Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series
Book 1: The Judging Eye
by R. Scott Bakker
Where luck is the twist of events relative to mortal hope, White-Luck is the Twist of events relative to divine desire. To worship it is to simply will what happens as it happens.
—ARS SIBBUL, SIX ONTONOMIES
This is a primer on one of the important concepts about how the Hundred Gods perceive the mortal world. They see time in its entirety. Because of that, they can see how all events will happen. If you know which number will come up in roulette, you can always make sure you win big. The White-Luck is how the gods enact their will to shape fate, making sure that all the advantages are exploited.
If you read the first series, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Hundred Gods were a myth. But they are quite real. What are their origins? Are they souls who have devoured so many others they are so powerful none in the Outside can defy them? Hard to say, but there is a principal in economics and even stellar evolution: the more you have, the more you get. Have more money, you can make more money. Have more mass, you attract more matter.
In our galaxy, the really big stars, like Betelgeuse, are rare. These are the stars that will go supernova. Most of the stars are smaller than our own sun. Despite the rarity of less than 1% of stars being supergiants, they still hold 90% or more of the visible mass in our universe. It’s a law that can’t be denied.
The Gods maybe that. They just became the super-massive souls of the outside and gained enough power to influence the world through priests and priestess who prayed to them. Maybe this leads to the first shamans, the Sorcerers who were also priests before the Tusk came along and condemned sorcery as a sin.
I think the Gods were just souls who grew so massive they had vast influence on the Outside. Fane called them Ciphrangs. Demons. They reward their worshipers by eating their souls. Even those who are “saved” are merely those claimed by a god and consumed. This is what Kellhus appears to want to destroy, but not through the Consult’s way, which is through annihilation.
Kellhus wants to preserve mankind. But now he’s dead, but his soul escaped Ajokli. We’ll see if this matters in the next series or not.
Also, Ajokli… His name is A Joke. Is that intentional? It just came to me as I was checking the spelling of his name after writing this entire reread. He’s the god of assassins. A beetle god that has his proxy or symbol killed by Kelmomas in the prologue only for Ajokli’s next avatar, Kellhus, to be similarly killed because of Kelmomas’s unseen presence appearing in the climax. Then Kellhus’s soul even appears to escape him.
Anyways, back to the rest of the reread.
It is fitting, however, to introduce the Gods and their powers as we see that Yatwer has power. That the Gods are able to affect this world. They are not superstition. They can see the Second Apocalypse coming, but they are blind to its cause.
It really, really shouldn’t have been a shock to us readers when we read who activates the No-God. The clues are there. The Gods could see Kellhus, so he COULD NEVER have done it.
Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Iothiah
Psatama Nannaferi is begging, knowing not to those who give her coin in the eyes so as not to influence them in their decision to give her coin. The words of Sinyatwa echo in her mind: “From seed to womb, from seed to furrow. The right hand cannot give to the left…”
To give was to lose. It was an arithmetic with only one direction.
This was the miracle of the Ur-Mother, Yatwer, the Goddess of Fertility and Servitude, who moved through the world in the form of more and more and more. Unasked for bounty. Undeserved plenitude. She was the pure Gift, the breaking of tit for tat, the very principle of the birthing world. It was She who made time flesh.
Nannaferi realizes that people have figured out she’s the “Priestess-Mother” of the faith and not a simple beggar. Even in a city as big as Iothiah, people have uncovered her from among the teeming masses of beggars. And even though they know coming to her was a violation of the Beggar’s Sermon, they can’t help but assume that their offering will count. If she accused them of trying to bribe Yatwer, they would lie and say they were just wanting to give.
Such a strange thing, giving, as if the arms of beggars could be the balance of the world.
She has to move because she saves no souls now. Ignorance is the path to redemption in Yatwer’s cult. As she gathers to leave, three fat, silver coins fall before her, proving she’s exposed. “Excess generosity was ever the sign of greed.” She leaves them behind even as she knows other priestesses would take them. But she’s Psatama Nannaferi. She’s not like other ones. Her ecstasy falls upon her a step later.
