this. He says, “but all things must eventually come to an end”. Breaking out of the Mandala System means exiting a never-ending cycle of creation, and in theory this should mean that the world you create will last forever. But if all things must eventually come to an end, this means that the world you just created is going to meet the same fate as any other, as though you didn’t consume Lucifer’s “Knowledge”, and the Mandala System might still exist and you and everything else are still in its grip. You have just enacted the genocide of all gods and demons, and consumed Lucifer’s “Knowledge” in order to do so, and yet for all you know, nothing has changed and you haven’t actually freed yourself from the cycle of creation, meaning you erased all gods and all demons for nothing.
This is actually worse than the “Destroy the throne” Neutral ending you might have gotten had you not completed those subquests and chosen to create a world for humanity alone. You went out of your way to clear those subquests, including defeating one of the hardest bosses in the game, you went through an extended final boss fight with Lucifer, and you annihilated all gods and demons through a single act of creation, but for all that, all you get is to see Tokyo exactly as it was, and the assurance that it will come to an end, that humanity can’t live without the Mandala System, and only the cosmos know what’s really going on. Perhaps the demons and Da’at might just come back after all. You did it all for nothing, just because maybe you couldn’t accept any of the other ending outcomes.
Beyond that, creating a world for humanity alone actually seems to play out very similarly to the Law ending. To be sure, you don’t co-create the world with the angels, and you don’t create a world where people only have faith in God and don’t think for themselves, but you restore Tokyo, and seemingly resurrect its inhabitants, things are more or less like the old order that existed beforehand, except for the lack of gods and demons of course, and nobody seems to remember anything that happened. You, of course, are the God of the new world, and the condition of the absence of gods and demons is ratified by your absolute divine will and sovereignty, but you don’t get to do much in your new world except observe things while a clone of yourself apparently lives your life. In that sense, the world for humanity alone can be thought of as the world of Law, governed by an absentee landlord instead of the traditional either God of Law or a similar replacement. In a sense, you have rejected the Law alignment and the Chaos alignment in favour of a somewhat more benign Law ending, sans God.
And what of the objections to Chaos here? No Neutral objections to the plans of Tsukuyomi are ever given. All you see is Ichiro argue that the myriad gods would never see eye to eye with each other and soon devolve into endless warfare and “eat each other alive” in a brutal contest of superiority. If we put aside that the major conflict in the game was started by the monotheistic God of Law, creating a world for humanity alone is shown to never resolve that. Tokyo is restored exactly as it was, which means the Tokyo of this world, the real world in which the game is set. You don’t need a genius to figure out that humans can fight and kill each other just fine on their own, without the influence of God or any demonic agents. Conflict, violence, endless war, these will all continue, and in a world with humans alone, no gods or demons, that all happens with human hands, on human terms, against fellow humans. If the Neutral objection to Chaos is anything like the Law objection in that a Chaos outcome would be bad because everyone disagrees with each other and strife is inevitable, well, with Tokyo restored as it is, disagreement is as common as it is human, and there will always be some discontent, and therefore strife between fellow humans.
Not to mention, in both the Law and Chaos endings, you fight and defeat Lucifer, and Lucifer says that with this the world will surely be free, just as he does in the “true” Neutral ending. Lucifer interrupts both the Law and Chaos paths in order tell you that your new world won’t last forever and invites you to fight him so that you can claim his “Knowledge”. Surely the Law and Chaos worlds too involve breaking out of the Mandala System? But these endings don’t discuss that the way the “true” Neutral ending does. Why does breaking out of the Mandala System only factor into one of the Neutral endings, and not the Law and Chaos endings where you do basically the same thing? But then I’m sure it wouldn’t matter in the end if that weren’t the case since you can’t even say you’ve broken out of the Mandala System anyway.
Neutrality in Shin Megami Tensei V is empty in a way that it truly never has been in any other Shin Megami Tensei game. Like all other expressions of Neutrality, its central basis is in the sort of humanism that echoed out from the basic impression of the scientific worldview presented by Stephen Hawking and/or similar atheistic figures, as understood by a Japanese audience of course. Here, though, godhood is the fulfilment of this humanism, thus divinity is embraced alongside its own repudiation. The demon-haunted world is vanquished by the power of a God forged in the flesh one who transcends the boundaries of human and demon. Godlessness is established by an absentee God, who once again eliminates all rivals to his uncontested power beforehand. And for that, the status quo is effectively restored. Or, alternatively, it is the rejection of two possibilities of creation in favour of realizing human dominance through constant violent struggle against demonkind. Both are guided by the belief that the potential of humanity outweighs the life of either humans or non-humans, meaning that bloodshed, sacrifice, and genocide all have no moral impact so long as it means mankind assumes and uses the potential at its disposal.
So, in summarizing the picture of the ideological dynamic at play in Shin Megami Tensei V, let’s recapitulate the three alignments one more time in succession.
Law is the ideology that upholds the idea of the necessity of a single cosmic ruler, and of an order of the cosmos and human civilization predicated on a hierarchy that revolves around the will of this ruler and the inscription of divine design, whose goal for the creation of a new world is simply the reproduction of a single ultimate truth that organizes human life in absolutism and on the basis of one faith.
Chaos is the ideology that upholds the idea of a cosmos that lacks a unifying supreme law, being, or “ultimate truth”, and a multiplicity of orders and gods, which prioritizes a freedom sourced from the lack of the hierarchy of God, whose goal for the creation of a new world is to abolish the old order of the God of Law in favour of a society where people must choose for themselves the gods they worship.
Neutrality is the ideology that upholds the idea of a cosmos that privileges humanity to the extent that humans are the only sentient beings meant to live in it, and where the “potential” of humanity to attain cosmic mastery is the paramount ethical value, which is to be acheived either through the denial of the process of creation, or the assumption of creation so as to wipe out all non-human intelligences that might compete with or exist alongside humanity.
As I have hopefully showm in certain ways Shin Megami Tensei V derives its alignment dynamic from the traditional Law and Chaos dynamic that emanates from the original Shin Megami Tensei, in certain ways it deviates from many conventional aspects of the Law and Chaos dynamic as presented throughout the Shin Megami Tensei series, and in certain ways it seems to bowlderize and simplify that dynamic. All taken together, it presents us with a dynamic of Law and Chaos is presented to us as though spat back out, regurgiated in what could have been construed as an an attempt to reimagine the core dynamic, resulting in a new product that seems to follow Goko’s description of the world created for humanity alone: akin to the old, and yet altogether different.
In my Postcriptum on the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei (linked at the bottom of this essay), I expressed the hope that, following the Redux edition of Strange Journey, the Chaos alignment would shed the might makes right conceits that were attendant to it in previous games (well, half the series more accurately) in favour of a radical recentering of Chaos ideology in alignment with an ahierarchical, anarchic co-existence with demons, predicated on a freedom born of the lack of a supreme authority over the universe, among many other things. I think that although co-existence with demons isn’t a strong theme in this game’s Chaos alignment, I think the pluralism displayed in the polytheistic diversity of the Chaos ending seems to suggest that, though it bears a great deal of expansion just as everything else in the game needs. Ultimately, however, even the Chaos ending is a disappointmnet, for the simple reason that a disembodied and alienated narration is the only expression of it, with no actual presentation of the new world, and this is the case for almost all of the other endings.
There is one final elephant in the room to discuss when it comes to the game’s story-world as it relates to the way the alignments are presented by the end of the game: the Goddess, that is to say the Megami in Shin Megami Tensei V. The Goddess seems to be partial to the use of absolute power to establish absolute order. When you reach the end of the Temple of Eternity, the Goddess appears in a vision of the Tree of Knowledge in which she proclaims that the Nahobino can reshape the world as they so choose, encourages you to become the divine architect, while also encouraging you to “show no hesitation” to those who want to “usurp your newfound reign”. This is to some extent reflected in the explanation of the three keys needed to open your way to the Empyrean: the Key of Harmony, the Key of Benevolence, and the Key of Austerity, each won by defeating one of the heads of the former branches of Bethel. These represent the virtues and expectations that the ruler of creation is meant to fulfilll. The ruler of creation is expected to preserve harmony, “be prepared to act for the sake of his people”, uphold the “power of benevolence”, “be willing to hear the voices of his people”, and most crucially “uphold austerity”, “show no leniency”, and “expect none in return”. The player is supposed to take God’s place as a “benevolent” dictator, establishing order through absolute power and will, brooking no opposition, perhaps under the presumption that you will be a more benign dictator than the God of Law was.
This reflects in the way the respective endings are treated in Goko’s narration, or more specifically in how he portray’s the player’s emotional response to this. In the Law ending, where you create a new world in the image of God’s former order and a society where no one thinks for themselves and exist only to have faith in God, Goko tells you that the new creator is pleased with his work. In the Chaos ending, where you abolish God’s order and create a new world consisting of a myriad of co-ruling gods, Goko tells you that the new creation is sad at the apparent strife that pervades the new world, just that he holds firm to his beliefs anyway. The “bad” Neutral ending where you destroy the throne has Goko tell us that the player is pleased with the thoughts of things yet to come, from which we can infer the new creator is not necessarily happy with the outcome he brought about. The “good” Neutral ending sees him looking forward to creating a new world with no more gods and demons in it, observing as its new absentee ruler. The paths which see the player take the position of omnipotent ruler of creation, even if in a non-interventionist sense, are to fill the player with gladness, hope, and/or contentment, while the paths in which the player either relinquishes absolute power or presumably shares power with other gods are to fill the player with doubt, sadness, or at least the prospect that it will all be over in the future. This appears to be the bias of the game’s narrative, and it privileges the potential of absolute power over any other conception of power and its distribution.
And with that, I conclude this essay. I hope that you have derived a good understanding of the various ideological contours at work in the story-world of Shin Megami Tensei V, and also that you have had a Merry Yule before reading this essay and continue to have a fun holiday season, as I certainly plan to.
I would like to follow the series of articles I wrote about the Shin Megami Tensei alignments by getting down some thoughts in detail about how I see the Chaos alignment and what direction I would prefer it to go. You might also see me take the chance to flex some of the Chaotic thinking that I so like to indulge in.
There are two themes that persist in Chaos that are rather observable, and in some ways dovetail together: the first is freedom being more important than order, and the second is personal power. The elephant in the room with that is always Social Darwinism, it is always “might makes right”. This was originally portrayed as something of a consequence of the freedom emphasized by the Chaos alignment, in the vein of the classic criticism of anarchism, either that or simply the removal of a government or state, but it has had a habit of metastasizing into an ideological current in itself as an expression of Chaos. The irony with that, of course, is that a lot of Chaos endings didn’t include any ideas of a might makes right society at all. In the Chaos ending for Shin Megami Tensei II, all that happens is you put an end to the rule of Tokyo Millennium and create a world of freedom for humans, demons, and Mutants. In the True Demon ending for Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, there’s no talk of a world for the strong at all, and while you’re destroying the universe to abolish the cycle of death and rebirth, the whole auspice of that is that it’s done to realize free will in an ultimate sense, removed from the bonds of The Great Will, not to create a might makes right world (that project is instead one of the avenues of The Great Will being realized). The Chaos path of Raidou 2 is predicated entirely on individual free will and desire, living for yourself, in opposition to duty, “harmony with the world” (society), and living centrally for others. In the New Chaos route for Strange Journey Redux, any concept of Social Darwinist selection is eschewed entirely in favour of simply a world based in free will and co-existence with the demons. Between the games, the theme of Social Darwinism is in no way consistent.
There is a tension between the two themes that creates an obvious problem for the ideology of the Chaos alignment. At its core, in pretty much every incarnation of Shin Megami Tensei, Chaos is the alignment that values freedom above almost everything else. Its opposition to Law is predicated fundamentally on the fact that a world of Law means to some degree the abolition of freedom or at least the reduction thereof as the price to pay for a world of eternal peace and order (sorry, but the New Law ending path in Strange Journey Redux is fundamentally inconsistent for this reason), to say nothing of that order being contingent upon the absolute rule of God. The major problem with throwing “might makes right” into the mix is that, through that emphasis, it is entirely possible through that emphasis on freedom to become subverted, for tyranny to be supported on the back of power being exercized over others. Nocturne’s Reason of Yosuga, which can best be described as “officially Chaos but at the same time not really”, this manifests in the valorization not of freedom, but of hierarchy, which sets itself above and against freedom. If you think about it, to embrace might makes right as an ethical imperative leads only to self-defeat, considering that your enemy is YHVH, and YHVH got where he is by essentially knocking out the other gods. As the most powerful being, he would have the right to govern as he desires, even if that meant oppressing everybody. More consistent not only for the pursuit of freedom against the will of God and for traditional connotations regarding the namesake of Chaos would be the abolition of hierarchy itself as an enemy of freedom. It would certainly be a perfect opposite to Law, which fundamentally cannot oppose hierarchy, and you could probably count on Neutrality to be the side that deems this to be “unrealistic”. It would require that even any notions of a hierarchy shaped by the strong to be thrown out of the window.
But what to do about the question of power itself? That’s something that can’t really be divorced from the discourse of Chaos without entirely disregarding series tradition itself. But I believe I can present a take on this that may prove interesting. It all starts with how we look at power. The observation that power rules everything could be framed as in some ways different from the ethical imperative that might makes right. In fact, if you understand the state as an instrument of class rule, it’s not that much of a stretch to see politics as something that comes back to the exercise of power, or more specifically who exercises it. A small selection of people have power over the vast majority of others, and the vast majority of people have little real control over their own lives due to the nature of the economic system they live under. When you don’t have any real control over your own life, you don’t have any power that can be exercised usefully in your own sphere, you end up developing all kinds of pathologies and insecurities. Lots of older people like to complain about how people today are “perpetual children” or some nonsense, and never do talk about how they have very little access to housing, and little of the financial security their parents might have enjoyed. With independence, autonomy, power over your own life, foreclosed or at least delayed by economic realities, people lose the sense that they might actually assume power over their own lives, and can you really be surprised if people act like that’s the case? Even politicians serve as spectators as much as rulers, many of them having no real power to alter the system into which they enter, and so their recourse is spectacle and narcissism.
And so the proposition arises: the idea should be that, for freedom to be universal, power should be universal. Instead of power being afforded only to the one guy who can punch out everyone in his way, at which point you already have either the rule of YHVH or a Neutral outcome, why not create a world where everyone can freely assume power over their own lives, free from the confines of existing hierarchies and structures of authority, free from the grasp of ruling gods or gods of law, and free from the ambitions of any would-be despot. At its base, this is part of the core of the way Chaos tends to emphasize the flourishing of free will, without the order of God in the context of a mythic universe, because part of having that free will is the ability to exercise power over your own life.
But we would not be doing well to sideline some of the other themes involved, such as nature or co-existence with demons. Let’s start with nature in this regard.
Strange Journey Redux introduces a split between Mem Aleph’s vision of the “return” of savage nature and the new vision of Jimenez. Mem Aleph represents the “old” Chaos, with its emphasis on the rule of the Mothers, wrathful goddesses of the Earth, who want to kill most if not all of mankind in revenge for the ravages of the planet by turning the world into a society of brutal selection of fitness, while Jimenez, should you take the New Chaos route, represents the creation of a world of limitless free will and thereby equally limitless possibilities, where humans can become anything they want, co-exist with demons, and everyone can create their own new rules in a world of freedom. The difference is pretty noticeable, and it seems that Louisa Ferre (Lucifer) prefers this New vision to Mem Aleph’s narrow-minded view of humans. But where does this leave the theme of nature, which has been important to the traditional discourse of Chaos?
Nature could either be thought of this state of homoestatic balance and purity to which we are to return, akin to the idea of the return to the Garden of Eden found in certain mystical traditions, or it could be thought of as an existential state of chaotic and primeval spontaneity. The former can be seen as a Chaotic idea from the lens of a mother goddess, but is probably more consistent with Law. The latter can be thought of in terms of Taoist ideas such as “ziran” (meaning “spontaneity”, or more literally “self-so”), which designates something spontaneous, self-arising, and therefore natural, or a state of being those things, and is sometimes related to the nature of the Tao itself. In Japan the term ziran is often translated as shizen, and while shizen is often translated in English as “nature”, from the Japanese perspective this doesn’t actually mean the way “Nature” often does in the West (basically a way of designating raw natural environments such as forests or life outside the bounds of human civilization), and instead refers simply to spontaneous flow, without coercion or contrivance.
But, to incorporate a theme of wilderness might prove to yield interesting results in any case. Remember Jimenez in Strange Journey talking about wild souls. Louisa Ferre in the Redux version refers to impulsive souls, or “araburu tamashii”. In the Kojiki, the phrase “araburu no kami”, which can mean wild, savage, or unruly gods, is a term used by the gods of Takamagahara (the high plain of heaven) to refer to the indigenous gods of the land, otherwise known as the kunitsukami. These were simply the gods of the land, not evil beings, whose land their heavenly lands sought sought conquer, and they may even include gods who were worshipped before the ascent of the Yamato dynasty. In later syncretic Buddhism, the gods of Japan were divided between the honsha-no-kami, who were provisional deities that were actually manifestations of the Buddha, and the jissha-no-kami, the “real” kami who are deemed wild, evil, demonic gods unworthy of reverence, and this category tended to include the gods of Izumo, who were kunitsukami, such as Okuninushi. Here the native gods of the land are juxtaposed against gods from heaven who seek to control that land, as part of what is ultimately a mythic narrative created for the ruling Yamato dynasty, and are later recast as demons of the wilderness. Their designation as “real gods” is fascinating in that, although clearly intended from a hardline Buddhist perspective for “real” to mean the same thing as “your true colours” in the negative sense, can from a certain point of view be used to point to a broader chaotic reality, an idea that Bernard Faure sort of points to in his discussion of Bishamonten, Daikokuten, and Enmaten in Gods of Medieval Japan: Volume 2: Protectors and Predators. We see this in some other pantheons as well. We would note that the gods referred to as Asuras in Indian myth dwelled in the underworld, where they were the guardians of substantial wealth that resided there. The Asuras had their own natural source of wealth that the Devas did not. And so, since the Asuras did not share what belonged to them to the Devas, they became the enemies of the Devas, and are remembered as demons. In a weird way, Asura Lord and Surt being paired with Astaroth and Arioch makes some sense, Asura Lord representing the rebels against the devas and Surt representing the giants lead by Loki against the armies of Odin alongside two demons who join Lucifer’s rebellion against God. Christian culture also came to see the wilderness as a gateway to the demonic powers, not unlike how the Bible viewed the deserts surrounding the Holy Land as teeming with demons.
Of course, one other way of addressing the nature theme as a distinct current may be to, and I hate to say this, borrow from Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse in terms of its “monotheism versus polytheism” conflict, or some variation thereof (it doesn’t have to be framed in such a silly way, but let’s go with it provisionally). The “monotheistic” side of Chaos would obviously be represented by the forces of Lucifer, and would probably emphasize radical free will, while the “polytheistic” side of Chaos would probably be represented by wrathful mother goddesses in the fashion of Strange Journey, with a view towards an ideology of nature similar to the one propounded by Mem Aleph and the Gaians. Under this framework, we might even finally see Gaia in the game, unless it turns out that Mem Aleph was already the “Gaia” in the Cult/Ring of Gaia. The Law-aligned application of this would be that the “monotheistic” forces are obviously YHVH and his angels representing their order while the “monotheistic” forces comprise possibly the head gods and goddesses of various pre-Christian pantheons, or perhaps the Amatsukami, thus comprising the “gods of law”. But of course it’s much more interesting and less contrived to simply have Law and Chaos as inclusive, trans-cultural absolutes that comprise of much more than just YHVH versus Lucifer, as was the case in the original Shin Megami Tensei and in Strange Journey, which thus represent an intermingling of ideological concepts that form a whole.
As long-winded as that lead was we can move on to another theme, co-existence with demons. Insofar as the games like to emphasize Chaos as “the side of demons”, in contradistinction to Law being “the side of angels” and Neutral being “the side of humanity”, there is an angle that should be emphasized within Chaos more than anything: that demons do not have to be our enemies. It’s a hard sell considering that demons can be in many ways nasty to humans and it does require not only factoring in God being a million times worse than any demon but also the willingness to take an alternative perspective on familiar mythological tropes. For me that’s no problem, usually, but at the same time it’s not at all easy for many. But, in the process of all Shin Megami Tensei games, even though it is easy to frame relationship to demons as solely in terms of them serving you, you can realistically picture that, eventually, the demon summoner and the demons can seem quite close to one another indeed, to the point that it’s not impossible to imagine the human devil summoner being as something close to a friend or a comrade by the demons he summons, or simply the summoner in turn taking certainly a less-than-hostile view of demonkind. That’s the natural outcome of getting involved with demons for long enough. It’s also a product of demons and humans existing as opposite sides of a mirror. Demons, however they may be presented as something inhuman, have always been hinted to be, in truth, all too human, being drawn from the power of desire in humans, which is something communicated rather didactically in Shin Megami Tensei IV but has probably always been present in the series to some extent or other. We can see Isogai Shougo for instance refer to “the chaos that dwells in every human” in terms of passions or desires as the basis for Jimenez’s demonic transformation. As they come from the Abyss, or Makai, or the Expanse, whatever you want to call it, the demons represent a power dwelling in the human psyche that, as much as it can be said to be “dark”, accompanies Man forever as its eternal, timeless Other, always connected and yet separated by fear. That’s why the demons can’t live without humanity, and even if many demons don’t know that, Lucifer certainly does, and Jimenez certainly figures it out in Strange Journey’s New Chaos route while Mem Aleph was counting on him not thinking that through to its conclusion.
Free will, per Chaos parlance, may partly mean exactly the freedom to explore this Other, the power associated with it, and its potential for humans. As strange as the idea of co-existing with demons is, there exist myths and lore which do contain this idea. In fact, certain folkloric traditions in India and China, adjacent to Hinduism or Vajrayana Buddhism, apparently contain a belief that it is possible for humans in search of siddhi (spiritual powers) to access the underworld realm of Patala, home to the Asuras and the Nagas, through what are called “Asura’s Caves“, and stay with the Asuras (and Nagas) to live among them, acquire knowledge, access treasures, or even have sexual intercourse with female Asuras. Vedic Indian myth and folklore depicts the women of the Asuras as exceptionally beautiful and the bearers of magical drugs, which can apparently be procured by going to the mansions of the Asuras. In medieval European folklore, particularly within Germany, there is the legend of Venusberg, in which Tannhauser goes to the mountain in order to frolic with “the fairy queen” or worship a pagan goddess and he ends up living with them, sort of following a similar theme to the “Asura Caves”. If medieval beliefs regarding succubi and incubi are to be believed, the idea of demons living around humans and interacting with them was simply par for the course in the Middle Ages, just that the Christian culture of the day considered this a bad thing. In medieval Sweden, background folklore concerning spirits such as nymphs assisting hunters, fishermen and others may have transformed into the idea that those same spirits were agents or even manifestations of the Devil, and apparently there were some individuals who confessed to making deals with and even having sex with those spirits (though, confessions like this should usually be taken with a grain of salt). More saliently, in Japanese folklore, while there are many dangerous and hostile yokai, there were also many yokai who were considered rather friendly or at least simply amusing, some of whom are actually encouraged to live alongside humans, and the idea of yokai and humans co-existing seems to have been established enough in Japanese folklore and culture that there’s countless manga and anime that run with that premise.
In the games, it’s hinted that this is tied to peace with or liberation of desire, or even the invocation of it as a source of power. That’s not for nothing, in that in many religious cultures the “demonic” element is interpreted as a representation of desire that is usually seen as an obstacle to the realization of whatever spirirtual teaching or divinity the religion in question has in mind. Aleister Crowley recognized the spirits of the Goetia as “portions of thr human brain”, with the demons of the Lesser Key of Solomon representing the “lower” aspects of the psyche. But, it could also point to the theme of broader reality that we went over earlier. As Bernard Faure points out, again in Protectors and Predators, there was once a time when Mara was seen as an ambiguous source of reality, in the fashion of hongaku (“original enlightenment”) interpretation, at least according to Yusuke Takahashi (as in not the tennis player). Hongaku interpretation stressed a duality and unity between ignorance and enlightenment, the latter deriving its source from the former, which is reflected not only in some hongaku interpretations of Mara, but also Kojin, Mahakala, Matarajin, and Susano-o, positioning the wild realm of chaos, darkness, demons, and even desire and ignorance as an ambiguous source of enlightenment. That is a position that can seem very congruous with the conceits presented within Chaos, because it is the forces of Chaos, and uniquely them, who might take this view, since it is they who consider the demons to be potential the brothers and teachers of humans.
But there is one theme that hasn’t really been addressed at all here, one that Shin Megami Tensei IV introduced for Challenge Quests but never explored further: the dispensation of the universe. The Law-aligned Ancient of Days, representing God, seeks to carry it out, while the Chaos-aligned Sanat seems to oppose it. The game does not explore the theme further, but perhaps it is something worth exploring in a sort of return to the theme of free will and a core tenet of Chaos. Sanat, at least from his perspective, is trying to save humanity from the dispensation of the universe by getting mankind ready for war against the Ancient of Days, and presumably God. But what does “the dispensation of the universe” mean? The game never really explains that, but perhaps we can piece something together. Judging from Ancient of Days’ dialogue, he makes it seems like this is supposed to be some sort of destructive act of purification, at least in that he seems intent on destroying what’s left of humanity, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. Apparently the Japanese line for it is “uchuu no setsuri”, which means “providence of the universe”. Dispensation is a word that seems to mean, at least in certain contexts, the order of things that prevails at a given time, but in Christian theology it can mean certain ages of history or God’s plan, the distribution of good and evil, or it can mean something like divine providence. Providence can mean the governance, guidance, or the will of God. In context, the destructive act of purification presented by Ancient of Days can be thought of on similar terms. Remember that, in Nocturne, The Great Will’s whole deal is that it imposes a ruthless of death and rebirth for the purpose of destroying and creating new universes again and again until it can create a universe of perfection, free from sin but also devoid of free will. Even Apocalypse’s version, The Axiom, still seems to carry that over. A brutal regime of fate may thus be the true nature of the dispensation of the universe, which conflicts with the flourishing of free will. This, I think, should be explored more, and in a different way to Nocturne where completing the Amala Labyrinth meant annihilating the universe.
