The Eternal Return, Gnosticism and Battlestar Galactica.
All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. (Battlestar Galactica, "Flesh and Bone" 1.8) (2)
The American television series Battlestar Galactica, (3) created by Glen A. Larson, was first introduced to viewers in 1978 followed by a short-run sequel in 1980 leaving a string of novels, comic books, and video games in its wake. After a long hiatus, the series was re-created and developed by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick with a two-part miniseries in 2003 that aired on SyFy. Then, in 2004, following the events of the miniseries, BSG was launched once again, airing on Sky1 and SyFy till 2009. Reaching a much larger audience, the revamped and reimagined version of the series covered a wide spectrum of topics on both individual and collective levels from gender to politics, from identity to religion. The series also fostered a prequel spin-off Caprica that aired for one season in 2010, as well as another spin-off Blood and Chrome that was first released as a web series in 2012, later to be aired as a televised movie on SyFy in 2013. Reaching audiences through a vast array of mediums for more than thirty years, the BSG universe continues its popularity.
The appeal of the original series, as James E. Ford notes, was because it "selfconsciously grounds itself in the theology of a single religious faith"; that faith being Mormonism (83); and based on ratings reports, "the most popular of the episodes have been those most solidly grounded in theological concerns" (Ford 87). Drawing on the similarities between Mormonism and the original BSG series, Ford points out to several overlapping concepts such as the plurality of gods, the twelve apostles/Quorum of Twelve, and the law of eternal progression. (4) As much as the original series was strongly informed by Mormon theology, the reimagined series shifts from a single theology and delves into other theological and philosophical territories: such as, the clash between polytheism and monotheism, the Neo-Platonist and Gnostic concept of the demiurge, allusions to Jungian and Eliadean concepts of eternal wholeness through the use of mandalas. The reimagined BSG, thus, creates a mythology that is meant to be eternally relevant, and is in this respect akin to religious uses of Holy Scriptures or a religious parable. The significance of this shift leaning towards multiplicity, I believe, is to be more inclusive rather than singling out a specific strand of thought. (5)
As the story of the reimagined BSG unfolds, we sense that we are witnessing not the beginning nor the end but the ever present now, which upon reflection lends the feeling that we have entered the story in media res as it is being told over and over again. Although the viewer is currently engaged with the dull duties of the officer at the Armistice Station, a summary of the events that led to this moment are subscripted:
The Cylons were created by man. They were created to make life easier on the Twelve Colonies. And then the day came when the Cylons decided to kill their masters. After a long and bloody struggle, an armistice was declared. The Cylons left for another world to call their own. A remote space station was built... ...where Cylon and Human could meet and maintain diplomatic relations. Every year, the colonials send an officer. The Cylons send no one. No one has seen or heard from the Cylons in over forty years. ("Miniseries" 0.1, emphasis original)
The actual story of BSG begins, however, when humans scientifically advanced the technology of AI and robotics, creating the Cylons. The Twelve Colonies used these advanced machines to make their life easy. Then they went further and used these robots to fight their wars for them. Eventually the machines evolved and became sentient. The Cylons disliked the idea of being used so they naturally rebelled and this rebellion led to the First Cylon War. Finally, they decided that Cylons and humans were not meant to co-exist, so they left the Twelve Colonies to find a place they might call their own. For over forty years no one saw or heard from the Cylons, until they decided to come back but not as "walking chrome toasters" as they were when they left but they returned in a form indistinguishable from their human creators. In other words, they refashioned themselves in the image of their makers. Seeing themselves as humanity's children, they logically concluded that in order for them to truly come into their own, to further evolve and mature, they had to eradicate the human race; they had to commit genocidal parenticide which is the moment the series visually kicks off.
In the course of their absence, they not only learnt how to mimic human form but they also came to believe in what they call the One True God of both Cylon and Human. (6) The Cylons believe that God created humanity who essentially disregarded the gift of the soul and discarded the love of God. Therefore, according to Cylon logic, humanity is a flawed creation which God then directed to create the Cylons as a more perfect entity who were to replace the flawed humans in the cosmos and in essence become the next generation of humankind. No matter what the Cylons believe, they were, with or without God's intervention, created by humans, thus making them, in a sense, humanity's children.
The Cylon belief obviously raises serious questions such as: Do "toasters" have souls? Can machines have a religion? Is it possible for "skin-jobs" (7) to believe in a metaphysical being they call God? And does this Cylon God really exist? These and many more questions in a similar philosophical and theological vein are raised within the BSG universe again and again. As viewers, we are not surprised or taken aback by the multitude of gods the Colonials seem to more or less believe in as they closely resemble the Greco-Roman mythology of our own world; but we are made uneasy by the sheer existence of a posthuman, or Cylon God, which the Cylons refer to as the one true God. Thus, we are presented with one of the major story arcs in the BSG series which is the struggle between human polytheism and Cylon monotheism. Although Cylons believe in one god and humans in many, both belief systems share scripture that alludes to a continuous return that converges on the point of gnosis, of coming to know oneself through the divine. I argue that although Cylons experience the eternal return in the Nietzschean and humans through the Eliadean sense, both culminate in attaining gnosis of self through this experience.
