Dark Souls: On Dragons, Gods, and Philosophers

Dark Souls: On Dragons, Gods, and Philosophers

Seath the Scaleless, the Egyptian God of chaos, Seth, and Friedrich Nietzsche: What could this unlikely trio possibly have in common? Well, you might be surprised.

Seath is similar to Seth in more ways than name alone, and the albino dragon and the philosopher plagued by health problems actually have a lot in common. This writing aims to show that, but not to imply FromSoft’s intent; it is simply an observation of facts, which coincidentally align.

Seth’s bio is too rich to go into in detail here. The main thing to know about him is he is a usurper who murdered his own brother, and has a fearsome appearance. This is described a little more, shortly. But first, here’s Seath’s backstory from Dark Souls:

Seath, the albino dragon, betrayed his own kind out of jealousy; for unlike his brethren, Seath did not possess the stone scales of immortality. Together with Gravelord Nito and the Witch of Izalith; Seath allied with Gwyn, the Lord of Cinder, and brought his own race to the brink of extinction, with many believing Seath to be the last of his kind. As reward for his service, Gwyn anointed Seath the title of “Duke” and gave him permission to build a grand archive where Seath could continue his research into his long held desire for immortality. This archive would come to be known as “The Duke’s Archives“. Along with these gifts, Gwyn also bestowed upon Seath a shard of his Lord Soul. After much research, Seath finally achieved his goal of immortality through the discovery of the Primordial Crystal. However, the discovery did not come without a price. As the dragon delved deeper and deeper into his research, Seath’s mind began to fade, and by the time he had achieved his goals, he had descended into madness. Becoming more and more paranoid, Seath locked himself away in the archives, fearing the other lords would attempt to steal his immortality for themselves. Barricaded within the archives, Seath sent his Channeler servants far and wide across the land to kidnap fair maidens and undead for his experiments.

So, basically: Seath coveted the Elder Dragons’ immortality; through betrayal, he ensured their demise; as a consequence, he eventually obtained immortality, via the Primordial Crystal he stole from them during his defection.

In comparison: Seth envied his revered and powerful brother, Osiris; using trickery, he murdered Osiris; he then went on to usurp his brother’s esteemed position.

So, to summarize: they were both prestigious yet still jealous of something they didn’t have that others like them did; relying on forms of deception, they took the lives of their own kin; and thus they attained the object of their desire.

Additionally, in terms of appearance, Seath could be considered a ‘Seth animal,’ which is a depiction of Seth. Characterized by long, thin ears and a long, thin neck and snout, with a forked tail, the Seth animal is an unlikely composite of numerous different creatures including dogs, aardvarks, and giraffes to name just a few. The point is, the Seth animal is unrecognizable as any one animal in particular. In this way, Seath embodies the Seth animal. For he incorporates elements from a variety of beings, whether from fact or fiction, yet resembles none of them, overall: he has the facial features of a dragon; the ears and snout of an aardvark; the long neck of a giraffe; the hands, arms, and torso of a human; the lower-body of a tentacled sea monster, or snakes for legs, basically; and his six wings seem modeled after the wings of insects, birds, and dragons alike.

The crystal Seath stole, by the way, could be based on the Philosopher’s Stone, also known as the ‘elixir of life’, a legendary alchemical substance capable of transmuting lead into gold and even immortalizing oneself.

The ouroboros – a circularized snake eating its own tail – is a universal symbol of immortality. While not necessarily linked to alchemy, it can be, sometimes; particularly when “one is the all” is centered within the image. Metaphorically, Seath’s act of betrayal of his fellow dragons is reminiscent of the image of the ouroboros: dragon-kind ‘eating’ or cannibalizing itself, so to speak; specifically one dragon, who attacked and survived the others, becoming ‘the all’ in the sense that, at that point, Seath literally was ‘all the dragons’ that remained, and subsequently gaining immortality.

As an aside, Seath is closely associated with crystals in general: his signature attack is his crystal magic breath, causing curse/petrification (crystallization); his body, encrusted with crystals, possibly as a symptom of his own gradual crystallization (a possible negative side effect of his research into crystal magic); and he fashioned the Moonlight Butterfly, Crystal Golems, and more out of sorcery. So, Seath is the crystal lizard (not to mention the magic dragon, not to be confused with that friendless loser, Puff).

So, are crystal lizards possibly associated with Seath? His own ‘homunculus’ – small, alchemical humans, or in this case, dragons – perhaps? They all drop crafting materials used to upgrade equipment, afterall – roughly analogous to alchemic ingredients used to transmute metals.

Anyway, given that the Primordial Crystal is based on the Philosopher’s Stone, there is at least that admittedly flimsy semantic connection to justify seguing to comparing Seath to the actual philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

The description of the Moonlight Greatsword states Seath is the “grandfather of Sorcery,” even though there is little evidence of him creating or using any known spells, all of which were later developed by people; Nietzsche is sometimes thought of as the “father of Nihilism,” despite the fact he didn’t invent the concept, and was not a proponent of it.

Nietzsche famously announced, “God is dead.” Seath is associated with the death of God(s) in his own way – insofar as a major part of his backstory is his involvement in Lord Gwyn’s successful genocidal assault against the Eternal Dragons, in which Seath played a key role, and to the extent that said dragons are comparable to Gods.