To finally summarize everything, we have a world to work with instead of the classical might makes right vision that, if we’re very honest, only serves to justify the order of things rather than smash it. Again, if the strongest has the right to rule, then logically YHVH would be the rightful ruler pf the universe because he is almost the most powerful being in the universe and got where he is by smacking down the other gods (as is explained straightforwardly in Strange Journey). Indeed, does YHVH not invoke his power to justify his authority and rule and therefore your obedience to him? But then I suppose that pint could also be turned into something salient from the Chaos perspective: namely that anything else YHVH justifies his rule is ultimately arbitrary or illusory and that it is power that is ultimately the real basis of his justification. In any case, the summary for what I’d like to see can be presented in bullet points for a collection of ideological flanks that form a broad ethos:
Freedom and the flourishing of free will as the primary emphasis, rather than strength as a way of organizing hierarchy, and because of this opposition to the Great Will/Axiom – or, to put it another way, freedom from God’s control
To that effect, hierarchy, at least worldly or human hierarchy, as something distinctly opposed to Chaos and therefore to be opposed by Chaos – such is consistent with the way Lilith talked about destroying existing structures of authority in Shin Megami Tensei IV
To the extent that power is still important for Chaos, the idea should be that everyone is able to attain power over their own lives, rather than be subject to a hierarchy of interchangeable absolute rulers who win and reign by brute force at the expense of freedom
Co-existence with demons as a key flank that separates Chaos from the other alignments, given greater emphasis as an expression of harmony between the two poles of human life
The gods and demons of Chaos as the representatives of a kind of wild nature defined not simply by the lands of the Earth but by a nature found within humans, something raw that is obscured by the order of God and civilization
The war between Law and Chaos as war over the dispensation of the universe, as the mechincal providence of The Great Will/Axiom, with Chaos on the opposing side whose mission it is to give mankind the power to oppose The Great Will/Axiom
If you are looking for something “extreme” from this, to fit the ambiguousness and difficulty of the choice between Law, Chaos, and Neutrality, I’d say you could still make the point that what the zen of Chaos amounts to could be described as Anarchy (no, not the shitty Apocalyse ending), not only in the sense of doing away with worldy hierarchies and authority but also in the sense of existential anarchy, doing away with the supreme authority over the universe itself, to leave only the flourishing of freedom among humans and demons. To realize Law is to realize the Thousand Year Kingdom or the dispensation of the universe, to realize Chaos can be to realize Anarchy, and to realize Neutrality is basically to just do neither of those in favour of, well, anything really.
With Shin Megami Tensei V on the horizon it is still too early to say what Chaos wilI mean here, but beyond that there are reasons to be excited. Arioch, one of the four demon generals of Chaos from the original Shin Megami Tensei, is making his grand return to the main series, and with Surt also featured in one of the trailers, it’s easy to be left wondering if Astaroth and Asura-Oh will make it as well. That’s a big deal because it means that, at last, the Four Archangels of Law might be paired against four Chaos counterparts once again for the first time since the original game. With Mara, Beelzebub, and classic Lucifer in the mix too, it’s safe enough to assume that the old gang of devils is getting together again, and we can safely assume the presence of Lilith as well. Without knowing exactly what Chaos entails in this game this says little, but it should be a welcome development in the time that remains.
And now, in the words of the Chaos Phantom in Shin Megami Tensei, let us walk the path of Chaos, from which everything is born.
Every once in a while I think back to that wonderful meme that set the course of my life irrevocably into motion towards the self-identity and sense spiritual path whose quest for realization has defined me since: Chaos. That is to say, the Chaos alignment as it appears in the Shin Megami Tensei game series. However problematic it would be to actually believe in something like the generic Chaos ideology in real life, given that both Chaos and Law can be seen as intentionally extreme ideologies within the narratives of Shin Megami Tensei, I find that something about it always persists for me for some reason, despite its often problematic tendencies. So many ideas go into Chaos, along with the counter-alignments of Law and Neutrality, that I lately I have been thinking of doing a post outlining what I see as the main contours of Chaos in its manifestation throughout the series, and seeing as we have the remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne coming next week, as well as Shin Megami Tensei V potentially coming this year or possibly next, this seems like decent timing for such an effort. These are games that center around competing visions of how the world should be organized, and so to discuss in terms of ideology is rather appropriate.
A few things to note before we proceed. This will mostly cover the main games , and will generally avoid spin-off games. An exception, however, will be Devil Summoner 2: Radiou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon, which features definite and concrete Law, Chaos, and Neutral pathways with their own ideological undertones and themes. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne represents a distinct problem in that it doesn’t really feature the same Law-Chaos dynamic as the rest of the series does, but it cannot be excluded either, since it is one of the main titles of the series and it does in its own way contain aspects of the Law-Chaos dynamic in complicated expressions. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, although it is part of the main series, will be excluded on the grounds that, although it does feature Law and Chaos, the game itself ultimately downplays the dynamic in favour of a narrative where both Law and Chaos are sublimated in favour of a grand battle against the Divine Powers, an assortment of gods from polytheistic belief systems who for some reason want to destroy the universe in order to “free” the souls of all humans. Shin Megami Tensei if…, although ultimately part of the main series, will be excluded on the grounds that it does not have alignment-based paths and endings. I will also not be covering Shin Megami Tensei NINE and Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, both out of mercy and also because I can barely find anything coherent about their alignment paths. The Devil Survivor games will be excluded because techincally their multiple endings aren’t really alignment-based and instead are strictly character-based, and even the supposedly Law and Chaos paths may not necessarily fit traditional depictions of Law and Chaos.
And, of course, after this post, I’ll do follow-up posts in which I do the same discussion for the Law and Neutral alignments throughout the series, since they too have their own unique ideological contours and themes as expressed throughout the series.
Needless to say, this entire post will contain spoilers for all of the games featured here.
Shin Megami Tensei (1992)
The first Shin Megami Tensei game is also the first game in the series to establish the series’ main conceits concerning the Law and Chaos dynamic as inclusive absolutes. While there are cases where standard good vs evil choices can be mapped as Law and Chaos in the game, generally speaking Chaos seems to mean an ideology that is based on the prioritizing of personal freedom over order, which is here represented by the idea of aligning with the forces of Lucifer and/or the gods of Chaos against the angels of YHVH and/or the gods of Law, and creating a world where everyone is free to do whatever they want, so long as they have the strength to survive on their own.
Of course, there is much more to Chaos than just this, but for now we can consider that this is intended to be the game’s way of expressing what it believes to be an anarchist outlook. Both Law and Chaos can be seen as representations of extreme ideologies, and anarchism is generally perceived as “extreme” in the sense that it wants to do away with the state entirely. The Social Darwinist component typically attached to Chaos in the Shin Megami Tensei games can be interpreted as an interpretation of the popularly-perceived consequences of an anarchistic society, of the abolition of the state, which is perceived to be the abolition of all forms of order. It is thus possible to interpret it as a bowdlerization of anarchist ideology, since in practice most of the anarchist movement throughout history has broadly rejected Social Darwinism due to its alignment with socialist politics. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t anarchists who do in fact believe in some form of Social Darwinism. This of course would include anarcho-capitalists, whose propertarian beliefs dovetail with the broader right-wing libertarian movement, as well as some egoists and the even more marginal “anarcho-fascists”. Then again, however, there certainly were left-wing anarchists who did believe in some form of Social Darwinist ideas, such as Arthur Desmond (who may have been the real identity of “Ragnar Redbeard”) and Stansilaw Przybyszewski. Indeed, while the natural temptation is to refer to fascism as regards Social Darwinism, even fascism is not always consistent on that trope, given that the Strasser brothers (who, despite any assertion to the contrary, were fascists) seemed to reject the Social Darwinism that Hitler might have espoused, and in the Chaos context it ultimately makes little sense to invoke statism of any sort.
Early on in the game, we meet a character named Gotou, who seems to resemble Yukio Mishima for some reason, and his appearance is part of an early point in the game where you are confronted with a choice between Law and Chaos. On the Chaos side, Gotou is a general of the Japanese Self-Defence Force who, after coming into contact with demons, declares martial law in Tokyo and tries to summon lots of demons into the city, because he believes that this will help protect Tokyo from God’s plan, which apparently involves having America send nuclear missiles to annihilate Japan. Here a man who would in normal times be seen a crazy nationalist extremist can situationally be placed as the lesser evil, depending on your perspective of course. The American forces are represented by Ambassador Thorman on the Law side. You can, of course, choose to oppose both Gotou and Thorman, thus taking the Neutral path early on, and no matter what you do Gotou does eventually die either by your hand or in the coming nuclear assault, but this does go to show the early point in the game in which you are faced with a hard choice on your alignment.
In any case, what is notable for the purpose of this post is the much broader ideological conceit Gotou expresses. On a TV screen in Shinjuku, Gotou announces to passersby that civilization has rotted to its core because of its foundation in the exploitation of the planet, which he refers to as Gaia, and meanwhile humans eat away at each other with hatred, mistreatment, and prejudice. This situation compels Gotou to invoke “the ancient gods known as “demons”” to save Japan and the world from a conspiracy to destroy Japan and usher in a new totalitarian regime, and then, once the Americans and God are defeated, usher in a new age where humans and demons co-exist with each other in harmony. This is another idea of Chaos that persists in later games in different forms. Chaos here, in addition to representing freedom over order, represents harmony with nature, represented by the gods of Chaos and Gaia. Here, then, the major conceits of Chaos, such as freedom and strength, also construct a broader idea where this is situated in terms of a paradigm of “returning to nature”, in the sense that man “recaptures” what the Gaians might believe to be a more authentically natural way of life that is lost or forgotten as a result of thousands of years of civilization and then modernity. The basic return to nature idea does have analogues in real world philosophy. One of its main exponents is Taoism, which advocates for humans to realign themselves with the natural state of the Tao, which is ironic given that Chaos doesn’t really use any Taoist imagery (preferring esoteric Buddhist imagery instead) and instead it is the Neutral path here that uses the most Taoist imagery. Certain forms of Shinto and Buddhism, such as Ise Shinto and Zen Buddhism, also follow this formula, though it can be argued that harmony with nature may indeed be baked into the Shinto religion more broadly. In ancient Greece, the Cynics shunned social conventions in order to live a life in accordance with nature as understood by reason. Satanism can be interpreted in a similar light, with its egoist-hedonist philosophy from their perspective representing the more natural way of life that is suppressed by all the major religions, while anti-cosmic Satanists express this trope through an entirely different “Gnostic” philosophy based around the return of all creation to its “pre-cosmic” and acosmic origins. And of course, there are many neopagans who embrace broad ideas about living in harmony with nature and the gods.
Speaking of Gaia, the main representatives of Chaos in this game, and other games in the series, is the Cult of Gaia, of which Gotou seems to be a member. The Gaians seem to be devotees of Lucifer, who they believe sacrificed his place in heaven to disobey God on behalf of human freedom. In that sense, they can be thought of as Luciferians. But they are not just a sect of demon-worshipping Luciferians, for they believe also in the ancient gods and the veneration of nature, represented by Gaia. By ancient gods, of course, this seems to mean the gods that are aligned with Chaos. Gods like Vishnu and Thor are not among them, since they are aligned with Law. Gods like Yama, however, are. Although Lucifer represents the forces of Chaos, their actual commander during the final showdown in the Great Cathedral is an unspecificed king of the Asuras, referred to simply as Asura Lord (or Asura-Oh). He is joined by Surt, the giant who ruled Muspelheim in Norse mythology, and the demons Arioch and Astaroth, the latter of whom talks about originally being the goddess Ishtar. So there is a sense in which some of the “ancient gods” represent the adversaries of the head gods of the existing pantheons, such as Ravana and his son Indrajit, or simply the chthonic gods in the case of Yama. Insofar as this represents a kind of paganism, it is a paganism that is explicitly aligned with gods of the earth, as well as various Eastern warrior deities.
Gaians incorporate Buddhism into their overall aesthetic, largely to serve as a contrast to the obviously Western Judeo-Christian Order of Messiah, though this Buddhism, if it is not purely aesthetic, reflects a broad subversion. Examples of Gaians you can encounter as enemies (or allies) in the game include Hakai-zo (sinful Buddhist monks), Oni Jorou (meaning “demon prostitute”, apparently they are kunoichi or female ninjas), and Yami Hoshi (“dark priests”, heretical masters of Shingon Buddhist mantras). There is even a rare Chaos-aligned Fiend in the game called Daisoujou, who is based on a Buddhist mummification pratice known as Sokushinbutsu, and gives you the strongest Chaos-aligned weapon in the game, the Reaper’s Bell. In the Sega CD version, even Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, appears as a Gaian for some reason. Gaians also serve as Chaos-aligned healers, using their service brings you closer to the Chaos alignment and if you are Law-aligned they will reject you entirely, and they sell all manner of Buddhist items, such as Amida Beads (which protect you from having your energy drained) and Nyorai Statues (or Buddha Icons; these resurrect Chaos-aligned characters), as well as things like Pentagrams and Asura’s Palms. As the above screenshot shows they tend to embrace a cyclical view of nature that is largely consistent with certain forms of paganism. One possible angle to consider in light of Gotou’s views is that the emphasis on the East, at least aesthetically, plays into an assertion of native identity against the Messians, under whose God America can be seen waging imperial conquest against Japan through nuclear warfare. Small wonder how a lot of the gods of Chaos you can summon in the game tend to include numerous Shinto deities in the Kishin clan as well as Hindu-Buddhist deities in the Tenma clan (please bring that back Atlus). Indeed, the Japanese aesthetic makes quite a bit of sense for the Gaians when put in the context of the broad reputation of traditional Japanese culture to be built upon harmony with nature. Thus, in a sense, we see Chaos in this game as a marriage of Japanese ideas about harmony with the kind of libertarian individualism found in the West, and at that mostly in America. In general, though, we see the Chaos faction animated by broad ideas about restoring a more natural outlook as expressed by the theme of restoring the old gods, who were demonized by YHVH. The Asura Lord expresses this by stating that he was once a god named Ahura Mazda before he was cursed by God.
This brings us to the actual goals of the Gaians, which are usually presented within the game as mostly opposition to the Messians: namely they want to stop the Messians from bringing about the Thousand Year Kingdom. Before Tokyo is nuked, Gotou, who we should remember is an avid Gaian, mostly talks about stopping Japan from getting destroyed by the American missiles and, to this end, summons demons or “ancient gods” to erect a barrier to protect Japan. After the nuclear holocaust, things obviously change. While the Messians plan to build a Great Cathedral (or Basilica) to summon God himself to Japan, the Gaians and the forces of Chaos obviously want to stop the construction of the Cathedral, a cause that they at multiple times try to convince the player to join, and towards the final stretch of the game they decide to simply invade the Cathedral to perturb the forces of Law. The invasion succeeds in capturing the lower levels of the Cathedral, which are thus encamped by the Gaians, and this leads to the forces of Chaos changing plans. They originally intended to destroy the Cathedral to prevent God from being summoned, but now the plan is to simply take it over and convert it into a new temple for the Gaians, which the Asura Lord describes as a symbol of friendship between humankind and demonkind. That idea, in this sense, does of course link back to the ideological goal established by Gotou earlier: to bring about a state of harmony between humans and demons, and in turn harmony with the earth. Of course, disrupting God’s rule on Earth and defeating his angels also has the implicit goal of liberating humans, freeing them from divine tyranny to pursue the natural liberty cherished by Chaos.
As far as the relationship between humans and demons is concerned, Chaos can be seen as the side that seeks to embrace co-existence with demons, and one of the manifestations of this is a phenomenon that remains associated with Chaos-aligned characters in future games: the fusion of humans with demons to create a half-demon man. This is what happens to the game’s main representative of Chaos, who without a set name is referred to as Chaos Hero. Frequently bullied by gangsters for believing in demons in the events before the game’s story begins, he often sought to become strong enough to get revenge on his enemies, particularly a gangster named Ozawa. By fusing with a demon, the Chaos Hero becomes more than human, stronger and more powerful than he was before, and he becomes able to overpower Ozawa and his newfound demonic allies once and for all. In a certain sense this represents the ultimate expression of harmony between humans and the demons, combining their powers to unlock greater potential and strength, though it can also be interpreted as part of an idea shared by both Chaos and Law; the idea that humans are not strong enough on their own, and so must depend either on God or his adversary. Yet, there is another undercurrent we may consider here. Demons, in Shin Megami Tensei’s world, are dangerous creatures from a realm that humans do not understand, but the demons and their realm are at the same time part of humanity all the same, and they can be variously be either friends or foes. That’s the core of Shin Megami Tensei. The Chaos side, by emphasizing harmony with demons, can be seen to emphasize the embrace of a side of humanity that humans often prefer to keep hidden or suppress, in part because of its potentially dangerous quality, on the grounds that demons, and the force they represent, can be a source of power, if that is what humans want.
Mind you, this is also conditioned by a fairly general “survival of the fittest” belief that the Chaos Hero embraces. He wants to be strong not just to defeat Ozawa and remove his oppressive police state from Shinjuku (not mention get his revenge for all the bullying) but also to survive on his own in the post-apocalyptic Tokyo. He naturally sees the Messians as blind to the true nature of the world, because power rules the world and God will not save the weak but rather oppress them, and opposes the forces of Law for their tyrannous ambitions. He also opposes Neutrality on the grounds that the balance of Law and Chaos exists only to be tipped, suggesting arguably a view predicated on constant and dynamic change in opposition to balance as a static notion. There is, though, a possible irony of his talk of power, in the fact that Ozawa justifies his police state through the logic of him being able to do what he wants if he has the power. To be fair, however, it is doubtless that the way Ozawa uses his power disgusts him, being a society where if you obey him he will protect you and if you don’t you will be imprisoned, tortured, and killed by secret police – such a society is not too far away from what the Thousand Year Kingdom might entail in practice (to which the Law Hero would object on the grounds that Ozawa’s power was “power without God”). It could also be said that, if he despises the use of power to oppress people, his preferred use of power is to cultivate self-sufficiency, and for him fusing with a demon is a sure way to go. The problem, however, is that he doesn’t stop there. On the Chaos path you create what is called a Devil Ring in order to progress, and the Chaos Hero briefly swipes it in order to take its power, which becomes too much for him and causes him to explode to death. Thus, he paid the price for his excess.
And of course, there is much to be said for the Chaos alignment being represented by Lucifer. Lucifer can be seen as Shin Megami Tensei’s way of representing the Christian concept of the Devil, due to his role as the lord of all the demons, and the champion of those who rebel against YHVH. This Devil called Lucifer is not established to be Satan, and indeed later games draw a distinction between Lucifer and Satan with the appearance of the latter as a separate character. Here, Lucifer is the rebel against God as opposed to his executioner, and he is also the character introduced in the War in Heaven myth, that of the former angel, or perhaps former god from a certain perspective, who refused God’s authority and command and was thus banished to the earth or Hell. This Lucifer was formerly the spirit of the morning star (the planet we now call Venus was originally just called Lucifer or Morning Star until the 13th century), but was adapted into a Devil by the same religion whose Bible called Jesus Christ the morning star. This Lucifer also cements the point I made earlier about anarchism, because Lucifer as an icon of freedom over the state has been a literary trope of anarchism and libertarianism since at least the 19th century. This can be seen to support the idea of Chaos as a sort of bowdlerized form of anarchism, at least in the sense that, for some anarchists, most notable Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Lucifer could be seen as an icon of free will against arbitary authority, an idea that has since been grafted on to Satanism at large through the efforts of The Satanic Temple and similar groups. But of course, Lucifer here is far more ambiguous than just this icon. He is a perhaps a trickster figure, a master manipulator just as much as the benefactor of Man, arguably beguiling humans into his designs, and yet even in this sense only ever inviting their own free will. Such is the Devil in the parlance of baseline Christian culture, against which Chaos, as the expression of not only this Devil but the gods of old, the way of natural freedom, is juxtaposed.
But there is one detail from the Chaos ending that is somewhat significant. Lucifer describes himself as a part of YHVH that he has discarded. What’s that all about? The Apocalypse version of Shin Megami Tensei IV would have you thinking it’s because he too is a pawn of YHVH, but this is obviously not the case here. The game never does explain what is meant by it, but, if you think about it, it lines up very nicely with what Carl Jung often wrote about how Lucifer was best conceived as a fourth part of a Trinity that is thus rendered a Quarternity, in which Lucifer not only represents the dark sides of the psyche but also the principle of individuation, who, knowing God’s creation best, induced freedom and individuality by rebelling against God. Applied to Shin Megami Tensei, Lucifer will have some exactly the same, but YHVH rebukes him for it, for ruining his perfect order, and as a result we are the beginnings of a long war to depose YHVH, liberate the seeds of freedom that Lucifer had sown into YHVH’s order, and end his tyrannical rule.
Shin Megami Tensei II (1992)
The second game invites certain changes to the Law and Chaos dynamic. From here on out, the games generally focus less on Law and Chaos as broad trans-cultural absolutes and instead focus specifically on the antagonism between YHVH and Lucifer as the primary representation of the struggle of Law and Chaos. At the same time, the world of Shin Megami Tensei II is dominated by the Law alignment. After a great cataclysm, what is left of Tokyo is taken over by the Order of Messiah, after a presupposed Neutral path. Man is left to order the world by himself after the forces of Law and Chaos are defeated, but the species fails to live up to this task, so the Messians create a new city, Tokyo Millennium, guided by their teachings, where they wait for the arrival of the Messiah.
Next to this, coupled with YHVH appearing in the game as a brutal, tyrannical, and vengeful deity, it certainly seems quite attractive and even downright reasonable to consider Lucifer as the good guy in all of this. In fact, many fans of the series are in agreement that this game’s interpretation of Lucifer, and perhaps Chaos more broadly, is the most positive in the entire series. The themes of Social Darwinism present in the previous game are remarakably de-emphasized compared to both the last game and future games in the series. Lucifer, the main representative of the Chaos alignment, doesn’t talk at all about making a world of the strong like he did in the last game, and seems to be only interested in ensuring the survival of both humans and demons, both on earth and the underworld, and his rebellion against YHVH is characterized by this desire.
The world of Shin Megami Tensei II does not consist solely of Tokyo Millennium, and this game allows the player to visit a region known as Makai, the home of the demons, otherwise known as The Abyss. Makai is ruled by Lucifer, under whose watch the demons, and some humans fleeing persecution from the surface, live in peace for the most part. This in its own way reinforces the idea from the previous game of harmony and co-existence between demons and humans being part of the Chaos package. Humans can even form relationships with demons in Makai, such as is the case for a man named Petersen who lives with his partner who is a Siren, or Daleth whose girlfriend is the fairy Hannoun and lives with her in Shinjuku. Even Aleister Crowley (as just a sorcerer named “Crowley”) appears somewhere in Makai where he tries to summon demons in a Sabbath for the purpose of sexual recreation. In a sense, co-existence with demons is rather the norm in Makai. Other denizens of Makai include the Mutants, people who became mutated by the nuclear radiation that spread during the Great Cataclysm, and were consequently cast out of Tokyo Millenium by the Messians and sealed beneath its surface. These Mutants don’t desire social acceptance or reparations from The Centre, rather they want nothing more than to be able to see the sun on the surface once more and the rebirth of the old city of Tokyo.
The Gaians return in this game, but they play a marginal role in the game’s story, if anything, and face oppression from the dominant Messians. The soul of one Gaian is found in the realm of Makai and mentions being killed by Messians for worshipping the wrong god, though they long for the return of the old gods in Japan. As in the last game, you can visit Gaian churches in order to use their healing services (as long as you aren’t Law-aligned), purchase items from them, and give donations. Once again, the Gaians you find in the game consist of Japanese occultniks and ninjas, such as the Kugutsuchi (“puppeteers”), Jiraiya (a shape-shifting ninja from Japanese folklore), Onymoji (practitioners of Onymodo), and Kamen-Hijiri (masked Buddhist pilgrims). The Gaians in Makai live under the sanctuary of Virochana, who also identifies himself as Dainichi Nyorai. This Virochana may or may not be this game’s expy of the Asura Lord from the last game, though instead of leading an army against the Messians he’s offering salvation to anyone willing to accept it.
The theme of the return of the ancient gods is also noticeably de-emphasized, but that is not to say it does not exist. Before you make it to Kether Castle in Makai, you fight Astaroth, who suspects that you are working with Lucifer’s enemies and disguises himself as Louis Cypher in order to try and kill you. When you defeat Astaroth, he laments that he was once the goddess Ishtar and asks you to return him to this previous form. This is a desire that was also expressed in the previous game. After defeating Astaroth, you can take on a side-quest that sees you bringing Astaroth to a throne room in Binah where he splits into two deities, Ishtar and Ashtar, whom YHVH ordered to fuse together to create Astaroth long ago. The old gods of Japan are also sealed in Makai. In another side-quest we find that the Amatsukami gods, led by Amaterasu, were sealed in various shrines by the Kunitsukami, who made a deal with YHVH in order to get rid of them. However, once this was done, YHVH sealed the Kunitsukami away as well, being unwilling to share power with them, and so they reside in various shrines dotted around Makai. Some of the “ancient gods” also serve as guardians of the various regions of the Abyss, such as Tiamat, Hecate, and Atavaka.