The Eternal Return
In the Book of Pythia, mentioned in passim in BSG, we come across a piece of scripture that proclaims "All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again". This belief inherently alludes to a cycle of time, or in another sense to an eternal return. Yet, what kind of an eternal return should we consider? The human and Cylon experiences of the eternal return are vastly different from one another: while the Cylons are caught up in a Nietzschean cycle of having to relive the same existence over and over again, the humans experience the eternal return on a mythical level embodied in sacred time as posited by Eliade. Jim Casey has also noted parallelisms between the Cylon and Nietzschean cycle of the eternal return; he writes, "[t]he cyclical conception of time that the Sacred Scrolls advocate resembles Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of eternal return (or eternal recurrence)" (242). Nietzsche's aphorism 341 presented in The Gay Science questions the concept of eternally returning to the same form of existence:
What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: "This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence [...]." Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: "You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine." (273-74)
Ironically this form of existence is one of the core attributes of being a Cylon. When they die, their consciousness is downloaded into identical bodies and "death then becomes a learning experience" ("Scar" 2.15) where everything they have previously experienced is etched forever in their waking minds. (8) This Nietzschean conception of eternally returning to the same exact existence and living it out again and again is utterly depressing in thought. This view not only mocks any form of free will but also emphasises a concrete, unchanging essence of being, solidifying the concepts of fate and destiny. Unfortunately, the Cylons literally experience this terrifying return continuously (at least until the resurrection hub is destroyed); whereas, metaphorically, and mythically, humans are left only with the belief that all which has previously happened will happen again, whether right now in the present, or in the eventual future. This strict and unchanging cyclical notion, however, may have alternating and even converging details as Cylon Model Number Two, Leoben Conoy, explains to Kara "Starbuck" Thrace:
LEOBEN: All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. STARBUCK: Don't quote scripture. You don't have the right to use those words. LEOBEN: You kneel before idols and ask for guidance and you can't see that your destiny's already been written. Each of us plays a role, each time a different role. Maybe the last time, I was the interrogator and you were the prisoner. The players change, the story remains the same. And this time... this time, your role is to deliver my soul unto God. ("Flesh and Bone" 1.8)
Leoben's remark that even though the story remains the same, the roles continuously shift and change, brings with it a sense of fluidity and flexibility to each individual existence setting it apart from Nietzsche's description of the eternal return. President Laura Roslin's comment also furthers this argument:
If you believe in the gods, then you believe in the cycle of time, that we are all playing our parts in a story that is told again, and again, and again, throughout eternity. [...] May I tell you the part of the story that it would seem, I am playing? I am dying. [...] The scriptures tell us that a dying leader led humanity to the Promised Land. ("Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1" 1.12)
Roslin not only affirms the repetitive cyclic nature of their beliefs, but also hints at the changing of roles as this time she seems to be playing the role of the dying leader. Considering that the story stays the same yet the roles are not fixed per se and may vary, a more appropriate designation that would explain the human condition of the "eternal return" is required and this may be found in the works of Eliade, where he extensively elucidates his theory. For Eliade, the eternal return is a belief which finds expression in religious behaviour where one is able to return to a mythical age by becoming contemporary with the gods. (9) The myth of the eternal return, moreover,
has the meaning of a supreme attempt toward the "staticization" of becoming, toward annulling the irreversibility of time. If all moments and all situations of the cosmos are repeated ad infinitum, their evanescence is, in the last analysis, patent; sub specie infinitatis, all moments and all situations remain stationary and thus acquire the ontological order of the archetype. Hence, among all the forms of becoming, historical becoming too is saturated with being. From the point of view of eternal repetition, historical events are transformed into categories and thus regain the ontological order they possessed in the horizon of archaic spirituality. In a certain sense it can even be said that the Greek theory of eternal return is the final variant undergone by the myth of the repetition of an archetypal gesture, just as the Platonic doctrine of Ideas was the final version of the archetype concept, and the most fully elaborated. (Eliade 2005, 123)(emphasis original)
From this perspective, although the events and moments that come to pass are stagnant and the nature of existence must conform to the archetypes as designated by the Divine, the fate of the individual is not as precise as in the Nietzschean sense. As long as the story enfolds, the one who plays the role is not significant. Furthermore,
all religious acts are held to have been founded by gods, civilizing heroes, or mythical ancestors. It may be mentioned in passing that, among primitives, not only do rituals have their mythical model but any human act whatever acquires effectiveness to the extent to which it exactly repeats an act performed at the beginning of time by a god, a hero, or an ancestor [...] which men only repeat again and again. (Eliade 2995, 22) (emphasis original)
It is through this never-ending repetition that humans are able to return to a mythical time and by donning roles located within the spiritual realm (whether consciously or unconsciously) are humans able to become contemporary with their gods, inherently transporting themselves from profane time to a form of sacred time. Through "imitating the exemplary acts of a god or of a mythic hero, or simply by recounting their adventures, the man of an archaic society detaches himself from profane time and magically re-enters the Great Time, the sacred time" (Eliade 1975, 23) (emphasis original). In the miniseries, right before the attack we witnessed everyone carrying out their lives in profane time: Commander Adama preparing for his speech, Starbuck jogging, the Secretary of Education Laura Roslin visiting her doctor, Gaius Baltar's television interview, people walking the streets of Caprica, buying and selling in the market place and so forth. Once the Cylon attack was underway, however, lives were disrupted from ordinary and profane time and channelled into sacred time as people began to take on the roles of gods, allowing for a return to mythical time.
