Tag Archives: Gnosticism

Neon Genesis Evangelion

This post is in the theme “A Long Waltz Through Nerddom”. Read the first.

September 7, New York: Neon Genesis Evangelion is my absolute favorite piece of anime and one of my all-time favorite works across all media. I find it in the same genre as The Invisibles— a masterwork sourced from a million different inputs to create a dense universe that the audience must pry apart. In this case it is giant robots and gnosticism. Yes, please. Evangelion is that rare work (like, perhaps Mulholland Drive) that has eluded my clear comprehnsion and explanation.

Okay, so for the first time in my life, I am going to try to explain what is happening in Evangelion. (Note: I’m not going to look up anyone else’s explanations.) Be wary, reader, below yon spoilers are rife.

Let’s start with the basics: Shinji is a whiny teenager who gets recruited to pilot a giant robot that is protecting the earth from mysterious giant invaders called The Angels. The robot he pilots, the Evangelion, is the size of a building and humanoid in shape. One of our first clues is the early revelation that the Evangelion is not a robot at all, but a biological creature of some kind that can ‘go berserker’ even when it runs out of reserve power.

The organization that built the Evas, and is run by Shinji’s father Gendo Ikari, is called NERV. Its motto is “God’s in his heaven. All’s right with his world.” Some real ‘as above, so below’ shit here, in case you’re looking for gnosticism. Ikari’s office has a map of the sephirot on his ceiling. NERV answers to a shadowy world government organization called SEELE, which in turn claims to take its direction from prophecies laid out in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Mmmhmm?

The World
So there’s SEELE, but officially there is the UN, which in this world has some teeth. See, at the turn of the millennium 15 years prior, there was a massive explosion in the Antarctic which melted all the ice and caused sea levels to rise cataclysmically across the Earth. Much of Japan is submerged, including Tokyo. They built a second one as the new capital. And now they’ve built a third one as a fortress to protect against The Angels. Tokyo-3.

The Angels
Why protect Tokyo-3? Well because the Dead Sea Scrolls have predicted a series of tests against humanity. These take the form of the Angels, beings with the molecular structure of light (both waveform and particle matter) and 99.98% DNA match to humans. They come in a dizzying array of body types and are protected by what is called an AT Field. The opening credits tell us this stands for “Absolute Terror Field”, but basically the AT Field is the soul, outwardly projected. Where the boundary of a human soul exists roughly at the line of the skin, the angels (and the Evas) have a soul that surrounds them like a force field.

The very first Angel was Adam. He’s the one who destroyed Antarctica. But that’s a state secret. Also a secret? Adam is locked up under Tokyo-3*. That’s why the angels keep attacking— to get to Adam.

*- But wait, it’s not Adam that’s locked up under Tokyo-3, it’s Lilith! She is the being from which all humanity is derived. The final angel, who comes in human form, discovers this just before he’s killed in one of the most incredible scenes of filmmaking I have ever seen. This angel becomes Shinji’s only true friend (and perhaps lover) then turns angel and has to be battled. After a 12 minute fight sequence, he demands Shinji kill him. And we watch a still frame of the giant robot holding the tiny angel while Ode to Joy plays in the background… for over a minute. It’s incredible.

Augh, okay, back to the explaining.

The Human Instrumentality Project
But what is Lilith all about? It’s rooted in the Human Instrumentaility Project, which is mentioned from time to time as another secret NERV project. First, there’s Rei. She’s a quiet girl, Shinji’s age. We learn over the course of the series that Rei is a clone. That they’ve engineered her like gods. That’s step one. The next step is engender the final evolution of the human species. What does that even mean?

Well that brings us back to Evangelion Unit One. Unit One is special— while the Evas are dependent on external power sources, Unit One activates on its own without power all the time. It also, once, took Shinji into itself. His whole body just disappeared into it and his consciousness began to dissolve. In that episode the Eva is saying to him “Don’t you want to become one with me? Of one mind and one body?” This is what Human Instrumentality is all about. See, Unit One already has a soul: Shinji’s mother was taken into the Eva the same exact way. Now she *is* the Eva. But the next step is for humankind to join with the Eva. The Evangelion beings are vessels for a human collective consciousness. They are described as “an ark.”