Ultimately, the ending path you take depends on a set of choices made towards the end of the game. However, there is one decision in particular that can be made in the game that emphasizes values associated with the path of Chaos. For example, at a certain point in the game, you find a place called Arcadia, a utopian district of Tokyo Millenium where there are no demons run by a man called Gimmel (a.k.a. “Lord Apollo”). Later on, you encounter a mysterious building home to people who are bound to chairs and quite literally hooked up to computers and who talk about how wonderful being in Arcadia is. This is the real Arcadia: a virtual reality program where people live out the fantasy of paradise while actually being held against their will and probably slowly atrophying in the process. When you find and defeat Gimmel, the man responsible for all this, a terrible decision awaits. You can either take over as the messiah of Arcadia, which is the Law choice, or destroy Arcadia, which is the Chaos choice. The latter represents freedom from the coercive illusion of paradise, but unfortunately destroying Arcadia would also mean killing its residents who are hooked up to the computers. Of course, there is also the option to just leave the building without doing anything about Arcadia, which is the admittely much safer Neutral choice. But, in an extreme world, Chaos can represent the ethos that order, insofar as it represents oppression, is to be straightforwardly broken up, even if that comes down to violence.
If you choose to side with Lucifer towards the end of the game, you are locked into the Chaos alignment for the rest of the game. Once this happens, after meeting with Lucifer and his demon allies at Kether Castle, they join with you and make your way to Eden in order to destroy the Megiddo Ark and prevent YHVH from using it to destroy Tokyo. After defeating YHVH the two main protagonists, Aleph and Hiroko, return to Makai, where Aleph is hailed as the saviour of the Mutants. Light from the surface shines down into the underworld, and Lucifer proclaims that the oppression of humans and the separation of the bonds between humans and demons have ended with the death of YHVH and the Mutants living below the surface have been liberated. Notably Lucifer says that, within the chaos, the peace has been lost, but that humans and demons have gained true freedom. That is the ethos of Chaos presented in this game: that the pursuit of true freedom, even if it comes with the loss of peace and order, is the most important of values. Rather than emphasizing might makes right, this Chaos expresses the idea that anarchy (in the colloquial sense at least, moreso than the specific ideology of anarchism) is more valuable than an unjust peace. But peace of any sort is not totally precluded, at least in the sense that the freedom of this new world is also, by invitation, the freedom to re-establish peace on your own terms. The Mutants thank the protagonists for saving them from total destruction, Daleth and his fairy companion thank them for saving the fairies from extinction, and the two protagonists go on to create the new world under the auspice of Chaos.
It is also worth noting that, in light of the way Mutants, as people who are aggressively marginalized by the Centre and the Messians, are an object of concern in the Chaos ending, and the noticeable lack of Social Darwinist rhetoric, this version of Chaos almost seems downright egalitarian. This is somewhat ironic when we consider that many expressions of Law and Chaos in future games do not paint this picture at all. But this egalitarianism in combination with the intractable concern for freedom actually points a much less bowdlerized version of anarchism than the last game. It also points to an irony in having Gotou in the last game resemble Yukio Mishima. The real Yukio Mishima was certainly no anarchist, in fact he was some kind of fascistic reactionary who sought the restoration of the pre-modern power of the Japanese emperor. A polar opposite to Yukio Mishima as an author would be Kenzaburo Oe, a Japanese leftist who rejects the ancient imperialism of the Yamato dynasty and the restoration thereof in favour of an egalitarian society rooted in communal relationships with the natural world. Oe uses the Kunitsukami to represent this life, who happen to be Chaos-aligned in the SMT series, whereas Mishima’s political mythos is connected with the founding myth of the imperial ancestral dynasty created with the influence of the Amatsukami, who happen to be Law-aligned in the SMT series.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (2003/2005)
The third game in the series is somewhat unique in that the dynamic of Law and Chaos is radically subverted, if not done away with entirely. With the end of the world set into motion by an event called The Conception, a tiny handful of humans survive by being in the right place at the right time (Shinjuku Medical Centre, of course). The world as we know it becomes what is called the Vortex World, a desolate and chaotic intermission between the death of the old world and the birth of the new, presided over by a being named Kagutsuchi, and three people in particular emerge with ideologies, or Reasons (or Kotowari). A girl named Chiaki espouses a Reason identified as Yosuga, a man named Hikawa espouses a Reason identified as Shijima, and a man named Isamu espouses a Reason identified as Musubi. Because the protagonist becomes half-demon, hence he is referred to as the Demi-Fiend, he is forbidden from espousing a Reason of his own, and only has the power to support one of the three Reasons, or indeed reject all of them. The original game had five ending paths: one for Yosuga, one for Shijima, one for Musubi, one where the world is restored to its pre-Conception state, and one where nothing changes and the Vortex World remains for a thousand years.
So, who represents the Chaos side in all this? The answer is rather more complicated than in more traditional games.
In theory, Yosuga best approximates the Chaos alignment due to the doctrine of might makes right, a negative aspect of the traditional Chaos alignment, being central to its ideology. Chiaki talks about how the strong and the beautiful are the rightful makers of the world, and the useless and the mediocre are cast aside. However, while brutish demons are to be found among its supporters, its main representatives, ironically, are angels. The Four Archangels, the main representatives of the Law alignment, support Chiaki and her Yosuga vision, and you fight them if you do not align with Yosuga, and the other angels can be seen as allies of Chiaki throughout the game. This does not make sense if you understand Yosuga simply as this game’s version of the Chaos alignment, particularly when you account for the Law and Chaos dynamic not really existing, either in the plot or in gameplay. Instead Yosuga should be seen as a Reason that fuses conceits from both Law and Chaos together in pursuit of a fascistic ideology of elitism. Unlike the traditional Chaos alignment, freedom does not appear anywhere in Chiaki’s resume of ideological concerns. Instead, Chiaki’s primary ideological concern is “beauty”. She wants to create a world where only “beautiful” things exist. Strength happens to be a part of her conception of beauty. Thus, the angels would see Yosuga’s world as a Thousand Year Kingdom in which only the beautiful, cognate with the godly, may live, just that admittance is predicated on a brutal Social Darwinist selection process based on strength. It is for this reason alone that Yosuga is seen as the nominal “Chaos” alignment in this game, when in practice it seems to be a synthesis of Law and Chaos tropes.
Then there are the two other Reasons, Shijima and Musubi. Shijima, while ostensibly the “Law”-aligned Reason, is supported by traditionally Chaos-aligned demons such as members of the Fallen, Night, and Tyrant clans, and its demonic sponsor is Ahriman, a Tyrant demon and therefore traditionally Chaos-aligned. Musubi is ostensibly “Neutral”, but it does actually contain plenty of the “individualism” that is generally ascribed to the Chaos worldview, though this could also be interpreted as the product of taking the functional isolationism associated with Neutrality to the furthest degree. In practice, none of the three Reasons can be treated as simply clear-cut representations of the three classical alignments. And, in relation to these three Reasons, the other two paths in the original game are functionally Neutral endings. In the Freedom ending, you reject all Reasons in order to restore the world to its original state. In the Demon ending, you reject all Reasons and either try to create your own Reason or just prove too indecisive to initiate the creation of a new world, which results in the persistence of the Vortex World.
I suppose perhaps the closest to a traditional Chaos-aligned character in the game that appears early on in the game’s plot would be Gozu-Tennoh, a powerful demon god who leads the Mantra group against the Assembly of Nihilo. Gozu-Tennoh is based on a fearsome Buddhist protector deity who may have originally been a god of disease and pestilence. Gozu-Tennoh opposes the Assembly of Nihilo for wanting to “bring the world to a halt” with their world of stillness, and instead wants a “world of strength”, which is naturally a brutish might makes right utopia ruled by the strong. This certainly does hue from that classical negative aspect of Chaos, and Gozu-Tennoh even declares that he will rule “the kingdom of chaos”. In a weird way, the trial by combat for trespassing held at the Mantra Headquarters in Ikebukuro mirrors the events of the first game, in which the Gaian city was presided over by Yama, another fearsome Buddhist deity. However, Gozu-Tennoh eventually becomes one with Chiaki as the bearer of Yosuga, and so his power becomes folded into essentially one of the three avenues by which the power of creation can be realized by Kagutsuchi, and thus his spirit becomes part of a the three prongs of this game’s version of Law: a contest of visions by which to realize perfect order instead of chaotic freedom.
If there is a real Chaos ending, it is in the Maniax version of the game, which introduces the True Demon ending. This path requires the player to collect the Candelabra from powerful demons of death known as Fiends, make their way through the Amala Labyrinth, and go all the way to the end to meet Lucifer. Once this is done, all other endings become inaccessible and, after defeating Kagutsuchi, you face Lucifer as the real final boss, who seeks to test your strength as his new general, and from then on you and Lucifer, after stopping the cycle of death and rebirth in this world, march on with demon armies to begin the war against God. This fundamentally changes the dynamic set out in the original version of the game. In the original version of the game, there is no real Law and Chaos dynamic, just three Reasons and two Neutral paths. Now, all of the Reasons can conceivably be counted as Law endings insofar as they ultimately conform to the designs of The Great Will, the Freedom and Demon endings remain Neutral, and the True Demon ending is a Chaos ending in the sense that it actively sets out to make war with The Great Will, and ultimately God, in concious alignment with Lucifer.
The Gaians do make an appearance in this game’s story, though the role of the organization itself seems to be more in the background than anything active. They are mentioned early on in the game and appear to be responsible for multiple murders before the beginning of the game’s story, but after the Conception they disappear from the story entirely. One interesting tidbit about Gaian doctrine presented in the Amala Labyrinth is that the Gaians liked to bring together all sorts of doctrines out of a belief that the truth can be discovered from chaos, which no doubt was represented by a free flow of ideas that took place within their syncretism. Hikawa, one of the main characters, was a member of the Cult of Gaia, but his actual ideology doesn’t seem to resemble anything the Gaians advocated for, and is often seen as closer to the Law alignment than anything else. With the release of the Maniax edition, we see some additional information concerning Hikawa and the Gaians. Considered heretical even within the cult itself, Hikawa took the Miroku Scripture from them and began planning to betray them in order to create his own world of silence. To that end he started summoning demons everywhere, whom he had murder not only Gaians but also the Messians, basically anyone who stood in his way. Meanwhile, the souls of both Gaians and Messians reappear in the Amala Labyrinth, much like in Shin Megami Tensei II when they appeared in Makai. There, the Gaians tend to espouse much the same things they did in the first two games, about how they tend to advocate for harmony with nature and the demons. Both the Gaians and the Messians had wanted to stop Hikawa from triggering the Conception, no doubt motivated at least partially by the fact that this would mean the deaths of nearly all of humanity including themselves.
But of course, the True Demon Ending has little to do with these old themes associated with the Gaians. The True Demon Ending is a fundamentally anti-cosmic position. Whereas other Chaos alignments sometimes bill themselves as restorers of the true order of nature, the True Demon Path is based around the idea of destroying the cosmic order, indeed the cosmos itself. The rationale for this is that the universe, or rather multiverse, is constantly created, destroyed, and recreated by The Great Will, again and again until a perfect universe is created. Thus life is constantly destroyed by The Great Will, and the only way to stop this is to destroy the cycle of death and rebirth in the multiverse, which means to destroy the creation of The Great Will. The rammifications of this ending are far more severe than almost any of the other endings due to the fact that you’re destroying the universe, but even here, it is possible to argue this as an extreme expression of the Chaotic pursuit of freedom even at the expense of the collapse of the cosmic order itself. In a cosmos where you are destined to be nothing but a constant pawn of an endless cycle of death and rebirth, initiated by a God who will keep doing this until he creates his utopia off the back of the countless dead, it could be said that the only liberation available is to take the fight against creation itself. What happens afterwards is an open question. Will defeating God lead to the altering of creation itself, a new form for creation no longer dictated by the pursuit of perfect order? It can only be speculated, although it seems that in this path even a world of might makes right seems to be preluded, since you reject the Reason that already represents this idea and there is no talk of it in the True Demon path. What is most important for the True Demon path is that, at least for Lucifer’s forces, it represents revolution against the Absolute, as well as the ultimate and most extreme rejection of fate and of doubt towards the Absolute. The Lady in Black accompanying Lucifer asks the player if they would prefer to be predestined by God or if they would rather choose their own path. That is what defines the True Demon path at the end of it, and that is what it means to embrace Chaos.
The last thing we should note is that, according to Kazuma Kaneko himself, the world of the third game has Chaos as the dominant theme, in contrast to the second game being dominated by Law. The traditional aesthetic of Law and Chaos is on display with this orientation, with the world of Nocturne positively festooned with vibrant edifices of Japanese culture and character. There are a fair few links to Buddhism in the plot as well. The Gaians, before the events of the game, possess something called the Miroku Scripture. Miroku no doubt refers to Miroku Bosatsu, the Japanese name for Maitreya Boddhisattva, the future Buddha according to Buddhist eschatology who will appear when the Buddhist dharma is completely forgotten in order to teach “pure” dharma to the world.. The text of the Scriptue also makes references to Buddhist concepts such as Sangai (the three worlds), Taizo (the Womb Realm, which is used to refer to The Conception), and Daihi (the compassion of the bodhisattvas). The Vortex World is conceived as the Womb Realm, which is conceived as a place in which the creation of the new law of a new world will take place. The True Demon path also could be seen to have Buddhist contours in a somewhat extreme sense. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to emancipate yourself from the endless cycle of suffering in reincarnation, of death and rebirth, through the realization of anatma and the attainment of nirvana. Some more extreme interpretations of Buddhism can posit that the only way to liberate all beings from suffering is to destroy the universe itself. The outcome of the True Demon path definitely fits this description.
Ironically, however, for a world so defined by Chaos, the being at the center of it is Kagutsuchi, an avatar of the Great Will. He gathers up the last human survivors for the sole purpose of determining who will create a new world, in the hopes of this time creating a world of perfect order. Thus, his enterprise is Law. Though, could it also be said that the selection process for this is a contest of strength that might otherwise be associated with Chaos? But then even that contest seems to being directed towards what is ultimately the aim of Law, the realization of perfect order by the Great Will. And yet, the Vortex World as a state of primordial chaos in which creation takes place does seem to fit well with the idea of Chaos in some ways. Remember that, in the first game, if you’re Chaos-aligned in the Kongokai dungeon and encounter the Chaos Phantom, he will praise you and beckon you to walk the path of Chaos, “from which everything is born”. Chaos is primeval and timeless potentiality itself, the germ from and within which creation emerges, and the Vortex World reflects this. Also reflected in the Chaos emphasis is the quest of the Amala Labyrinth. Lucifer, as Kaneko said, is the idol of chaos who seeks to establish free will, and for better or for worse that is his purpose in this game: to establish free will will out from the primordial chaos, by waging war with the Great Will.
Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon (2008)
One of the few spin-off games mentioned here, Devil Summoner 2 (or should that be Raidou Kuzunoha 2?) has a rather scaled down but noticeable Law and Chaos dynamic. It has no little impact on gameplay, but it does have a presence in the game’s story, however small that may be. The basic premise of the game is that Raidou Kuzunoha, a Taisho-era occult detective, is investigating a series of strange misfortunes involving some equally strange people wearing masks, which leads him to the discovery of the Tento Lords, who terrorize a village and make the human inhabitants their subjects, as well as the Mushibito, who oppose the Tento Lords and their contempt for humans and instead follow the visions of “Lord Bellzeboo”.
Here, Law and Chaos are less definite ideologies and more about individual ethos, in the sense of how you live your life. In this sense, the Chaos-aligned Raidou is a person who lives his life mostly for himself and who does what he does out of his own principles, his actions are based on who he really is and not just based on his duties as Raidou Kuzunoha. It is not so much an ideology as much as general individualistic way of life, and not necessarily in a bad way. The Chaos-aligned Raidou is, in this sense, not motivated by any sense of duty towards the Yatagarasu organization, but is instead motivated by his own principles and desires, and simply utilizes the resources of the Yatagarasu to do what he really wants to do.
The Gaians make no appearance at all in this game’s story. Instead, the Chaos alignment is largely represented by Dahn Tsukigata. Dahn is an impulsive young man who despises the Tento Lords. His ambition seems to be to become the Insect King, or King Abaddon (hence the title of the game), in the hopes that it would enable him to free his village from having to rely on the Tento Lords. To that end he stole the Luck Locust from his own clan in order to gain the power to become King Abaddon and save his sister, Akane. This invites the risk of summoning dangerous monsters known as Apollyons, but the risk in his mind is worth it. Dahn is a man who is willing to take any risk and defy authority in order to do what he thinks is right, which in this case means interrupting the Marriage Ritual in which women are selected as “brides” (sacrifices) for the Tento Lords, and thus he embodies this game’s Chaos ethos succcinctly. By contrast, Dahn’s opposite is Akane, his sister, who is willing to accept being a sacrificial lamb for her community if it means sparing them from the wrath of the Tento Lords. Louis Cypher (Lucifer) also appears in the game and plays a major role in the story.
Louis Cypher appears as a blond young man as he does in so many other games, hanging around the Tamonten Shrine, but he also appears as “Lord Bellzeboo” (another name for Beelzebub), who appears to the Mushibto as a fly and imparts prophecy and instructions to them. It seems Louis Cypher is also the one who revealed that only King Abaddon can defeat the Tento Lords, and is thus the inspiration for Dahn’s ambition. In the New Game Plus playthrough, after aligning with Chaos, Lucifer also appears as the boss of a series of side quests where he tests your strength in order to see if you are capable of changing the future, by which he means the future as determined by God. Essentially, Lucifer’s interest in Raidou consists in his belief that Raidou will be strong enough to serve as the catalyst for wresting the power of fate away from God’s control, and make it so that God is no longer the author of human destiny. As a side-note, even though Satan and Lucifer are typically treated as separate entities in the SMT series, if you have Lucifer in your party and initiate conversations between him and some enemy angels, they refer to him as Satan (though for some reason they’re all rather polite to him otherwise).
Incidentally, speaking of SMT call-backs, although the Gaians are not in this game, the Asura Lord makes his return in a side-quest where we find that theme of the ancient gods being oppressed by YHVH also returns. Here, Raidou must go to the Akarana Corridor to get to an alternative space-time where Asura, who describes himself as the sun divinity and “the eternal warmonger”, is getting ready to lead the forces of Chaos against God. The Asura Lord once again says that he was once Ahura Mazda, but he calls himself Dainichi Nyorai, which is not his true form. After you defeat Asura, you can choose to either allow him to go and fight alongside the forces of Chaos or insist that he return to his role as Dainichi Nyorai. The former, naturally, is a Chaos choice, while the latter is a Law choice, and there is no middle ground.
The Chaos ending for this game sees you join forces with Dahn for the final stretch of the game. After the defeat of Shinado, who assumed the mantle of King Abaddon, and after the resulting disappearance of the Abyss brought forth as a result of Dahn’s reckless actions, Dahn sets out to leave the Tsukigata village to the villagers and go on a journey with the Mushibito to help them find a place where they can live in peace. In a certain sense this echoes the Chaos ending in the second game, in which the mutants, having been liberated, can now go and live in peace after seeing the sun. Indeed, Chaos overall in this game actually seems far more straightforwardly heroic than even in Shin Megami Tensei II. The basic substance is defying duty and tradition in order to try and save someone from being sacrificed to a clan of deities who hate humans. It’s also worth noting that, after Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, this is one of the first SMT games that allowed American audiences to choose between Law and Chaos in the proper and classical sense. A GameSpite article titled Shin Megami Tensei: Law Chaos and American Way, written by Cole Lastie in 2010, noted that while Japanese players believed the central plot choice to be a difficult one, cutting into a cultural dillemma between individual suffering and putting the needs of society above your own, American players easily identified with Dahn’s desire to stop the Marriage Ritual, because there usually is no dillemma between individual suffering and putting the needs of the group above your own in the collective American psyche. As a generic ethos of freedom over authority, Chaos tends to resonate with American attitudes.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (2009)
Originally intended to be the official fourth game in the series, Strange Journey positions the Law and Chaos dynamic in the context of a radically different plot scenario to previous and future games. In this game, instead of being a lone young demon summoner changing the fate of Tokyo with just yourself and your demons, you’re a soldier wearing a demon-summoning suit (or DEMONICA), part of a whole crew of men and women sent to investigate a mysterious place called the Schwarzvelt that appeared over Antarctica. The Schwarzvelt seems to be a collection of alternate dimensions inhabited by demons, and through which demons seem to be pouring out and into Earth. Its emergence seems to be linked to the destructive behaviour of humans towards the natural world, and in particular to a zenith of accelerated consumption, violence, pollution, and general decadence. Basically, demons are invading the world in response to mankind destroying the world. The assumed premise of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team is to reach the end of the Schwarzvelt in order to destroy it, but the Law and Chaos endings, rather than this, involve the player joining with the forces of either alignment to use the Schwarzvelt to create a new world with the power of the Cosmic Eggs.
The Chaos alignment, in this context, represents not only the usual ethos of freedom against order, but the restoration of the world, to a natural order free from the control of God and characterized by harmony with nature and the demons, or “the ancient gods”, with no hierarchy other than the familiar “might makes right” form of social organization found in the first game. In this game in particular it also seems to come down to sympathy for the demons in relation to the question of the role of the Schwarzvelt and its connection to the destruction of the world to which it responds. In simple terms this tends to mean that Chaos-aligned choices involve agreeing with the demons when they say that they’re here to save the world. This is in opposition to being strictly pro-human and anti-demon as is the case for Neutral choices, or to declaring that both humans and demons are wrong as is the case for Law-aligned choices. In Sector Horologium you may find Ongyo-Ki who summarizes the perspective of the demons: he views the angels as nothing to fear because they cannot do anything but listen to commands from on high, and views humans as incoherent creatures who ruin the world while blaming someone else for it.
The demonic lords of each sector of the Schwarzvelt, who constitute the main bosses of the game, tend to echo aspects of this game’s version of the Chaos alignment, and when they question the player, answering in agreement with them pushes you towards the Chaos alignment. Morax, the Goetic demon presiding over Sector Antlia, tries to get the player to agree with him that the demons he sends to the Earth are “the real heroes”, due to humanity’s atrocities. When he later reincarnates as Moloch, he again boasts of the greatness of demons in his crusade for revenge over his previous battle. Mitra, the god presiding over Sector Bootes, talks about how humans originally worshipped the demons out of fear and the desire for supernatural protection, and lamented that humans have grown to “eat the planet into ruin, as though you owned it”. When Mitra reincarnates as Mithras, he proclaims that demons were not made to serve humans and that instead they should rule humans, and if the player objects, Mithras says that it is humans who have “desecrated the bond”, by which he means forgetting the gods and losing harmony with the land and the rivers. Horkos, the gluttonous ruler of Sector Carina, lambasts humans for producing things until they become unmanageable, forgetting their “debt to the earth”, and disrupting the rhythm of the planet by joining the ranks of the consumed, viewing humans as less than beasts and mocking them for thinking they can control their rampant consumerism. When he reincarnates as Orcus, he complains about humans “drowning in civilization” and enjoying themselves too much, unable to accept death in the way that their ancestors did due to hedonism. Asura, the ruler of Sector Delphinus, lectures humans about how the Schwarzvelt was brought about by the humans themselves, blames the coveting of material goods, disregard for the planet, and the apparent weakening of the human spirit, by which he means its lack of Social Darwinism of course, while mocking order as comfort for the weak and chaos (meaning of course endless strife) as a source of beauty and strength, indeed he blames civilization itself for the decay of humans and Earth. When he reincarnates (inexplicably) as the goddess Asherah, she describes humans as “defilers of soil and destroyers of lives” and proclaims that demons as well as humans who “carry that noble seed within them” (presumably referring to Chaos-aligned humans) are needed to restore the Earth and the power of the land. Ouroboros (a.k.a. Ouroboros Maia), the serpent ruler of Sector Eridanus, refers to the Schwarzvelt as “the holy realm of the gods” and upon defeat laments of humans passing through it. Tiamat, the ruler of Sector Fornax, proclaims that she will give birth to an orchard of demons for as long as humans keep destroying the planet. Maya, the ruler of Sector Grus, complains that humans bring nothing but destruction and cannot build a beautiful future. Mem Aleph, the great mother goddess of Sector Horologium and also the final boss on most paths of the game, presents herself as the voice and protector of the Earth and laments humans for losing co-existence with the gods.
Here, it is established that the demons of the Schwarzvelt view themselves as a kind of antibody, the virus to which it responds being a type of civilizational decadence that results in environmental and societal destruction. A major conceit of the Chaos alignment from the first game is the idea of harmony with the ancient gods in a state of freedom. This game’s version of Chaos more or less elevates that conceit while emphasizing the Social Darwinism of the previous game and adding a great deal of misanthropy on the part of the demons. The idea the demons have of killing humans in order to save the environment is in many ways the most extreme and negative representation Chaos gets in the series as a whole and is reminiscent of the ideas of people like David Foreman and Pentti Linkola, proponents of “deep ecology” who interpret the idea that all living beings have worth regardless of utility to humans as entailing the mass death of humans being justified in order to protect the earth.
Once again, the Gaians don’t appear anywhere in the game, but then what would they be doing hanging around in the Schwarzvelt anyway. The main representative of the Chaos alignment in this game is a man named Jimenez, an American mercenary who is a member of the Strike Team on board the Red Sprite ship. He’s frank, pessimistic, cynical, prone to acting independently, and he constantly talks back to other crew members and even makes cruel jokes at their expense. One can see this attitude being problematic for team effort, but you can also sympathize with him in many respects. A notable trait of Jimenez’s that will metastasize later in the game is that while Jimenez has a difficult time getting along with most of his human crew members (except, at least potentially, for the protagonist of course), and he tends to mistrust the angels that later appear in the Schwarzvelt, he gets along with a demon named Bugaboo so well that he even frequently lets him accompany him outside of the Demon Summoning Program, which often gets him into trouble with the rest of the crew. Eventually, after getting captured by the mercenary unit called Jack’s Squad during a botched espionage mission, he fuses with Bugaboo in order to save the demon’s life and escape from torture. Just like the Chaos Hero in the first game, he becomes more than human, stronger than ever before, but this also means he loses some of his humanity and takes on some dangerous traits. Immediately after escaping he slaughters many of Captain Jack’s crew, kills Jack himself, and would certainly have killed his second-in-command Ryan, even as he pled for mercy, if not for Zelenin’s intervention. Afterwards, though, Jimenez can potentially take revenge on Jack’s Squad and finish them off for good. Ryan at some point takes over Jack’s Squad and announces plans to get revenge on the Red Sprite, but Zelenin pacifies them with her angelic song. For the demons in Grus, however, this is not enough, and they offer passage to Grus’ underbelly if they just kill the rest of Jack’s Squad. Agreeing to the demons’ request pushes you towards the Chaos alignment, while refusing their request and having Zelenin help you instead pushes you towards the Law alignment. Killing Jack’s Squad is justified by the demons on the simple grounds that they killed, imprisoned, and exploited them previously, and would rather they die than become agents of God against them.
