Magi: Helplessly Hopeful & Unrestrained Thanks

Good stories, even one's with occult and demonic source material like Magi's, are helplessly hopeful, and end up rhyming in some way with the Christian worldview.

In the last post on Magi, we looked at the series’ various literary influences, but specifically the real-life grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon and how it relates to Daniel Strange’s book, Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock. The main point of the article was summarized in a quote from Strange, that “being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ” ( 98). This is a bold statement, for sure, so I wanted to give you two examples from the series which I think illustrate Strange’s point that good stories, even one’s with occult and demonic source material like Magi‘s, are helplessly hopeful, and end up rhyming in some way with the Christian worldview. 

The first example is one of my absolute favorite things about Magi, the character Morgiana. Whether or not she is Magi’s best girl  is to be decided by those fiercely engaged in subreddit warfare, but what I can tell you is that Morgiana’s character arc is a great example of biblical salvation and redemption. The book of James, chapters one and two, discuss life in light of the gospel. Chapter one calls God’s word a mirror meant to remind us of who we are in relation to God so that we can act accordingly. Chapter two gives a powerful charge to “speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty,” which could be restated as a charge to live as people who appreciate their freedom, knowing what it was like to have once been enslaved. Morgiana’s response to her salvation is a great example of this mindful gratitude, both in how we often misunderstand it and how we should properly apply it.

She really does quite a bit of bowing in The Labyrinth of Magic series….

Morgiana is a slave who sees no hope for escape. Her tough expression and terse responses are a result of the years of terrible abuse and disdain she has experienced from those around her, and especially her master. But when her friend and a fellow slave, Goltas, saves her from their abusive owner at the cost of his own life, Morgiana wants to honor his final wish, that she return to see her homeland. Morgiana feels an even greater sense of thankfulness and obligation when Alibaba uses part of the wealth from the dungeon he captured to purchase Morgiana’s freedom and the freedom of many other slaves. But even though she has been freed, Morgiana still acts like a slave under obligation to those who set her free. Of course, this is a correct posture in one sense at least. Paul, the apostle of Jesus, said that our salvation compels us toward submission to God as “slaves of righteousness.” But in verse 19 of that passage, Paul admits that this metaphor of slavery breaks down, unable to properly communicate the freedom which comes from submission to Christ.

This freedom is the one thing that Morgiana, for all her well intentioned feelings of obligation, does not grasp:

Morgiana: “Of course, I still haven’t forgotten that I need to repay you both. But, it’s not just about that anymore. I want to do what the two of you are doing, fighting alongside you, saving people from oppression.”

Aladdin: “Tell me, Morg. Are you sure that’s something that you want?”

M: “Yes.”

A: “Then that’s what you should do. Stay with us or do whatever you like. After all, you’re free, you know?” (1.18 “Kingdom of Sindria”)

 Morgiana finally understands that those who saved her don’t want her to act as though they are enslaving her again with a sense of obligation, but for her to use her thankfulness in freedom (Gal. 4:8-11 & 5:1) The result? Morgiana’s first act of freedom is an outburst of joyous dance, very much like David’s thankful abandon in the presence of God.

She then puts herself under Alibaba’s leadership as one of his Household Members, which requires her to take a metal vessel as a weapon signifying her allegiance. She chooses her old slave chains to be her household vessel as a reminder, not of her former slavery, but of the people who set her free and the love they showed her (2 Cor. 12:9-10). She fights for the oppressed and defends her friends with a physical testimony of her past oppression and the love of her friends who freed her from it. (I’m inwardly cheering just thinking about it.)

The second example is not so much a person as it is a semi-religious element of Magi’s story. This is the idea of the Rukh. “Rukh” is a Hindi word meaning “side, aspect, or perspective,” and Magi’s use of it, as you might guess, resembles Hinduism. The Rukh are a kind of cosmic life energy that each living being is part of and rejoins upon death, but
which can also be used by the living (think of The Force from Star Wars if that helps; it was based on the same Hindu principle). But rukh is also similar in both spelling and function to the Hebrew word Ruach, meaning “breath, wind, or spirit.” This aspect of the rukh appears frequently throughout the series with the spirits of the deceased leaving their bodies to join the rukh or ghosting around in spiritual, rukh form to visit the loved ones they left behind. Magi combines both of these elements, the personal spirit (ruach) and the idea of a great cosmic force with a will of its own (rukh), to represent a third thing: the state of a  person’s soul and his or her attitude toward their respective fate.

I know that this rukh stuff might seem a bit obscure, but it becomes a little more manageable when put into practice. The rukh are categorized into dark rukh and light rukh. At first, the series gives the impression that those people who emanate light rukh have passively accepted their fate in this life, while those who emanate black rukh have cursed the chains of fate and strain against them with a destructive hatred. There is even a group called Al Thamen devoted to plunging the world into dark rukh by leading entire countries into a despairing and consuming hatred for their collective fate in an act known as “falling.” But in the last episode of the Labyrinth of Magic series, Aladdin explains to Ithnan, a member of Al Thamen, that their understanding of the rukh and fate is incorrect:

A: “When you take action, it causes war and poverty throughout the world. Why would you do such a thing?”