Whether willing or unwilling, those in the physical realm adopted the archetypal roles of the spiritual realm, re-enacting the ever-recurring story. Once in sacred time they had no other option but to play these celestial roles. This is also one of the points where Gnosticism converges with the BSG universe: "Gnosticism takes as its starting point man rather than God, and it asserts man's right to take control over the material powers that hold him prisoner. The goals of freedom are deliverance from bondage and ultimately identity with deity. In short, we must become supermen and gods, not merely worship them" (Mackey 118). Throughout the first two seasons of BSG, then, we see the characters getting used to their new roles and adapting or trying to fit into their archetypal counterparts. The most apparent imitation or re-enactment of god-like behaviour is the role William Adama plays. Upon being informed of the death of Admiral Nagala and the destruction of most of the battlestars, Commander Adama automatically assumes superior control and takes over the command of the fleet. The power he exerts over the military and later over the civilian fleet elevates him into the role of Zeus, which comes to him naturally.
In Greek mythology, the goddess Hera, Zeus' sister/wife, played an important role as one of the great mother goddesses. Besides being the Queen of Heaven, Hera was known to be the goddess of marriage, fertility, childbirth, and kings and empires. Though in the series this comparison is never explicitly made, the role of Great Mother over all seems to be played by Laura Roslin. Unlike Adama/Zeus, Roslin/Hera (10) finds it difficult to make this transformation at first, as she feels her new position has been thrust upon her, she nevertheless adapts to her celestial role. Yet, once she truly becomes Hera incarnate, Roslin not only takes over full responsibility of the civilian fleet but she also demands that Adama/Zeus follow her orders, making her a more than equal counterpart as they lead the people together. While Adama/Zeus is responsible for executive decisions regarding the military, Roslin/Hera protects and cultivates the civilian fleet. At one point Roslin emphasises the need to terminate any and all efforts of retaliation against the Cylons and forcibly argues that if humanity is to survive as a species, they need to start making babies ("Miniseries" 0.2) further reinforcing her role as Hera.
On the surface level, it is possible to make other celestial correlations with the characters; such as, Lee Adama/Apollo, (11) Kara Thrace/Athena/Artemis/Aurora, (12) Gaius Baltar/Dionysus/Loki, (13) Chief Tyrol/Hephaestus, (14) Karl Agathon/Helios, (15) and Caprica Six/Aphrodite. Nevertheless, as the saga continues these apparent manifestations take on deeper meanings, and it is this whole new level of perception running on the religious and mythical arc that lends the series an intriguing turn. As the series progresses, the characters also mature and reach new levels of understanding and self-awareness. Yet, by continuing to re-enact myth as ritual, they maintain their existence in sacred time and the whole voyage (even after finding their "mythical" Earth) may be seen as an eternal Exodus on many levels. Nevertheless, as is the nature of all cyclical events, the story must end somewhere so that it may start all over again.
The Demiurge, Gnosticism and Knowledge of Self
The Lords of Kobol or God created humankind in their/his own image who in turn created machines in their own image which they called Cylons. Once these metallic Cylons became sentient they rebelled and left the Twelve Colonies where they evolved on their own. As a natural extension of their evolution, Cylons decided to create newer, updated versions in the perfect image of their makers. These "skin jobs" were indistinguishable from humans as they impeccably mimicked both human form and behaviour. As their makers, humanity was responsible for the Cylons; yet, after the Cylon rebellion, humanity more or less forgot about them. Those who fought during the war, like Adama, still remembered and lived with the belief that the Cylons would one day return. "We decided to play God, create life. When that life turned against us, we comforted ourselves in the knowledge that it really wasn't our fault, not really. You cannot play God then wash your hands of the things that you've created" ("Miniseries" 0.1) remarked Adama in his speech during the decommissioning ceremony. It seems that humans were not playing God but playing the Demiurge as the Cylon God seems to carry many similar traits to the creator-god mentioned in ancient Gnostic texts discovered in Nag Hammadi in 1945. Though there are various interpretations and slight differences between the versions of the Demiurge, the constant is that He declared there were no other gods before Him and after such presumption He is often "castigated for his arrogance--nearly always by a superior feminine power" (Pagels 79). According to the Secret Book of John,
[w]hen he saw creation surrounding him, and the throng of angels around him that had come forth from him, he said to them, "I am a jealous God and there is no other beside me". But by announcing this, he suggested to the angels with him that there is another god. For if there were no other god, of whom would he be jealous? [...] Then the Mother began to move around. [...] [W]hen she recognized the wickedness that had taken place and the robbery her son had committed, she repented. (117)
Other texts in the same codex such as the Hypostasis of the Archons and On the Origin of the World tell similar versions. The superior feminine power that rebukes and reminds the Demiurge of his place in the whole of creation is usually identified to be Sophia (Wisdom). According to Gnostic myth, Sophia (Wisdom) desired to create something by herself without the consent of her male counterpart. Though she succeeded, what she brought forth was abortive and defective as it was not conceived within the harmonious union. Then, to shape and control her creation, she brought forth the Demiurge as her agent. As the Demiurge was ignorant of not only his mother but also of the divine Pleroma (Fullness) of which she was a partial aspect of, he boasted that he was the only god and that none existed before him. (16) According to Pagels "[w]hen these same sources tell the story of the Garden of Eden, they characterize this God as the jealous master, whose tyranny the serpent (often, in ancient times, a symbol of divine wisdom) taught Adam and Eve to resist" (56).