It began as it always did, with a curious buzzing in the ears, as though dragonflies swarmed about her head. Then the ground bucked and flopped like cloth thrown over fish, and watercolour haloes swung about every living form. And she saw her, though she could not turn to look, a shadow woman, spoked in sun-silver, walking where everything and everyone exploded like clay urns, a silhouette so sharp it cut eyes sideways. A hand reached out and pressed the side of her hooded head, irresistibly gentle, forcing her cheek down to the pungent earth.
She gasps out “Mother” and is called child. She is told that her brother has arrived. “The White-Luck Warrior has come.” Psatama is shocked that it’s already happening. She’s told that it will happen on the “anointed day.”
Her body was but a string tied about an infinite iron nail, woolen tailings that trembled in an otherworldly wind.
“And the D-D-Demon?”
“Will be driven to his doom.”
Then the roar vanished, sucked up like smoke from the opium bowl. The blasted streets became a wall of onlookers, peopled by vendors, teamsters, harlots, and soldiers. And the shadow became a man, a Nansur caste-noble by the look of him, with concerned yet gentle eyes. And the hand was his hand, rubbing her poxed cheek the way you might massage a sleeping limb.
He does not fear to touch—
He asks her if she’s okay and how long she’s had the Falling Sickness. She ignores him and everyone else, thinking what did any of them know of giving.
Iothiah is an ancient city, far older than the Thousand Temples. Just like the Cult of Yatwer. Now a new temple to Yatwer has been built in Iothiah, the Chatafet Temple. It is reputed to be one of the most popular in the Three Seas. It teems with new converts from the Fanim. “But for those initiated in the greater mysteries of the Cult, it was little more than a point of administrative pride.” Iothiah’s true significance to Yatwer’s followers is the Ilchara Catacombs. The great Womb-of-the-Dead. Though the temple that stood over it, the famous Temple of Ilchara, had been destroyed by the Fanim, the catacombs survived. Now it’s just a small opening hidden amid tenement buildings. Only the flags with Yatwer’s sacred symbol mark it as important
Nannaferi leads her fellow priestesses into the catacombs, fighting against her aged back to keep her head held high. She feels her vision cloaking her and believes the others can tell she’s been blessed, giving her covetous glances. Though she’s short of stature and scared by pox, she imposes herself among them. As an acolyte, older sisters had her punished to uphold their own superiority, sensing the strength of her personality. They would call her the “Shigeki pox-girl” with disdain to ignore and diminish her. But they couldn’t.
Gravitas, the ancient Ceneians would have called it.
They never could hate her, for that would have been admitting she was better. So they were forced to respect her, which was the only way she would not suffocate them with her presence. It took her twenty years to become the Matriarch, the official leader of the Cult, answerable only to Shriah. Six years later, they declared her Mother-Supreme, the outlawed title of the true leader. The Thousand Temples sought to break the Cult by declaring it heresy, but they held the title in secret.
The priestesses descended single-file into the catacombs, murmuring a ritual invocation. The catacombs had been looted of the treasure, but the Fanim hadn’t done more after than seal it, calling the place the Pit of the She-Demon. Even the Fanim knew to fear Yatwer. The Elder Scriptures, the Hirgarata and The Chronicle of the Tusk didn’t write much on Yatwer because the authors were drunk on masculine virtue. Yatwer is feared because she is the one who aids the poor. The downtrodden. The farmers and slaves. The “toiling multitudes who carried the caste-nobility like a foul slime upon their backs.” Yatwer both celebrates and avenges the poor.
Even her brother War, it was said, feared her. Even Gilgaöl from Yatwer’s bloody gaze.
And well he should.
Planting her cane before her, Psatama Nannaferi strode into the shadows of the ancient sandstone lintels. She entered the worldly womb of the Ur-Mother, descended into the company of her long-dead sisters.
The catacombs wind deep into the earth, the recessed walls packed with urns, some so ancient they couldn’t read the script. Here, Yatwer’s priestesses were brought to “slumber in holy community” in the Womb-of-the-Dead. The other high-priestesses with her feel the awe of this place safe Vethenestra, who “posed” as the Chalfantic Oracle, pretended to be unaffected.
Take-take-take. It was a wickedness, a pollution, that knew no bounds.
It was the very essence of the Demon.
She clutches to her anger as she leads the group to the Charnel Hall. She thought of it as her middle anger, just strong enough o singe. “Everything was sinful, everything was accountable; this was simply the truth of an unruly and disordered world.” The Goddess will cultivate the world, using Nannaferi as her hoe and plow. Her fellow priests would be the remade into the soil for the White-Luck Warrior.
