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The Elder One and the Nature of Faith

HD3 October 8, 2015 User blog:HD3

"If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him". - Voltaire

I recently read a comment on another site, where one entity derided Corypheus for one line of dialogue from one of his final scenes "Bow before your new God and be spared." Initially I had some degree of sympathy for this position, such dialogue does suggest a certain degree of hammyness and vague aspirations of apotheosis are certainly a path many antagonists have trod before. But the more I think about it, the more I think that Corypheus' true value as an antagonist, and even that line of dialogue in particular is only clear if we understand corypheus as part of religion in Thedas, rather than the typical ego-complex induced attempt to attain divinity.

The problem is, by the time the Dragon Age begins, religion in Thedas is predominantly deistic. The Old Gods, the Maker/Chantry, the Elven Pantheon, Hakkon Wintersbreah and the Avvar deities, all are understood to be true deities but have since for various reasons departed the world and no longer interfere. To believe in a religion in Thedas, is to accept your prayers will go unheard but to hope that eventually this will contribute to the full return of those gods once the faithful's merit has been established. For the elves, this means 'remembering' what being elven means, for the humans this means returning to the true deity of the world. All these religions are premised on the idea that the gods are gone but can/will return.

Into this world walks Corypheus. Unlike everyone else (more or less), alive in Thedas, Corypheus remembers a time when the Gods were directly interventionist. When he was still Sethius Amladaris, he was the High Priest of Dumat, the Old God of Silence, and repeatedly received direct instruction from Dumat himself. For most of Corypheus' life, gods were not some abstract concept or divorced entity, they were concrete divinities who communicated directly with their followers. No one needed to believe in Dumat for Dumat to be a god or to exist. The Kingdom of Barindur didn't believe in Dumat and he wiped it out of existence in a blink of an eye. When the Gods walks the world and directly intervene in mortal affairs, the nature of religion changes from faith to worship. Being religious does not entail belief but supplication before an entity whose power is proven and understood by society to be literally divine.

When Corypheus first wakes at the prison, one of the first things he says is to call for Dumat for aid. During the battle with Hawke, Corypheus' calls out repeatedly to Dumat for aid. Others have done this throughout the series too. Plenty of time you'll hear someone invoke Andraste or the Maker or one of the elven deities in the heat of a dispute. But Corypheus' is different. He isn't rhetorically calling out prayers to an absent god. When he calls on his god, he expects there to be an immediate and undisputable response, because that is how its always been. You worship, then the relevant Old God whispers commands and occasionally grants boons, provided the appropriate demonstrations of faith (sacrifices, both living and material) are made. When Corypheus' first wakes, he instinctively calls to Dumat for aid and a new power is apparently granted, Corypheus' faith is still true, he is still a genuine believer in the Old Gods. Its only with time to reflect after escaping the prison that Corypheus realizes silence really has fallen. His memories in the shrine of dumat make it clear how painful that is for him and even captures the exact moment where corypheus turns from the old gods "I recited the old verses. How easily they come. Yet still I do not feel the presence of Dumat - hear no whispers, no commands."

The memoirs also make it clear just how wide the divide between corypheus' concept of religion and the current theodosian's concept of religion is, "How does this age stand such desolation? They sing to a "Maker" who answers no prayers. Once I have ascended, I will be their answer. I will be their light." Corypheus literally cannot fathom why anyone has faith in the maker because his experience of religion is so utterly divorced from modern religious experience. For him, a God must be verifiable present and interventionist. This is where Corypheus' attempt at apotheosis gets its twist from the usual hoi-poloi. Corypheus was one of seven individuals in all of history who managed to actually physically reach this world's version of heaven and has literally seen "the throne of the gods". His arrival in the golden city was unarguably the closest moment he came to achieving apparent god hood and yet when corypheus' actually breached heaven, he did not do so out of any desire for personal vanity like the chant of light claims but because he was the truest believer. This was the endeavour which would restore the Tevinter Imperium to its genuine belief in the Old Gods. Corypheus didn't doubt for a moment Dumat and the Old Gods would be waiting to welcome them at the Golden City. This is also the reason I think the chant of light's telling of how the Maker reacted to the Magister's arrival is troubling. They depict the Magisters as utterly full of hubris, and while its hard to speak for the other six, Corypheus at least, did not breach the golden city for the sake of his own pride, but to aggrandize his god. He literally transcended known laws of physics to bring glory to the higher power he had devoted himself to. But Corypheus' religious humility is also the very reason he becomes so arrogant after his fall. All his faith has apparently been for nothing and even though he eventually lets go of his belief in the Old Gods, he cannot let go of his understanding of what religion is. His entire experience is predicated upon religion being the worship of an immediate deity, not abstract faith in an absent entity whose own priests admit has abandoned the world, which is why he feels he has to achieve apotheosis. The Old Gods may be gone but for a true religion to be achieved, a deity capable of direct action has to be present and so corypheus' feels it is his duty to step in where the old gods and before them the elven pantheon once stood.

The problem of course, is that Corypheus need to prove the presence of physical immediate deity is (classic dramatic irony) what leads to his defeat at the Temple of Mythal. Corypheus could have found another way to enter the Temple and could've crushed the Inquisitor before they figured out he was immortal let alone how to stop him. But his need to prove he is worthy of god by demonstrating one of the most quintessential traits of divinity, immortality, leads to him walking headfirst into the death barrier. Which proves his immortality certainly, but gives the inquisition the opportunity they need to break in and use the well of sorrows. With everything else taken from him, Corypheus "like a child throwing a tantrum, decides to hurl the board off the table" to paraphrase Solas.

All this leads me to why the scene at the start of the final battle with corypheus is so important and why the person I mentioned at the start here is so wrong, particularly about that quote. Before the Inquisitor arrives, Corypheus rather than just kill them outright, decides to instead prozelytize to the inquisition soldiers stationed at the ruins. The question is why? It confers him no tactical or practical advantage. The easy way out is just to say it was a chance to have corypheus deliver some more dialogue, but I think it runs deeper than that. By this point Corypheus has lost his army, his followers, his worshipers, everything. That is why delivering his sermon to the Inquisition soldiers and getting them to accept him as their god is important. Corypheus isn't just asking them to accept him as their god but to accept that his experience of religion; that a deity must be verifiable powerful entity capable of and inclined to intervene in the world. This is born out pretty clearly by Corypheus dialogue "Tell me, where is your Maker now? Call him, call down his wroth upon me, you cannot for he does not exist." And finally the line which started me off on this chain of thought, "Bow before your new god and be spared." Not just, pray to your new god, not just accept me as your new god, bow before your new god and be spared." That line captures the disconnect between corypheus' experience of what religion is in thedas and how it is understood by most thedosians so perfectly; religious worship for corypheus has always been an act of supplication before a manifest deity. It isn't just their lives he is offering to spare here; Corypheus is offering to spare them from the uncertainty of an absent imagined god, a god who does not require faith to exist but does demand their worship and appropriately for a god, that they bow before him.

-by Ormus1 - Transcribed from DA:Reddit

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