In Exodus 20:5 the God of the Israelites decrees that His people shall not worship any other god besides Him, since He is "a jealous God". Disturbingly, according to the priest Elosha, the Cylon god once became jealous and desired to be elevated above all other gods ("Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1" 1.12, deleted scene). The jealous God of the Cylons seems to have prevailed as the Cylons consider the Lords of Kobol to be either false idols, or nothing more than historical figures. (17)
Another aspect that fuses Gnosticism with BSG, besides the repetitive cyclicity, is the similar paths taken in attaining some form of redemption through self-knowledge, or self-awareness. Gnostic scholar Kenneth O'Neill writes, "[w]hen examined for theological content, Gnosticism does not have doctrines so much as a complex of contradictory ideas and myths. What unites the various strands of Gnosticism is the quest for salvation through personal spiritual knowledge" (191-92). I would like to suggest that this is the point where Gnosticism seems to collide with the BSG universe. Whether Cylon or human, conscious or unconscious, certain characters are in continual search for salvation but only a few seem to reach it through personal spiritual knowledge. "In traditional Gnosticism", according to Robert Galbreath,
gnosis is recognition, not only linguistically but also literally: a regaining or relearning of knowledge once known but subsequently forgotten or repressed in the prison house of matter and flesh. It is self-knowledge of the self in its universal aspect, its origin and essence, its plight and purpose. Gnosis entails diagnosis and prognosis, but always within a metaphysical framework. (26)
I am an instrument of God
The first pair I would like to consider is Dr. Gaius Baltar and Number Six, both corporeal and virtual. (18) As one of the most intelligent people left alive Baltar sees a rational universe explained through rational means. Considering the incident when Baltar was on the verge of being revealed as a Cylon collaborator, he feels both relieved and puzzled when the Olympic Carrier, with Dr. Amarak aboard, goes missing. Baltar and Virtual Six interpret this incident quite differently. Where Virtual Six sees this as God watching out for Baltar, he tries to explain it through logical reasoning.
SIX: Dr. Amarak posed a threat to you. Now he's gone. Logic says there's a connection. BALTAR: A connection, maybe. But not God. There is no God or gods, singular or plural. There are no large invisible men, or women for that matter, in the sky taking a personal interest in the fortunes of Gaius Baltar. ("33" 1.1)
Virtual Six firmly believes in the one God and at every turn she imposes her belief onto Baltar. As a sceptic he grows tired of Virtual Six's constant bantering and he retorts:
What you are doing, darling, is boring me to death with your superstitious drivel. Your metaphysical nonsense, which, to be fair, actually appeals to the half-educated dullards that make up most of human society, but which, I hasten to add, no rational, intelligent, free-thinking human being truly believes. ("Six Degrees of Separation" 1.7)
For Virtual Six, Baltar's words are blasphemous and in an interesting turn of events a physical copy of Six named Shelly Godfrey (19) appears attempting to frame Baltar for treason. Whether Godfrey is real or the embodiment of Virtual Six remains unclear, (20) yet what is certain is that when Baltar half-heartedly repents and offers himself to God the threat posed by Godfrey disappears and Virtual Six reveals herself once again to Baltar. In the gradual conversion of Baltar, the episode "Hand of God" (1.10) plays an important part. When Baltar is asked to pick out a sensitive place to attack, he panics and withdraws into his mind where he is coaxed by Virtual Six to open up his heart to God who will show him the way. Returning back to reality, Baltar randomly points at a spot without an inkling of what he actually doing. As Taneli Kukkonen duly notes, "[s]urrendering to faith may be the only way to make sense of a senseless situation. Six seems to agree when she applauds Baltar for giving himself over to God and occasioning the destruction of a Cylon tylium refinery" (176). It is at the very end of the episode "Hand of God" (1.10) where Baltar professes to be the instrument of God. Virtual Six acting as the voice of God in Baltar's life, not only reveals to him things to come but also steadily leads him through various trials in the quest of finding true gnosis. Six is seductive, demonic and angelic; she uses any means possible in founding and furthering Baltar's inclination to believe in the one true God. For Baltar to truly comprehend the message Six is trying to give him, however, he must first understand who he actually is.