There was no vanity in her task. The Goddess had made her into the rule with which the world would be measured—no more, no less. Who was Nannaferi to take heart or pride in this, let alone question the why and wherefore? The knife, as the Galeoth saying went, was no greater for the skinning.
Only more doused in blood.
They sit around the Struck Table where Yatwer had once chastised her wayward daughters. Nannaferi takes Yatwer’s spot, the cracks in the table running from where she sits to each of the other seats. She lets the others have their banter and conversation since many haven’t seen each other in some time. Friendship is one of Yatwer’s gifts, so Nannaferi tolerates this, especially since these women are rarely among equals. Instead, they are surrounded by subordinates. Soon, the enormity of their meeting silences them. They adopt Nannaferi’s rigid pose. Even the oracle does. All save for Sharacinth who is the Matriarch, the “Official” leader.
This is the second time the Struck Table has been called since the heathens took Iothiah. The last was when the Holy War first started. They were celebrating it, not realizing that a Demon would take it over and become the Aspect-Emperor. Nanneferi smacks her cane in emphasis, startling everyone. Then she pulls out a Chorae, a Holy Tear of God, from beneath her robes. This is different. She is not following the normal rituals and prayers, but going straight to the matter at hand. Comprehension dawns in them.
Their Goddess girded for war.
She says they have to deal with a witch, implying one of them could use Sorcery. They all protest in shock save Vethenestra, who pretends she knew all along. “What kind of Oracle would she be otherwise.” Maharta, the youngest member and a political appointee, asks how Nannaferi could know this. Nannaferi says the Goddess let her know.
Eleva reveals herself to be the witch and begins calling on her sorcerery. Sharhild attacks her with a knife but is thrown against the wall. The other priestesses scramble and ran while “shadows twisted about the hinges of things.”
The thwack of iron on wood. A blinking incandescence. A sucking roar.
The witch is salted, killed by the Chorae hitting her. The others are stunned that Eleva could have been a witch. Nannaferi says Eleva was killed and replaced days ago. The witch’s true form is that of a young and buxom girl. She declares that this is proof Kellhus and his followers are depraved. He unleashed his witches, the School of Sawayal, to hunt them. “Yet another of the Aspect-Emperor’s many blasphemies.”
Sharhild, an old Thunyeri shield-maiden, has survived and is helped to her feet, praised for her courage. Maharta cries in snuffling silence, and Vethenestra looks stunned. Questions and comments explode through the room. Vethenestra claims she dreamed of this while others ask if the Shriah is after them, or if it’s the Empress. Phoracia says Eleva touched a Chorae only three months ago. Which means she was replaced after receiving the secret summons. How could that be possible?
“Yes,” Nannaferi said, her tone filled with a recognition of menace that cleared the room of competing voices. “The Shriah knows of me. He has known of me for quite some time.”
The Shriah. The Holy Father of the Thousand Temples.
The Demon’s brother, Maithanet.
She goes on to say her outlawed post is tolerated because the Demon and his ilk prize secret knowledge and think they can control it. Aethiola says they’re doomed like what happened to the Anagkians. A few months ago, five assassins from the Cult of the Goddess of Fate tried to assassinate Kelmomas at his whelming. The Empress reactions had been predictable. The Matriarch had been murdered in one of several rumored, and gruesome, ways while others were arrested by Shrial Knights and never seen again. Nannaferi says they are a different Cult. This isn’t a vain boast. Only Gilgaöl has as many followers as Yatwer. Most Cults didn’t have strong roots. They could be pulled down easily. Yatwer’s Cult flourished wherever there were the poor and slaves.
Phoracia points out that they are up against the Aspect-Emperor. They never speak the “Demon’s” name. Nannaferi points out his most fanatical followers went with him on his Ordeal, and the Orthodox, though numerous, are not in their council chambers. Maharta adds that even Fanayal is growing bold. Phoracia keeps arguing that they don’t understand how powerful Kellhus is. She has met him. Her ranting is cut off as she realized she’s overstepped her bounds and asks Nannaferi’s forgiveness. Nannaferi agrees that they don’t know his power, but though they don’t know, their Goddess does.
