Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Magic Of Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Joint Trill and the Higher Self

Jadzia, meeting her "shadow self" in "Equilibrium"

One of the more fascinating races in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are the Trill, a species of humanoids who share existence consciousness with a slug-like creature called a symbiont. Throughout the series, the psychology of such an existence is explored quite thoroughly, as several episodes are devoted exclusively to the special problems and challenges Trill science officer Jadzia (eminently portrayed by Terry Farrell) faces due to her 'joining' (as is the term) to a symbiont called “Dax”. These symbionts live on after the “host” dies, we are told, and Jadzia is just the latest in a series of joinings of the same symbiont to previous hosts.

So what is the exact relationship between symbiont and “host”? Early in the series it is established that for all practical purposes, Jadzia is a separate personality from all the previous hosts, and that due to the joining, a unique personality is established by a merging of host and symbiont. Yet, this is the outside world view, as Jadzia herself adopts a very different attitude and, in the episode “Dax”, seems to hold herself responsible for the alleged sins of her predecessor, Curzon. And later in the series, in “Blood Oath” she does exactly the same when upholding a Klingon blood oath that Curzon swore but that she herself feels obliged to fulfill.

Jadzia seems very much in touch with her 'previous lifes', especially with Curzon, as she is often quoting him and his wiles, sometimes ad nauseam. In one episode, “Equilibrium”, she even encounters a previously unknown host, Joran Belar, who turned out to be an unsuccessfull host and whose joining had been suppressed both by the Dax symbiont itself as well as by the Trill officials.

Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell)

This all seems to point towards an existence in which a personality is brought into intimate contact with a -more or less- immortal and 'higher' mentality. The symbiont seems to fulfill the role of the Higher Self, the Individuality, while the various hosts deliver the Lower Selfs, the Personalities, the mortal “incarnations” that throughout the ages allow the symbiont to discover Itself. The actual act of the Joining -which is shown in the episode “Invasive Procedures”- then becomes an initiation, in which the Higher and Lower Selves are connected to each other. In that particular episode, the actual moment of contact between host and symbiont is shown as an extatic moment of enlightenment. In fact, the candidates selected for joining are referred to as “Trill Initiates”. Those initiates have followed a rigorous regimen of training and study and are subjected to numerous tests in order to determine capacity for joining.

After the joining, the newly joined Trill need some timne to establish and equilibrate their new existence. We witness this in Deep Space Nine's final season when Ezri, Jadzia's successor, needs to come to terms with her symbiont while being stationed at DS9 in the thick of the Dominion War.
What emerges is a new and stronger, and more balanced personality. Eventual character flaws are smoothed over, so we see the single-mindedness of Jadzia turn into the warm and versatile Jadzia Dax, and the insecure Ezri into an effective officer. The symbiont cannot be moved without killing the host; an interesting reference to the irreversible nature of initiation: one cannot undo it, it is a Rite of Passage.

I cannot help seeing this as depicting the initiation pathway that -in fact- aims at re-establishing the same kind of inner cooperation between the two aspects of our soul: the Higher and Lower Selves. The severe and sometimes tedious preparations, the tests, the discipline and dedication of the Trill candidates: it is all too familiar. Now, of course, the analogy is not exact, but enough parallels may be discovered to trigger a lasting interest in the development of the Dax character. More on this subject in due time!

The Trill Homeworld

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Magic Of Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Ritual Magic and The Storyteller

The Sirah and the Dal'Rok

Deep Space Nine's First season episode The Storyteller is an interesting one for several reasons. Characterwise, this is the first episode which sows the seeds for Bashir and O'Brien's future friendship. The main storyline happens on Bajor, but rather than showing us a Bajor under the guidance of the Prophets, it depicts a rural Bajoran village where perhaps older customs survive of what could be called a more Pagan past.

The storyline in brief: Bashir and O'Brien beam down to a village which is in trouble: it is under attack from a creature called a Dal'Rok and the only way to fight this entity is under the leadership of the Sirah, a Storyteller. Bashir and O'Brien witness an attack and the defense, upon which the Sirah collapses, but not after naming O'Brien as his successor. The next evening, the Dal'Rok returns and O'Brien sets out to fight it as he has seen the Sirah do it, but he fails in his attempt. Then Hovath, the young original apprentice Sirah takes over and succeeds in chasing off the entity and is thus appointed as the new Sirah, letting O'Brien off the hook.

The Sirah in action
This story has a number of interesting Ritual Magic concepts weaven into it. For example: why does O'Brien fail? There are several reasons for that. Yes, he does not know the entire story, although that seems hardly necessary: all we see the Sirah and Hovath do is tell the villagers that they can defeat the creature. But in their cases, they speak with conviction and in magic as well as anywhere else, Words have Power proportional to the conviction with which they are spoken. Magic is not about 'just speaking the right words and then something will happen, Harry Potter style', it is about giving words as much power as possible, and that power comes from the conviction of the speaker and from his or her energy. We see O'Brien struggling to speak out the words while he himself barely believes it is going to do any good (nicely played by actor Colm Meany as well!). And his words dissipate into thin air, nothing happens, the magic does not come about and the Dal'Rok keeps attacking.

Incidentally, what is this Dal'Rok? We are informed that the tricorders do not register anything, yet we see something happening,a nd what is more, we see some attacks that are convincingly real.
So what is going on here? My guess would be that we are dealing here with a thought form that has gained a more or less corporeal existence. Probably as a result of repeating this ritual over and over again for many years- a sure recipe to increase the power!- the image has gained so much energy that not only has it becomevisible to outsiders, it is also found to be interacting with the material environment. Our magical literature abounds with examples of the very same thing: elementals, golems, homunculi, etc. all “conjured” up by the imagination and subsequently energized to such an extent that it gets a “life of its own”.

Hovath (played by Lawrence Monoson)

The fight against the Dal'Rok indeed looks very much like a time-honored ritual, with certain fixed stagesin it, the use of certain words of power and with a more or less hierarchical structure: it is the Sirah and the Sirah only who leads this ritual and is able to direct the energy of the villagers into a concerted defense against the Dal'Rok. He is the High Priest in what looks suspiciously like a ritual to reinforce the village identity by defeating a common foe. In order to become Sirah, a candidate has to undergo a test: he (or she?) should be able to direct the ritual and direct the power single-handedly. Miles O'Brien clearly fails at this test: he does not have the necessary training, he does not have the faith and as an outsider he is also not connected to the village's group mind. Hovath is and has all those things, so at the end we see him take charge of the ritual and bringing it to a good end, thus finalizing his own initiation as a Sirah. Which brings a final question to mind: what if the old Sirah had staged all this as an initiation ritual for his successor, with O'Brien as the unknowing catalyst? We'll never know...