On the subject of Archons and their Shadows

Hello! This post’s intended audience is Kult players and GMs with a competent understanding of the game’s mythos. It may feel very inaccessible to people outside that intended audience. You have been advised. 🙂

A discussion I see cropping up every so often is that of the Archons and the Death Angels, and how their Principles do or do not “match”. I always love when the subject gets brought up, because everyone seems to have their own view and vision of what this all means. It’s really enlightening to see people’s different perspectives on the Kult mythos, how Elysium keeps us imprisoned, and what ideals the Archons and Death Angels actually operate on, and their methods. There are many ways to read into this dark universe and make sense of it. In this post, I would like to go over some of my favorite Archons and their Death Angel counterparts, highlighting why I think their Principles are interesting to the world and stories told, and how they connect to and interact with each other.

Binah (Community) – Sathariel (Exclusion)

To begin with, let us examine some piece of lore. When the Demiurge forged ten Principles with which to fetter us, he personified them (in some sense) as the Archons. The Archons are more than mere entities, however, they are cosmic forces in their own right. As these came into being, so too did their shadows, the Death Angels. Let us avoid the discussion on the specifics of how this occurred. The Archons represent humanity’s values and base desires – they are integral to our view of ourselves. That is what Kult tells us. Humans in Elysium are defined by their need and acceptance of hierarchy amongst themselves, the need to submit to the greater will, and indeed the community to which they belong. Binah, the Black Madonna, with her Principle of Community, lays out plain the idea that humanity requires and craves community in order to be whole. Looking around the world, this seems to me an uncontroversial statement. We seek family, seek friends and likeminded strangers, connect with our countrymen and those we share our faith with. This is Binah’s power within Elysium, it is she who guides us to look for these connections.

In our striving to find community, however, we often overlook the natural consequence of defining an ingroup to belong to: there will without fail exist an outgroup. Those who do not belong in your community. It cannot be helped – some will not fit in. There is family, and there are strangers. There are communists, and there are capitalists. There is your faith, and there are heathens. Binah’s shadow, her Principle’s outcome for the unlucky and unloved, is Exclusion, and it is from this that we see Sathariel born. She is the Death Angel of all those who can’t or won’t find belonging. I really enjoy this. The Archons define and represent our most pervasive ideals and wishes, while the Death Angels highlight the dark outcomes of the same. This is the approach I take to understanding the sephirot and qliphoth of Kult myth, as you’ll see in the remaining comparisons.

Chesed (Safety) – Gamichicoth (Fear)

Without a doubt, Chesed is my favorite Archon. Destroyed though he is, the Principle he stood for is vitally important to understand if we want to grasp how Kult views humanity and its progress since industrialization. I suppose that it is worth pointing out here that Kult is rather “Western” in its myth making and writing, and so this approach may come off as, eh, problematic to some. It can’t be helped. We must take at face value that the Demiurge’s fall and the War of the Archons coincides with the industrialization of Europe and North America, and that this is hugely impactful to humanity globally. These are not mere coincidences, but conscious choices. Chesed was destroyed as Europe propelled itself into a new age, where anything could be achieved. What we had for so long thought out of reach and things we’d never even imagined possible were suddenly right among us, and any sense of comfort and safety quickly dissolved as the masses were thrust into the industrial era.

Chesed’s principle was Safety, which might also be read as comfort. Prior to the Archon’s fall, humanity lived rather sheltered lives. We knew little and saw less, with the exception of a brave few travellers and those who had the luxury of education and wealth. Thanks to Chesed’s influence, this was idyllic in some ways. We knew the world as far as the horizon line, recognized the faces around us, and told stories which would explain the world and its intricacies in simple ways none would find time to question. When you don’t know how little you know, it would seem that everything is explained. Ignorance is bliss. The shadow of this idea, of course, manifests as the fear of the unknown. What might challenge your secluded little world view must be regarded not just with suspicion, but as outright dangerous. Gamichicoth, the Death Angel of Fear, incarnates as all the things outside your pool of knowledge. Where Chesed tells you that what you know is all you need to stay safe, Gamichicoth posits that what you don’t know must be rejected as dangerous, only because you don’t already know it.