Sharhild realizes that Yatwer has given Nannaferi visions. This sparks excitement as the other asks if it’s true. Phoracia continues harping about Kellhus, the others shutting up out of embarrassment for her. She asks what Yatwer says about him.
And there it was, the fact of their blasphemy, exposed in the honesty of an old woman’s muddled soul. Their fear of the Aspect-Emperor had come to eclipse all other terrors, even those reserved for the Goddess.
One could only worship at angles without fear.
Nannaferi struggles to explain how Yatwer sees time non-linearly and calls Vethenestra a fool and a fake when the seer is brought up. That quiets everyone. Vethenestra grows scared, asking if she’s displeased Nannaferi, She regards the seer as if she’s broken and says Yatwer is displeased. Vethenestra is stripped of her title and told to leave and join her dead sisters.
An image of her own sister came to Nannaferi, her childhood twin, the one who didn’t survive the pox. In a heartbeat it all seemed to pass through her, the whooping laughter, the giggling into shoulders, the teary-eyed shushing. And it ached, somehow, to know that her soul had once sounded such notes of joy. It reminded her of what had been given…
And those few things that remained.
Vethenestra at first moves slowly to the exit like she expects to be called back. She pauses at the dark maw. Everyone can fill that something is occupying it. A menstrual-red smoke winds through the opening. Vethenestra, realizing she’s truly banished, steps out of this world and is swallowed. She vanishes in a heartbeat. Silence filled the halls. Everyone but Nannaferi is stunned by the manifestation of the Goddess, the Blood of Fertility, that’s here with them, “lending her fury to the blood dark.” Maharta is the first to kneel. The rest follow. Nannaferi calls out, “Your daughters are clean, Mother.” The women all stare at Nannaferi with frightened reverence. They crawl to her and kiss her knees, knowing she truly is chosen by Yatwer.
“Tell them,” she [Nannaferi] said to her sisters, her voice hoarse with the passion to dominate. “In whispers, let your congregations know. Tell them the White-Luck turns against their glorious Aspect-Emperor.”
They had to take such gifts that were given. Even those beyond their comprehension…
“Tell them the Mother sends her Son.”
Or that would see them dead.
Kelmomas is pretending that the gardens in the center of the Imperial Apartments are the roof of the world. He can see Momemn stretching out to the west, the Meneanor Sea to the east. Every direction spreads out beneath the blue sky. He’s fascinated by the sycamores waving in the wind, their arrhythmic movement entrancing.
He would very much like to be a tree, Kelmomas decided.
His “secret voice” whispers suggestions to relieve his boredom, but instead, he focuses on his mother speaking. He’s lying on his belly and peering through the gaps in a railing to just see her. She is speaking to Maithanet about the Cult of Yatwer, asking if they should move against them. Maithanet says they’re too populous for that while Theliopa says that six out of ten caste menials attend her rites.
The pause in Mother’s reply said it all. It wasn’t so much that she reviled her own daughter—Mother could never hate her own—only that she could find no reflection of herself, nothing obviously human. There was no warmth whatsoever in Theliopa, only facts piled upon facts and an intense aversion to all the intricacies that seal the intervals between people. The sixteen-year-old could scarce look at another’s face, so deep was her horror of chancing upon a gaze.
“Thank you, Thel.”
Kelmomas thinks Theliopa is a dead limb unable to feel the world around her. Mother only uses her because Kellhus ordered it. He listens as Esmenet asks Maithanet if he has an idea on what to do. Kelmomas doesn’t care about the subject of the conversation only the fear it breeds in his mother. His “secret voice” thinks she needs them.
The nursemaid, Porsi, brings Samarmas. Kelmomas gets up and skips along the veranda, delighting his idiot twin. As he does, Porsi asks the boys what games they would like to play. As she prattles on, he reads her face. He often pretends to play her games while actually playing one of his own to test her responses. He’s learned how his tone and expression matter as much as the words. He understands how to manipulate her emotions. Every time she compares him to his father, it makes Kelmomas exult that slaves can recognize him.
Using his knowledge of her, he fakes having the Shudders, something he’s done so well it’s fooled the court physician, Hagitatas. He could make himself feverish, control his body temperature. Even Samarmas could do this. So when he tells her it’s starting, she runs off to get his medicine which he’s hidden. He’ll be alone with Samarmas for a while while she frantically searches for his medicine.