In Souls lore as well as many other tales involving magic-users, Sorcery is portrayed as a “logical academic discipline,” associated with ‘INT’ellectual talents and scholarly pursuits. Seath had a grand god damn archive filled with information, and devoted his life to studying and experimenting with magic and Sorcery.

Now, if it’s unclear why this is significant, please bear with me for a moment. There is a book called King, Warrior, Magician, Lover about philosopher Carl Jung’s male archetypes (Jung was a ‘student’ of Nietzsche). Co-author Robert Moore had this to say about the Magician archetype:

All knowledge that takes special training to acquire is the province of the Magician energy. Whether you are an apprentice training to become a master electrician and unraveling the mysteries of high voltage; or a medical student, grinding away night and day, studying the secrets of the human body and using available technologies to help your patients; or a would-be stockbroker or a student of high finance; or a trainee in one of the psychoanalytic schools, you are in exactly the same position as the apprentice shaman or witch doctor in tribal societies. You are spending large amounts of time, energy, and money in order to be initiated into rarefied realms of secret power. You are undergoing an ordeal testing your capacities to become a master of this power. And, as is true in all initiations, there is no guarantee of success.

So, in light of the above, and considering the amount of education, knowledge, intelligence and surely high IQ’s (Nietzsche’s was estimated at 180+) of intellectuals in general, including great philosophers, it is clear how the paths of fictitious and real-world ‘Magicians’ intertwine. Seath and Nietzsche both did the same thing, in principle, and they were both brilliant at it, obviously. Until insanity eventually overcame them, that is.

Nietzsche suffered a collapse in 1889 while living in Turin, Italy. The last decade of his life was spent in a state of mental incapacitation. The reason for his insanity is still unknown, although historians have attributed it to causes as varied as syphilis, an inherited brain disease, a tumor and overuse of sedative drugs. After a stay in an asylum, Nietzsche was cared for by his mother in Naumburg and his sister in Weimar, Germany. He died in Weimar on August 25, 1900.

Seath, too, went insane, and like Nietzsche, the cause of his insanity remains a mystery. In fact, Nietzsche was sickly, with poor vision, and poor health overall throughout much of his life. The same is true of Seath – who unlike the Elder Dragons lacked scales and therefore immortality – with his natural born “lack of sight” possibly due to his albinism, as well as his mutated lower-body which presumably disables him physically to some extent, and of course, his deteriorated mental health. Also, the two both became isolated toward the ends of their lives.

I’m digressing now, but, if knowledge is power, then it is especially so in the hands (mind?) of a sorcerer. But power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And that’s exactly what happens to all the best Souls sorcerers – and no wonder, afterall. So going insane, of all things, turns out to be pretty hip among them. All the ‘cool’ ones do it: Seath, Logan, Oceiros, even Sage Freke – ‘the visionary’ himself – showed signs of losing sight of things by the end of Demon’s Souls.

Sage Freke’s 8,000 ft descending 270-degree corkscrew turn into madness from which he comes out completely insane begins when he refers to demons as ‘higher beings’. He goes on to praise the fog of the Second Scourge for bringing about a ‘heightened reality’. Then he tries convincing the Slayer of Demons that banishing the Old One is immoral, and to kill the candle maiden if she disagrees. And so he came to advocate worldwide chaos and the extinction of mankind.

So, that great sorcerers attain additional power at the price of their own sanity is a recurring theme in Souls games. That’s the story of the great sorcerer that each game tells slightly differently. The idea is even reflected in the games’ catalysts: the strongest ones, specifically – such as the Insanity Catalyst – boost spell-casting ability at some expense – usually health.

So, there’s a sort of archetypal character there. Like one of Jung’s archetypes, such as the hero whose story is known as the Hero’s Journey. I could go on to describe the myriad ways Souls games are a retelling of that story, and how certain characters in a certain Souls game mirror core elements of that story, but that’s a story for another time. Until then, I hope some have found these details on Seath, Seth, and Nietzsche fascinating.

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5 comments on “Dark Souls: On Dragons, Gods, and Philosophers”

  1. Wes says:

    Woohoo more Jungian and mythological analysis! Well done skeleton. I love the comparison and am thrilled to see more people bring up people like Robert Moore and the Hero’s Journey when looking into Souls. The parallels are practically endless. Good read, thank you.

  2. SeyroonTheMage says:

    Thank you! I’m currently working on the Hero’s Journey in DeS, so stay tuned…

  3. Avatar announakis says:

    fascinating analogies between Seath and Seth based on the image you provided. Can I ask where this illustration comes from though? I have not found it associated to Seth on the web.

    not too sure about the wandering in Nietzche territory though….

  4. SeyroonTheMage says:

    Well, while it’s no longer there, for some reason, this was where it came from: https://farm4.static.flickr.com/3921/14758596056_c598a04a12_z.jpg” rel=”nofollow

    But yes, I see now this depiction is much rarer (if it’s even genuine) than I knew at the time. I looked at a lot of different depictions, and picked that one because it struck me for its relatively distinct resemblance to Seath. In hindsight, I should have went with the typical depiction, which is rather dog-like instead.

    Something like what’s shown here: http://www.ancientegyptonline.co.uk/set.html” rel=”nofollow

  5. SeyroonTheMage says:

    Or heck, maybe it is there, now, but it wasn’t yesterday, when last I checked.

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