Certain side-quests, or EX Missions, also give windows into the Chaos worldview. In Sector Eridanus, you see the Four Devas (or Four Heavenly Kings) – Zouchouten, Koumokuten, Jikokuten, and Bishamonten – say they have come in response to “the restoration of a world full of energy”, and offer to train you if you want some of that energy for yourself. You can fight three of them on all paths, but Bishamonten can only be fought on the Chaos path. A New Game Plus Ex Mission in Sector Grus has the player fighting Alilat, a goddess trying to stop the unsealing of the Demiurge, the false god of “Gnosticism”, proclaiming the revival of “the goddess-worshipping world” he once trampled upon her defeat. Another EX Mission has the player fighting the Demiurge, who is also the hardest boss in the game. Upon defeating Demiurge, the angel Metatron will try to fuse with him in order to regain some lost power, but the voice of a goddess will implore the player to switch off his Demonica visor so she can seal the two entities. Heeding her request will result in the Demiurge and Metatron being cut off from the Schwarzvelt, and the goddess thanks you for helping her seal the Demiurge away, stating that all will be purified in the end. This goddess previously warns the player not to go on before the fight with Demiurge. This is part of a broad conflict with the goddesses, who represent the will of the Earth, and the forces of God who sought to control it.
The major alignment lock comes after the defeat of Maya in Sector Grus, where Arthur, the Red Sprite’s AI, is temporarily shut down by a seemingly unknown power, and the crew see visions of the Three Wise Men on one hand, and Louisa Ferre (this game’s version of Louis Cypher, and thus Lucifer) on the other. This ends up dividing the crew of the Red Sprite into separate camps; those who were taken in by the Three Wise Men followed Zelenin (a scientist who later becomes an angelic being) and the angels on one side, those who embraced the vision of Louisa Ferre followed Jimenez and the “ancient gods” on the other side, while a third faction of the crew tries to preserve the original mission of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team and refuses to follow either side. Louisa Ferre retorts to the Three Wise Men, proclaiming their world as a deathly world where nothing is born and nothing dies, and proclaims that the real solution is for humans to “return to their souls’ origin”, by letting the Schwarzvelt loose in order to restore the harmony of humans with nature, as opposed to living fat off the land and alienated from nature, living in a kind of anarchy with “free gods” in a world of strife-filled freedom, where the “depraved” are ultimately cast off for their weakness and fear of death. In practice this essentially just means a state of constant violence presided over by demons, which can be inferred through the way Asura talks about “polishing” the spirits of humans after making the crew of the Red Sprite go berserk. Jimenez is taken in by Louisa’s vision, describing it as a free life where “if you die it’s your own fault”, and decides to leave the Red Sprite in order to go off into the Schwarzvelt and live with the demons. A few of the crew become swayed by Jimenez in turn, expressing a newfound desire to reclaim lost freedom by turning toward the gods of old. After this, the crew arrives at Sector Horologium, and Commander Gore, who died early on and was previously resurrected by the Mothers, regains his former consciousness and returns to the crew of the Red Sprite. This is where the final alignment choice takes place. If the player is Neutral, he poses two questions to you, one where he asks if you will side with the angels, and one where he asks if you will side with the demons, and saying no to both ensures that you are Neutral. If you are already either Law or Chaos aligned, however, you will be forced to fight Gore without being posed any questions and be locked onto either alignment.
If the player is Chaos-aligned, Gore proclaims that the demons have devoured your soul leaving nothing but a body yearning for freedom, thus he resolves to defeat you as a demon wearing the uniform of the Investigative Team. After defeating Gore, Jimenez returns to the Red Sprite with an army of demons to take it over, proclaiming that he will take back freedom for both humans and demons, and proceeding to “baptise” them in the name of the demon mothers, by which of course he means have some demonic presences take over the minds of the crew except for the protagonist. After the takeover of the Red Sprite, Jimenez and the protagonist meet and pledge their loyalty to Mem Aleph, who congratulates the party for choosing “a world of freedom” and instructs them to collect the Cosmic Eggs that will allow them to rebuild the world. Once this is accomplished, she congratulates the party on their pledge that they and the demons will live in harmony, describing both humans and demons as opposite sides of a mirror, and gives them their final order to go to the Vanishing Point to release the Cosmic Eggs into the world. The Vanishing Point is guarded by Zelenin, who has transformed into a great pillar angel and tries to stop you, but you defeat her, and begin creating the world of Chaos. Energy from the Schwarzvelt pours over the Earth, human civilization is destroyed, and demons become the new rulers of a “world of life”, regaining their forms as gods of freedom, power, and “hope”. Humans establish harmony with demons, with “the ancient gods” as it were, but it is a brutal world, governed by the principle of might makes right; only the strong, “those whose own strength blazes brightly”, may live in the new world, and the weak are left to die. Ironically though, for a “world of freedom”, if you look closely at the artwork for that world you might see what appears to be a huge fence, possible with a view to keeping humans in a massive enclosure while they kill each other for the gods of old. After the Red Sprite crew becomes Chaos-aligned in the Chaos path, they come to the conclusion that fighting is all there is to the world, which is perhaps fitting for the world they’re about to create.
There is here a perplexing mix of the familiar tropes of bourgeois Western philosophy: namely the two views of human nature presented by the camps of Rousseau and Hobbes, which are normally opposed to each other. As per familiar and popular understanding, the Rousseau camp held that human nature was essentially good before being despoiled by the advent of civilization, and although Rousseau himself never coined or used the term “noble savage”, the term is applied to this concept of human nature, and similar thinkers invoked a primitve communist past defined in terms of this nature as a protest against the authoritarian rule of the monarchy and the church, while the Hobbes camp is typically portrays human nature in terms of inherent hostility and violence, though ironically Hobbes himself didn’t actually believe in human nature as such, and the Hobbesian view of pre-civilized life is described famously as “nasty, brutish, and short”. In this game, however, the Chaos view of original, pre-civilized human nature, mashes both the Rousseauan and Hobbesian camps of human nature together in a kind of synthesis. It takes the position of the Rousseau camp in that human nature was originally good before the advent of civilizational authority and censure, but this is actually filtered through the Hobbesian perspective of natural life as “nasty, brutish, and short”. In other words, for many of the Chaos demons, the state of the noble savage and the Hobbesian state of nature are the same thing, and human nature was originally good precisely because it was nasty and brutish, and the advent of civilization caused it to wane and become weak in its absolute submission to the law.
There is also, ultimately, an irony in the Chaos position as far as the problems of the world and humanity are concerned. In Sector Delphinus, you encounter the resurrected Commander Gore for the first time since his death early in the game, who at this time is on the side of the Mothers, and he bemoans humanity as a disease for its “joy in slaughter”, “addiction to desire”, “infinite consumption”, and “excretion beyond salvation”. Yet, the solution presented by some of the Chaos demons involves precisely the awakening of the joys of violence and the liberation of desire. Asura’s whole program for correcting what Gore describes is precisely in making humans more violent, and in the world of Chaos, most of what people do is engage in violence. How is this not the “joy in slaughter” that the Mothers, through Gore, complained about? And if “addiction to desire”, whatever that might mean, is such a problem for them, why is Mara, the literal embodiment of desire itself, retconned as one of the Mothers? Indeed, the mind-jacking that Jimenez does in the Chaos path is framed by Jimenez as essentially “freeing their madness”, and all it really amounts to heightening their taste for violence. How does the Mothers square that with their complaints about “joy in slaughter”, and how do they square any sort of liberation of desire with their complaints about “addiction to desire”?
All in all, Chaos in the context of Strange Journey can be seen as rather radically expanded. It represents not only the ethos of freedom and the generic alignment with demons, but its component of harmony with wild nature is very much elevated into a deep-seated, and unfortunately rather misanthropic, ideology built on the re-establishment of a sacred relationship between Man and the earth, albeit through a rather destructive method. But it cannot be overlooked that this game’s version of Chaos is also arguably the cruellest path in the game, and probably the cruellest form of Chaos in the entire series. Think about it: you spend the majority of the game fighting demonic lords who go on about how human civilization needs to be destroyed and taken over by demons, which in this game essentially entails demons spreading out into the Earth and killing untold numbers of people, only to betray your fellow crew, stop them from returning to Earth and doing great things with their loved ones, have your half-demon friend basically brainwash them into supporting your new cause, all to create a world where all humans do is kill each other under the oversight of “the ancient gods”. Far and away, the most grim take on Chaos found in the series. Of course, things take a different turn in the Redux version, but since the Redux version is several years apart from the original, this can wait.
Shin Megami Tensei IV (2013)
As the official fourth game in the serious, Shin Megami Tensei IV essentially recapitulates the Law and Chaos dynamic that has been in effect since the second game, with Law and Chaos defined and represented primarily by two opposing poles of the Judeo-Christian mythos, though also taking with it much of the tropes of the first game. Law is represented as the side of God, or more specifically his angels, while Chaos is represented as the side of Lucifer, and the various demonic adversaries of God, though Law is also a generic alignment denoting order, preservation, and everlasting peace at the expense of freedom, while Chaos is a generic alignment denoting freedom, change even through destruction, and the idea of a world where the strong can shape the world as they please.
Before we go any further we should note the setting. Most previous games have been set principally if not entirely within Tokyo, and this game is not much of an exception. The difference, however, is that unlike most games, this game is split between two main locations. The first is a place called the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, seemingly a kingdom in the vein of medieval Europe, though for some reason its main fighting force is referred to as Samurai (one would think that Knights would suffice for such a setting), and there’s an entrenched feudal class system split mainly between Casualries (peasants and labourers) and Luxurors (the nobles and aristocrats). The second is Tokyo, which is covered by a vast ceiling of rock, which is in reality the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and which is infested by demons and split between rivalling factions – the Ring of Gaea on one side, and the Ashura-kai on the other (for some reason the Messians are absent in this game). You play as Flynn (or more or less the character officially named Flynn), one of the Samurai of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado who descend to Tokyo as part of their mission to protect the kingdom from demons. You companions are Jonathan, the main representative of the Law alignment, Walter, his Chaos-aligned counterpart, Isabeau, the paragon of Neutrality, and for a brief period Navarre, who is arrogant towards the rest of the team and ultimately abandons the quest.
The contours of the Law and Chaos alignment are established very early on in the game, as the protagonist experiences dream sequences where he discovers his Law and Chaos-aligned comrades, not unlike the dream sequence in which the first game begins. The dream in which you see Walter features a city in ruins, with fire everywhere, it looks like a war zone. When you meet him in the dream, Walter tells you that he was fighting while waiting for you to meet him, and that you and him are going to create “a world where anything can be changed if you have the will”. This establishes Walter right away as the representative of the Chaos alignment, and his personality throughout the game only emphasizes this further. He is consistently a headstrong and brash personality who tends to dislike authority and following rules, especially dislikes constantly being given new orders by the Abbot, and has little regard for the status quo in general. This suits the more generic idea of Chaos as a way of life that we see in Devil Summoner 2. He also tends to the kind of person who believes that, when a person’s suffering is too much, it is best to simply end it, as the case was in the battle against Isaachar, who suffered in the course of his demonic transformation. As the early part of the game’s story continues, you see more dreams of Walter, of him beckoning you to change the world with him, and another where he tells you that the world is beyond salvation, invites you to “wipe the slate clean and create a new one together!”, and beckons you to “hurry to the underground”. There is also a noticeable class dynamic at play. Walter, like Flynn, is a Casualry, born into the lower class. All Samurai are Luxurors, meaning that those who become Samurai also become part of the Luxuror class and climb the social hierarchy, but Walter’s class identity remains with him, and he has little regard for the social norms of his Luxuror companions. When the Samurai descend into Tokyo, Walter has little trouble adjusting to life in Tokyo. In fact, in the manga for the game we see Walter swap his Samurai uniform for a leather outfit suited to a punk.
As the game progresses, you are presented with multiple plot junctures that push you in the direction of one alignment or another, and these are useful in establishing the contours of the Chaos alignment presented in this game. One example is a main story quest given by the Ashura-kai to hunt down a demon named Kuebiko, the god of agriculture (who, ironically, is a Neutral-aligned earth spirit). The Ashura-kai want Kuebiko to get out of Shinjuku, so they send you to go and kill it. However, once you actually meet Kuebiko, you have a choice to kill either Kuebiko or spare him. Killing Kuebiko pushes you towards Law while sparing him pushes you towards Chaos, the latter being a bigger alignment shift than the former. If you choose to spare Kuebiko instead of kill him, you disobey the Ashura-kai and have to fight a swarm of Harpies summoned by him. Kuebiko complains that he had lived in the land of Shinjuku long before humans ever did, and if you fight him, he laments that there was once no superiority or inferiority between humans and the earth. Here, a conceit that was elevated in Strange Journey returns in a somewhat more modest form. Kuebiko expresses the belief often found in the Chaos alignment that it is best to restore harmony with the earth, and the demons. It coincides with the anarchistic (or quasi-anarchistic, or indeed meta-anarchistic) tendency inherent in the Chaotic belief in freedom by pointing to non-hierarchical relationships with the natural world as ideal for humans and the world around them.
We also see a series of alignment questions in the Passage of Ethics, found beneath Tsukiji Hongwanji. The player goes through three forking pathways marked with three questions, each with only two answers, one pushing you towards Law and the other towards Chaos. You make your choice by taking either the door on the left or the door on the right. The left door invariably corresponds to the Chaos choice while the right door invariably corresponds to the Law choice, which in some ways corresponds to the Left Hand Path (for Chaos) and the Right Hand Path (for Law) within Western occultism. The first question places you as the ruler of a country gathering the population for a game, and one of the attendees is taller than all of the others. You are asked whether you would exclude the tall attendee for the sake of fairness, or include the tall attendee regardless of his height. Including the tall attendee in the game pushes you towards Chaos, and Walter remarks that a man can’t help being tall and thus the tall man would have to be accepted. The second question places you as the chief of a village that has lived the same way for 1,000 years until one day a man comes bringing revolutionary technology, which would improve the lives of the villagers at the cost of abandoning their continuous way of life. You are asked if you would expel the visitor to preserve your village’s way of life, or welcome the visitor in order to adopt his technological innovation. Without getting into exactly what technology we’re talking about, embracing the visitor pushes you towards Chaos and Walter remarks that if life for all the villagers would be improved then the risk of upending existing culture is necessary in pursuit of progress. The third and final question places you before the love of your life, lying in a hospital bed, alive but unconscious, with no visible hope of regaining consciousness and all efforts exhausted. You are whether you would stay beside this person and keep them alive despite no sign of recovery, or stop all treatment and let natural death take its course. Letting the person die pushes you towards Chaos, but it is such a difficult question that neither Walter nor Jonathan can decisively answer it.
Another small but not insignificant alignment moment is seen with the battle against Tenkai at Midtown. During the fight, Tenkai inquires about the ideals you possess and asks you what kind of Tokyo you want to see. The ideal Tokyo for the Chaos alignment is “a wild city of freedom”. Later, he asks you another question, this time he asks you what you plan to do once you learn the truth about the Ashura-kai. “Reform” it and “cause chaos”, or “sustain” it and “preserve order”? As strange a question as this must sound considering we are talking about a literal yakuza group, bearing in mind of course that in this game’s version of Tokyo they are the main force of order, it is clear enough that “reform it” is the Chaos-aligned choice, and Walter supports it on the grounds that, even if it causes chaos, a wrong must be addressed, “else we’re as good as corpses”. Between this and most of the questions in the Passage of Ethics we see another flank of Chaos when taken as a broad ethos or individual way of life, such as seen in Devil Summoner 2. That basic ethos is that changing to something better is more important than preserving what already exists, and that injustice and oppression can only be met with the willigness to radically overturn the status quo. Although the game words this as “reform”, it actually sounds rather revolutionary in tone, with Law as perhaps more “reformist” or simply conservative by comparison. Such a revolutionary attitude befits the broadly anarchistic tendency present in the Chaos alignment within various games. Chaos tends to see continuous tradition, authority, rules, and custom as potential obstacles to necessary reforms and progress which often have to be done away with.
Of course, we can hardly discuss the Chaos alignment without talking about the Cult of Gaia, or rather Ring of Gaea as is their new name in this game. The Gaians return in this game, beddecked in red Buddhist clothing and preaching an ideology of might makes right. They are mostly based within Ginza and their mainquarters is the nearby Tsukiji Hongwanji, a Buddhist temple that had been taken over by the Gaians. When you arrive at the inner sanctum of the temple you may notice a giant statue of a goddess resembling Mem Aleph from Strange Journey, suggesting that the “Gaia” they worship is in fact Mem Aleph. According to the art book for this game, the original idea for the Gaian headquarters was that they would dig out a cave to use as a temple, echoing the chthonic worship of gods like Pan in ancient Greece. Their main opponents within Tokyo are the Ashura-kai, a yakuza organization based in Roppongi Hills which controls most of Tokyo by offering protection to the humans in Tokyo and feeding many of the demons the Red Pills, a kind of foodstuff which ostensibly satisfies the demons enough that they won’t eat humans. The player first encounters the Gaians in Ikebukuro, while looking for the Black Samuari, where the Gaians struggle with the presence of Xi Wangmu (ironically a Chaos-aligned Lady), apparently a foreign demon who took over the region. During the fight with Xi Wangmu a Gaian named Kaga talks about how it is inevitable that the weak die and that, if she is weak, she will accept her fate of being eaten by Xi Wangmu, but also says that, if you want to live, you must struggle, give yourself over to your instincts and struggle with all your might, even if it leads to damnation. Walter is impressed by these words after the fight, and takes a liking to the people of Tokyo.
The Gaians certainly do wear their ideals on their sleeves in classical fashion. They typically emphasize strength as one of their primary values, even to the point that a Gaian blocking the way to Ginza praises you for your honesty if you tell him you’ve come to kill Yuriko, their leader, and considers his fight with you more of a test of your strength, and even after defeating him he offers to take you to Tsukiji Hongwanji to build your strength with the Gaians. At the temple the Gaians test the strength of potential applicants by having them go through an endurance test where they have to get through a demon-filled maze and get to the main temple while carrying a candle, and they have to get to the main temple without the candle going out. However, the Gaians in Ginza are not always consistent about this belief in strength as the main determinant of worth. In an optional part of Ginza, you can gain access to a shopping centre with expensive items. But rather than have to fight your way in as would be expected, you actually have to collect a series of entry cards, each more expensive than the last. First you get a Gold Card for 10,000 Macca (the main currency within the series), then you spend 50,000 more Macca to open up passage to a treasure chest containing the Platinum Card, then you pay a man 100,000 more Macca for him to give you a silver coin, and then finally you trade that silver coin for a Black Card. Certainly not what you’d expect of an ideology that places so much emphasis on strength.
The Gaians do still seem to have some belief in the power of the old gods, though they don’t talk about it as much as they talk about strength. In a New Game Plus playthrough, you can partake in multiple sidequests (or Challenge Quests as they’re called here) where you meet Minako, who was a member of the Ring of Gaea and who plans on reincarnating the goddess Ishtar, who she believes has the power to bring life back to the barren soil of Tokyo. This is rather obviously an echo of a side-quest in the second game, where the revival of Ishtar is desired in order to restore fertility to the land of Makai. Minako also seems to be a big believer in the idea that the demons currently prowling about Tokyo originated in the gods of Babylon. The first time you meet her, you see her trying to summon the demon lord Astaroth and summoning demons to fight the player. Her plan was to summon Astaroth so that he may serve as the “king” of the Ring of Gaea, and even though the player defeats Astaroth, she manages to capture Astaroth’s soul, through which she plans to revive Ishtar. The second time you meet Minako, in a Challenge Quest exclusive to the Chaos path, she tells about her plan to reincarnate Ishtar and asks you to defeat Asherah and Mother Harlot, and after you do she devours the souls of those demons before swallowing a Red Pill in order to become Ishtar herself (who, ironically, is a Law-aligned Megami), who nonetheless retains some of Minako’s mind.
One very strange detail about the Gaians comes from the Apocalypse version of the game, whose Notes describe the Ring of Gaea’s doctrine as built on “natural selection” while also adding that its members apparently confuse this to mean a “dog eat dog” philosophy, and that this was the work of Yuriko, who taught the Gaians to unleash their suppressed emotions upon the world to shape it as they see fit. It begs a lot of questions that neither the fourth game nor the Apocalypse version ever address at any point in the story. What does “natural selection” mean in this case, and what does it have to do with the findings of Charles Darwin? And if the “dog eat dog” angle is a misinterpretation, what is the correct interpretation? If Yuriko supposedly subverted the teachings of the Gaians, what were their “real” teachings? The answers to these questions are neither given nor explored.
All of this brings us to the leader of the Ring of Gaea, Yuriko, who is another of the main representatives of the Chaos alignment in the game. She first appears as the mysterious Black Samurai, who spreads certain books called “Literature” to the Casualries of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, who subsequently gather to discuss these books on occasions that they term “Sabbaths”. The choice of term is interesting in that, in view of the medieval setting established in the land of Mikado (in marked contrast to Tokyo of course), it invokes the trope of witchcraft, of the mythical Sabbaths held by so-called witches in which they supposedly gathering in congress with the Devil and in magical conspiracy against God and the Church. The “Literature” seems to give people “knowledge and wisdom”, inspiring people to question the class system of Mikado, and somehow occasionally turning people into demons. What’s funny, though, is that these books of “Literature” appear to consist of actual books written by real world Japanese authors, such as No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai and The Dancing Girl by Ogai Mori. No Longer Human is a novel written in 1948 about a man who struggles with alienation from society and eventually becomes insane, while The Dancing Girl is a short story first published in 1890 about a Japanese exchange student who has to choose between his career and a German dancing girl. Exactly how these particular books get them thinking about the nature of Mikado’s feudal society and its religious underpinnings, let alone trigger any kind of demonic transformation, is a total mystery. The only possible connection is that maybe Paradise Lost is “Literature” too, at least based on one NPC saying he wants to read it. Nonetheless, the Black Samurai serves as the witch of Mikado, spreading discontent and getting people to question society in the name of Lucifer. Casualries who read her books come to see their society as dominated by elites who establish practices convenient for themselves while depriving its underclass of knowledge and forcing them to labour for the upper class, and that really the Luxurors are unnecessary because it is the labour of the Casualries that upholds society. Here, Chaos gets an edge from anti-capitalist critique, borrowed from socialism, albeit within the context of feudal society rather than a capitalist one.
As the game progresses, you learn more about the Black Samurai and her goals. When you meet her in Tokyo, she tells you that Tokyo is a mirror image of Mikado before allowing herself to be arrested. During her execution, she tells the public that every vice in this world is always disguised as virtue, that Adam ate the apple because it was forbidden rather than because he desired it, that the apple has been set before all, and that, as those who read her books apparently discovered, the people of Mikado will find no love from God. She proclaims Mikado to be a distorted and biased kingdom, and that the Samurai visited Tokyo already know this, and that she will resurrect as many times as necessary to bring knowledge to the people. And sure enough, not long after her execution she is found to have resurrected and fled to Tokyo, and so the party is tasked with killing her in a mission of murder. Eventually, as you make your way through to Ginza and then Tsukiji Hongwanji, you discover the Black Samurai who reveals that her name is Yuriko, leader of the Ring of Gaea, and almost immediately afterwards, she further reveals that she is actually a demon named Lilith. This is actually just like in the first game where Lilith frequently took on the form of a woman named Yuriko. In any case, Lilith explains that the demonic transformations were apparently the result of the subjects of Mikado suppressing their desires, that humans and demons are the same in essence, and that, because of that, the hatred of humans should be reserved not for demons but instead the “absurd rules created to bend the ignorant to their will”. Her stated goal is to “restore the human world to its natural order”, which in her parlance seems to entail a society without rulers and where “the strong can shape the world as they please”. From her perspective, a world comprised only of natural freedom. Because this would potentially imply a great deal of freedom for Casualries and the removal of their Luxuror masters, Walter is naturally taken in by this vision, which results in the party becoming divided as Walter leaves after refusing to kill Lilith. Lilith tells the party to look into a facility run by Tayama beneath the ground in Roppongi, where she assures the party they will see what “true evil” is. The party soon discovers the Reverse Hills facility, in which humans are locked up and have their brains harvested in order to mass produce Red Pills for consumption by demons, and thereby discover the basis upon which Tayama claims his “utopia” of co-existence.
