Let’s face it, folks: we have a long, lonely few years until the next Dragon Age game. So what to do in the meantime, once you’ve bought all the merch there is to buy and slashed all the pairings there are to slash? Speculate, of course. Let’s begin!
First thing’s first: I’m not a gnostic or even a Christian. So these comparisons I’m going to make are necessarily those of an outsider. We know there were historical considerations taken into account during the formation of Thedas, sure — but how rooted those remain, now, or how far one can extrapolate them, is open to debate. So this is purely speculation for the sake of speculation, let’s be clear. I like history, I like games, and I don’t like the academy. That is about as far as this goes.
Now that that’s out of the way…
Cut for spoilers for Dragon Age: Trespasser DLC.
An Overly Simplistic Overview
Gnostics drew the short end of the stick when it came to early Christian sects vying for dominance. Technically, they weren’t even all Christians–nor would all of them even have identified themselves as “gnostics.” It’s a term we’ve applied to them retroactively, and history has lumped them in with other early Christians because of who writes history. This despite the fact that many aspects of gnostic spiritual framework found their home outside Christianity, with firm roots in Jewish and particularly kabbalistic tradition. Nevertheless, those Christians we now label as gnostics did not fare well under the established catholicizied church. The list of accusations against them is as long and varied as those doing the accusing, but it typically boils down to predictable disagreements on sex, money, and power. If you’re having sex it’s probably with the wrong people and you’re enjoying it too much. If you have money you’re probably giving it to the wrong people or causes (or enjoying it too much). And if you have power…well that’s always what it boils down to, isn’t it?
One of the biggest bones the church had to pick with gnostic “heresy” was its regard of God. While the church — thanks largely to Athanasius of Alexandria — made peace with its own plurality in its God/Son/Holy Ghost triangle, it did not smile on the gnostic plurality of gods. Uncomfortable with the idea of reconciling the jealous, mercurial and generally peevish Old Testament god with rainbows-and-kittens god of the New Testament, gnostics purported that these were not, in fact, the same god: rather that there had been a “true” unknown god, of unfathomable proportions and power, who had always kept his distance from the material world; and that there had also been a lesser god — a demiurge, also known as Yaltabaoth — whose existence was an accident and who created this flawed world as a consequence of the desire of the spirit of wisdom, Sophia. Gnostics don’t veer so far from mainstream Christianity as to remove the Pandora burden from women’s shoulders, oh no: Sophia saw the Unknown God creating things (but not material things) and wanted to try it out herself. But she screwed up, and created Yaltabaoth, who in turn created both archon demigods and crappy subhumans who couldn’t stand upright. Sophia felt bad for them and “blew fragments or sparks of the divine light into Man” (Smoley & Kinney, 29), but the sparks got caught in the real world, giving the humans souls but trapping them here in this world until they, with great effort, reach a state of gnosis by which they might glimpse the divine world (known as Pleroma) from which their soul sparks once descended.
Right, so what does all this have to do with Dragon Age?
If you’ve finished DA:I Trespasser (and if you’ve read this far, I really hope you have — if not, STOP! go play it! it is so worth your time!) you know that Cole was not kidding when he discussed, in party banter, the length and breadth of Solas’ guilt. He is, after all, no less than the architect of the Veil: the builder of the barrier that closeted mortals away from spirits, walling them off from that vast source of knowledge and power and, as a consequence, utterly collapsing the civilization of the elves, whose existence had been so deeply entwined with spirits that the separation proved to be too much. Locked away behind the Veil, too, were the Evanura, the elven oligarchs who rose in the public esteem from mages to generals to legends to gods. However powerful they may have been, they were not in fact gods, and Solas as Fen’Harel locked them away in revenge for killing “the best of them,” Mythal/Flemeth. And so the Veil, and the end of ancient Elvenahn, was born.
Solas may not have built Thedas as we come to know it, but he unquestionably had a huge influence on it: without him, the elves might still reign supreme over the earth, and elves and spirits might still wander freely across space and time, amassing knowledge and power and inflicting each on those they deem beneath them. Given this influence, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to read Solas as a kind of Demiurge, a Yaltabaoth. He empowered those beneath him (like Felassan), granting them archon-like powers. He sundered earthly mortals from their lofty spiritual counterparts, creating dualistic worlds where there had once been one magnificent creation (and making it so only a very few — mages — under great effort and at great risk, could encounter glimpses of that ineffable quality of existence again). His motivation in these actions was not the loving-kindness of some vaguely beneficent alien being, but the very mortal-like wrath of one who has seen one dear to him slain, and seeks vengeance.
Old Testament, anyone?
The interesting thing here though is that, while elves have every reason to despise Fen’harel (as they do) as the destroyer of their civilization (as he was), non-elves have reason for a decidedly different regard of the Dread Wolf — one more akin to Sophia, the spirit of Wisdom, than to Yaltabaoth. For had the Evanura not been locked away and the Veil built, mortals wouldn’t have stood a chance. Dwarves might still have existed — we are given hints that “Mythal gave them dreams” and caused them to go underground, away from elves (for safety from them, perhaps?) — but humans? No way. If they had even managed to evolve in the spirit-saturated world pre-Veil, they likely wouldn’t have gotten very far out from under elven boots, handicapped by their materiality as they are. As they remain.
So while they may not thank Fen’Harel for it — hell, they may even kill him for it — humans, dwarves and qunari owe Solas for their rise to prominence in the material, post-Arlathan world. In this way Solas is at once the Demiurge, the flawed god who banished the divine light from the material world, as well as Sophia — the one whose mistake born of pity blew soul-sparks down into that material world and allowed them to thrive.
So thanks, Solas. Kind of wish you weren’t trying to tear it all down around our ears, but…thanks.
Please don’t make us kill you.
Smoley, R., & Kinney, J. (1999). Hidden wisdom: A guide to the western inner traditions. New York: Arkana.