Meanwhile, his mother is asking if the Yatwerians are mad because Kellhus is the only chance of salvation. Maithanet points out the Cultists are like all men: “they see only what they know.” They don’t like change.
Kelmomas contemplates his brother at play. “A toy Prince-Imperial poking toys that were smaller still.”
Only the lazy battle of boredom and awe in his [Samarmas] expression made him [seem] real.
Esmenet asks about the White-Luck. Theliopa explains it’s an ancient folk belief from ancient times. It’s “an extreme form of providence, a Gift of the Gods against worldly tuh-tuh-tyranny.”
Samarmas chants White-Luck as he plays. Kelmomas glares at Samarmas to get him to shut up, knowing Maithanet and even Theliopa could hear that.
Maithanet thinks the White-Luck might be more than a “self-serving fraud.”
Samarmas gathers more toys, even one he calls Mommy and kisses it to a dragon, finding wonder in doing that.
Kelmomas had been born staring into the deluge that was his twin’s face. For a time, he knew, his mother’s physicians had feared for him because it seemed he could do little more than gaze at his brother. All he remembered were the squalls of blowing hurt and wheezing gratification, and a hunger so elemental that it swallowed the space between them, soldered their faces into a single soul. The world was shouldered to the periphery. The tutors and the physicians had droned from the edges, not so much ignored as overlooked by a two-bodied creature who stared endlessly into its own inscrutable eyes.
Only in his third summer, when Hagitatas, with doddering yet implacable patience, made a litany of the differences between beast, man, and god, was Kelmomas able to overcome the tumult that was his brother. “Beasts move,” the old physician would rasp. “Men reflect. Gods make real.” Over and over. “Beasts move. Men reflect. Gods make real. Beasts move…” Perhaps it was simply the repetition. Perhaps it was the palsied tone, the way his breath undid the substance of his words, allowing them to soak into the between places, the gem-cutting lines. “Beasts move…” Over and over, until finally Kelmomas simply turned to him and said, “Men reflect.”
A blink, and what was one had become two.
After that, Samarmas’s bestial face disgusted Kelmomas. He sees Samarmas as a foul thing who fooled their mother. He’s kept back his true feelings and grown used to the fact that his brother is nothing more than dog. Mimicking his mother’s smile, Kelmomas shows off a dangerous feat to his brother, extorting him to watch. Samarmas gurgles in pleasure as Kelmomas says you can’t do this. Samarmas agrees.
Meanwhile, Maithanet explains how the Gods can’t see the No-God because “they are blind to any intelligence without soul.” They didn’t see the First Apocalypse coming and therefore can’t see the Second. Esmenet is still confused why Kellhus, a Prophet, would be hunted by the Gods.
As this goes on, Kelmomas mocks his brother, asking if he can do anything.
Inri Sejenus, as Maithanet explains, saw the Gods as fragments of the God. Kellhus is a prophet of the “Voice-Absolute.” This means the Gods war with the desires of the sum total of their existence. Theliopa adds that there are plenty of scriptures that refer to the Gods as similar to men, fearing the darkness and Waring against what they fear.
Kelmomas has an “idea” of what his brother can do. Samarmas is awed that there is something he can do and asks what.
Maithanet explains how humans are full of conflicting desires that war with each other. “We are not is different from the world we live in, Esmi…” She knows this.
Kelmomas asks Samarmas if he can balance. Samarmas proves he can by perching on banister while Kelmomas watches from the playroom.
Maithanet said just the rumors of the White-Luck Warrior are a “dire threat.” Esmenet agrees, but how do they fight one?
Kelmomas could almost see his uncle’s simulated frown.
“How else? With more rumours.”
Samarmas is balancing. He’s having fun.
Maithanet suggests inviting the Yatwerian Matriarch to the Andiamine heights.
Samarmas almost falls and is scared as he fights for balance.
Esmenet points out that the Matriarch doesn’t rule the cult. Maithanet says this can work for them since Sharacinth doesn’t like being a figurehead.
Samarmas catches his balance and giggles nervously. Doesn’t stop.