All of this builds up to what is arguably the main alignment split in the game’s story. After visiting Shene Duque, the holy land of Mikado, and meeting the Four Archangels who once again charge the party with killing the Black Samurai, Walter refuses to continue with the quest, deciding that both the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado and Tayama’s “utopia” are no better than each other, both being ruled by selfish dictators. He expresses his desire to change the world, and tells the party that he intends to go to Lilith after packing his things, inviting those who want to join him to come to the residence hall. Walter allows himself to consider the possibility that some harm may arise as a result of following Lilith, but believes that it is a risk worth taking in order to change the world away from its current state. Siding with Walter is the Chaos choice, and after agreeing to go with Walter you return to Tsukiji Hongwanji to meet Lilith again. There she tells you to go to Camp Ichigaya in order to take control of the Yamato Perpetual Reactor, a huge electricity generator that also has the power to open up portals to the Expanse, the realm of demons. Lilith’s plan is to use it to unleash demons into the world in order to destroy society and possibly cultivate humans strong enough to lead a new society without rulers, stating that, this time, humans will build their own paradise. After fighting your way through Tayama’s minions, including the “National Defence Divinities”, you reach the Yamato Perpetual Reactor. After all that, the party gets transported to two alternative dimensions in succession by a mysterious cabal of beings known as the White, who are trying to convince the protagonist to use the Yamato Perpetual Reactor to wipe out the universe. The first of these is Blasted Tokyo, which seems to represent the outcome of a previous hero having taken the Law path, and the second of these is Infernal Tokyo, which seems to represent the outcome of the same hero having taken the Chaos path, and the apparent intent of both scenarios is to show the protagonist the supposed futility of the struggle between order and freedom and the absence of hope for the human race more broadly.
25 years before the events of the game, a barrage of nuclear weapons was headed for Japan, much like in the first game, and a previous incarnation of the protagonist sacrificed himself to Masakado in order to preserve Tokyo by having Masakado create a firmament over the city with his back, thus preventing the nuclear warheads from hitting the city while also resulting in the creation of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. The alternate dimensions respresent scenarios that happen should the previous hero have taken a different path, and for our purpose we will focus on Infernal Tokyo, the Chaos outcome. This is the Tokyo that emerges after the previous incarnation of Flynn takes the side of a man named Kenji, who took the side of the demons upon learning of the angels’ schemes and defeated them, and thus is the Chaos Hero of that timeline. This somehow resulted in the birth of the Demonoids, humans who fused with demons and now feed off of the neurotransmitters of humans called Neurishers. It also meant humans being given a choice – become Demonoids (a risky process in itself that can sometimes turn you into some kind of foul abomination), or stay human and become Neurishers – and also the collapse of essentially all order in society, with gang warfare between tribes of demons or Demonoids being commonplace. There’s also fire everywhere, just like in those dreams where Walter appears at the beginning of the game. Those with power rule the world, the strong can do anything they want, and it’s a dog eat dog world out there as one demon says. Walter naturally takes a liking to this alternate Tokyo, apparently the “simplicity” of it is most attractive to him. Here you meet a Demonoid named Akira, whose ambition is to dethrone Kenji and become the new king of Infernal Tokyo. The violence that pervades the burning city is more or less just accepted as a regular occurrence of life, and this is essentially a consequence of the might makes right ideology that has been instituted by the forces of Chaos. Akira himself is not particularly strong, and throughout the entire sojourn in Infernal Tokyo he hides behind the Samurai rather than attempt any fighting of his own. Nonetheless, he basically, at least tacitly, accepts the might makes right worldview that permeates Infernal Tokyo.
However, Akira does seem to want some change to the world. Before the party makes their way to Kenji, Akira says that he wants to create a world where everyone is treated equally. A version of the Law theme from the first game plays in the background, indicating that Akira’s egalitarian beliefs are the influence of Law instead of Chaos, and that Akira may be wanting to turn a Chaotic world into a Lawful one, or at least push towards Law from Chaos to generate a Neutral outcome. Walter, of course, disapproves of this, finding it strange that the strong and the weak can be treated alike, while Jonathan praises his vision as a form of selflessness worthy of a true king. But however strange Walter finds Akira’s vision, and however much Jonathan praises it, Walter should ultimately find common cause with Akira’s desire to change the world, since ultimately all Walter ever wanted to do in the first place was change his own world, while Jonathan wanted nothing more than to preserve it as it is. And even though the game hints at the influence of Law, Akira’s vision certainly does not involve Lawful methods, since all Akira wants to do is change the world through the violent upheaval of the absolute ruler of Tokyo, all ultimately in accordance with the methods and tropes of Chaos. Walter says he wants to “change this rotten world”, but so does Akira.
Later, in a downloadable Challenge Quest, the player can return to Infernal Tokyo to find Akira struggling against a powerful being named Sanat, after having only just defeated Kenji. Akira explains that he tried his best to create a new kingdom of equality, but then Sanat showed up to take over Infernal Tokyo and spread destruction wherever he went. Too weak to fight Sanat himself, and faced with the wrath of his new subjects, he once again has the player do the fighting for him. When you meet Sanat at the Infernal Camp Ichigaya, he tells the player that it was he who “planted the seeds of chaos” on the planet, and is overjoyed to find that humans have evolved from apes into beings that apparently can hold their own against himself, thus he challenges “this 5th humanity” to prove its worth before him. He never seems to explain why he seems so intent on destroying Infernal Tokyo, but is very interested in drawing out the player’s power, even if it’s not clear why he needed to smash up the place in order to do it. The only other motivation he states is that he is intent on preparing humanity for “the true war”, by which he means the war against “the dispensation of the universe”. Exactly what he means by this is never explained or explored any further anywhere in the game. The only clue is that his Lawful counterpart, Ancient of Days, also talks about “the dispensation of the universe”, but is himself trying to carry it out, which entails the purging of humanity. So Sanat is ostensibly trying to save humanity by readying it for war against his rival, Ancient of Days, but the rest of the details are quite mysterious. Both demons apparently derive from one or more characters from Theosophy, but it’s not obvious what connection they have to the actual lore of Theosophy.
And now we come to the ultimate end-game representative of the Chaos path, Lucifer, just as he was in many previous games. As you travel through Tokyo you see a girl named Hikaru, who is “interested” in the party and shows up during a few plot points in the game, though she actually seems somewhat unimportant in practice. If you end up in the Chaos path, however, it’s revealed that Hikaru is yet another disguise for Lucifer. If you tell the White that instead of destroying the cosmos you plan to destroy the status quo, and don’t end up Neutral, you become locked into the Chaos path for the final stretch of the game. When you arrive in their Monochrome Forest, you once again meet Walter, who tells you that he made the same choice as you, though Jonathan is missing, presumably because he chose differently to both you and Walter. That’s when you meet Hikaru, who appears out of nowhere only to show her hand as the fallen angel Lucifer. Opening the gate to the Expanse has allowed Lucifer to appear once again, although for some reason not yet in his true form. After defeating the White, the Monochrome Forest disappears and you return to Camp Ichigaya, which seems to be under Lucifer’s control. Tayama is dead, demons are all over Tokyo, presumably the Ashura-kai is reduced to basically nothing, and the city of Tokyo is beyond control – a world where “the strong can shape it as they see fit”. Because the angels up in Mikado probably don’t like this state of affairs at all, Lucifer’s plan is for his forces to take down the angels before they invade Tokyo, and fuse with Walter in order to regain his true form in order to make that possible. Walter, after ruminating about his life story as a fisherman’s son turned Samurai, volunteers, and Lucifer is reborn.
Reborn, Lucifer declares that he will “demonstrate the laws of power” to Mikado, the “kingdom of deceit”, by which he means he and his demons will take over Mikado and overthrow its government. Isabeau opposes the player, accusing you of wanting to create an endless war of succession, and after moping about her own indecisiveness she fights you to the death, which comes ultimately at her own hands. As the player progresses through Purgatorium, the realm of the angels that now stands between you and the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and as you fight its angelic hordes, Lucifer remarks about the submission and repetitiveness of the angels, finding it rather disturbing. When fighting Merkabah, “God’s chariot”, Lucifer proclaims that he and his forces are animated by “the flames of life and passion”, as opposed to “the empty breath of God”. When Merkabah is defeated, Lucifer proclaims that no matter how loyal one is to God, God will never answer, and when you and him enter Mikado, he mocks its former king for instituting the worship of only one God. Looking down the rooftops, you and Lucifer see Mikado going up in flames, with Lucifer rejoicing the free will that was previously alien to Mikado, while also lamenting the chaos that, ironically, he and Walter sought after to begin with, and after all that talk from Walter and Lilith about opposing authority, Lucifer invites you to become the new king of Mikado.
If you fight Lucifer on the Law path, he chides you as being led astray by the angels (“God’s puppets” as he calls them), champions the free will of humanity, and proclaims that he will not give the world over to “order” (meaning the forces of Law), and towards the end of the fight he proclaims that he will not fall until he begets a universe full of knowledge and selfhood. If Lucifer is defeated on the Law path, you hear Walter’s voice, what’s left of him within Lucifer after his sacrifice, concede that your defeat of him makes you the stronger man, and therefore that this means you’re in the right, as is consistent with his belief that the strong can shape the world as they please. If you fight Lucifer on the Neutral path, Walter urges the player against fighting him, telling him that demons are the embodiment of humanity’s limitless desires and that Lucifer, as their king, is the desire of all humans. If Lucifer is defeated on the Neutral path, he warns that humans are not strong enough to live while repressing their desires, as representated by the demons, and that he will return when that time comes.
Between all of the talk about a world where the strong can shape it as they please, and all the talk about desire and its liberation, taken together we get an emergent picture of this game’s version of Chaos which seems to be rather unabashedly Satanic, in that it reminds us of LaVeyan Satanism in particular. In LaVeyan Satanism, the power of God is repudiated, there is a broad might makes right ideology in place, and one of its key ethical flanks is that the fulfillment of the ego and desire is what leads happiness and spiritual fulfillment (indeed, it’s probably the only religion that actually believes this). Indeed, there are only so few references to the other conceit of the Gaians and the Chaos forces concerning harmony with nature and the old gods, although the big statue of Mem Aleph indicates that the Gaians still have that idea in their actual worship and ideology, just that the idea plays a very minor role in the game’s story. Though, the nature aspect is sort of invoked by Lilith in her desire to “restore the natural order of humans”, which is meant to mean a world of freedom undirected by present structures of authority. The world of freedom granted by Chaos could indeed be said to be unburdened by the old structures of authority, but is certainly not without hierarchies, indeed these hierarchies are shown to be founded by the strong, who, ironically, come to be almost absolute rulers of their own (see Kenji, who is literally king of an alternate Tokyo), liberation from whom depends on you being strong enough to overthrow them. Such is ultimately a limitation imposed by the broad might makes right conceit that, in the early days of SMT, was mostly billed as simply a negative aspect, mostly a consequence, of what was billed mostly as a world dominated by individual freedom, and so the bowlderized anarchism of Chaos metastasizes into what we see today.
Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (2017)
The last entry for this post, the Redux edition of Strange Journey is notable in that in presents an altogether different take on Chaos through its New endings. These New endings are essentially alternate versions of the Law, Neutral, and Chaos endings that are made accessible by completing an optional dungeon known as the Womb of Grief and facing a new character named Alex. Alex is a daughter of Lucifer who by some unknown circumstance has a Demonica suit, with its own AI unit (called George), and who somehow travelled back in time to interfere with the mission of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team in order to stop the player from begetting a terrible future into which she is born. The exact content of that future depends on the alignment chosen by the player, but for our purposes, the focus will be on the Chaos alignment.
Being a remaster of Strange Journey, most of the Chaos path, like much of the game’s story as a whole, still plays out just as it did in the original game. That means, for instance, that Jimenez still invades the Red Sprite and mindjacks the crew just as he did in the original game. The change to the New Chaos ending occurs after beating every boss in the Womb of Grief dungeon, which unlocks the possibility of an alternate Chaos ending. On the Chaos path, just before meeting Mem Aleph for the final time in Sector Horologium, Alex reappears to fight you for one last time and confront you and Jimenez on what you’re about to do. Alex explains to you and Jimenez that she would have been slaughtered in their new future, and Jimenez initially dismisses her on the grounds that, to him, Alex only abandoned the new world because she was weak, even though she could only have survived by killing anyone who got in her way. Indeed, as George explains, in the Chaos world, Alex becomes the strongest person alive. Once Jimenez understands this, he begins to respect Alex and treat her actions as the result of getting bored with a world full of people too weak to stand up to her, her time travel motivated by the desire for a world with much stronger foes. But this proves to be a misunderstanding, as Alex explicitly states that she doesn’t want the world Jimenez would create. When Jimenez protests on the grounds that her strength meant she had the most freedom, Alex explains that she was alone rather than free, and George explains that, as a result of the brutal contest of might makes right, Alex emerged as the last remaining human. Alex further explains that, because strength is the only rule in the Chaos world, you have to prove your strength, often brutally, to everyone you come across, and because of this everyone is an enemy, and every encounter is a matter of life or death for one person or another, “either they die or you do!”. When Jimenez further mocks Alex and states that humans went extinct because they were weak and leaves it at that, Alex retorts by asking Jimenez if his companion Bugaboo should have died because he was weak. Bugaboo was not a particularly strong demon, either in the story or in gameplay (being a somewhat low-level Jirae demon), so saving him out of sentimental companionship would be seen as a contradiction of Jimenez’s might makes right ideology.
The turning point begins when Alex asks the player if Bugaboo should have died. If the player says no, this triggers feelings of sadness in Jimenez, owing to his sentimental relationship with Bugaboo, and forces him to admit his own hypocrisy and re-consider his ideals and change his idea of what the world of Chaos should look like. George beseeches Jimenez that he and Alex don’t want to deny the strength they seek, only to remember the compassion invoked by his relationship with Bugaboo, and Jimenez listens to this and understands. He concludes that, under Mem Aleph, the human race will be destroyed no matter what, consequently he rejects this outcome as a world where humans have no freedom, no future, and no possibilities for them, and admits that humans cannot live on strength alone. Therefore, Jimenez rejects his previous ambitions of a might makes right utopia in favour of a simple new world where humans can become anything they want, even if that means becoming demons. This new resolve naturally means that the course of events has changed to the point where the future in which Alex travels back in time no longer exists, and consequently Alex and George no longer exist in the present. Thus the New Chaos path begins.
When the party meets Mem Aleph in this path, she initially congratulates the party on completing their mission in gathering the Cosmic Eggs and proclaims that “this long age of conflict” will end with humans and demons agreeing to live side by side, just as she did in the original Chaos path. Most of the conversation plays out exactly as it did before until Jimenez says that the demons can’t have humans going extinct and tells Mem Aleph that there is something missing in her new world. Mem Aleph takes umbrage with being told that she is mistaken by one of her minions, but Jimenez points out that, despite Mem Aleph saying that humans and demons are opposite sides of the same mirror, she doesn’t care about humans in the slightest, further insisting that humans don’t need “strength”, but instead “possibility”. Mem Aleph is disapponted and retorts that humans must be made “beautiful” again, whatever that means, and that “possibility” “only breeds corruption”. Jimenez tries to reason with Mem Aleph, but debate becomes futile as Mem Aleph declares the time for words over, and Jimenez’s retaining of his humanity beyond the pale, and so it becomes it necessary to fight Mem Aleph.
Here the difference between the old and the new Chaos paths is characterized by the true nature of Mem Aleph’s designs for the world. It was clear enough to the player in the original game that Mem Aleph had no love for humanity, though siding with her on the Chaos path would have necessitated a certain deal of ambiguity on her part, that she might appear to love a newly Chaotic humanity. But the whole might makes right vision she and other demons put forward, far from liberating humans from their vices and limitations and far from a simple consequence of having too much freedom, was always just an effort to engineer the destruction of the human race, who she probably always hated. Indeed, such is her misanthropy that she forgets the interconnected nature of humans and demons, which is such a hallmark for Chaos ideology and the nature of the SMT universe that Lucifer knows it full, and expresses his concern for human and demon alike in the second game. However much any demons may despise humans, the demons as a whole would die out with the extinction of the human species.
After Mem Aleph’s defeat, the goddess Demeter seemingly laments that Jimenez and the party killed “your own mother” (her being the mother of demons) simply to create a new world, though is ultimately merely amused. After she steals the fruit that Alex gives you, Lucifer (Louise Ferre) appears and reveals that Demeter is a servant of the Three Spirits, in fact the Three Wise Men from the original game, who sought the Cosmic Eggs sealed by Mem Aleph in order gain the power to wipe out humanity in order to create a new world in the name of God. That fruit Alex gave you is a piece of the fifth Cosmic Egg, and the whole idea of going through the Womb of Grief was to collect all the other pieces of that Egg. After fighting Zelenin (this time the fight with her takes place after the fight with Mem Aleph), they eventually deal with the Three Spirits/Wise Men, who reveal themselves to be a being named Shekinah. They refer to the player and Jimenez as demons who should be purged and proclaim their desire to create a world without demons where all beings sing their praise. With Shekinah defeated, Jimenez and the player return to the Vanishing Point to create a world for both humans and demons. When this happens, the power of the Schwarzvelt covered the Earth and swept away human civilization just as it did in the original Chaos ending. In this new Chaos ending, however, there is no talk of constant violence and brute competitions of strength. Instead the demons act as guardians of a world constructed through the power of creation, with nothing restricting people from exploring possibilities. Again the demons set out to “purify” the Earth, which presumably means to rid it of the corruptions of the previous era and its previous incarnation of the human race. The new humanity is free to choose whether it wants to work together, to create, to take by force, or destroy, and make new and better sets of rules than the previous civilization, while the demons return to being gods and exerting divine influence in the world. It is still an unstable world, with no rules except for what humans create, and infinite possibilities coupled with infinite dangers, but humans and demons alike would live and co-exist in freedom, and new rules would be created as a result of co-operation, as much as conflict, and whatever new society results is dependent on that.
Noticeably, although perhaps not uniquely, there is no mention at all of might makes right in the new Chaos ending. This was abandoned with the realization of Jimenez’s compassion for Bugaboo, a weak demon who probably would have been left to die if Jimenez were at all consistent about the ethos of Social Darwinism. Instead what we see is a kind of anarchic state, absent of Social Darwinism, and pregnant instead with the possibility of cooperation just as much as struggle and war, indeed its return to the theme of harmony with nature through the demons as old gods contingent upon this sense of anarchic cooperation and co-existence. This co-existence, even in the original game, can be seen as an essential trait of the Chaotic stance, in sharp contrast to both the Law and Neutral paths in which the demons are simply annihilated or banished. Now, the main perceived disadvantage of Chaos isn’t to be found in the brutish nature of might makes right competition, but instead in the almost complete uncertainty of freedom. Humans and demons live together in freedom, there are no external restrictions on what they can do together, but that also means there is no guarantee of how their new world will look. But then again there was almost never any certainty in the Neutral paths throughout the series except that humans will re-establish their civilizational status quo, with no actual guarantee that humans won’t once again be dragged into the war between Law and Chaos. In the end, the price of true freedom has always been uncertainty, because that’s just what happens when there is no control over the fate of humans. The certainty that stands in antithesis to this condition requires the imposition of order, but even this is not enough because the only way to be truly certain of the outcome of human destiny is to destroy its freedom to manifest autonomously, and so dictatorship over human destiny is what provides full certainty that it will flow to the course of any given teleological desire.
Insofar as we take Chaos as an inclusive absolute, what can we establish about it across all the major SMT games in which there is a Law and Chaos dynamic? Chaos seems to have certain variances about it, which I suppose is befitting of the traditional concept of chaos as popularly understood. We see in Chaos the idea of freedom as a kind of metaphysical return to nature, expressed in harmony with the “ancient gods” (the demons, or the gods of Chaos), and sometimes taking the form of the return to a harsh state of nature, which is often but not always expressed as might makes right ideology. We see in Chaos the primary rejection of authority as represented by God and his angels. We see in Chaos the liberation of desire, which is also expressed through harmony with the demons. We see in Chaos a generalistic embrace of individual autonomy even if it means dealing with harsh consequences. We see in Nocturne’s form of Chaos an anti-cosmic variation of the pursuit of ultimate freedom in a cosmos dictated by a rutheless cycle of creation and destruction under a God who will not cease until he attains the perfect sinless cosmos, and we see in this same iteration the principle of the rejection of the Absolute and of fate. We the embrace of primordial potentiality, chaos, as the seat of creation and freedom. We see in Chaos the idea that real freedom comes with the price of uncertainty, even if it that uncertainty might indeed be dangerous. We see in Chaos a generalistic stance that change is not only a constant in life but also in its radical form necessary for the resolution of injustice; indeed, encompassing revolution as a motor for progress and liberty.
All of this also harks back to the way chaos is often understood in its familiar, popular, and often misguided context, but perhaps far more saliently in a deeper philosophical context that is often somewhat alien to this understanding. Chaos in this sense represents the condition of potentiality and dynamics characterised by the lack of a teleological guarantee of order, especially divine order. It represents a kind of primoridal state of freedom in this sense. Small wonder that this is expressed in terms of an anarchic state of nature whose realization, or rather return, the representatives of Chaos advocate for. Lucifer, as the series’ most frequent patron of the forces of Chaos, makes the most sense as its representative for reasons that are not limited only to the ideal of individual free will. Luciferian freedom stands as archetypal liberty, not limited to the vaunted privileges of the bourgeois Enlightenment but in its fullness denotes the natural freedom absent of the teleological will of God, or the historic kingdoms of progress. It can be thought of in this sense as a kind of spiritual anarchism, the rejection of cosmic authority on behalf of freedom. And, for however much individualism is attributed to Chaos, and there is an individualist sense of freedom present that cannot quite be extricated from the picture, but the presence of the demonic also serves as the Other to which Man is inexorably bound, as is the Nature with which Man is to restore harmony.
Such a concept is as liberating as it is dangerous and as novel as it is timeless, and it cannot be reduced to the ideology of might makes right, itself in practice simply a new way of ordering the herd around. Originally this aspect was portrayed mostly as a consequence of the emphasis on individual freedom, no doubt inspired by the classic argument against anarchism that if you abolish the state it will lead to endless violence and/or a competition of disorganized wills. In later games it metastasized into an ideology of its own, to the point that to take the Chaos path is to believe in a world where the strong thrive and rule over the weak without any limits. Yet throughout the series we see many conceptions of Chaos that have little to do with might makes right ideology, and if anything that concept seems to hamper Chaos to a significant extent. But, will the trajectory for Chaos across the series change? Does Strange Journey Redux set the tone for how future Chaos paths will look? Only time will tell.
This has been the first in a series of posts dealing with the ideological contours of the Shin Megami Tensei alignments, focusing on Chaos. The second post will focus on the Law alignment, and will be published soon.
I recently stumbled on a relatively old video from a man named Hans Wilhelm, claiming to explain what he calls “The Luciferian Doctrine”, which supposedly influences the world today. Hans Wilhelm is a German-American author known primarily for writing and illustrating books made for children, but he also seems to spend some time making videos as part of a series called “Life Explained”, which aim to communicate his views about life and “the spiritual laws of the universe” through what seems to be some sort of New Age spiritualist perspective. In this light, it is sensible to wonder just what Wilhelm means by “The Luciferian Doctrine”, and how does it “influence the world”, and does any of it have to do with actual Luciferianism?
But first, let’s get a better idea of Wilhelm’s overall worldview through his website for the Life Explained series. Wilhelm claims to offer a “cosmology” through his videos, based on “basic truth” drawn from “the leading spiritual paths of our time”, as well as a host of supposed spiritual benefits including “Freeing of the wheel of karma” (OK, already sounding like Hinduism or Buddhism here), “Understanding and mastering the universal laws” (whatever those are) and “Connecting with the Higher Powers” (whoever they are), alongside some fairly anodyne self-help goals of course. Apparently as a teenager he become obsessed with “Transcendental Meditation” and later in life he became influenced by the work of Edgar Cayce, the famous clairvoyant and quack, who inspired in him the belief in past lives (and the possibility to remember them of course) and the belief that Jesus taught reincarnation, before also absorbing the work of pop spirituality guru Byron Katie. After some time, Wilhelm came to believe more and more in “the beauty and perfection of the All-Intelligence of God” and “the ingenious and supreme simplicity of divinity”. So, all told, we are looking at a fairly standard New Age spiritualist, judging from some of his videos he may have some Theosophical leanings that are filtered through modern bourgeois self-help cliches.
Now, what is this “Luciferian Doctrine” that Wilhelm is talking about?
Wilhelm begins his video by taking us back in time to the 11th century, where, as he says, Europe was under the control of the Catholic Church which was busy sending Crusaders to recapture Jerusalem from Islamic forces. Wilhelm soon talks about how some of these Crusaders supposedly found themselves exposed to an array of mystical teachings derived from Jewish and Islamic mysticism and certain teachings from Egypt, Greece, and India, as well as alternative intepretations of stories from the Bible such as that of Adam and Eve. Supposedly these Crusaders were introduced to a teaching which said that Lucifer was not Satan or any sort of evil being but rather a deity who wanted to educate and save mankind, in fact the real God as opposed to Adonai who was the Devil who wanted to oppress mankind. Supposedly this was “the famous Luciferian Doctrine”. Already this sounds like it (in theory) could be referring to some sort of “Gnostic” doctrine but at the same time it definitely doesn’t seem to refer to any “Gnostic” teaching that ever existed in history. In fact, it actually sounds like it might be based on Leo Faxil’s false account of the Freemasons, who Taxil accused of worshipping Lucifer or the Devil as God and reviled Adonai as his adversary.
Wilhelm claims the Crusaders who supposedly discovered this teaching continued to discuss these ideas when they returned from the Holy Land, but did so in secrecy on the grounds that expounding these ideas in public would certainly to being prosecuted and persecuted by the authorities. Such conditions, he claims, led to the birth of the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, the various Masonic orders, and other secret societies dedicated to the promulgation of certain spiritual teachings, supposedly derived from many different occult doctrines, that were considered heretical by the church, and which he claims remained a secret until Helena Blavatsky released them to the public during the 19th century. Wilhelm claims that “the Luciferian Doctrine” was central to Blavatsky’s teachings, citing her apparent belief in The Secret Doctrine that Lucifer is the only god for our planet and the nomeclature of her magazine Lucifer. Of course, if Wilhelm bothered to check any part of The Secret Doctrine for that quotation, he might find that Blavatsky probably didn’t actually say that. For starters the quotation seems to come from the second volume, rather than the first as Wilhelm claimed. But more importantly, Blavatsky herself doesn’t actually say this, but appears to be describing some sort of mystical belief concerning Satan (not Lucifer as such) and his identification with Saturn and the Gnostic “Demiurge” as the ruler of evil matter, though also as but another aspect of God.
