As the months approached the release of Dark Souls 3’s final DLC, The Ringed City, the community’s factual chokehold on the series tightened like a noose around the neck of Schrodinger’s cat. Answers were demanded, identities were at stake; theorists had actually begun posts on the internet that began with “I believe…” but if anything is made more apparent in Dark Souls 3, it is that “A prisoner is one who has staked everything on a belief,” for one truth, one reality, is only made true in relation to another. – Dark Souls 3, Prisoner’s Chain.
Long before the release of Dark Souls 3, it had been clear to the quieter few that any “true” ending to Dark Souls as a whole would have to exist outside the fourth wall in the mind of the individual, not unlike the Usurpation of Fire, in which male and female, fire and dark, are combined in ritual and in metaphor. The final painting in the Ringed City DLC is both a mirror to ourselves and the microverse that avoids the big crunch, the painting of “you” found through the ultimate quantum-Souls revelation at the bottom of reality’s funnel. Merely assuming the series had no meaning all along, however, would be to flip the entire implication on its head, and like the dwarf on Zarathustra’s shoulders, misunderstand the very riddle the series has posed from the start.
I have previously described the Souls series as analogous to the state of society and man. Like Sisyphus rolling a soul-boulder up Kafka’s castle, the protagonist is poised between divine authority and his own madness, in which effort in either direction causes a reverberating compulsion toward the opposite end. Gwyn and Vendrick are the quintessence of Frazer’s Sacred King, the sacrificial solar deity behind almost all ancient mythologies who “awaits the end of the world” when they will be slain and overthrown—each beginning a pygmy, and dying a “colossus,” to his successor.
The metaphor “dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants,” while distinct from its origin in the Greek myth of Orion, refers to progress made upon ages past. Nietzsche refutes the notion in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” in which the dwarf on the giant’s shoulders fails to understand the grandest of ideas: two contradicting gates that lead to the same destination: “moment.”
The Chosen Undead, Bearer of the Curse, and Ashen Hollow, all begin as descendants of the Furtive Pygmy, dwarves, and set their gaze beyond old memories, giants, toward the next Age of Fire. Like Zarathustra, they must first make pilgrimage down into “katabasis,” into the depths, Blighttown, The Pit, or Farron Keep, before reaching the sun above. Arriving at “The Land of the Sun,” Anor Londo, they find the sun and the “The Great Mother,” Gwynevere, to be an illusion. At last, they slay the Sacred King, and like Zarathustra’s dwarf, stand on the shoulders of a giant “before the decrepit gate” of the final revelation “without really knowing why,” or without comprehension.
To Nietzsche, the dwarf symbolized the “Scholar,” who misunderstands Zarathustra’s riddle to be just “old words” or a platitude leading to nihilism. He is the part of us who says “the cycle of fire and dark are meaningless,” and who believes Aldia’s words that man is nothing but an “exquisite lie.” The scholar is bound to his hunt for an objective truth “beyond the scope of light, beyond the reach of dark,” but is blind to the broken ground on which he stands.
“I’ve seen your kind, time and time again.
Every fleeing man must be caught. Every secret must be unearthed.
Such is the conceit of the self-proclaimed seeker of truth.
But in the end, you lack the stomach.
For the agony you’ll bring upon yourself…” – Sir Vilhelm
The problem with seeking truth or identity solely in the fire or dark, or disregarding them entirely, is that they are part of one source. Each side exists only as the absence of the other, no different than the Yin and Yang or any field in quantum physics. Frampt and Kaathe are theorized to be one serpent with heads on both sides (caduceus shield) while the Reversal Ring in Dark Souls 3 shows the same concept with male and female. If the state of hollow and dark in Dark Souls is hunger and desire, then the fire is the object of that desire. Neither state is right nor wrong, yet both are “evil” in their extremes. We see the extreme manifestation of the dark in the worship of the Deep, and the opposite in the systematic enslavement of the lords to link the flame, for “Shadow is not cast, but born of fire. And, the brighter the flame, the deeper the shadow.” – Vendrick, Dark Souls 2.
This dilemma causes some to seek escape outward through worship of the dragons. Others seek escape inward, living in pocket universes—paintings—worlds within worlds, as they unearth every secret and burn each to the ground once the defects, or bugs, are found. Both strategies are forms of slavery, and “as above, so below,” arrive at the same destination.
In many ancient mythologies, before the existence of time and space was the “cosmic egg,” the state of reality before the big bang and outside our bubble universe in which all potentialities exist. It is often depicted with a snake wrapped around it: the “Kundalini,” Sanskrit for “Ring” in reference to the coil of a snake harboring potential energy. In one interpretation, a sword was said to come down and divide the egg in two, creating light and dark, male and female. The sword kept cutting, producing so many opposing forces until the result was the universe in which we live: a grand necessity resulting from a near infinite combination of on and off switches, 0 and 1, excitation and inhibition, or positive and negative spins emerging from the “implicate order.” Just as it is theorized that our universe is comprised of the exact amount of matter and gravity to equate to a sum of zero energy, modern cosmology, ancient mythologies, and the Souls creation myth, all base their assumptions of reality on this notion—that existence or mankind is nothing more than the result of divisions or folds of no-thing. Call it “the Unmanifest,” the “All,” “God,” the “Implicate Order,” or “The Dark Soul,” it is both everything and nothing, and of which humanity is a splinter.
“The world began without knowledge, and without knowledge will it end.
Dost not this ring clear and true?” – Locust Preacher, Dark Souls 3
We find such an egg at the bottom of the Ringed City, at the “end of the world.” The lore hunters are given their final prize, but what is it? There is nothing within the egg, nothing before time and space, there is no answer as to what the “Dark Soul” is on a factual level, because it was made real, or meaningful, only in relation to us. Reaching out for it causes it to collapse. All locality is lost, and there in the sinking sands, our enemy is revealed.
“And when I found my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound and solemn. It was the spirit of gravity. Through him all things fall.” – Nietzsche
In Iron John, author and poet Robert Bly makes a distinction between “psychological” and “mythological” thinking, in which the prior minimizes and trivializes, and the latter enlarges and empowers, a subject in the mind. Semantics aside, the idea suggests that through knowledge, we learn to take a step back from knowledge. By choosing to see the whole rather than its parts, which quantum physics tells us where never there to begin with, we shoulder the weight of significance back into the world of man.
“One met the dark with learning. But in the end, learned his knowledge was wanting.” – Locust Preacher, Dark Souls 3
The true devil then, is the scholar within us, our very drive to devour, our hunt for world within world, fact within fact, embodied by the Slave Knight Gael whose red hood prevents him from looking anywhere but down into smaller scales of dissolution. He consumes pieces of the the Dark Soul over and over again, and it is with the blood of his agony that we awaken. Victorious, our reward and answer is silence. There is nothing left, “not a smithereen…” and so we rear our heads back up to the arch tree from which we so tortuously descended. What could we have been blind to up there? What meaning could be found? Climbing back upon the shoulders of giants again, in our final pilgrimage we rediscover “the truth of the old words,” and ascending into greater scales again, give the “Blood of the Dark Soul” to the painter girl who uses it to create a painting named after us. What aspects of our lives have we been blind to? What meaning could be found? If we have no name, she paints us a world of “Ash,” signifying that we still require more katabasis, “Ashes Work,” or suffering to understand the truth, that neither gate nor abandoning them had meaning, for meaning exists only in this moment, as the contrast of forces—or colors—on the canvas of you.
We need mirrors. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can’t accept it for what it is. We are searching for an ideal image of our own world” – Snow from Solaris by Stanislaw Lem”
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