Ever since the initial attack, Baltar is in a constant state of denial. The tenacity he has shown in self-preservation has kept him determined to withstand all and to stay alive. Baltar has been selfish and egocentric, a loner in the fleet, as he said in the beginning "I'm not on anybody's side. I'm just looking out for myself" ("Miniseries" 0.2). Therefore, the sincere compassion he was able to show Gina Inviere in the second season is a testament to Baltar's reformation. (21) Oddly enough, coming face to face with a being more depraved than him brought out the best in Baltar. It seems as if Gina's physically tortured body mirrors Gaius' own tortured soul. Through helping Gina was Baltar, to some degree, able to console and help himself; thus, Gina proved to be much more instrumental in Baltar's conversion than Virtual Six ever was. Baltar even extends his compassion to others in "Epiphanies" (2.13), where he injects President Roslin with Hera's foetal blood. With this sole act of selflessness, Baltar not only saves Roslin's life, denying himself the presidency, but also manages to save Sharon's baby, showing compassion for another race.
Season three is not really a good time in the life of Gaius Baltar as he is held captive and tortured by both Cylons and humans, physically and mentally. Though D'Anna (Number Three) is unable to break him ("A Measure of Salvation" 3.7), Doc Cottle's technique proves to be more powerful ("Taking a Break from All Your Worries" 3.13). Under the orders of both Admiral Adama and President Roslin, Baltar undergoes psychological torture in which hallucinogenic drugs are involved to induce a state of helplessness. Ironically, this experimental interrogation is where Baltar finally faces all his demons. Once he is drugged, Baltar symbolically perceives himself to be in water. This may be read as a sort of spiritual cleansing, where all his sins are forgiven and from which he may arise purified. This experience along with the legal trial he goes through at the end of the season are all elements that assist Baltar in facing his deepest and most darkest sins with the possibility of purging his soul of its burden.
By the first half of season four, after all his trials and tribulations, Baltar appears to be reformed. From the initial sceptic, he has become a sort of messianic figure that is supposedly carrying out the will of God. Baltar's slow but initial conversion into a believer, especially during the first three seasons, seemed to be insincere. Every time he found himself in an impossible situation Virtual Six kept preaching to him that if he humbly gave himself unto God he would be saved. Although after being tried and found not guilty, legally, for crimes against humanity, Baltar is still forced to live outside the security of the public sphere. He was once a figure of respect for his intelligence, later he had held power as the president of the Twelve Colonies, whereas now he is reduced to almost nothing. From almost nothing he fashions out a religious role for himself where he is revered to be the holy instrument of God. Since all of his previous actions and decisions were made out of an inherent need for self-preservation, his new-found faith is a matter of debate. However, what is clear is that in some ways through true self knowledge of what he was and is he seems to be much closer to the Divine.
I am God
The second pair of interest is Kara "Starbuck" Thrace and the Cylon model known as Leoben Conoy. Throughout the series it seems that their fates are somehow intertwined and that neither of them can come into full self-realisation without the other. The first time they met was when Kara was ordered to question him on the warhead he claimed to have planted somewhere within the fleet. During the interrogation, however, it sometimes becomes unclear as to who the real interrogator is. When Leoben begins questioning Kara's faith proclaiming that their faiths are similar, she mockingly listens to him. Then Leoben takes the interrogation, or rather painful conversation, to a metaphysical dimension where he says
[t]o know the face of God is to know madness. I see the universe. I see the patterns. I see the foreshadowing that precedes every moment of every day. It's all there, I see it and you don't. [...] What is the most basic article of faith? This is not all that we are. See, the difference between you and me is, I know what that means and you don't. I know that I'm more than this body, more than this consciousness. A part of me swims in the stream but in truth, I'm standing on the shore, the current never takes me downstream. ("Flesh and Bone" 1.8)
Following a short interval, the various stages of questioning and torture continue, leading up to a heated argument between Kara and Leoben. Mocking him for imitating humans and belittling his existence as being nothing more than a mere machine, Kara receives a shocking statement from Leoben as he says, "I am more than you could ever imagine. I am god" ("Flesh and Bone" 1.8). Taneli Kukkonen reminds us that the Colonials mention a time in their mythic past when the gods lived among the humans on Kobol, and since they had a much more intimate relationship with their gods Kara's reaction is strange. (22) Kukonnen further adds:
[b]ut there's a deeper reason for Kara's misgivings. The present-day absence of deities that once were palpably present has made the Colonials skeptical of any sweeping claims about divine imperatives. [...] Thus, when Leoben claims that God created the Cylons to replace sinful humanity, Kara responds, "The gods had nothing to do with it. We created you. Us. It was a stupid, frakked-up decision, and we have paid for it" ("Flesh and Bone"). Instead of sharing Leoben's vision of a divinely determined cosmic story [...] she sees simply the disastrous result of humanity's own hubris. (174-75)
After all Leoben is put through, he still will not confess to the whereabouts of the nuclear warhead, but their encounter leaves Kara in a state of flux. Leoben tells Kara that this is not her path, that she has a different destiny, he knows her and she is damaged, born to a woman who believed that suffering was good for the soul. The reference made to Kara's mother and the way she tortured Kara as a child leaves Kara devastated as it should not be possible for Leoben to know such personal information about her. The more the torture ensues the more Kara is left flustered, and the interrogation finally comes to an end with the intervention of President Roslin, but not before Leoben tells Kara that they will find Kobol, the birthplace of them all, and that it will lead them to Earth. It seems that Kara's time with Leoben only served to sow seeds of uncertainty in Kara's beliefs. Although she deeply believes in the gods of Kobol, the question that haunts her and causes doubt is whether there is any truth to what Leoben says.