Esmenet realizes Maithanet means to bribe Sharacinth to be Mother-Superior.
The slender body bent about an invisible point, one which seemed to roll from side to side.
The surrounding air deep with the promise of gravity.
Esmenet adds that as Shriah, he has power over her. He believes for this reason Sharacinth is in the dark about the Cult’s plans.
Samarmas has his balance again. Grinning.
Esmenet and Maithanet plan on using Sharacinth to create a schism in the Yatwerian Cult.
Samarmas tottering. A bare foot, ivory bright in the glare, swinging out from behind the heel of the other, around and forward, sole descending, pressing like damp cloth across the stone. A sound like a sip.
The shadow of a boy foreshortened by the high angle of the sun. Outstretched hands yanked into empty-air clutches. Feet and legs flickering out. A silhouette, loose and tight-bundled, falling through the barred shadow of the baulustrade. A gasp flecked with spittle.
Kelmomas stood blinking at the empty balcony, oblivious to the uproar rising from below.
Kelmomas thinks of himself like his father, able to see more with his “soul’s eye” than others. Ever since he learned Hagitatas’s lesson. This is why that Kelmomas knew that the “love and worship” Samarmas had for him would let him manipulate his brother. Kelmomas knew where the Pillarian Guards would be. Alarms ring out. Soldiers stare in horror at his brother’s body. Kelmomas fakes being stunned and leans out over the railing to stare down at his brother’s broken form. Then he wipes up the olive oil he left on the railing before crying “the way a little boy should.”
Why? the voice asked. The secret voice.
Why didn’t you kill me sooner?
He saw his mother beat her way through the Pillarian Guards, heard her inconsolable scream. He watched his uncle, the Holy Shriah, grasp her shoulders as she fell upon her beloved son. He saw his sister Theliopa, absurd in her black gowns, approach in fey curiosity. He glimpsed one of his own tears falling, a liquid beat, falling, breaking upon his twin’s slack cheek.
A thing so tragic. SO much love would be required to heal.
“Mommy!” he cried! “Mommeeeeeee!”
Gods make real.
Esmenet finds love in preparing Samarmas for burial, staring down at his body in the funerary room. She hums as she cleans his naked flesh. She sometimes cries. When her weeping passes, she resumes her work, memorizing every bit of him.
She absorbed all of it, traced and daubed and rinsed it, with movements that seemed indistinguishable from devotion.
There was such love in the touch of a son.
Kelmomas pretends to weep as Esmenet holds him tight, crying and begging him to never let go. Her grief is special to him. She is his scripture. His paradise isn’t in heaven, it’s right here in her arms as she comforts him.
“Kel,” she sobbed. “Poor baby.”
He keened, squashed the urge to kick his feet in laughter. Yes! he cried in silent glee, the limb-wagging exultation of a child redeemed. Yes!
And it had been so easy.
You are, the secret voice said, her only love remaining.
Her saying on begging “From seed to womb, from seed to furrow” is a fertility metaphor. It’s meaning is clear, that for a man to reproduce, he has to give something up. It also applies to those giving coins to beggars. And since she is being a symbolic representative of her goddess, and the coins are symbolic seed, she has to make sure they are giving for their own reasons and not to please her. Not to be influenced by her. This is why she has to leave because giving to achieve something greater, like salvation, isn’t truly giving. Because then you are receiving something, too.
The arithmetic for giving only goes one way.
Beggars are a good measure of the world. A judging balance. Think Ma’at’s Feather in Egyptian mythology. Your heart is weighed against it. Lighter, you get to survive. Heavy with sin, you’re thrown to Ammit to be devoured. How you treat those lesser than you is a good measure of who you are.
And who is lesser than a beggar?
We come back to the Christian concept of good deeds for the sake of appearing good is disgusting to God. You can’t bribe your way into heaven by works. You should do the good deeds out of love for your fellow men expecting nothing in return. No reward. A true gift. Yatwer’s cult is similar, but because they know every time they give to a beggar it could be a priestess, especially the priestess, is it every truly a gift? Apparently, it’s good enough it if becomes a habit. Something we do out of rote without thought.
Action performed through IGNORANCE.
Bakker is also drawing us to the contention that religion is born out of ignorance and that rational thought is something that leads away from faith. That the Cult survives because its followers do not question but obey. Yatwer is another Darkness that Comes Before.
