Monday, 23 April 2018

The World Soul of Flame

Ruminations on the Fading of the Fire…

Atthe dawn of the first Dark Souls, we are provided with the cosmogonic myth of the advent of fire. We are told that the fog-shrouded, grey crags of the unformed world in the Age of Ancients is undone through the coming of ‘fire’ — the fire we come to know as the First Flame. The flame is the progenitor of disparity and its arrival seems to transform the world. We are told that “Heat and cold, life and death, and of course, light and dark”[i] all accompany the ignition of this primordial flame. Importantly, the fire itself does not represent either side of these disparities. Though it is understood and described as a fire it is no ordinary flame. The First Flame is a unity of these disparate concepts, all of which find expression through its existence. It is not that the world was cold, dead, and dark before the fire brings warmth, life, and light — all of these came into being with the First Flame.

Indeed, the flame itself manifests its disparities into the four Lord Souls, each of which represents one part of the flame’s whole. The first of the Lords, and the First of the dead, is Nito who claims a lord soul with an affinity for death.[ii] We are then told of the Witch of Izalith and her Daughters of Chaos whose attempt at igniting their lord soul gave rise to chaos and new life in the form of the demons — as such her soul is associated with life itself. The Great Lord Gwyn, who establishes himself as the God of the Dark Souls universe[iii]claims the soul of light. And of course, we are all familiar with the titular dark soul, found by the furtive pygmy (so easily forgotten). Most of us are familiar with what follows: the Lords declare war upon the aforementioned Ancients and bring destruction to that which was once eternal. Through lightning, fire, and pestilence the dragons and the Archtrees are destroyed and thus we enter into the Age of Fire, an age supposedly dominated by the power of the First Flame.
The First Flame is itself a metaphysical presence, if not the metaphysical presence that defines the series. It is central to the cosmology of the Dark Souls universe. Of course, all three games within the series premise their central plot upon the notion that the First Flame is fading, that a sacrifice must be offered to sustain it, lest the end of days be allowed to come to pass. By the inception of Dark Souls III, the end is already well underway. But more than that, the First Flame is the very soul of the world. As we are told, the world pre-exists the coming of the flame in an “unformed” state. Dark Soulshere seems to invoke an ancient dualism — establishing the world of the Age of Ancients as a time of pure material substance, before the form of the soul arrives. Souls are the currency of this world (or at least, in our experience of it) and we claim the souls of our foes (both great and small) when we defeat them — just as they claim ours should we fail. Visually, the game shows the soul as a stream of pure white coalescing into our bodies once we have slain its previous vessel, and should we examine those souls we encounter we see that these are themselves flames. Each soul is an individuated — albeit temporarily — spark of the First Flame itself. As such, souls are not merely power in an instrumental sense but they are representative of presence and existence. When we lose our souls, we begin to lose our selves — not because the souls are our minds or our identities[iv] (whatever these are) but because the soul itself is that which makes us more than mere matter — it is reality and being.
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