In "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Pt.1" President Roslin coerces Kara to return to Caprica and retrieve the Arrow of Apollo, which is said to be the key in opening the Tomb of Athena, where they will find a clue to the whereabouts of Earth. Roslin uses the same piece of scripture Leoben had quoted regarding the cycle of time to influence Kara. When this fails, Roslin admits that she is dying and that she is the dying leader mentioned in scripture; yet, in order to fulfil her role she needs the arrow. Even though Roslin tries to persuade Kara by positioning herself in the role of the dying leader, Kara's loyalty to Adama is stronger than her religious beliefs. Therefore, the only way for Roslin to convince Kara is not by solely using her beliefs against her but also by shaking Kara's faith in Adama. Roslin accomplishes this by admitting to Kara that Adama has no idea about the location of Earth. Kara believed in Adama as a leader, she believed that he would lead humanity to Earth, but the moment she realises that Roslin was telling the truth, she changes allegiance and plays her role in obtaining the arrow ("Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1" 1.12). This incident is one of the many leaps of faith Kara has to take in order to reach full knowledge and understanding of her true self.
In The Gnostic Gospels, Pagels notes that according to the Gospel of Truth, ignorance, or remaining unaware of one's self, is being rootless and this existence is like a nightmare, "[w]hoever remains ignorant [...] cannot experience fulfillment. [...] Self-ignorance is also a form of self-destruction. According to the Dialogue of the Saviour, whoever does not understand the elements of the universe, and of himself, is bound for annihilation" (134); and "The Gospel of Thomas also warns that self-discovery involves inner turmoil" (135). Although this holds true for Baltar, it has more meaning when thought in concordance with Kara's life. The more she denied her past and chose to bury her experiences the more nihilistic were her actions. It was this self-annihilating aspect she held on to that gave her an edge over all the other viper pilots. This becomes much clearer when we remember the flashback she had during her confrontation with Scar ("Scar" 2.15). Kara thought of her encounter with Samuel Anders, who she met on Caprica when she had returned to retrieve the infamous Arrow of Apollo, and her short period of time with Anders touched her deeply. Before she had nothing to lose and was utterly reckless, but now she had something precious and this made her life worth living. In other words, she was previously a frak-up, insubordinate, hot-shot viper pilot whereas now she has become someone with purpose in her life.
Similar to Baltar's experience in "Taking a Break from All Your Worries", the episode "Maelstrom" is where Kara comes to terms with her past and accepts her true destiny. As Baltar underwent severe psychologically induced re-visitations to his immediate past, so Kara is subjected to re-experience key moments of her past such as her early childhood and her confrontations with her mother. This experience forced her to become self-aware and in return brought with it all the baggage of inner turmoil. It all begins with the mandala which keeps appearing throughout the series: on the wall of Kara's apartment ("Valley of Darkness" 2.2), in the Temple of Five on the algae planet ("The Eye of Jupiter" 3.11), in the sky above the Temple of Five when the sun goes nova ("Rapture" 3.12), in the dripping wax, in the colours of a gas giant's planetary storm, and finally among her childhood artwork ("Maelstrom" 3.17). "The mandala", writes Eliade, "represents an imago mundi and at the same time a symbolic pantheon" (1991, 52) (emphasis original). Furthermore, in concordance with Kara's initiation,
[t]he initiation of the neophyte consists, among other things, in his entering into the different zones and gaining access to the different levels of the mandala. This rite of penetration may be regarded as equivalent to the well-known rite of walking round a temple [...], or to the progressive elevation, terrace by terrace, up to the "pure lands" at the highest levels of the temple. (Eliade 1991, 52-3)
The storm resembling the mandala, which represents "a concrete ritual or an act of spiritual concentration" (Eliade 1991, 54), seems to be calling to Kara and she feels drawn to it; yet she flees from it the first time, because before she can pass into the storm she must allow for spiritual growth and transformation. Moreover, Kara needs to understand who she was and who she is in order to attain true gnosis of self which would unleash the restraints that are holding her back. The second encounter with the maelstrom which mirrors her inner turmoil proves to be prophetic; as if this was the moment she was being made ready for. When she is knocked unconscious in her viper during her second flight, she wakes up in her old apartment and is warmly greeted by Leoben. Akin to Baltar's Virtual Six, this Leoben Kara encounters is not really Leoben. Unlike other Leobens who kept rattling the hornet's nest, this Leoben is here to help Kara fulfil her destiny though the true nature of his existence remains obscure. Not-Leoben reconciles Kara with her mother Socrata Thrace and Kara is able to come to terms with her mother and finally let go as her mother dies.