The final episode
And then you have the final episode. In a piece of television that angered nearly half of Japan (so I’ve heard), Hideaki Anno presents this existentialist cross-examination of Shinji in the most abstract of ways. Single repeated shots. Blurry live action shots of crowds on streets. Meandering, soul-searching voice over. The American voiceover actors admitted they totally didn’t get it.

Fans hated it. So they went back and made a few movies, movies that Anno begins with the text: “This is the way Evangelion was supposed to end.” There is some epic robot on robot fighting, some heart-wrenching moments as your favorite B-characters are snuffed from life, some gorgeous cello-driven classical music. And then some positively Salvador Dali-esque planetary imagery over the strangest little pop song you’ve ever heard.

And this is what I think happens: The fate of the world rests on a decision Shinji has to make— to release his ego into oneness with all other beings or to maintain his individual identity. As best I can tell, he chooses individual life. And somehow that is saving the world. Despite all the efforts of his father to the contrary, to evolve humanity into collective consciousness.

“Man is the eighteenth angel,” claims someone late in the series. “All the other angels were other possibilities.” Adam, the model for Eva, was the first angel. So perhaps Shinji’s saving of the species is rejecting a return to that early possibility and maintaining the human being, however messy, hurtful, and hateful it might be.

Buy the damn whole series.

David Bowie: Ziggy Stardust

August 23, New York: I’ve had David Bowie on the mind a lot lately. It started when I read VALIS, which includes “Mother Goose”, a thinly-disguised fictional version of Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust era. Then I rediscovered the Nirvana Unplugged album and had “Man Who Sold the World” stuck in my head for two days. On the second of those days I was walking to work, singing it to myself, when I saw this store window at Saks.

It was a sign. This was the week to listen to Bowie.

There is a lot of Bowie to love, but Ziggy Stardust is by far my favorite. The select individual songs and the album as a whole. It is just a great rock album. But I’m also a sucker for a concept album that tells a story, and the (full-name:) Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust certainly does that. From “Five Years” to “Ziggy Stardust” to “Rock n’ Roll Suicide”. All three of those are three of my favorite songs to sing along to. “Ziggy” was even briefly a go-to karaoke song for me. And in this listen, in my kitchen, making pizza, I was singing and dancing like I was on a tiny under colored lights, perhaps in spaceman makeup. These songs make you feel like you’re on stage.

Buy this album and dance around your kitchen singing it to yourself and/or your cat.

VALIS by Philip K. Dick

This post is in the theme “A Long Waltz Through Nerddom”. Read the first.

August 17, New York:

“10. Apollonius of Tyana, writing as Hermes Trimegistos, said, “That which is above is that which is below.” By this he meant to tell us that our universe is a hologram, but he lacked the term.” p. 104, VALIS

This is not your ordinary Philip K. Dick novel. Not that there is an ordinary Philip K. Dick novel, but if there was, this wouldn’t be it. VALIS is the first in a trilogy through which Dick tries to make sense of an encounter he had with an other-worldly intelligence or a diety or a higher self of some kind. VALIS is the most autobiographical of these accounts. In it, there is the first person “Philip K. Dick” and then there is “Horselover Fat” (basically also Dick). Fat spends years working on an exegesis based on his mind-altered experience and trying to figure out why it happened and what it means.

VALIS is a frightening book because so much of it is truth. There was this inexplicable thing that happened to this intelligent and rational man and the attempt to explain it was driving him crazy. But the book is so valuable, so important because who better than a science fiction writer to try to puzzle out this mystery. To follow all the different paths and pull on the different threads. Unlike The Invisibles, which starts from the premise that this secret world is true, the burden is on Horselover Fat to prove it.

I came to VALIS from The Invisibles. The story here is familiar because much of it is the blueprint for the comics (for example, the satellite BARBELiTH; like the satellite from VALIS, the film). It’s a similar experience to one that Morrison says he had— a theophanic encouter.