Wilhelm asserts that Blavatsky’s ideas comprised the beginning of what is now called the New Age movement, which he says believed that Lucifer would lead mankind to a new era of tolerance and peace. He brings up Rudolf Steiner and Alice Bailery, the former of whom was a former Theosophist who founded the Anthroposophical Society and the latter was herself a Theosophist, without ever establishing why they are Luciferians. For some reason he also discusses H G Wells, the famous English writer of War of the Worlds, for his book The New World Order in which he apparently advocated for an international scientifically-planned governmental world order in order to ensure world peace and the prevalence human rights. I’m sure there’s a lot to talk about in relation to such a vision, and many flaws to discuss about it, but I fail to see what is so “Luciferian” about this idea. He also brings up Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater and their attempts to groom Jiddu Krishnamurti into being the new saviour of the world, and ironically this is where we get into something that Wilhelm does not understand about Theosophy. For Theosophy, it is not Lucifer who is the central figure but rather Maitreya, the world saviour who incarnated as Jesus and who they believed was supposed to incarnate again as Krishnamurti (which indeed backfired when Krishamurti eventually denounced Theosophy in order of his own path). Wilhelm then further claims, without any evidence at all, that “the Lucfierian doctrine” is central to the higher degrees of “elite Masonic circles” as well as many modern New Age movements. There is no way to actually verify this, and in fact only one Freemason has ever identified himself as a Freemason, namely Carl William Hansen. The only other link is Albert Pike, and even then it’s not like Pike ever actually revered Lucifer. So far it seems like we are dealing in simply a repackaging of the same old baseless anti-Masonic conspiracy theories that were peddled largely by Catholic reactionaries who despised the Freemasons.
Halfway through the video, we get to Wilhelm discussing how this supposed “Luciferian doctrine” influences our lives, which I suppose is our best shot of actually understanding what, besides the whole Lucifer vs Adonai idea, Wilhelm thinks Luciferianism is. He states that worldly affairs are run by Lucifer and humans are spiritual beings, originally from “the spiritual world”, who incarnated on Earth for a short period of time in order to either clear up bad karma accrued from the past or to return to a higher spiritual state, possibly even their original spiritual state. If humans forget their spiritual origins or deny that they have past lives or life after death, then they become tempted to dedicate their lives to the accumulation of wealth, power, fame, and other material desires thus leading humans to fall for New Age gurus who promise material abundance. The purpose of humans, then, is develop “the kingdom within” rather than “the kingdom without”. For those who seek worldy riches, Lucifer is their god and spiritual orientation, because he is “the only god of our planet”, meaning the lord of this material world and its proclivities, and according to Wilhelm thus the ruler of many political, military, financial, and industrial leaders. At this point we have entered standard SRA/Illuminati/Elite devil worship conspiracy theory territory, the kind of familiar cloudcuckoolandery all too commonly peddled by all truly stupid individuals looking for a bogeyman for their woes.
According to Wilhelm, anyone who aligns with Lucifer to attain worldly desires enters into a bargain with him in which he becomes Lucifer’s servant after their death. According to him, “The Luciferian Doctrine” suggests that we humans are God, which he believes is a popular New Age doctrine, and which he states entails that we believe we can get away with anything and our accountable only for our own actions to ourselves. He states that this means that we can harm or kill someone and justifying it by saying it simply had to be done, ignoring the karma that it creates for our souls. And of course, Wilhelm believes that the evidence of the influence of “The Luciferian doctrine” is everywhere for all to see, supposedly it is found in all of the wars, terrorism, exploitation, suffering, and greed that occurs in the modern world. Basically, Wilhelm believes that all of the problems in the world today are caused by the influence of Luciferianism, or rather “The Luciferian Doctrine”, never mind of course that actual Luciferianism is a very marginal belief system not widely held by many and certainly not by the global elite. He also ascribes such things to the Ordo Ab Chao axiom (or “order from chaos”), which he claims is a product of Freemasonry and a way to justify any actions that bring about the “New World Order”. In reality the prhase Ordo Ab Chao does appear within Freemasonry, but as the motto of the 33rd degree, and probably doesn’t signify intentions to terrorize the planet but rather conveys a belief in the power to draw order from the chaos of their own lives. Certainly different from intentionally creating discord in order to insert yourself as its demiurge. This pablum about Freemasonry is, of course standard for the New World Order genre of wacky conspiracy theory, and like any variation of said theories it has to include the Georgia Guidestones (or “the American Stonehenge”), which supposedly lays out the goals of the “New World Order” for all to see.
OK, let’s review what we’ve got here. It was established that the material universe is controlled by Lucifer, and in this regard the role he plays in Wilhelm’s narrative is much the same as the Christian Devil (who, to be fair, was typically called Lucifer throughout the Middle Ages). Based on what we can gather from Wilhelm’s thoughts about spiritual incarnation and devotion to material desires being devotion to Lucifer, we can infer that Wilhelm’s idea of “The Luciferian Doctrine” entails the belief in worshipping Lucifer for the purpose of accruing material propserity and climbing through the ranks of elite power structures in order to fulfill all material desires and have power over the world, all by making a deal with Lucifer in which the outcome is to become his servant after you die. I fail to see the connection between this set of ideas and the doctrine that Wilhelm talked about earlier where Lucifer is the true God seeking liberate the spirit of humans from Adonai, who would presumably be the creator of the material world if we account for the idea that this is supposed to be a “Gnostic” doctrine (which in reality it isn’t). Not to mention, why would any of this talk about people who believe in Lucifer climbing through the ranks of elite power make sense when our whole business, the reason why we honour Lucifer to start with, is because Lucifer is the emblem of those who resist conformity and authority in the name of gnosis and liberty. Our existential stance on authority is that it is not inherently legitimate, only supported by necessity or the presence of an authentic community of free persons, and in many cases outside of that it is often arbitrary in basis. So going on about selling your soul to the highest stratum of human authority does not make sense for any authentic Luciferian doctrine to uphold.
Then there’s the point that “the Luciferian Doctrine” states that you are God. Michael W. Ford certainly emphasizes this but Carl William Hansen didn’t, Michael Howard didn’t, his successors don’t necessarily do it either, Madeline Montalban certainly didn’t, Eugen Grosche both did and did not adhere to it, and I believe Peter Grey’s whole worldview entails a certain enmeshing of the human within nature that necessarily procludes the kind of absolute individualism and absolute self-deification that is implied by the way Wilhelm puts it. Hell, even the people who talk about apotheosis don’t often take in too literal a context. There really isn’t a monolithic Luciferian stance on the whole “self-deification” issue. Indeed, Luciferianism can be a rather diverse movement, to the extent that you can quesiton if one can even speak of a monolithic “Luciferian Doctrine” the way that Wilhelm implies exists.
There is more to talk about in relation to Wilhelm’s assessment of the whole “you are God” trope. First of all, this is ultimately the logical conclusion of much of pantheism, even Christian pantheism, with the community of Christians having ultimately no God or idols except for itself, projected as the worship of a God that is the whole universe. Strictly speaking, Christianity has already passed through the point in history where anything could be justified in the name of God, such as the Crusades and the Inquisitions. In fact, a lot of the worst atrocities known to the planet are done under the proviso of “it just had to be done”, but not so much for pure self-interest, but because only a fantastical or utopian greater good can command such acts. Pure self-interest, though amoral in principle, ultimately cannot breed large-scale systematic atrocity and suffering. Only the ability to countenance such injustice can do that, and only the belief in a greater good that can wipe your conscience clean in the act, rather than the idea that this all for your own sake, can help a person maintain peace with themselves while they carry out genocide and some such. That’s why the genocideurs of the world appeal not to self-interest, but to God (as with religion), to the Nation (as with nationalism, fascism, or imperialism), to the historical dialectic (as with Marxism-Leninism and its Hegelian underpinnings), to any narrative capable not only of transcending individual self-interest, let alone conscience, but also of completely absorbing human life into a story of conquest. Secondly, I know I must sound glib but, putting aside that the individual does have responsibilities to others, what does it matter if the individual if the individual is accountable principally to himself? What is so immoral about the pursuit of self-suffiency in a moral and spiritual sense? How does it follow that it leads to the justification of atrocity, especially when the greatest of genocideurs seem to have considered themselves accountable not to themselves but to God, or to the race, or to the nation, or to history?
And as for karma, what is karma, really? It sounds like some simplistic notions of the individual getting what’s coming to him, but really it’s just a way of saying what you do in this life affects the fate in your next life – in other words, if you accrue bad karma in this life and die before you can replace it with enough good karma to make up for it , you will reap the consequences of the bad karma you had in your previous life when you reincarnate into the next one. That idea has been invoked in such instances as the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004, which some people believed was the result of bad karma accrued in previous lives. Tell me: if you died, what’s the point of having someone else be punished for your wrongdoings while you were alive? And if we follow the logic of reincarnation, in what sense are “you” still alive upon reincarnation? Consciousness presumably may reincarnate, but can we really assume that the same self passes on during reincarnation? If the self-agent that did the wrongs that accrued bad karma can no longer be said to exist, then the cosmos is just punishing innocent people for no rational reason. Karma, in this conception, is meaningless.
What I find funny about Wilhelm’s pablum about how Lucifer, as “the only god for our planet”, promotes New Age teachings is how nakedly hypocritical it is. Just looking at his channel and his website will tell you that Wilhelm himself is a New Age spiritualist not too different from all the rest. Looking at his channel we see videos talking about “raising energies”, holographic spiritual universes, humans being made out of “light ether”, past lives, vibrations, chakras, the “Law of Attraction”, “higher beings”, and other ideas broadly associated with the New Age movement, and if you remember the web page from earlier you’ll note that his influences consist of people within the New Age movement and the concept of God that he talks about certainly the God of Christianity or the Bible. So essentially Wilhelm is a New Age guy who for some reason sees fit to attack the very New Age movement that he is a part of. I must say, I’m not totally sure what to make of that.
The way the whole “Ordo ab Chao”, or “order out of chaos”, seems like typical anti-Masonic conspiracy memes that demonstrate a lack of understanding of both Masons and the idea of “order out of chaos”. Wilhelm claims that the “order from chaos” is a way for Masons to justify bringing about the New World Order, and this is clearly based off the idea that “order out of chaos” is code for causing disorder and “chaos” in order to justify a new order being built on top of it. For the Freemasons, this most certainly is not the intended meaning. And in fact, if we look at what Masons themselves say, you’ll find multiple meanings associated with it, but it seems likely that the term originated from a time of schism and internal conflict that emerged from the exposition of the Northern Rite in the USA as a fraud followed by the restoration of the Original Rite. But as to a deeper meaning outside of that, I am inclined to ask Wilhelm just where does he think order in an abstract sense comes from? Does he think that there was already a preset order to the cosmos before its own birth? Or for humans, does he think that human society was already a perfect order before the emergence of sentience and organized human society as we know it? No, order does indeed come from chaos, in this sense at least, and that’s not a way of saying “we’re going to destroy everything and make it anew”, it’s a way of acknowledging that order is an emergent phenomenon that grows outward from the primordial condition. I would say that many Luciferians such as myself do believe in that, but it’s got nothing to do with what Wilhelm is saying.
Finally, let’s get into the whole New World Order meme, or specifically the ideas set out in the Georgia Guidestones which supposedly spell out the “Luciferian” agenda. The Guidestones themselves are admittedly fairly mysterious: no one really knows who had them commissioned, who built them, or why. All we know is that the man who wanted them built intended them to be used as a compass and to withstand some kind of major catastrophe. There’s an explanatory tablet says “Let these be guidestones to an Age of Reason”, and maybe the intent behind the messages on those stones was to communicate some kind of outline for some kind of rationalistic utopian society, but this by itself doesn’t really indicate conspiracy. Ideas like that have been floating around in the 19th and early 20th century already, and not necessarily in a marginal sense. For all I know it could just be some man, with of course a fair bit of money, who wanted to convey what he thought the society of the future should look like. I can only guess that the anonymity comes down to the possibility that he would face censure for some of his views on population control, and considering that conspiracy theorists and conservatives really hinge on that point and the monuments ended up getting vandalized he may well have been right. But one thing we can be certain of is that the Guidestones don’t seem to have been made to replace the Ten Commandments, or at least there’s no reason to assume they were.
In any case, Wilhelm points to the first statement on the Guidestones, “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature”, claiming that this means that “many must die for the good of a few”. Even if we take this idea at face value, the logic of it does not entail “for the good of a few”, but rather for the good of the whole species, or the planet. After all, that’s what this sort of population control is usually reasoned for, isn’t it? In fact, if it’s as sinister as he suggests, then it proves my point about how it’s abstract greater goods, not mere self-interest, that result in atrocities that lead to millions of deaths, since mere individual self-interest is incapable of granting the peace of mind that can let an individual cope with such evil being committed. Wilhelm claims that the Guidestones also say that family planning must be controlled by the state in under to keep the number down, which it actually doesn’t. I mean, maybe you can infer that this would be necessary under the policy proposal, but that’s not what the Guidestones say. At any rate, though, what does this have to do with Luciferianism? What does a giant, utopian, rationalist state, capable of controlling population to a frankly unrealistic degree, have to do with what we Luciferians believe? I don’t believe in such projects, and I don’t think most Luciferians do either since they’re too libertarian to support such expansive projects. But more to the point, in the entire history of Luciferianism as a self-defined movement I don’t find these NWO ideas come up once. It’s just something that insane Christians and New Agers impose on us to make themselves feel righteous.
On the whole, it doesn’t seem like this “Luciferian Doctrine” has anything to do with what we Luciferians believe in. In fact, it actually seems to be derived not from Luciferianism but instead from a plethora of conspiracy theory books that all say the same thing. If you ever find yourself looking up the idea of Lucifer as the demiurge, you will find multiple conspiracy theorists talk about how the Freemasons supposed worship Lucifer as the demiurge, when in reality only one Mason, Carl William Hansen, ever did this in reality, and he was eventually expelled from multiple lodges for proselytizing to his fellow Freemasons – strange how a movement that supposedly worships Lucifer should see fit to expel someone for trying to spread the word of Lucifer. And seeing as this video is just replete with bog standard anti-Masonic tropes it’s pretty easy to see that Wilhelm is just echoing the same exact idea.
At the end of the video, Wilhelm rather slyly claims that his purpose is not to convince anyone of the existence of “the Luciferian doctrine”, which seems strange because one is then tempted to ask why even bother making that video in the first place. He cites two principal sources for his views, namely Armin Risi and Jan van Helsing, who are both reactionary conspiracy theorists. Van Helsing in particular appears to be an anti-semite who believes in a Jewish conspiracy run by the Rothchilds, and possibly even a plagiarist who steals ideas from other conspiracy theorists while claiming them as his own. Risi appears to be an opponent of Darwinian evolution in favour of the doctrine of “involution”, much like the quasi-fascist traditionalist Julius Evola, and in general appears to be promoted by far-right conspiracy theorists and esotericists, who themselves traffic in anti-semitism. At this point I’m not saying that Wilhelm is intentionally trafficking in the toxic tropes of the far-right, but I am certain that he knows about these authors, and if he does then he must already have some idea of who these authors are, and thus that they are affiliated with anti-semitic reaction. On the other hand, it could just be that he is simply stupid and falls hook line and sinker for these authors without knowing their motives. Mind you, it could be a generational thing. He seems old, and thus it’s possibly he is not as savvy as the younger generations, who no doubt will take only a couple of minutes to check the authors he listed and discover what they’re all about.
Lastly, let’s take a quick look at another video Wilhelm did on the subject of Lucifer, specifically the subject of the myth of Lucifer’s rebellion, which he considers to be not only a real and non-symbolic event that actually happened, but also the most single important event in human history. Wow, quite a high honour for our fallen angel. Anyways, for starters according to Wilhelm Lucifer was a female angel named Satana who lead a host of rebellious spirit beings who, at the beginning of creation, wanted to have their own creation separate from that of God (a.k.a. “the All Spirit” or “the Love Stream”), and she herself wanted to be just like God. This resulted in the creation of “dissonances” that “contimated” the multitude of planets and universes (I’m not even going to attempt to explain the full depth of his “theology” here), which apparently caused chaos in the spiritual universe and led to the “contaminated” elements being expelled into the material universe and become “Fall Beings” of “lower light”. These beings became separate from love and “unity-consciousness” because they wanted to “divide creation”, and were repelled by the spiritual universe in accordance with the “law of attraction”, and over time their spiritual light ended up condensing and crystallizing into what we now call matter. Wilhelm also states that every human that exists in the cosmos originally was one of those rebel spirits, thus we are all angels engaged in a kind of “self-imposed exile”, having left our home and succumbing to “the temptations of lower frequencies” and therefore choosing the “illusion” of the temporal material cosmos over the “reality” of our “eternal spiritual home”. But God has been waiting the whole time for us to “return” to that spiritual universe, which supposedly many humans are ready to do and that it’s only a matter of will if we do. Of course, Wilhelm seems to derive all this from a book entitled Cause and Development of All Illness: What the Person Sows, He Will Reap, and I can only infer from the title that the thesis is essentially that all disease and all illness are basically your fault.
Essentially, what we get out of this is that Satana/Lucifer and the beings who followed her/him, by rebelling against God, are directly responsible for the creation of the material universe. Thanks Satana/Lucifer, you’ve done us all a solid. From my perpsective, and I would say this would be an authentically Luciferian one, this event does not represent the corruption of creation, but instead the principle of individuation being established in nature by an act of creative rebellion or self-assertion. But of course, what is Satana/Lucifer rebelling against? God in Wilhelm’s parlance appears to just be an abstract “All Spirit” representing “unity-consciousness” and “the love stream”. What is that? It seems to be a rehashing of the old “Gnostic” doctrine of the fullness of Pleroma, a realm consisting entirely of “spirit”, or God’s light or some such. There never seems to be any reason within the “Gnostic” doctrines as to why living in this Pleroma state is such a good thing that to create matter was such a bad thing, and in Hans Wilhelm’s doctrine not much has changed except for being in the material cosmos makes you succumb to “lower frequencies” or some bullshit like that. So within this setting there was nothing but the empty fluff of God’s glory until Satana/Lucifer established the principle of individuation, and thereby the material cosmos, by rebelling against God.
I honestly feel like I’ve done a better job at crafting some notion of “The Luciferian Doctrine” within the confines of Wilheln’s perspective than Wilhelm and all those conspiracy theories he drew from did by himself, because at least my spitballing about the place connects the two premises about Lucifer back to each other. With Hans Wilhelm it’s all so incoherent because he just picks up bits and pieces from these New Age books he picks up before each video and nothing comes together, and nothing ever ties back to any real notions of Luciferianism. But then I suppose real Luciferianism isn’t the kind of monolithic entity that would suit Wilhelm’s purposes of crafting some great Luciferian conspiracy, so he has to invent one. I suppose we can paraphrase Voltaire on this one: if Luciferianism did not exist, it would be necessary for reactionaries to invent it. And in all fairness, that is what the Catholics had been doing since the Middle Ages.
This is the first of five Mythological Spotlights that were originally Deific Mask pages.
Astarte was a Canaanite goddess of sex, fertility, war, and the morning or evening star, though in truth the name Astarte is simply a Hellenization of her Ugaritic name Athtart, rendered in Hebrew as Ashtoreth. The Christian demon Astaroth is explicitly based on this goddess, with his very name deriving from the Hebrew Ashtoreth.
The Sumerian goddess Inanna, goddess of love, sex, fertility, and warfare, serves as the furthest ancestor to Astarte. In Babylon, the same goddess was identified as Ishtar. Inanna was unique in that she was a goddess who represented strength and self-determination, characteristics which would not usually be given to goddesses in male-dominated civilizations. Inanna had many temples and shrines, and sacred prostitution was a part of her cult, and she was even considered Queen of Heaven. She was considered to be the goddess associated with the planet Venus, and her symbols included lions and the eight-pointed star. Despite being the goddess of love, she mistreated many of her lovers. Due to here reputation as a war deity, battle was considered the “dance of Inanna”.
One of her famous myths is that of her descent into the underworld. In the myth, she apparently decides to journey to the underworld in order to visit her sister Ereshkigal, the goddess of the underworld, but Ereshkigal is suspicious of her intentions. Inanna winds up arriving at Ereshkigal’s throne completely naked, is cursed and condemned by Ereshkigal and the demonic judges of the underworld, and left for dead hanging on a hook, and while Inanna was dead sexual intercourse stopped and fertility waned. After three days and nights, the goddess Ninshubur calls on other deities to save her, and her call is eventually answered by Enki, who creates two creatures to whom he gives the food and water of life. She is revived by Enki’s creatures and barely manages to exit the underworld, but the underworld’s judges seize her and demand someone take her place. After finding her husband Dumuzid on his throne, lavishly clothed and oblivious to what happened to her and thus showing no grief for her, she chooses that Dumuzid take her place. Dumuzid tries to escape this fate, but fails, and eventually his sister tries to cries out in mourning for him and proclaims that she will share his fate. Moved by this, Inanna allows the both of them to take her place in the underworld for 6 months each year. Strangely, the story ends in praise of Ereshkigal, rather than Inanna.
Inanna/Ishtar seems to have traveled very far as a goddess. In the lands as Canaan, she was identified as Ashtart, in Syria she was identified as Athtart, and in Greece she was identified as Astarte. In Ugaritic mythology, Athtart helps Anat hold back Baal (or Hadad) from attacking the other deities, and asks Baal to scatter Yamm after his victory over him. Worship of Astarte even spread to Egypt, where was predominantly considered a war goddess and worshipped alongside the goddess Anat (who was also brought to Egypt from Canaan). Both goddesses were believed to be daughters of sun deity Ra and were married to the storm deity Set.
In modern times the goddess Astarte has been mistakenly identified with other prominent ancient goddesses, particularly Aset (better known as Isis) and Asherah. Regarding the Canaanite goddess Asherah, her defining feature was that she was a mother goddess, and Astarte never was a mother goddess. Also, Asherah was the consort of El, who was worshiped as the father of mankind, while Astarte has never had any relation with El. Regarding Aset, Astarte was a goddess of love, sex, fertility, war, and seduction, and was associated with sacred prostitution, while Aset was the goddess billed as the ideal mother and wife and the female personification of the throne of the pharaoh (as symbolized by her headdress), and a goddess of magic and marriage. The two goddess couldn’t be more separate. Not to mention, in Egypt, Astarte and Aset had their own entirely separately cults.
In ancient Greece, Astarte was sometimes identified with the goddess Aphrodite, but may also have been seen as her own deity with distinct separate connotations. In fact, in the account of Strabo, there is a temple dedicated to Phosphoros located in a place called Eboura (which corresponds to what is now the Spanish city of Sanlúcar de Barrameda), and it is thought that this represented a Hellenistic cult of Astarte present in the area. Most curiously this temple honors Phosophoros as “Lux Dubia”, meaning “doubtful light” and purportedly associated with twilight. Is this was meant to be a local cult of Astarte, it certainly gives her some unique associations. We also see an interesting association with lust in that Astarte bears two offspring who are referred to in Greek names: Pothos, which means “longing” (as in lust), and Eros, desire.
In the Hebrew Bible, Ashtart/Astarte is identified as Ashtoreth, a goddess of the productive powers of nature who is described as Queen of Heaven, but her worship was also considered an abomination. Ashtoreth was described as the wife of Ba’al, who was the most prominent rival of Jehovah. In Jewish mythology, Ashtoreth became a kind of female demon associated with lust, known as Astaroth. In Christian demonology, Astaroth became a Duke of Hell, effectively turning a goddess of love and sex into a male demon. Perhaps due to him being the goddess Ashtoreth, he (or should that be she?) has a very special place in Hell, often ranking alongside Beelzebub and Lucifer. As a male demon, Astaroth is variously said to seduce men through laziness, vanity, and rational philosophy, reveal treasures, find mines and transmute metals, teach liberal sciences, cause destruction through tempests, and transform animals and men. He is also described as a prince of accusers and inquisitors. The descriptions of the male Astaroth, which likely influence modern depictions of Astaroth, derive from the Goetia and various European grimoires, all written from the Christian viewpoint.
Ever the inveterate archetype of sexuality par excellence, perhaps it is no surprise that she became a demon of lust in Jewish demonology, though how she became a male demon is something of a mystery. Regardless, it is probably her status as a demon that has helped catapult her to fame, though her status in the ancient world was no doubt highly recognizeable, and certainly enough that she would make appearances in the Bible, and later on Paradise Lost, as a principal pagan goddess thus representing the powers of “heathen” religion. She also stands as a classical example of the way that Christianity has reinterpreted the gods of old into their demons, their rulers of Hell, and thus lends credence to the axiom of the Devil as a representation of the gods that are despised at a given time.
Here is a good case study in the kind of Nazi pseudohistory you sometimes see circulating in Left Hand Path occultism: sometimes you see the name Lucibel spread around as another name for Lucifer that the Cathars used to venerate him. The idea comes from Otto Rahn’s Lucifer’s Court: A Heretic’s Journey in Search of the Light Bringers, and the idea was also taken up by Miguel Serrano, the infamous proponent of a doctrine called Esoteric Hitlerism, and is still spread by Nazi occultniks today, and sometimes non-Nazis as well. But is there any basis for the name Lucibel?
For starters, there are no good historical reasons to believe that the Cathars were Luciferians or ever honoured Lucifer as an unjustly expelled angel. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any source for this beyond the minions of the Catholic Church. The central claim can be traced to one man: Konrad von Marburg. So where did Konrad get it from? Given the lack of evidence for any self-identifying Luciferians active during the Middle Ages, we should take into account what we know about Konrad, namely the fact that most accounts of his work suggest that he would accept almost any accusation as entirely legitimate, and once he did he acted as though it was already a matter of fact and the accused were already guilty. We can infer from this, then, that someone had submitted unverified accusations of devil worship to Konrad, and he simply acted as though they were true. There was no “Luciferian” sect, and no evidence of the veneration of Lucifer among the Cathars.