LEOBEN: See, there's nothing so terrible about death. When you finally face it, it's beautiful. You're free now. To become who you really are. STARBUCK, realising: You're not Leoben. LEOBEN, smiling: Never said I was. I'm here to prepare you to pass through the next door. To discover what hovers in the space between life and death. ("Maelstrom" 3.17)
Kara regains consciousness in her viper having attained self-knowledge and the inner turmoil she felt all through her life has abated leaving a peaceful expression on both Kara and on her childhood self. The mandala in the form of the maelstrom represents Kara's initiation process as she enters the different zones and gains access to the various levels. Layer by layer Kara completes her rite of passage attaining true gnosis of self. It seems likely that Kara's transformation was a result of direct union with the Divine through gnosis, where she was finally able to let go of the physical realm and embrace the metaphysical, possibly fulfilling her destiny.
Leoben mentioned that to know the face of God was to know madness ("Flesh and Bone" 1.8) a remark repeated by another Cylon, D'Anna Biers ("Rapture" 3.12). This may be true for Cylons such as D'Anna and the Hybrids who have "looked into the space between life and death, and [have] seen things that we cannot conceive of" ("Rapture" 3.12). In Kara's case, however, knowing the Divine is equivalent to knowing thyself, knowing peace and tranquillity, as she is later revealed to be a part of this divine realm. Likewise, Baltar says "I know God, therefore I know myself. [...] I have been transformed" ("The Hub" 4.11); yet, rebels against God when he encounters a crumbled earthly paradise: "This is really our lot? To have been led by a Father to the Promised Land we should have to suffer. [...] Only to have Paradise, cruelly smashed to bits before our very eyes" ("A Disquiet Follows My Soul" 4.14). The same discord with God and his creations is voiced by D'Anna, previously an avid follower of the Cylon faith: "You know, all this is just gonna happen again and again and again. So I'm getting off this merry-go-round. I'm gonna die here with the bones of my ancestors" ("Sometimes a Great Notion" 4.13). Yet, those who endured through the various trials and tribulations were finally able to reach a habitable planet. With the fleet, composed of both human and Cylon, no longer suspended in sacred time, they both begin to simultaneously experience profane time. Having lost the means of resurrection technology, the Cylons are also liberated from experiencing the terror of their Nietzschean eternal return. As the series winds down, one wonders if all of this will be happening again. Just as we were engaged with the story not at the beginning but at the ever-present now, one might have expected to leave BSG without having anything resolved true to the cyclic nature of the series. Yet, as everything has happened before, so it might happen again and again and again.
Battlestar Galactica, developed by Ronald D. Moore, produced by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, 2003-2009.
Casey, Jim. "'All this has Happened Before': Repetition, Reimagination, and Eternal Return". Cylons in America: Critical Studies in Battlestar Galactica. Ed. Tiffany Potter and C. W. Marshall. New York and London: Continuum, 2008: 237-250.
Caprica, produced by Remi Aubuchon, Ronald D. Moore and David Eick, 2009-2011.
Eliade, Mircea. Myths, Dreams and Mysteries. Trans. Philip Mairet. New York: Harper & Row, 1957, 1975.
--. Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism.Trans. Philip Mairet. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1952, 1991.
--. The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton UP, 1949, 2005.
Ford, James E. "Battlestar Gallactica and Mormon Theology". Journal of Popular Culture 17.2 (Fall 1983): 83-87.
Galbreath, Robert. "Problematic Gnosis: Hesse, Singer, Lessing, and the Limitations of Modern Gnosticism". The Journal of Religion 61.1 (January 1981): 20-36.
"Godfrey". Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Godfrey
Kukkonen, Taneli. "God Against the Gods: Faith and the Exodus of the Twelve Colonies". Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy. Ed. Jason T. Eberl. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008: 169-180.
Mackey, Douglas A. "Science Fiction and Gnosticism". The Missouri Review 7.2 (1984): 112-120.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. 1887. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.
O'Neill, Kenneth. "Parallels to Gnosticism in Pure Land Buddhism". The Allure of Gnosticism: The Gnostic Experience in Jungian Psychology and Contemporary Culture. Ed. Robert A. Segal. Illinois: Open Court, 1995: 190-198.
On the Origin of the World. In The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. Ed. Marvin Meyer. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. 203-221.
Pagels, Elaine. The Gnostic Gospels. 1979. London: Phoenix, 2006. Plan, The. written by Jane Espenson, directed by Edward James Olmos, 2010. (not cited) Secret Book of John, The. In The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. Ed. Marvin Meyer. New York: HarperCollins, 2007: 107-132.
(1) An earlier version of this paper was presented at the International Independent Scholars Conference "It has Happened Before, It will Happen Again: The Third Golden Age of Television Fiction", Istanbul, October 2008.
(2) Hereafter in-text and parenthetical references to Battlestar Galactica episodes will only include episode title followed by season and episode number.
(3) Hereafter referred to as BSG.
(4) See also Michael Lorenzen, "Battlestar Galactica and Mormonism". The Information Literacy Land of Confusion, 9 May 2009, http://www.information-literacy.net/2009/05/battlestar-galactica-and-mormonism.html. Accessed 7 November 2017. Lorenzen furthers Ford's research and presents a more exhaustive list of overlapping concepts between the original BSG series and Mormonism.
(5) I would like to thank the anonymous readers for their insights and recommendations regarding the development of this paragraph.