Nannaferi is having an “ecstasy.” A religious vision. The description is very much in line with historical records of saints and others. Notice how Bakker then has someone comment she has the Falling Disease. This is an old term for having epilepsy. She’s having a seizure, which causes all manner of neurons to misfire. Bakker is making us question if this woman really is getting a message from Yatwer. At this point in the story, if you’re reading this series for the first time, we don’t realize just how powerful and active the gods are. They didn’t seem to do anything in the last trilogy. But here we have Yatwer truly talking to Nannaferi and telling her of future events.
“Your brother has finally arrived,” and, “On the anointed day,” are how Yatwer speaks of the White-Luck Warrior. She says he has arrived and yet he won’t be here until the future. This is our first clue on how Yatwer sees the world. He’s already arrived for her but not for Nannaferi.
The mysteries of the Cult is a phrase that hearkens us back to Greek and Roman times. This is when the Mystery Religions flourished. Cults of various deities, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and even new gods, dominated. You had to be initiated into secret rites, not unlike the Free Masons of modern times (which are often accused of being successors to the mystery religions). In secret places were performed magic and orgies and sacrificial rites. They were for special people. The chosen enlightened to discover and keep that secret. To hoard the truth from the masses.
The harvest sickle that’s at once a pregnant belly is the symbol of Yatwer. Both the harvesting of the bounty of fertility, the wheat’s death to sustain other life, and the symbol for new life about to be born goes along with the fact that Yatwer is both a fertility cult and a death cult, embracing the full breathy of life. That from death is born new life, for the carbon and other elements that make us up need to be recycled so new life can replace us.
Bakker does a good job introducing us to Psatama Nannaferi and who she is and her past. No deep details, but the board strokes to understand this woman and the iron will. She won’t compromise her morals even when it would be beneficial in the short term.
Taking is the very essence of Kellhus (and the other Dûnyain) and stands at odds with Yatwer. Nannaferi has this assessment correct. Dûnyain do nothing without gain. Any gift they give is like the silvers thrown at Nannaferi’s feet: bribes to get you to do their will. Nothing is free from the Dûnyain. They are the very antithesis to Yatwer and her worshipers. It is no wonder that they are the ones who rise up to oppose him.
“Everything was sinful.” Is it no wonder that later on Nannaferi doesn’t flinch from her goddess being accused of punishing even her followers and devouring them. She’s a fanatic who believed it is necessary. The only way for Yatwer to cultivate the world into order.
We see more of Bakker’s thesis that faith comes out of blind devotion. Something to never be questioned. Something to be followed because the Goddess, in Nannaferi’s case, is something better than her. Something that knows right and wrong. Better to follow her will than to be sinful.
Nannaferi says she has no vanity, but her POV is full of her thinking she’s better than the others. She takes pleasure in cowing them and lording over their sins. When one has a strong personality, how can there not be ego?
The witch scene both show us that Nannaferi’s visions are reliable and refresh us on how Chorae work with sorcery. How it turns a person to salt and undoes their magic. It accomplishes both a recap of lord and world-building along with proving Nannaferi’s bonafide. She’s not a fake seer like Vethenestra.
You can see how Kellhus, from the outside perspective, appears to be the evil tyrant. The false leader that the righteous servants of the beaten-down true gods are seeking to destroy. Another fantasy trope here, only their Goddess operates out of fear and jealousy of losing her followers. Not out of any care of how evil he is. The irony is, Kellhus’s is the world’s best hope to stop the Consult.
Life is a gift. But one that can be taken back. Nannaferi is reminded of those few things left to her as she pronounces judgment on Vethenestra who is about to have her life taken back.
And if you want any proof that Yatwer is real, she just devoured Vethenestra. Bakker wants us to have no doubts about the Gods in this series. They are real entities that have agency and shall be utilizing it in this story.
Trees are equated with Dûnyain time and time again. They war in every direction at once, just the way a Dûnyain should. Kelmomas wants to be a Dûnyain. He yearns for it, but he isn’t a tree. He’s not a true Dûnyain. He knows this at some level.
The tree metaphor continues. Theliopa is a dead branch. She can’t understand social niceties because of her autism. She has the intellect, but not the ability to fake being human. She can never war in every direction at once because she can only be one thing.