The War of the Archons began as Malkuth utterly annihilated Chesed (and we’ll talk more about this later in this post), and this signals a massive shift in how we humans viewed the world. Industrialisation brought many things upon us. We saw more, from the rise of trains and cars to massive factories spouting smoke. We knew more, with physics and biology dissecting and revealing what was once the domain of God. There was no longer an excuse for ignorance as scientific and economic advances steamrolled the old world for the new, and what were we left with? Certainly not a sense of safety, but larger and larger unknowns. A wider scope. More things to fear. Gamichicoth still lives in the shadow of Safety. We may never again return to the world where we could imagine a comfortable and common sense existence, but must instead face an endless stream of the new, the unknown, the things we cannot and will not understand. In the new world, there is no safety. Only fear.

Yesod (Avarice) – Gamaliel (Lust)

Avarice, the need to have and to own, is a strong notion. It is not only greed for the things we do not have, but coveting and protecting what we do. Humanity really does want to have things, to say that this is mine and mine alone. Yesod imbues humanity with its individualism. We are told that until the industrial revolution, Yesod was often suppressed by the other Archons, which I would argue alludes to the fact that the absolute rulers and their noble castes of earlier ages equally suppressed the individual power of all those beneath them. Slavery, serfdom and feudal power meant that there was little that the smallfolk could have. The industrial revolution, Kult would have us believe, relieved much of that pressure. In an age where nothing was off limits and everything could be gained, humanity’s avarice became dominant. We could have more, so why shouldn’t we? I’ll refrain from commenting on the subsequent fall of Yesod and Tiphareph’s enslavement of the fallen Archon, because that seems a very complex subject for this analysis.

The big question here, then, is: Where does this leave Gamaliel? The father of perversion is associated with Lust, and this is something I’ve seen remarked on as confounding. In fact, fellow Kultist Auburney wrote an excellent article a while back discussing this exact subject. His theory is honestly enlightening, and a fascinating take on how Chastity as a principle could breed the Avarice which Yesod would come to represent. However, I must personally disagree with it, and I hope to show you why. Gamaliel is the shadow of Yesod in two important aspects, and I think we do not need to make any additions to the Mythos in order to explain their connection. First, the Principle of Avarice represents the need to have things. The natural consequence of this, and separate because it meaningfully alters how we humans approach reality, is the need to gain things. We love what we have, and we lust for what we don’t. Where Yesod makes us look at what’s in our grasp, Gamaliel makes us eye the things outside it. This is a dark thing indeed, because it means that so long as we are under Gamaliel’s influence, we will never be satisfied and we will always crave what someone else has. It causes conflict, frustration, and drives us to madness.

The second way in which Lust is a shadow of Avarice is in the more… fleshy sense. Gamaliel is intrinsically tied to sexual perversions and forbidden pleasures, the wonders and horrors of the body. This is because Yesod is concerned about material goods, the world around us, the things humans find and make. Gamaliel states that this is not enough. You can look at a broader scope and see that humans themselves are, and always have been, up for the taking. There is much to gain from this perspective. We make full use of the body we have, and when that is no longer enough we lustily reach for others. Sex becomes the ultimate way to express the desire to gain and take more, to expand what you have and what you’ve experienced. Yesod encourages you to have, Gamaliel makes the demand that you should take. This is how Lust becomes the shadow of Avarice.