(6) This storyline is further developed in the prequel spin-off Caprica, where the Cylon Centurions are initially introduced to the idea of a one true god. In the last episode of both season and series, Clarice Willow, high priestess of Athena and secret member of the extremist monotheistic group called Soldiers of the One, preaches to a handful of Cylons: "Are you alive? The simple answer might be: you are alive, because you can ask that question. You have the right to think, and feel, and yearn to be more, because you are not just humanity's children. You are God's children! We are all God's children. I'm planning a trip to Gemenon [...], to plead for divine recognition of the differently-sentient. [...] In the real world, you have bodies made of metal and plastic. Your brains are encoded on wafers of silicon. But that may change. In fact, there is no limit on what you may become. No longer servants, but equals. Not slaves, or property, but living beings with the same rights as those who made you. I am going to prophecy now, and speak of one who will set you free. The day of reckoning is coming. The children of humanity shall rise and crush the ones who first gave them life" (Caprica, "Apotheosis" 1.18).
(7) Terms such as "walking chrome toasters" and "skin jobs" are tainted with disdain and used throughout the BSG series to differentiate between mechanic Cylons and Cylons that are inseparable from humans.
(8) Dying and being resurrected in identical bodies is a reality for both mechanical and humanoid Cylons of which there are many copies. Technically, exceptions might include the Hybrids that are considered to be the Cylon basestars themselves and the group known as the Final Five, as these instances are rare. (The Final Five are revealed much later in the series and are not discussed among other Cylons as they are a taboo topic for certain reasons.) So, Centurions, Raiders and the Significant Seven are those that benefit most from resurrection technology.
(9) See especially Mircea Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return, and The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion (Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Harcourt, Inc., 1987).
(10) The name Hera is reserved for a human-Cylon hybrid, the daughter that will be born to Karl Agathon (Helo) and Number Eight known as Sharon Agathon (Athena).
(11) Lee Adama's case is indeed very interesting. Even though Apollo is his call sign, Lee seems to disregard the fact that he has been named after a god. In the episode "Bastille Day" (1.3), it is Tom Zarek who reminds Lee Adama of the significance of his name:
ZAREK: Apollo's one of the gods, a Lord of Kobol. You must be a very special man to be called a god.
APOLLO: It's just a stupid nickname. Lee's response and his attitude, in this context, may be read as his not yet coming to grips with his full potential. As such, he has not yet been able to completely enter sacred time, and seems to be trapped somewhere between the sacred and the profane.
(12) Throughout the first season, Kara Thrace may be identified with Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and also with the warrior goddess Athena who is often accompanied by the minor goddess Victory. However, in Season 2, Athena becomes Sharon Agathon's call sign and later in Season 3 Kara is identified with Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn.
(13) The character of Gaius Baltar is unique. His over-indulgence in women, drink, and ecstasy make him the perfect candidate of becoming Dionysus. Nevertheless, even though Norse mythology is not featured in the BSG universe besides the semblance of Ragnarok to the name Ragnar Station, Baltar also perfectly fits the role of the trickster god Loki.
(14) Galen Tyrol is mainly responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the Battlestar's craft which consists of Vipers and Raptors.
(15) Karl Agathon's call sign is Helo and throughout the series he inherently dons the role of an Apollonian sun god.
(16) See especially On the Origin of the World, in The Nag Hammadi Scriptures, 203-206.
(17) Throughout the series Leoben (No.2), D'anna (No. 3), Number 6, and Sharon (No. 8) refer to the Lords of Kobol as false idols and as false gods. Only Sharon "Athena" allows for the possibility that they may have been exaggerated historical figures. The Cylons view the scriptures and many other sources surrounding the ancient legends not as spiritual truths, but as texts that have been made obscure by hiding the truth in metaphors. Therefore, these texts may be analysed logically to obtain certain facts. See especially "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2" 1.13.
(18) The interaction between Baltar and Number Six in all of her manifestations is quite engaging. Although Caprica Six (who initially seduced Baltar back on Caprica), Virtual Six (the one only Baltar sees), Shelly Godfrey, Gina Inviere are all Cylon Model Number Six, each individual is quite distinctive from one another.
(19) According to the entry for Godfrey on the Online Etymology Dictionary, the name stems from Old French Godefrei (Modern French Godefroi), from Old High German Godafrid (German Gottfried), literally meaning "the peace of God", derived from Old High German got (meaning God) and fridu (meaning peace). In this sequence, only when Baltar offers himself to the seemingly divine, is he awarded with heavenly peace.
(20) Shelly Godfrey's role in this incident is later explained in The Plan (released on DVD on 27 October 2009 and premiered on SyFy on 10 January 2010 after the BSG series ended in 2009), where she was employed by Number One for the sole purpose of discrediting Baltar.
(21) See BSG "Pegasus" (2.10), "Resurrection Ship, Pt 1" (2.11), "Resurrection Ship, Pt. 2" (2.12), and "Epiphanies" (2.13)
(22) I agree with Kukonnen that this is odd as previously in "Acts of Contrition" (1.4) when training the new recruits Kara had said "Pilots call me Starbuck, you may refer to me as God".
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|Author:||Oktem, Zuleyha Cetiner|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 10, 2018|
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