I: “In order to create darkness and to release everything from the prison that controls this world. In other words, from ‘fate:’ a road leading to an end decided upon by another that you cannot fight against. And the only way to escape it and live on, that’s what Falling is.”

A: “You people have the wrong idea about fate. Denying fate will cause the world to lose its power to move forward, and destruction will become its only option.” (1.25 “Alibaba and Aladdin”)

 

Ithnan and Al Thamen have adopted the satanic tagline: “non serviam – I will not serve.” They consider the way the world was created to work a kind of slavery and refuse to submit themselves to the higher authority who created it. And while the concept of “Falling” and the destruction it brings is arguably a little heavy-handed on Magi’s part, it’s adoption of this Christian concept is certainly apt. It is the opposite of Morgiana’s attitude; devoid of thankfulness, conviction, and joy. This is ultimately the reason for which Aladdin rebukes Ithnan’s perspective—his “rukh”—of fate. In a conversation with Alibaba, who has all but given up and cursed his fate in despair over the mistakes he has made and the ways he has failed, Aladdin explains how Alibaba’s view of fate, like Al Thamen’s, is incorrect:

 “Fate is not something you’re enslaved by. By overcoming it, your life and the whole world are able to move forward. […] Your battle [,your struggle,] is the Rukh’s guidance; it’s ‘fate’ itself.” (1.25 “Alibaba and Aladdin”)

Aladdin tells Alibaba that, while many think their fate is determined by the physical, temporal, geographical, and biological conditions they were born into, they are incorrect to think this way (Acts 17:24-27). Aladdin says that everyone’s fate is actually the same since fate is the call upon every person’s life to overcome their respective conditions, to fight the good fight, and to live as characters worthy of the story they are in, who turn to face hardship and triumph (John 16:33). And even though trouble doesn’t grow up out of the dirt, no woman or man has ever had to search for it any more than heat need be told to rise or sparks to fly (Job 5:6-7). But, deliverance requires something from which you can be delivered (Job 5:8-27).

Naturally, the Christian belief in the absolute sovereignty of God doesn’t jive with the detached, impersonal idea of fate. But I bring it up because Magi‘s definition of fate isn’t exactly impersonal either. The idea of fate as a calling upon the lives of all people to overcome the troubles and suffering of this life is something we find in scripture (Phil. 1:27-30), where it is called the outworking of our hearts in response to our salvation—the kind we see in Morgiana. And like Morgiana’s response to her freedom, sometimes that struggle looks like actual combat and sometimes it looks like tending to the needs of the injured and forgotten who aren’t so different than how we were once, before we were freed. Either way, it all comes from a place of gratitude. Christians just have the added benefit that God also accepts our thankfulness in the form of dance, no matter how poor the offering.

Matthew is a lover of words, stories, and song. Takes Shounen way too seriously. Spends his life trying to show the fear of God even (and especially) in a handful of dust. On occasion, quotes T.S. Eliot to seem deep and brooding.

3 Comments on this post.

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  • Zachary Brown
    6 December 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Hello!

    I’ve been following this site for a couple weeks, and I have a question related to a discussion you had in your previous post on Magi. I am posting here since I’m not sure if you only check up on your latest posts. I am interested in your view on how magic is used in popular culture and fiction. Do you view the magic depicted in contemporary pop culture as Biblical witchcraft?

    Is there a difference between the “functional magic” we usually see depicted in fiction, such as casting fireballs and conjuring ice walls, and magic that assumes God’s power? For example, a form of witchcraft would be trying to raise the dead – a power solely belonging to the Lord – and therefore, (if I understood your statement on your previous post correctly), a form of blasphemy since you are trying to usurp God’s power.

    I’ve never really considered the “magic” used in popular culture to be a form of actual magic, as “magic” is usually depicted as an extension of the laws of physics. For example: the “magic” of Naurto comes in the form of “spells” cast by a specific combination of hand seals which yield a specific result. This is treated as a methodical, scientific process which is incapable of divine feats. This of course, disregards the Edo Tensei and reincarnation ideas that are introduced later on in the series. For now, I am focusing on the general treatment of magic in fiction.

    Another example: The alchemy of Fullmetal Alchemist works similarly, as it involves the methodical use of a skill (in this case, drawing circles) to allow for the accomplishment of exaggerated feats, such as raising earth walls or igniting the air. Once again, it is incapable of divine feats. Also interestingly, the magic of this universe is governed by it’s equivalent of God, which could be (I did) interpreted as a reference to God being the ultimate creator, who created the physics of our world so that they we might exist in corporeal bodies in the first place.

    In Harry Potter, magic is once again treated in a methodical manner. You speak a certain phrase of words, and you get a specific result. “Resurrection” in this series isn’t actual resurrection, as it delays the departure of the user’s soul, and the means to accomplish this spell is immoral. I suppose it could be considered witchcraft, but even the series condemns it in that form.