And if the Cathars never venerated Lucifer, they certainly would not have felt the need to call him Lucibel. But if they did venerate him, why the need to call him Lucibel anyway? If the idea was to hide some kind of hidden Luciferianism from Christianity, then a name like Lucibel sounds very close to Lucifer, to the point that anyone seeing you utter it will immediately think you are honouring Lucifer. Not to mention I can’t find any historical source for the name Lucibel being used anywhere other than in the 20th century or afterwards, so it seems to be an entirely modern name.
So in other words….no, there is no basis for Lucibel. There really isn’t much more to say about this subject other than I should also point out that Rahn connects this idea to Apollo worship by saying the Provencal heretics worshipped Apollo as Lucibel, and of course there is no evidence of this either. It’s worth pointing out that Apollo was called Luciferus as an epithet, and in Greek he was called Phosphoros Daimon, but this is not to say that Apollo was Lucifer himself. Diana was also called Lucifera, and in fact lots of Greek gods were given the title of Phosphoros, such as Hephaestos, Dionysus, and Hecate. They are all light-bringers in this sense, but they cannot all be Lucifer. Or, if they are, why would Lucifer just be another way of saying Apollo as opposed to all of those other gods? Especially when Lucifer/Phosphoros has already been a singular, standalone deity within Greco-Roman myth anyway.
Witchcraft has been growing in popularity over the last decade or so, and Wicca in particular from what I hear is one of the most popular new religious movements for people seeking an alternative to both Christianity and secular atheism. The general phenomenon of modern witchcraft is typically associated with neopaganism, with much of modern witchcraft bearing an antagonistic relationship to Christianity. What if I were to tell you that there exist people who consider themselves to be both devout Christians and witches at the same time, and not only that but also considered the latter to be part of the former?
It’s a strange concept, isn’t it, but that is what we get from a new religious organization that calls itself The Church of Light and Shadow. You won’t find much about them except through their website and Facebook page, but they are a church (or coven, they seem to prefer both labels simultaneously) that has been in operation since last year, though they claim that they are in fact a descendant of the Liberal Catholic Church, which is more or less an umbrella movement consisting of Catholic churches and organizations that are considered to be open to the influence of esoteric or mystical doctrines such as Theosophy. But that’s just the beginning of how strange and unique this church is.
If you go to their website, you will immediately find that the logo used for their browser tab, and which appears at the top left corner of their webpage, is a red cross, equilateral sure but at the same time not unlike the kind you find on Christian websites (red would make sense here, in the sense of its symbolism of the blood of Christ), and you will also see the official logo of the church, which seems to draw inspiration from Catholic heraldry. Your first impression would be that this is a Christian organization, of an unusual sort but still Christian. And then you go to the about page and find this:
The Church of Light and Shadow exists to forward the work of the Morning Star in the world under both his guises – the Christ and Lucifer. It is an independent and autonomous Apostolic and Sacramental body, in no way dependent upon the See of Rome, or upon any other See or authority outside its own administration. It synthesizes Christian Mysticism and Traditional Witchcraft. Offering the sacraments Sponsoring and facilitating group celebrations and functions on the Liturgical Holy Days, Sabbats and Esbats and other special occasions, in order to celebrate the seasons, learn and work magic, and recognize rites of passage.
In Christianity, generally, Jesus Christ would be the central archetype, as the principal source of human salvation and harmony with God. But here, Jesus/Christ and Lucifer are both aspects of an entity known as the Morning Star. It’s certainly an interesting way of looking at the Christian mythos, and it’s not like there’s no scriptural basis for it when you consider that Jesus identifies himself as the morning star in the Book of Revelation, which would mean that scripture would hold that the morning star (that which we call Lucifer) would in fact be Jesus rather than The Devil. However it seems that in this doctrine Jesus is just one aspect of an archetype of being known as the Morning Star. In this light, it may seem that this group deviates significantly from Christianity on a central level and, in fact, resembles a kind of Luciferianism, albeit one that makes connections with Christian mythos (which tbf is entirely possible to do for Luciferianism). Despite this, I don’t think I can separate them from Christianity so easily, because the church derives almost all of its sacraments from Christianity. On their Statement of Principles it says that they recognize seven sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist, Absolution, Holy Unction, Holy Matrimony, and Holy Orders, all of which are unmistakably Christian sacraments. But the about page ends on a curious note. It displays the message “APRIL 30th, 2019 – WALPURGISNACHT”, which the site’s Liturgical calendar cites as the date of the founding of their church.
Officially Walpurgisnacht is actually the name of a festival celebrated by Christianity, commemorating the eve of a feast dedicated to Saint Walpurga, an English missionary who was canonized as a saint by Pope Adrian II on May 1st in 870. However, Walpurgisnacht is also known for its associations with pre-Christian paganism, due perhaps to association with similar pagan festivities in other parts of Europe, and later with Satanism due largely to the fact that the other church to have been founded on April 30th in honor of Walpurgisnacht is quite literally the Church of Satan. So this was a little strange to see from an ostensibly Christian church. And if that’s not enough, if you look at their Liturgical Calendar again, most of the dates are clearly Christian festivities and commemorations, as well as commemorations of important Chrstian thinkers and even mystics, but some of them are dedicated to figures associated with witchcraft and even neopaganism. Examples include Sibyl Leek (a famous British witch who was a frequent TV guest), Gerald Gardner (the founder of Wicca) and his Operation Cone of Power (basically Gardner’s plan to cast spells in order to somehow stop the Nazis from bombing Britain), Marie Laveau (a famous Voodoo practitioner who was called “the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans”), and Tituba (the slave of Samuel Parris who “confessed” to being a witch), all very strange figures to be commemorating in the capacity of a Christian church. You will also notice neopagan festivities such as Beltane, Yule and Lammas, which are considered Sabbats in Wiccan parlance and more generally are treated as seasonal festivals of the pagan annual cycle. Not to mention that, as was shown earlier, the church facilitates not only Christian sacraments but also Sabbats and Esbats, which are clearly derived from Wicca. Their website even has a page for something called “Sacramental Witchcraft”, which seems to just be their explanation for how their syncretism of Christianity and witchcraft works. They say it derives from a combination of church liturgy, Western esotericism and folk magical tradition, thus a syncretism of Liturgical Christianity and what they call Folk Witchcraft, hence the name Sacramental Witchcraft. They also call themselves Luxumbrians, practitioners of Luxumbrian Witchcraft, and consider themselves to be a coven, or a “special interests” witchcraft group for local parishes.
This is a very fascinating idea, to be sure, but I still don’t have the best idea of what this syncretism is based on. They say they draw their practice from Robert Cochrane, Nigel Pennick, Nigel Jackson, Gemma Gary, Paul Huson, and Jason Miller, all of them modern practitioners of witchcraft, as well as the grimoire revival movement, “cunning folk” tradition, and Catholic folklore, not to mention “the mystical and magical exploration/experimentation and practice by clergy members throughout the whole of Christian history”. This is something that, in my view, begs for greater elaboration and exposition. Christianity has been around for close to 2,000 years, which would mean quite a lot of time for Christians to be experiment with magic and the like, and that means there should be plenty of examples of this. The Liturgical Calendar gives us some idea via the Christian mystics, but we still get a very lacking picture here. All I get is that apparently it allows Luxumbrians to go to Mass, pray to saints, pray the rosary, and do all the usual Catholic stuff, and make “witch ladders”, make pacts with demons, talk to the spirits of the dead and make “witches brews” at the same time. I’m intruiged but at the same time I have no idea of how this is meant to be possible.
I’ve gone through some blogs related to this new sect as well and they’re not much better at helping me get a good idea. Garden of the Nightside (who seems to have been writing about “Monastic Witchcraft” since at least 2017) writes that the connection that makes the basis of “dual faith” lies in folklore concerning the Devil and the Queen of Elphame, and how the “Cunning Folk” met with the Devil and the Queen of Elphame while also attending Mass and accepting Jesus, all while seeing no contradiction in such practice. That’s an interesting idea, but what I want to know more than anything is how is there no contradiction. I see something about the Queen of Elphame being “the darker aspect of the Holy Spirit”, but we have no idea how this is to work within their doctrine. Another blog called The Nowl Betwixt, which is also a new face on the occultnik scene of WordPress (having apparently started in 2019), offers multiple posts with witchy and Luciferian twists on Catholic lore, they even have a post where the Virgin Mary called “the Empress of Hell” (which, lets be honest, seems blasphemous, not that I’m complaining of course). What I get out of their blog is that they break off from the Vatican (which they refer to as “the pedophile banking cartel” and I have to respect them for that), and they build a lot of their arguments for Christian witchcraft or “Catholic Luciferianism” on the fact that, for over a millennia, our ancestors were practicing Christianity and that a lot of witches in this time were likely Christians themselves, which is an interesting point, and even talk about the Bible being used as a spellbook, all of which is interesting, but unfortunately the site is not particularly thorough-going in its explication of Christian witchcraft. I’ve gone through other blogs as well and I don’t get a complete picture from it. What I do get out of it, however, is that it is a current of witchcraft in itself, it does seem to have some presence at least on the internet, and the church itself appears to have several listed locations where bodies are formed and in operation throughout the world, not just across US states but also in Canada, Britain, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Belgium, Singapore, Argentina and even the United Arab Emirates. Quite an impressive range for such an organization, and it’s a lot more than the Greater Church of Lucifer managed to do.
The church appears to have been founded by a man who goes by the name Mal Strangefellow (really wearing it on your sleave aren’t you?), who a while back went on a podcast about magic called The Hermit’s Lamp with Andrew Kyle McGregor to talk about his belief system. Unfortunately there isn’t much in there that weaves Christianity and wtichcraft (let alone any loose sense of Luciferianism) together. Strangefellow says that John Chrysostom wrote a defence of Christians who practiced hesychasm, a sort of ascetic mystic practice involving the blocking of the senses that some Christians considered to be heretical, and the French Gnostic Jules Doniel claiming apostolic succession in the 19th century, but for about about an hour that’s about it. Then he begins talking about pushback he got for the Church of Light and Shadow, and the points out that Jesus is the only figure in the Bible who called himself the morning star, and argues that Prometheus and the Miltonian Satan are in fact Christ figures (which in the case of Prometheus is something I have toyed with in the past) on the grounds that they wanted to do away with older authorities and give a new law to Man, and thus he sees both Jesus and Lucifer as light-bringers. Thus he views Christianity from a Luciferian perspective, and as he appears to identify with Luciferianism we can infer that, consequently, he embraces Christianity as a Luciferian. It’s still not an especially thorough-going take in terms of philosophical alignment with Christianity but it does give us a good idea of how such an alignment could be positioned, and to be honest, it’s not a terrible effort. In fact, given that this guy knows that Jesus was called the morning star in Revelations and uses this to build an interpretation of Luciferianism off a Christian base, it definitely seems like an informed approach.
When we look at how the Church of Light and Shadow promote themselves on Facebook, we start to see some other interesting tropes. One image macro features a close up of the famous Satan/”Baphomet” statue from The Satanic Temple (as far as I’m concerned that is not Baphomet but anyways), with part of John 8:12 superimposed on it, saying “I am the light of the world”, which is supposed to be a quote from Jesus but is instead associated with what is a depiction of Satan. What is the angle here? Aren’t they supposed to be Christians, albeit heretical ones? So why the declaration that Satan is the light of the world? Is he actually Jesus? I would get it if it was Lucifer but it’s not (deal with it guys, Satan is not Lucifer and Lucifer is not Satan). A similar image macro featuring a three eyed goat with a candle between his horns, yet again an image of Baphomet that may also be Satan judging by its red colour, with the text “let there be light” (referencing Genesis 1:3). More interesting, however, is an image macro that says “If your Witch group doesn’t accept your Saints or Christianity, WE’RE your Coven now”, which is probably the most unique and bizarre thing I’ve seen in any religious community. It’s curious, we are left to infer from this that there is a movement of witches who are pro-Christian, in the sense that they practice magic/witchcraft while somehow operating within Christian tradition (which is usually not friendly to witchcraft, although there does exist a long tradition of Christian occultism), and apparently face exclusion and ostracism by non-Christian witches because of it. It is not unknown to me that the general trend of witchcraft is a belief system built by and large on Wicca and neopaganism, and that since these systems are both definitively opposed to Christianity, its members are likely to be somewhat hostile or dismissive to Christianity, no doubt in part because of the inquisitions and burning carried out by the church against people they thought were witches (little realizing, of course, that a lot of them could have just been lay Christians and that much of the accusations were trumped-up nonsense that existed largely to further the careers of medieval Catholic clergy). Many modern witches feel threatened by the presence of Christian witches in their community, perhaps because they see it as a reminder of the faith they left, and the bitterness they feel towards it. The Church of Light and Shadow, by contrast, is open to them and offers them a space where they are considered legitimate within the confines of the church. And that’s fascinating, because it seems like we might be looking at a concerete organization wherein Christian witchcraft seems is not only included but it’s also kind of central in that the church doctrine is a syncretism of Catholic Christian doctrine with folk witchcraft, wrapped up in what appears to be a Christian take on Luciferianism. It will be curious to see how such a movement grows in the future, particularly in comparison to other movements, particularly LHP witchcraft, as I have to wonder what will happen when it becomes established that a person can explore the realm of magic and occultism in freewheeling fashion without leaving Christianity, and while LHP organizations and movements by and large continue to fail to see real growth and organization.
The funny thing about this is, it does seem that there is a somewhat burgeoining community of people who consider themselves Christian witches, concentrated principally in the United States of America. It seems that the phenomenon of Christian witchcraft has been getting some more attention over the last few years, at least judging by the fact that people on Tumblr feel the need to talk about how “valid” Christian witches are. In fact, in 2019 and early 2020 there was news about a convention on Christian witchcraft simply called Christian Witches Convention 2020, the first convention of its kind, that was supposed to be held in Salem this Easter weekend (I’m guessing thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic that had to be cancelled). This convention is the product of a woman named Valerie Love, a witch who has, over the course of well over a decade at least, written several books about New Age wealth magic that apparently is perfectly compatible with Christianity despite literally the concept of simony being considered a sin, and has been uploading YouTube videos on the subject for about 4 years. But there’s actually been talk of the phenomenon of Christian witchcraft through the 2010s, and even before that. There was a Yahoo group set up for self-professed Christian Wiccans simply titled “Christian Wicca” (later renamed “Trinitarian Wicca”) all the way back in October 1999. These Wiccans embrace aspects of Christianity as the base of their syncretic faith, including the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but reject the concept of Satan, original sin, (both of them pretty essential to Christian doctrine) and what they see as the patriarchal aspects of the church. In 2003 a book about Christian Wicca was written by Nancy Chandler Pittman, and in 2010 another book about being a Christian witch was written by Adelina St Clair. So, all told, this has been a phenomenon for quite some time, though one that is altogether overlooked in most discourse concerning the witchcraft movement. It appears that this is a crowd that the Church of Light and Shadow might be trying to appeal to, and it might not be such a hard sell for them. Though, honestly, I would like to see the whole Luxumbrian phenomenon as somewhat distinct from the other strands of Christian withcraft, in that most of the rest seem to be more of a hodge-podgey mess and in the case of Valerie Love a clear grift, whereas Mal Strangefellow’s project, although clearly eccentric and heretical (from the standpoint of mainline Christianity), seems like it might have more grounding.
Anyways, we’ve gone on about the subject for long enough so let’s just get into the overall principles of the Church of Light and Shadow, what appears to be the ideology of the movement. They seem to believe in freedom of thought, at least as far as individual interpretation of Christian doctrine and scripture is concerned, within their confines, allowing for complete freedom to interpret the scriptures and doctrines however they like, demanding only courtesy of expression, and it asserts that belief should be the product of individual intiution and study. This might actually be close to the spirit of early, pre-Nicene Christianity, in which there was a surprising amount of diversity of thought and interpretation. They seem to oppose proselytism and desire to build friendship with other Christian denominations. They say they embrace progressive theology and ideas about inclusiveness while also embracing traditional forms of worship, which means preserving the liturgy and Apostolic heritage of the tradition they claim to emerge from. Their clergy claims no authority over its individual members in terms of conscience, which in no way hampers their official function as priests in every other respect. Private confession is seen as entirely optional and, unlike in mainstream Catholicism, is not required in order to undertake your first Communion. Marriage is never enjoined nor forbidden by the church, the church declares no interest in the private sexual activities of two consenting adults, and gender or “gender identity” have no bearing on your status within the church hierarchy. They are officially apolitical, in that they have no stated involvement in political activism, but at the same time they endorse “he universal struggle toward social and political liberation that wells up from the deepest moral and religious commitments of humanity, and ultimately from the divine spark within all of Creation”. Given the rhetoric of not being “neutral” and a Facebook post in which they declare support for the Antifa movement, alongside other posts, we can assume they have a broadly progressive political outlook. In the overall, this is actually mostly good, though I wonder the extent to which their progressive political outlook might impact on their commitment to freedom of thought in the political dimension. Other than that, it’s a very open organization in terms of your ability to express your religious faith and practice.
Of course, one question you might have is how do they intend to connect with Catholic tradition despite not being tied to the Holy See? Well, no doubt due to the disdain that the Vatican tends to generate throughout its history from other Christians, there’s actually a history of integrating Catholic tradition into sects that otherwise break off from the Catholic sect or at least the Holy See. Anglo-Catholicism, for example, considers itself to be an expression of Catholic faith within the Church of England, emphasizing Catholic as opposed to Protestant heritage, but generally it considers itself independent from the papacy. High Church Lutheranism is a movement of Lutheranism within Europe that integrates and emphasizes Catholic liturgy and tradition whilst rejecting the authority of the Vatican and basing itself around the doctrine of Martin Luther. And speaking of Luther, even he with his opposition to the Catholic Church, wanted to reconcile with Catholic tradition even if not the Vatican itself. And let’s not forget how the occultist Eliphas Levi, credited with creating the “satanic” image of Baphomet, was a Christian mystic who considered himself a Catholic at least insofar as he called his esoteric doctrine “Catholicism” despite considering the Catholic Church to be corrupt and decadent. It is definitely possible to have a Christian church that bases itself on Catholic tradition whilst refusing loyalty to the Vatican, and good for them for doing so.
Now, would I join this church? Ultimately I would probably have to say no. As a doctrine I think what they’re offering is interesting, certainly heretical enough for my tastes, but as a church I almost think of it as a joke, mostly because it doesn’t make sense to me that a Christian church would actually be built around witchcraft. Perhaps something more like Christopaganism or whatever would be somewhat believable, maybe building off of Renaissance Christian flirtation with Greco-Roman antiquity, or speaking of the Renaissance drawing from centuries of Christian occultism that flourished in that time period. Approaching Luciferianism from a Christian perspective is perfectly legitimate, considering that Jesus identified himself as Lucifer. Ultimately I find the irony of them basing themselves around Catholic tradition perhaps too much, considering that it was the Catholic Church that is responsible for the diabolization of the Morning Star to start with.
On the other hand, it is still interesting in the sense that it does, in a weird way, give a kind of Jungian expression, not just of the concomitance of light and darkness, but also of Jung’s own goal to update Christianity. He felt that Christianity lacked wholeness through its unwillingness to integrate its own shadowy opposite, the adversarial principle attributed to the devil, into the realm of the divine, thus serving a model for the individual psyche’s quest for individuation.
The term Lumen Naturae (which in Latin means “the light of nature”) appears in various texts written by the legendary psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, and its meaning points to a light that is contrasted with the light of revelation seen in traditional theology as a source of knowledge for Man. The Lumen Naturae is the light that shines imminently within all of matter (hence The Light of Nature), though it also seems to be a reference to the unconscious psyche. For Jung it is “whose strange and significant workings we can observe in the manifestations of the unconscious”. In this sense, the Lumen Naturae is one of those aspects of Jungian thought that, though it seems to not to be as talked about as often (not even by other Jungians), appears to be more central to Jungian thought and philosophy than it is given credit for, and it can be used as the bridge through Jungian philosophy to, situated within that realm, a doctrine that can postulate a doctrine of spiritual materialism that carries Jungian psychoanalytical philosophy and, I might say, a sort of Luciferian essence into a higher form in which, through Hellenic spiritual and philosophical influences among various other philosophical contours, it may attain a form that can assert itself in the present landscape – in other words, one where spiritual substance can be formulated in an atheistic context, outside of and in opposition to Christianity, in a manner where it attains depth, heritage and, from there, power, in the darkness of the Light of Nature. What darkness, you may ask? That is what you will find out over the course of this article.
A very lenghty and detailed exposition of the Lumen Naturae can be found in Volume 8 of Jung’s Collected Works, Alchemical Studies. It is here, in fact, that Jung lays out dichotomy between the Light of Nature and the Light of Revelation. In the process he introduces Paracelsus, the man from whom Jung gets his conception of the Lumen Naturae. For Jung, Paracelsus was a man who had two “mothers”, two substances from which he derived his thought and spirit; the Christian (specifically Catholic) church on the one hand, and Nature on the other:
To the mother in her highest form, Mater Ecclesia, he remained faithful all his life, despite the very free criticism he levelled at the ills of Christendom in that epoch. Nor did he succumb to the great temptation of that age, the Protestant schism, though he may well have had it in him to go over to the other camp. Conflict was deeply rooted in Paracelsus’s nature; indeed, it had to be so, for without a tension of opposites there is no energy, and whenever a volcano, such as he was, erupts, we shall not go wrong in supposing that water and fire have clashed together.
But although the Church remained a mother for Paracelsus all his life, he nevertheless had two mothers: the other was Mater Natura. And if the former was an absolute authority, so too was the latter. Even though he endeavoured to conceal the conflict between the two maternal spheres of influence, he was honest enough to admit its existence; indeed, he seems to have had a very good idea of what such a dilemma meant. Thus he says: “I also confess that I write like a pagan and yet am a Christian.” Accordingly he named the first five sections of his Paramirum de quinque entibus
morborum “Pagoya.” “Pagoyum” is one of his favourite neologisms, compounded of “paganum” and the Hebrew word “goyim.” He held that knowledge of the nature of diseases was pagan, since this knowledge came from the “light of nature” and not from revelation. “Magic,” he says, is “the preceptor and teacher of the physician,” who derives his knowledge from the lumen naturae. There can be no doubt the “light of nature” was a second, independent source of knowledge for Paracelsus. His closest pupil, Adam von Bodenstein, puts it like this: “The Spagyric has the things of nature not by authority, but by his own experience.” The concept of the lumen naturae may derive from the Occulta philosophia of Agrippa von Nettesheim (1533), who speaks of a luminositas sensus naturae that extends even to the four-footed beasts and enables them to foretell the future.
Paracelsus was definitely a Christian, of this there is no doubt, he even says “Christian knowledge is better than natural knowledge, and a prophet or an apostle better than an astronomer or a physician”, but he also confesses that he writes “like a pagan” and the reason for this seems to be that he considers the knowledge of the nature of diseases, essential to his practice as a physician, to be pagan in nature because it is knowledge of the world. The Light of Nature thus in the context of Paracelsus refers to knowledge of the physical universe, knowledge of nature, the knowledge held by scientists (such as astronomers) and physicians, while the Light of Revelation (which Paraselsus equated with the Holy Spirit) refers presumably to theology, or the knowledge of God, the “knowledge” held by prophets and apostles.
From Paracelsus, quoted within Alchemical Studies alongside more commentary from Jung, we get this description of the Light of Nature:
It is, therefore, also to be known that the auguries of the birds are caused by these innate spirits, as when cocks foretell future weather and peacocks the death of their master and other such things with their crowing. All this comes from the innate spirit and is the Light of Nature. Just as it is present in animals and is natural, so also it dwells within man and he brought it into the world with himself. He who is chaste is a good prophet, natural as the birds, and the prophecies of birds are not contrary to nature but are of nature. Each, then, according to his own state. These things which the birds announce can also be foretold in sleep, for it is the astral spirit which is the invisible body of nature. And it should be known that when a man prophesies, he does not speak from the Devil, not from Satan, and not from the Holy Spirit, but he speaks from the innate spirit of the invisible body which teaches Magiam and in which the Magus has his origin.
The light of nature comes from the Astrum: “Nothing can be in man unless it has been given to him by the Light of Nature, and what is in the Light of Nature has been brought by the stars.” The pagans still possessed the light of nature, “for to act in the Light of Nature and to rejoice in it is divine despite being mortal.” Before Christ came into the world, the world was still endowed with the light of nature, but in comparison with Christ this was a “lesser light.” “Therefore we should know that we have to interpret nature according to the spirit of nature, the Word of God according to the spirit of God, and the Devil according to his spirit also.” “He who knows nothing of these things is a gorged pig and will not leave room for instruction and experience.” The light of nature is the quinta essentia, extracted by God himself from the four elements, and dwelling “in our hearts.” It is enkindled by the Holy Spirit. The light of nature is an intuitive apprehension of the facts, a kind of illumination. It has two sources: a mortal and an immortal, which Paracelsus calls “angels.” “Man,” he says, “is also an angel and has all the latter’s qualities.” He has a natural light, but also a light outside the light of nature by which he can search out supernatural things. The relationship of this supernatural light to the light of revelation remains, however, obscure. Paracelsus seems to have held a peculiar trichotomous view in this respect.