Malkuth (Conformity / Awakening) – Nahemoth (Discord)

Finally, we reach the bottom of the tree of life and the Archon of Awakening, the Rebel, the Babe, Malkuth. As the de facto patron saint of humans striving to escape Elysium, what her Principle(s) actually represent may not be immediately evident. The Kult: Divinity Lost core book doesn’t spend much time exploring Malkuth’s original purpose. We know that she crafted the physical world of Elysium, taming Gaia to create a world where order reigned. This order, conformity to universal constants and replicable patterns, is vitally important to understanding humanity. We use the movement of stars to guide our ships, the changing of the seasons to grow our food, and we comfort ourselves by reminding each other that after rain comes sunshine. Malkuth was always tied to the natural sciences and science in general, which then makes it no surprise that she has a significant role to play in the industrial revolution. The Demiurge’s disappearance or no, it is clear that the success we found in using and abusing Malkuth’s creation required her to act. The annihilation of Chesed is a direct consequence of humanity shining the harsh, revelatory light of science on old wisdoms and misconceptions. Industrialisation was a massive turning point. Instead of passively viewing the world and learning its cycles, we forced ourselves deeper. We studied automation, atoms, radiation, we viewed the stars not just as a map to follow but a place to get to. Humans no longer respected the universe’s conformity, instead we tore it apart in our desperate desire to break free. In enforcing her principle, Malkuth pushed us too far and in essence became a victim of her own Principle. Whether she was convinced by our actions or our scientists’ combined divine wills forced the Archon to shift her Principle, it did change during this time. She still represents science and the study of nature, as she did in the past, but the purpose of it has forever changed. Malkuth now represents Awakening, the scientific demand for a higher and more complete truth. 

Because of this, Nahemoth’s manifestations have changed too. The Death Angel of Discord is certainly deeply rooted in Gaia itself. Malkuth tamed Gaia, made sense of nature, but Gaia cannot be tamed. We can never expect nature to conform, not really, and Nahemoth represents the hubris of trying to understand that which can never be tamed. She is one with lightning storms, floods and forest fires, everything that undoes what Malkuth has crafted. In ages past, where humanity was still learning what it meant to respect the conformity of nature, she showed us that we shouldn’t, couldn’t, trust our own knowledge. Nahemoth is Discord, but she is also doubt and punishment for hubris. No more is this evident than looking at how she manifests in the modern age. Malkuth has brought us into a world of nuclear reactors, massive factories and consumerism so extreme that we eat the world itself in our quest for progress. The shadow this casts is immense, and horrifying. In the modern age, Nahemoth finds herself woven into greenhouse gases, bushfires, rivers clogged with pollution and mountains of plastic drifting out at sea. Everything the enlightening science of Malkuth has given us gives us just as many problems. Nahemoth’s principle is still Discord, but her power doesn’t just come from the chaos of Gaia anymore. We feed her with our own quest to bend Gaia to our will. She is the cost of progress.

The Archons are more than just big scary god monsters, though they can be that as well. The mere existence of what they represent is what powers them, and the creatures tied to them. Whenever anyone in the world accepts their place within a hierarchy, Kether is there, and when they no longer feel content with that place, Thaumiel gains strength. Every time a community is formed or welcomes a new member, that is Binah’s doing, whether her servants are there or not. Every time you litter, Nahemoth smiles. The Death Angels don’t just exist to be ‘evil’ versions of the Archons. By some unexplained force of cosmic balance (also known as ‘it makes for better allegory’), the Death Angels exist out of necessity, because that is simply how godlike beings work. If you hold an object in the light, a shadow is cast. Actions have consequences. Dedication to an idea implies the existence of an alternative. Who is to say that the Death Angels are more evil than the Archons (other than the Archons themselves)? They represent the consequences of our ideals, the alternative to our accepted norms. We can only say they are the evil ones by declaring the Archons’ Principles as good, and personally, I’m not willing to do that.

Our thoughts and actions, controlled by these Principles which were imposed on us by the Demiurge, feed the Archons and strengthen the machinery of Elysium to keep us imprisoned. With this in mind, it must be understood that breaking free from Elysium and reclaiming one’s divinity is a horrible and monumental task. You cannot simply fight the order given to the world by the Archons, because in fighting it you come closer to embracing the Death Angels, who also do not have your interests in mind. By fighting it, you still accept into your mind the idea of the Principle’s existence, and that too will allow it to live on within you. The rejection of these Principles must be so complete, so sincere, and you must remove them all from your soul so that no shadow can be cast. Then, and only then, you might experience the true and unbroken divine light of your own soul.

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