Dick digs deep into gnosticism in VALIS— this forgotten mystical Christianity that was left out of the canon and rediscovered at Nag Hammadi in the 20th century. Gospels that speak of secrets for the initiated. It’s a subject that follows me through many of my favorite texts. It’ll come back up again in Evangelion, with its many not-so-subtle references to early Christian themes. VALIS though is the one text that makes it real. It is sometimes sad and sometimes desperate, sometimes funny and often with a gallows humor, it is truly human experience which can be unsatisfying but is all we have in the end.


The Invisibles by Grant Morrison

This post is in the theme “A Long Waltz Through Nerddom”. Read the first.

August 16, New York: What is The Invisibles?

The Invisibles is a masterwork of a comic from Grant Morrison (who has since done incredible runs on very famous titles). The Invisibles is action comic, conspiracy pastiche, epistemological exploration, gnostic treatise, magick primer, 1990s cultural record. And at all of these things it is exceptional. The book tells the story of the battle between good versus evil, individualists versus conformists, witchy rebel freedom fighters with awesome haircuts versus the worst government suits and their demonic masters.

The first thing to know about The Invisibles is that not everyone has read it. When you read it, and then you find yourself bursting with the desire to talk with someone about it, keep this fact in mind. You will have to either a) go back to this person who introduced it to you or b) give it to a friend and hassle them about it until they’ve finished it. I’ve done both.

I first discovered The Invisibles as Grant Morrison says he intended, through the glossy second volume which then pulled me into the deeper stuff of the first and third. I was editing a film trailer based on a sequence from the second volume. For background, the director gave me all the trade paperbacks and I read every one. The series is finite— there are only the three volumes, so it’s actually possible to read the whole thing. And then to read it again. And again.

The Invisibles seduces by taking all the nerdstuff you love and arguing that it is indeed possible. That it exists all around you in secret. That all the conspiracies are true and that magick is real and that you too can perform it. By reading The Invisibles you are already a part of a magickal spell. It takes this 1990s notion that I rediscovered watching Hackers— that anyone with a little computer knowledge could have been a wizard— and it makes characters from that scene ACTUAL WIZARDS.

I was more primed for this than you might think. I’ve long been a searcher when it comes to spiritual worldviews and there was a period of a few years in my late teens that I read the tarot and believed firmly in supernatural forces of indeterminate nature. (The best part about searching is not having to make up your mind.) The Invisibles reconnected me to that as an adult. Years prior the search had led me to pursue a second degree in philosophy, but along the way I’d lost the original impetus (god, but academic philosophy is boring). I was reading Kant when I should have been reading comics.

The Invisibles is described by Grant Morrison as a spell in itself. It certainly worked on me. I reread these books multiple times, tore them apart for reference texts and then went after those. There was a point at which I read the series as an investigative project, spelunking its secrets and following the threads. This required reading the comics page by page with the annotation volume, Anarchy for the Masses. I dived deep into the source material. That reading led to VALIS, to The Prisoner, and even to me rolling my eyes through a little Lovecraft. It was an intoxicating period of media consumption.

Even now, embroiled in the Thirty-Three Project with my reading list set, there was a strong temptation to delve back into this material. (Thankfully, VALIS is next up.)

Are the conspiracies true? Does magick really work? Will the voudon loa take a candlelit meeting with me if I sacrifice enough roosters? I think the answers are different for everyone. Magic is in the eye of the beholder, it’s all about subjectivity. New Orleans is a magical town because the consensus reality doesn’t preclude the existence of magic. The rites of the group headed by Aleister Crowley pushed the boundaries of shared experience, of collective subjective belief. And they all experienced great magick. Which is where The Invisibles gets really interesting… mass media can create these consensual beliefs. For the readers of this series and the consumers of derivative works like The Matrix, the philosophical tenets and existential questions have been raised. A seed of belief has been planted. The Invisibles is indeed a powerful spell for creating a belief in the world of The Invisibles.

Become a part of the spell. Start here at the beginning, or here at the glossy fun bits. When you’re desperate to talk to someone about it, let me know.