Kelmomas is still a child. He plays games throughout the entire series. That’s all this is for him. A way to keep himself amused and to have what he selfishly wants: his mother all to himself. He has no morality, no children do but has to learn it. That’s combined with far, far too much intellect. He doesn’t have the morality to leash his intellect and keep from being utterly dominated by his desires. He’s Inchoroi; he just hasn’t developed physically enough to care about other forms of gratification. Notice how he enjoys being compared to his father.
Reading about Samarmas blissfully at play unaware that his twin brother is plotting his murder is heartbreaking. As I’ve mentioned before, I spent several years working with the handicapped including many with severe autism and other mental handicaps that, though they were adults, they had very children-like personalities. They were often happy, playful, taking joy in life that I sometimes envied.
“Beasts move. Men reflect. Gods makes real.” Beasts just react, men think, and gods make changes to the world. Create miracles. This feeds back into sorcery. Why it leaves the Mark because what sorcerry does is an imperfect creation. Only the Psûkhe with their emotion-charged magic, drawing on feelings and belief instead of logic or arguments like with the other types of magic.
We see here that the Outside is based on belief in how Bakker’s sorcery works. The magic that draws on logic and mathematics, or on arguments and metaphors, doesn’t capture the world perfectly. No, it’s imagination. Feelings. Emotions. It’s more than “thinking” and more than “doing” that is the providence of Gods. Creation cannot come from logic, from math, from the statistic, from making perfect geometries. Nature isn’t perfect. It also can’t come from making a good comparison. Creation is an internal act, not an external one.
“They [the Gods] are blind to any intelligence without a soul.” We learn later on that the No-God is actually some form of AI. One that was directing the Arc and was badly damaged in the crash. It appears to need some sort of biological component, a mind, to do its processing and, hence, why it needs a host. We know Nau-Cayûti is one such host, and Kelmomas is the other. Because Kelmomas is destined to become the “intelligence without a soul,” he also can’t be seen by the gods.
Maithanet’s explanation on Esmenet’s soul is interesting. We all have those conflicting desires in ourselves, the war to do one thing over another. To surrender to vice. To strive for virtue. If there was some entity that perceived our various inclinations as a separate entity, our desire to be lazy and skip work would be one god while our desire to keep paying our bills and demanding we go to work is another. Those two impulses battling in us would be seen as those two gods warring. In fact, they would be bitter enemies with sloth probably the evil god who usually gets beaten.
This entity couldn’t understand how they could, in fact, be part of the same whole.
This feeds into the Oversoul idea Kellhus has spoken of. That all souls are just points in the real world where one vast soul is thrusting out little fillers to understand it. None of these souls can remember they’re really one vast soul. This seems to be how the cosmology works in Bakker’s story. By killing enough bits of these souls thrust into the real world, the Consult will slay this Oversoul and free themselves from damnation and only find annihilation when they die. They would, in fact, be vestiges of something already dead. It’s as if the brain has died, but the cells in stomach haven’t gotten the message yet and are still happily digesting your last meal.
Rumors fighting rumors. Isn’t that politics in a nutshell?
Maithanet is wrong about Sharacinth being in the dark. She was there at the unveiling of Nannaferi’s connection to the goddess.
The cutting between Samarmas balancing and about to fall with the conversation is great at building tension. We can see that, though stunted mentally, Samarmas has a control over his body a boy that age shouldn’t. This section builds and builds until that promise of gravity in the air is fulfilled.
Such a tragic end. You can feel Kelmomas’s plan building and building as he lures his brother to his death. We also get to see the extant of Kelmomas’s delusion. It’s not just any voice that’s in his head, it’s the “real” Samarmas. Kelmomas wants to be a mighty tree, but he has a flaw. That voice isn’t his brother. That’s his own madness whispering the words he wants to hear. He thinks his soul was split in half. So he kills his brother. Now he gets his mother’s love all to himself.
And she needs his love so much right now.
The scene where Esmenet readies Samarmas… Bakker really caught the emotions. Puts you in her shoes. What a terrible thing to have to do. And then we transition to Kelmomas’s exultation. He’s ecstatic. He has his mother all to himself.
Or so he thinks.
To save the skies, Ary must die!
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