    In all three cases, “magic” is treated more as a scientific result of a certain input of signals, be it hand seals, drawing circles, or speaking a certain phrase of words. It’s treated as a hypothetical exaggeration or an extension of physics. Compare that to actual “magic” or witchcraft that assumes God’s power. Astrology and necromancy seek to assume divine power (predicting the future, changing your fate, raising the dead, communicating with the dead) outside of God, and therefore a form of blasphemy since you are trying to usurp God’s power.

    Another example of the hypothetical magic seen in fiction is in Nihon Falcom’s JRPG series, “Trails in the Sky”. The “functional magic” of this setting is the result of fantastic technology, where inserting crystals into a special device can allow for the casting of certain spells. We can also extend this example to the popular Japanese light novel series, “The Irregular at Magic Highschool”, where magic is also a result of fantastic technology. Does shifting the source of the magic from the person to technology change the nature of the magic? To me, it’s hypothetical physics either way. At this point, perhaps I should just start calling this magic a form of science fiction with a mystical coat of paint, as science fiction by it’s nature deals with imagined or exaggerated depictions of reality, of what is impossible. Or is that what fantasy is? I don’t know, I’m not a literary scholar.

    Is this hypothetical magic that different from other depictions of exaggerated feats such as super heroes? Take Superman’s and Captain America’s exaggerated strength for instance. Superman can also fly. I’ve always seen that as yet another hypothetical extension of physics – as in we buy into it for the sake of the story and would not ever think it was plausible in real life – yet I can see how it could be interpreted as an attempt to assume God’s power, seeing as Jesus was the only one to ever fly when he left the disciples.

    If we consider “magic” to include all feats that would be impossible on Earth, would the Chronicles of Narnia be considered witchcraft? In Prince Caspian, the titular character uses Susan’s horn to summon/teleport/portal the Pevensie children from Earth to Narnia.

    As I understand it, the reason why God forbade us to practice witchcraft is it could tempt us into believing that there is an actual, mystical power/force/being besides God that you can use/serve. For example, parents who sacrifice their children for power, or even just being led astray into serving false gods.

    I may have misinterpreted your statement in the previous post, so please correct me if I’m wrong. “Magic” in fiction has been a pretty controversial subject in the Church since D&D began popularizing it in the ’80’s, with accusations that it encourages witchcraft because the D&D source books have lore pages talking about how this hypothetical magic would be cast. This is a very complicated topic and I haven’t put more effort into this post other than sixty minutes of hurried typing. My thoughts were also not written in order, as I’ve been trying to organize them into a coherent post.

    Leave a Reply
    • Matthew G
      6 December 2017 at 10:53 pm

      Zachary, hi! It sounds like you may have seen the comment exchange underneath the last Magi article. I do not know if you found the length of those comments intimidating or not, but my last comment on that thread definitely gives my position on some of the questions you’ve asked. So, if you find the remainder of what I say here a little incomplete and not quite answering what you’ve asked, (1.) I apologize and (2.) recommend that you jump over to the last comment I wrote on that first Magi post and consider this comment supplementary. The first three paragraphs of the other comment should be in the ball park of what you’re asking. The following, however, is more of an answer to the literary angle I thought your questions might have had.

      I like the three examples you provided of a scientific concept of magic, but I am not sure there is a difference between the scientific kind you mention (hand seals, magic circles, and incantations) and whatever the alternative is. In all three examples the science stops somewhere. Jutsu work because of hand seals and hand seals work because of chakra and chakra work for…reasons. Transmutation works because of magic circles and magic circles draw upon some unseen natural authority that exists just within human reach for their use…for presupposed reasons. My point is that there is always a magical leap somewhere which negates any kind of scientific looking or sounding facade with the fact of its very existence. And I happen to think this is true of reality too.

      With regard to the two stories you mentioned of magic simply being a product of technology, I do think that changes the nature of magic. It eliminates that magical leap and puts the story into a purely materialistic world, which actually eliminates all the intrigue of, and even the possibility for, magic. This is why series like that often then lean on the plot device of some unexplainable threat, or wildcard character with abilities that the established paradigm can’t explain, or an escalation problem where fights and characters become progressively and farfetchedly powerful in order to keep audience interest. And if those series are smart, they won’t go out of their way to try and explain every detail of the capabilities in a magical world through materialistic means. Just ask Star Wars fans about the introduction of Midichlorians to their narrative universe. And make sure you’re sitting down.

      The point is, good fictional use of magic exists for the purpose of making you consider the magic in your own world. Cliche, I know. But the point remains. If you’re really interested in this biblical view of magic stuff, the best person I know to recommend you on that topic is N.D. Wilson. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned him before in one of my anime articles somewhere, but he certainly explains how our own world is magical in a way that sneaks past the cliches. This video (https://youtu.be/6daiLoxCWzI?t=1631) is a good introduction to his stuff but I just skipped to the part where he contextualizes his view of biblical magic and then explains (like how I tried in the comments of my other article) how the real issue with magic, whether or not it is a thing, what we should think about comes down to an issue of authority. If you want some more context for the video, you can skip back to around the 18:00 mark. Again, I highly (highly) recommend his stuff.

      Let me know if my ramblings in this comment or the one on my other post answered any of your questions, or feel free to try again if not.

      Leave a Reply
      • Zachary Brown
        7 December 2017 at 1:51 am
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