There is a noticeable dualism in Paracelsus’ thought (or more or less what we are presented of it by Jung), a dualism concerning God and Nature. Such a dualism is further established when Jung refers to his writings in Philosophia Sagax, wherein he describes Man as “one part temporal, the other part eternal, and each part takes its light from God, both the temporal and the eternal, and there is nothing that does not have its origin in God”. This itself is not too dissimilar to the sort of dualism you usually see from the average Christian, but there is an intruiging undertone to what see of Paracelsus nonetheless. In theory, he positions the Light of Nature as lesser than the Holy Spirit, because in traditional Christianity Nature is framed as less valuable than God, its creator, but despite this traditional dualistic framing the Light of Nature has a special place in Paracelsus’ ontology on the grounds that it is essential to understand the natural world in the same vein as God’s word is to be understood via the spirit of God. Despite Paracelsus’ commitment to Christianity, this Light of Nature appears to be associated with paganism because for him the pagans “still possessed the Light of Nature” because they acted in the Light of Nature in its divine. This appears to mean that, for Paraclesus, the pagan view centered around nature and activity within it as the means of engaging with the sacred. This is perhaps the interpretation given by a Christian lens as to what constitutes paganism, given that medieval Christianity drew a line of separation between the world and the spirit, with spirit outside the world being the subject of Christian teaching and spiritual knowledge, so is to be treated in the context of that lens, but what this means is that the “pagan” impetus of the Light of Nature refers to the situation and engagement of knowledge with realm of Nature. Further it seems that, according to Jung at least, the Light of Nature may well have been the strongest theme in Paracelsus’ thinking, as Jung says:
The authenticity of one’s own experience of nature against the authority of tradition is a basic theme of Paracelsan thinking. On this principle he based his attack on the medical schools, and his pupils carried the revolution even further by attacking Aristotelian philosophy. It was an attitude that opened the way for the scientific investigation of nature and helped to emancipate natural science from the authority of tradition.
If Jung’s account of Paracelsus is accurate, then the Light of Nature can be treated, at least in context, as the spark of experiential authenticity, dervied from Nature and our species-being situated within it, which leads to a scepticism of authority and tradition and their tendency to obfuscate the truth of the world we live in. Within a materialist framework, this Light of Nature is the principal Light, and from there Nature becomes the principal source of light, knowledge and Being, and cannot be situated in any secondary domain, in any realm of “revelation”. It does not answer to the pacification offered by the constructed realm of ideated truth, whether from the church or from the “woke” authorities of the modern age, only to the truth itself within Nature. Indeed, despite his faith, Jung sees this Light of Nature in juxtaposition to his faith as the most important source of his creative energy, flowing from his natural and personal temperant of discontent, for this reason Jung cites Paracelsus as a Faustian figure, a prototype of a line that goes from Faust to Nietzsche, something that was only counterveiled by the pious maxim “I under God and God under me”.
Jung reasserts this assessment later on:
He was a well-intentioned, humble Christian. His ethics and his professed faith were Christian, but his most secret, deepest passion, his whole creative yearning, belonged to the lumen naturae, the divine spark buried in the darkness, whose sleep of death could not be vanquished even by the revelation of God’s son. The light from above made the darkness still darker; but the lumen naturae is the light of the darkness itself, which illuminates its own darkness, and this light the darkness comprehends. Therefore it turns blackness into brightness, burns away “all superfluities,” and leaves behind nothing but “faecem et scoriam et terram damnatam” (dross and scoriae and the rejected earth).
For Jung, this Light of Nature is a pagan feeling, on the grounds that it constitutes the veneration of the natural world, and its process of transformation:
Paracelsus, like all the philosophical alchemists, was seeking for something that would give him a hold on the dark, body-bound nature of man, on the soul which, intangibly interwoven with the world and with matter, appeared before itself in the terrifying form of strange, demoniacal figures and seemed to be the secret source of life-shortening diseases. The Church might exorcise demons and banish them, but that only alienated man from his own nature, which, unconscious of itself, had clothed itself in these spectral forms. Not separation of the natures but union of the natures was the goal of alchemy. From the time of Democritus its leitmotiv had been: “Nature rejoices in nature, nature conquers nature, nature rules over nature.” This principle is pagan in feeling and an expression of nature worship. Nature not only contains a process of transformation—it is itself transformation. It strives not for isolation but for union, for the wedding feast followed by death and rebirth. Paracelsus’s “exaltation in May” is this marriage, the “gamonymus” or hierosgamos of light and darkness in the shape of Sol and Luna. Here the opposites unite what the light from
above had sternly divided.
We also notice something peculiar in that we find, according to Jung, the Light of Nature is capable of embodying spirt as well as matter, thus in some ways providing a map by which to encapsulate even the supposedly extra-natural as, in fact, entirely within the natural, and thus all falls under Nature and therefore the Light of Nature becomes the true light of all. In this light, we see the Light of Nature as, more than only the skeptical light of natural consciousness, the spark of the unconscious, a light hidden within the unconscious of mankind, which animates the collective unconscious. Jung writes:
Nature is not matter only, she is also spirit. Were that not so, the only source of spirit would be human reason. It is the great achievement of Paracelsus to have elevated the “light of nature” to a principle and to have emphasized it in a far more fundamental way than his predecessor Agrippa. The lumen naturae is the natural spirit, whose strange and significant workings we can observe in the manifestations of the unconscious now that psychological research has come to realize that the unconscious is not just a “subconscious” appendage or the dustbin of consciousness, but is a largely autonomous psychic system for compensating the biases and aberrations of the conscious attitude, for the most part functionally, though it sometimes corrects them by force. Consciousness can, as we know, be led astray by naturalness as easily as by spirituality, this being the logical consequence of its freedom of choice. The unconscious is not limited only to the instinctual and reflex processes of the cortical centres; it also extends beyond consciousness and, with its symbols, anticipates future conscious processes. It is therefore quite as much a “supra-consciousness.”
So the Light of Nature then becomes more than just a metaphor for skeptical and naturalistic inquiry in a standard sense, but also something that lurks within the unconscious of human beings, perhaps even analogue to that often quoted aspect of Jung’s thought relating to the descent into darkness for the pursuit of knowledge and truth. The call to go into the underworld, then, takes on the character of the ontological inquiry into Nature, Nature not just in the outer sense, but in the dark recesses of the human psychological and psychorreal sphere, in which the hidden, perhaps even “occult”, currents of the mind and the world are to be discovered, and from which meaning is to be grasped, meaning of a kind that is not typically accessible in everyday life, and yet is perhaps immanent in life itself.
There is much more that can be said about this Light of Nature, however, outside of Jung himself. Indeed, many commentaries take note of the Lumen Naturae as reference to a source of knowledge couched in the natural world as opposed to revelation from God. From Georg Nicolaus’ C.G. Jung and Nikolai Berdyaev: Individuation and the Person: A Critical Comparison, we see the following:
The lumen naturae is a ‘second, independent source of knowledge’ set against the light of revelation, which is received through faith. It is ‘the quinta essentia, extracted by God himself from the four elements and “dwelling in our hearts” …The light of nature is an intuitive apprehension of the facts, a kind of illumination’. It is the highest treasure of nature, and has a twofold source: both a ‘mortal and an immortal’ one. It is the light of the scintilla animae, ‘the divine spark buried in the darkness’. The heart, where this divine spark is hidden, is also ‘the seat of the imagination’, so that the lumen naturae is the source of the alchemical vera imaginatio, the key to the opus.
As a ‘light in the darkness’ the lumen naturae is a source of true knowledge in the unconscious. Nature, too, has spirit within itself: ‘Nature is not matter only, she is also spirit. Were that not so, the only source of spirit would be human reason’. The lumen naturae in the unconscious is responsible for the fact that the unconscious is not only nature, but also a source of genuine spirituality which ‘anticipates in its symbols future conscious processes. It [the unconscious] is therefore quite as much a “supra-consciousness”.
The lumen naturae turns out to be a second source of ‘revelation’, one which dangerously competes with the supernatural ‘light of faith’ even though, according to Paracelsus, both lights in the end have the same source: ‘the unity of God’. In fact, as the ‘Enlightenment’ and the rise of modern science late showed, this union of the two lights is anything but unproblematic: the potential conflcit of the two lights goes to the heart of the problem of the ‘death of God’ in modernity.
Then from Marilyn Nagy’s Philosophical Issues in the Psychology of C. G. Jung: Portraits, Policies, Programs, and Practices, we see thus; for starters an assessment of Paracelsus that, ironically, positions the Christian Paracelsus one of the ancestors of the ancestors of the modern atheistic naturalist impetus regarding knowledge, God notwithsdanding of course:
The second problem for Paracelsus was the doctrine of revealed knowledge. We cannot accept things on faith, he said, just because someone else has told us it is so. We must look instead to Nature and to the truth which God has put there for us to read. “Pagoyum” was a favorite neologism, made up of “paganum” and the Hebrew word “goyim”. It meant that the truth is revealed not by authority or dogmatic faith but in nature herself, which is by contrast pagan. We can find the truth for ourselves.
The path to this knowledge is through direct personal experience. That meant getting away from rationalized theories and being with people in the world, listening to a story of a strange cure told at a wayside inn, observing not only the pathology but also the life circumstances of an ill woman.
More than that, thought Paracelsus, we must adopt the attitude of the naturalist, believing that Nature does indeed reveal the signs of God. We must not be skeptical, not “drown in work, abandoning research, saying it is beyond our understanding and thus failing to kindle the torch which will enlighten us.” Even in the face of our ignorance we must be obedient servants of this task. “As the light of Nature is like crumbs from the table of the Lord, for all the heathen to grasp, and has departed from Judah, so it behoves us not to give in, but to pick up the crumbs as long as they fall.
And then, on the Light of Nature itself and the means by which to acheive its realization in humans:
The method by which we obtain this knowledge and come to the light of nature has to do with coming into contact with a deeper level of our own natures which is connected to the larger processes of nature. For example, we know that scammonea purges, but this does not help us to understand the process itself. Just as there is a kind of science in a pear which teaches it how to be a pear and not an apple, so we should try to listen through the process of the scammonea. “When you overhear (‘ablauschen’) from the scammonea the knowledge which it possesses, it will be in you just as it is in the scammonea and you have acquired the experience as well as the knowledge. We find that place in ourselves which is in sympathetic correspondence with the principle of the external object, and we know it because we know ourselves. There is thus a much more direct, internal path to knowledge than objectivized processes of the rational mind.
We get a peculiar description of the lumen naturae in the notes for Carl Becker’s Asian and Jungian Views on Ethics:
In alchemical terms, lumen naturae is the “light of nature” as opposed to the numen of spiritual revelation. It is a sol invisibilis given to the individual, accessible through and identical with the “subtle” or “astral” body (ochema pneuma). It offers each individual “sufficient predestined light that he err not”. Phenomenologically, lumen naturae is experienced as scintillaes; sparks of the world soul scattered throughout the dark sea of night, germinal luminosities which are the seedbed of worlds to come (mundi futuri seminarium). This natural force, also described as an underworld fire, an ignis mercurialis, is synonymous with the pagan cosmos and aion.
Something to be mindful of is the “pagan cosmos” and the “pagan aion”. In pre-Christian Greece (the context we can assume is being referred to in this passage) Cosmos would refer to the order of the universe, and the very word simply means “world”, though can be interpreted to mean “universe” in the sense of the order of creation itself (for lack of a better word at least), though its Indo-European root word “konsmos” or “kems” means “to put in order”, thus Cosmos signifies the natural order of the world or the universe. Aion in Greek paganism refers to a god of time, more specifically time without limit, though he could also be taken as more of an abstract representation of time itself, as was the case in the Mithraic Mysteries, and the word Aion means “eternity” or “vital force”, thus signifying Aion as the vital force of infinite time. The connection made in this passage is that the Light of Nature is to be related with Cosmos and Aion and thus it is the light of the natural order of the universe and the bright flame of infinite time, or that at least is the inferrence we are to make. This broadens the concept of the Light of Nature significantly, though its association with the natural order (Cosmos) need not stretch it too far, insofar as it may, through identification with the natural order, signify immanent spiritual and intellectual awareness of Nature and its order, and from there the enlightenment that follows. The enlightenment, therefore, consists in the awakening of Man’s knowledge of Nature, and its relationship to Nature, and from there alignment with Nature – this can be rendered, from my perspective, in two senses; the first sense is the outer Nature, referring to the natural cosmos, its environment and more importantly its inner workings, while the second sense is the inner Nature, as in the Nature of all individual human beings, for which I would use the Chinese (or more specifically Taoist and neo-Confucian) concept of Ziran as an appellation, and the sum harmony of Man in relation to Nature is judged by his relation with both the Cosmos and with Ziran. The Light of Nature, then, could possibly be the spark that lights the way in this regard, leading humans away from artifice and rigid dogmas and towards independent and authentic existential inquiry and being in harmony with Nature in a holistic sense.
True to Jung’s assessment that the Light of Nature is a “pagan feeling”, there is a certain archetypal association established by Jung between the Light of Nature and a mythical figure from the pagan realm, namely Mercurius, the Roman form of the Greek god Hermes. It is safe assume the Mercurius that Jung speaks of in Alchemical Studies has more to do with alchemy (as the title suggests) than with paganism proper. Nonetheless, let’s have a look at Jung’s Mercurius. We can begin by highlighting his connection to the Light of Nature through alchemy:
The light hidden in nature and particularly in human nature likewise belongs to the stock of ancient alchemical ideas. Thus the “Tractatus Aristotelis” says: “See therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.” The light of nature is indeed of great importance in alchemy. Just as, according to Paracelsus, it enlightens man as to the workings of nature and gives him an understanding of natural things “by cagastric magic” (per magiam cagastricam), so it is the aim of alchemy to beget this light in the shape of the filius philosophorum. An equally ancient treatise of Arabic provenance attributed to Hermes, the “Tractatus aureus,” says (Mercurius is speaking): “My light excels all other lights, and my goods are higher than all other goods. I beget the light, but the darkness too is of my nature. Nothing better or more worthy of veneration can come to pass in the world than the union of myself with my son.” In the “Dicta Belini” (Belinus is a pseudo-Apollonius of Tyana) Mercurius says: “I enlighten all that is mine, and I make the light manifest on the journey from my father Saturn.” “I make the days of the world eternal, and I illumine all lights with my light.” Another author says of the “chymical marriage” from which arises the filius philosophorum: “They embrace and the new light is begotten of them, which is like no other light in the whole world.”
Later on, Jung expands the connection between Mercurius and the Light of Nature through the connection between Mercurius and fire:
Many treatises define Mercurius simply as fire. He is ignis elementaris noster naturalis ignis certissimus, which again indicates his “philosophic” nature. The aqua mercurialis is even a divine fire. This fire is “highly vaporous” (vaporosus). Indeed, Mercurius is really the only fire in the whole procedure. He is an “invisible fire, working in secret.” One text says that the “heart” of Mercurius is at the North Pole and that he is like a fire (northern lights). He is, in fact, as another text says, “the universal and scintillating fire of the light of nature, which carries the heavenly spirit within it.” This passage is particularly important as it relates Mercurius to the lumen naturae, the source of mystical knowledge second only to the holy revelation of the Scriptures. Once more we catch a glimpse of the ancient role of Hermes as the god of revelation. Although the lumen naturae, as originally bestowed by God upon his creatures, is not by nature ungodly, its essence was nevertheless felt to be abysmal, since the ignis mercurialis was also connected with the fires of hell. It seems, however, that the alchemists did not understand hell, or its fire, as absolutely outside of God or opposed to him, but rather as an internal component of the deity, which must indeed be so if God is held to be a coincidentia oppositorum. The concept of an all-encompassing God must necessarily include his opposite. The coincidentia, of course, must not be too radical or too extreme, otherwise God would cancel himself out. The principle of the coincidence of opposites must therefore be completed by that of absolute opposition in order to attain full paradoxicality and hence psychological validity.
The mercurial fire is found in the “centre of the earth,” or dragon’s belly, in fluid form. Benedictus Figulus writes: “Visit the centre of the earth, there you will find the global fire.” Another treatise says that this fire is the “secret, infernal fire, the wonder of the world, the system of the higher powers in the lower.” Mercurius, the revelatory light of nature, is also hell-fire, which in some miraculous way is none other than a rearrangement of the heavenly, spiritual powers in the lower, chthonic world of matter, thought already in St. Paul’s time to be ruled by the devil. Hell-fire, the true energic principle of evil, appears here as the manifest counterpart of the spiritual and the good, and as essentially identical with it in substance. After that, it can surely cause no offence when another treatise says that the mercurial fire is the “fire in which God himself burns in divine love.” We are not deceiving ourselves if we feel in scattered remarks of this kind the breath of true mysticism.
Thus, Mercurius is directly identified with the Light of Nature as the light which not only contained within itself spirit associated with the divine but also a certain abysmal quality associated with the fire of Hell, thus in some ways containing spiritual light as well as darkness within itself, but is more importantly associated with some sort of spiritual revelation. The association with the chthonic realm beneath the earth is, in my view, rather consistent with the association of Hermes with the underworld. Chthonios was one of the epithets affixed to Hermes within the Greek cults, and as Hermes Chthonios the god was invoked in private rituals inteded for casting curses, binding spells and raising the spirits of the earth, as well as being honored in festivals of the dead. Hermes in general was often associated with the underworld due to his role as the guide of souls in the underworld, and was always worshipped as a chthonic deity for aspects relating to fertility (hence why he was often venerated in the form of a phallus). And indeed, that role of Hermes containing both heavenly light and infernal darkness is consistent with how Hermes was seen both as an infernal god of necromancy and a benevolent protector and shepherd of souls. Not to mention, for his connections to revelation, look no further than the Orphic Hymn to Chthonic Hermes, which calls him “divine revealer”. In this sense, Hermes, or rather Mercurius, becomes an emblem of chthonic revelation, the revelation of Nature, whose light comes not from above but from within itself, through its own darkness, its murky mist which is illuminated by Man, through its negative foundation in which we see the mutual and often contradictory struggle that turns the wheels of freedom and fate.
Before we get into what this means, I’d like to get into what this has to do with Lucifer specifically, considering I tagged this with Luciferianism. Jung, of course, interprets Lucifer in a negative light, similar to Satan in that he’s called the father of lies. If nothing else, Jung should probably know that Jesus was also called Lucifer, within the Bible. But more to the point, in Jung’s work Lucifer and Mercurius, not just in Alchemical Studies where Lucifer is framed as effectively a shadow side for Mercurius, but in Man and His Symbols we find that Mercurius and Lucifer are linked together:
Envy, lust, sensuality, lies, and all known vices are the negative, “dark ” aspect of the unconscious, which can manifest itself in two ways. In the positive sense, it appears as a “spirit of nature,” creatively animating man, things, and the world. It is the “chthonic spirit” that has been mentioned so often in this chapter. In the negative sense, the unconscious (that same spirit) manifests itself as a spirit of evil, as a drive to destroy.
As has already been pointed out, the alchemists personified this spirit as “the spirit Mercurius ” and called it, with good reason, Mercurius duplex (the two-faced, dual Mercurius). In the religious language of Christianity, it is called the devil. But, however improbable it may seem, the devil too has a dual aspect. In the positive sense, he appears as Lucifer—literally, the light-bringer.
What is the chthonic spirit? Jung wrote about it as the dark side of the God image, for which sexuality apparently is its most important expression (for which the connection to Mercurius makes sense given that Hermes was often worshipped as a phallus), and he often pointed to this chthonic spirit as a source of both danger and innovation – danger because of the negative aspects of the unconscious, and because of the danger of the submergence of that chthonic spirit, but also innovation because it is within the same realm that human creativity and spiritual revelation are found, not least through the archetypal journey to the underworld. Donald Kalsched, writing in The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defences of the Personal Spirit, remarks that Jung, despite his commentary on the development of Yahweh into a positive archetypal through the transition from Old Testament tyrant to New Testament shepherd as mediated through Job, always complained about Christianity handing Man’s chthonic spirit over to the Devil, to the realm of evil and the ego, rendering itself incomplete by casting out the chthonic element of the psyche, which for Kalsched lies at the root of his preference for alchemy to the point that he supposedly preferred Mercurius (or Mercurius Duplex) as the mediator of the Godhead instead of Jesus on the grounds that, unlike the Jesus we know today, Mercurius represented the complete union of opposites made possible by his chthonic nature. Exactly where Kalsched gets this assessment is not clear, and even a cursory analysis of Jungian psychology does not suggest it to be anti-Christian in content, not to mention we have reason to believe he despised what he called the “anti-Christian” culture of modernity. Nevertheless, like as Marx would do for Hegel, we can take key insights from Jung’s framework and use them to build a framework outside of Christianity, just that we cannot in the process of this assume things of Jung that are not true for Jung.
In any case, is there a mythic link between Mercurius and Lucifer that can be extrapolated? In the official canon of ancient Greece and Rome, most likely not, unless you make a loose link involving Nominos (the evening star) and Azizos (the morning star) who were identified with Hermes and Ares respectively and were worshipped, in their evening/morning star capacity, as heralds of the sun god Helios. Despite this there is some identification within the tradition of Luciferianism. Ben Kadosh, the eccentric father of Luciferianism, identified Lucifer with Hermes in Lucifer-Hiram through the Snake Principle, the principle of the serpent symbol, which he said belonged to Hermes-Mercurius, and described Hermes as one of the four shapes of the Lucifer (the other three shapes being the Moon or “a Moonintelligence”, Venus, and Jupiter). At first this seems outlandish, and it does indeed speak to the general loose connections that tend to be conjured up within occultism, but there was also a curious note in Asian and Jungian Views on Ethics which, although tangential to the Lumen Naturae, does touch on the relationship between Lucifer and the other gods of Greek paganism:
In Christian myth, Lucifer (literally “light-bearer”) became a rebel archangel whose fall from heaven was referred to in Isaiah 14, 42: “How thou art fallen, oh day-star, son of the morning.” This Old Testament passage, part of a polemic against the King of Babylon, was interpreted to mean that the chief of the angels who “kept not their estate” was named Lucifer before he fell, and thereafter Satan, the Adversary. This Lucifer was identified with Phosphoros and the Phosphoroi, pagan terms which referred both to the “morning and evening star” and to a particular shining or revealing quality associated with the gods prior to the Olympian cults. Thus, Hestia’s hearthfire, Hermes’ wayfinding, Artemis’ knowledge of the wilds, Hekate’s dark wisdom, Selene’s shining, Persephone’s underworld knowing, Pan’s spontaneity, and Aphrodite’s beauty were all a quality of “Phosphoros”. It was this identification that allowed Christian apologists to maintain with Augustine, that “Omnes dii genitum daemona/all the gods of the pagans are demons” and that these demons are the devil. Thus, they turned Lucifer into Sata, the adversary of Jahweh, the Old Testament God. Another often-used passage was Genesis 6 in which the “sons of God” who were set over men “fell” by copulating with “the daughters of men,” thus producing a race of demons. Those two were identified with the pagan Gods. All of those demons were seen to occupy themselves particularly with the divination and magic which was their “light”.
The identification of Phosphoros with countless gods from the ancient Greek world is sourced to Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher’s Lexikon der Grieschischen und Romischen Mythologie (or “Lexicon of Greek and Roman Mythology”). Sadly, however, I am unable to find a translation of it into English, so I couldn’t tell you what the German copy I did manage to find on the internet could tell you. If there’s anyone among my readership who can read and translate German, please get in touch so I can get a good look at what Roscher had to say about Phosphoros, particularly in relation to Hermes since there are no extant sources to Hermes (let alone Pan, Aphrodite, or Hestia) being given the Phosphoros epithet. One interesting lead it might present, however, is a either way of conceptualizing the Light of Nature which contains the abstract forms associated with the various gods (that is to say abstract ideas that correspond with hearthfire, wayfinding, knowledge of the wilds, dark wisdom, shining, underworld knowing, spontaneity and beauty), or just a separate conception of said abstract qualities that perhaps ties back to the Light of Nature. Either way, one can make parallels to the way Christianity sometimes took aspects of pagan mythos and, when they were not making demons of it, elevated aspects of it to the realm of abstract concepts relating to the divinity of God or the content of Christian salvation (for example, Christianity uses the Greek terms zoe and aion, which are associated with two gods from Greek myth, Dionysus and Aion respectively, to refer to their idea of eternal life in Heaven), which can be taken as way to compete with the heritage of Christianity, or just drawing lessons from it at a time where Christianity is still dominant in the Western world.
But, in totality, what have we established in regards to the Light of Nature? Admittedly, we seem to get a very broad and open-ended concept – the Light of Nature encompasses the skeptical intellect in alignment with Nature over dogma, the spark of the unconscious, the “fire of the underworld” which perhaps could be taken as the illumination of the unconscious, and even Jung’s prevailing conception of the “chthonic spirit” that underpins the unity of opposites. Jung’s analysis of Paracelsus’ intention is that the Light of Nature and the Light of God (the Lumen Dei) are to be taken as complimentary opposites, two separate means of attaining knowledge, sometimes even seen as co-existent in ideal circumstances. But, if we deal in a cosmos that is uncreated, whose order is thus self-emergent or self-arising (or Ziran), and whose basis is essentially fully materialistic in that the prima materia of the universe is matter-energy, where is the Father, where is the creator, and at that point if God is put in doubt where is the Lumen Dei? The Light of Nature is thus the Light that remains, and indeed always has been with us, whatever our illusions about ourselves would tell us otherwise, and it has been the spark by which we engage independently with and against the world around us, in alignment with Nature within and without, the source of existential authenticity once it becomes awakened. It is thus a latent relational construct that encompasses many psychorreal attributes, philosophical concepts and archetypal constructs, all of which fall back into the same theme in the end.
That is the Light in absence of any God that, I think, becomes the source of a much clearer concept of philosophical grounding than many other concepts that I have played with in the past. Indeed, it creates an anchor of spiritual engagement rooted in the premise that it is Nature and Man’s relationship to it that is the central locus of meaning rather than striving under a God in Heaven (whether it be Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu or any other), while building a meaningful, if anything, religious (if you choose such a word) base that does not require those Gods, because the Light of Nature operates on a basis that rejects their authority.