In the last post on Magi, we looked at the series’ various literary influences, but specifically the real-life grimoire The Lesser Key of Solomon and how it relates to Daniel Strange’s book, Their Rock Is Not Like Our Rock. The main point of the article was summarized in a quote from Strange, that “being antithetically against yet parasitically dependent upon the truth of the Christian worldview, non-Christian religions are ‘subversively fulfilled’ in the gospel of Jesus Christ” ( 98). This is a bold statement, for sure, so I wanted to give you two examples from the series which I think illustrate Strange’s point that good stories, even one’s with occult and demonic source material like Magi‘s, are helplessly hopeful, and end up rhyming in some way with the Christian worldview.
The first example is one of my absolute favorite things about Magi, the character Morgiana. Whether or not she is Magi’s best girl is to be decided by those fiercely engaged in subreddit warfare, but what I can tell you is that Morgiana’s character arc is a great example of biblical salvation and redemption. The book of James, chapters one and two, discuss life in light of the gospel. Chapter one calls God’s word a mirror meant to remind us of who we are in relation to God so that we can act accordingly. Chapter two gives a powerful charge to “speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty,” which could be restated as a charge to live as people who appreciate their freedom, knowing what it was like to have once been enslaved. Morgiana’s response to her salvation is a great example of this mindful gratitude, both in how we often misunderstand it and how we should properly apply it.
Morgiana is a slave who sees no hope for escape. Her tough expression and terse responses are a result of the years of terrible abuse and disdain she has experienced from those around her, and especially her master. But when her friend and a fellow slave, Goltas, saves her from their abusive owner at the cost of his own life, Morgiana wants to honor his final wish, that she return to see her homeland. Morgiana feels an even greater sense of thankfulness and obligation when Alibaba uses part of the wealth from the dungeon he captured to purchase Morgiana’s freedom and the freedom of many other slaves. But even though she has been freed, Morgiana still acts like a slave under obligation to those who set her free. Of course, this is a correct posture in one sense at least. Paul, the apostle of Jesus, said that our salvation compels us toward submission to God as “slaves of righteousness.” But in verse 19 of that passage, Paul admits that this metaphor of slavery breaks down, unable to properly communicate the freedom which comes from submission to Christ.
This freedom is the one thing that Morgiana, for all her well intentioned feelings of obligation, does not grasp:
Morgiana: “Of course, I still haven’t forgotten that I need to repay you both. But, it’s not just about that anymore. I want to do what the two of you are doing, fighting alongside you, saving people from oppression.”
Aladdin: “Tell me, Morg. Are you sure that’s something that you want?”
A: “Then that’s what you should do. Stay with us or do whatever you like. After all, you’re free, you know?” (1.18 “Kingdom of Sindria”)
Morgiana finally understands that those who saved her don’t want her to act as though they are enslaving her again with a sense of obligation, but for her to use her thankfulness in freedom (Gal. 4:8-11 & 5:1) The result? Morgiana’s first act of freedom is an outburst of joyous dance, very much like David’s thankful abandon in the presence of God.
She then puts herself under Alibaba’s leadership as one of his Household Members, which requires her to take a metal vessel as a weapon signifying her allegiance. She chooses her old slave chains to be her household vessel as a reminder, not of her former slavery, but of the people who set her free and the love they showed her (2 Cor. 12:9-10). She fights for the oppressed and defends her friends with a physical testimony of her past oppression and the love of her friends who freed her from it. (I’m inwardly cheering just thinking about it.)
The second example is not so much a person as it is a semi-religious element of Magi’s story. This is the idea of the Rukh. “Rukh” is a Hindi word meaning “side, aspect, or perspective,” and Magi’s use of it, as you might guess, resembles Hinduism. The Rukh are a kind of cosmic life energy that each living being is part of and rejoins upon death, but
which can also be used by the living (think of The Force from Star Wars if that helps; it was based on the same Hindu principle). But rukh is also similar in both spelling and function to the Hebrew word Ruach, meaning “breath, wind, or spirit.” This aspect of the rukh appears frequently throughout the series with the spirits of the deceased leaving their bodies to join the rukh or ghosting around in spiritual, rukh form to visit the loved ones they left behind. Magi combines both of these elements, the personal spirit (ruach) and the idea of a great cosmic force with a will of its own (rukh), to represent a third thing: the state of a person’s soul and his or her attitude toward their respective fate.
I know that this rukh stuff might seem a bit obscure, but it becomes a little more manageable when put into practice. The rukh are categorized into dark rukh and light rukh. At first, the series gives the impression that those people who emanate light rukh have passively accepted their fate in this life, while those who emanate black rukh have cursed the chains of fate and strain against them with a destructive hatred. There is even a group called Al Thamen devoted to plunging the world into dark rukh by leading entire countries into a despairing and consuming hatred for their collective fate in an act known as “falling.” But in the last episode of the Labyrinth of Magic series, Aladdin explains to Ithnan, a member of Al Thamen, that their understanding of the rukh and fate is incorrect:
A: “When you take action, it causes war and poverty throughout the world. Why would you do such a thing?”
I: “In order to create darkness and to release everything from the prison that controls this world. In other words, from ‘fate:’ a road leading to an end decided upon by another that you cannot fight against. And the only way to escape it and live on, that’s what Falling is.”
A: “You people have the wrong idea about fate. Denying fate will cause the world to lose its power to move forward, and destruction will become its only option.” (1.25 “Alibaba and Aladdin”)
Ithnan and Al Thamen have adopted the satanic tagline: “non serviam – I will not serve.” They consider the way the world was created to work a kind of slavery and refuse to submit themselves to the higher authority who created it. And while the concept of “Falling” and the destruction it brings is arguably a little heavy-handed on Magi’s part, it’s adoption of this Christian concept is certainly apt. It is the opposite of Morgiana’s attitude; devoid of thankfulness, conviction, and joy. This is ultimately the reason for which Aladdin rebukes Ithnan’s perspective—his “rukh”—of fate. In a conversation with Alibaba, who has all but given up and cursed his fate in despair over the mistakes he has made and the ways he has failed, Aladdin explains how Alibaba’s view of fate, like Al Thamen’s, is incorrect:
“Fate is not something you’re enslaved by. By overcoming it, your life and the whole world are able to move forward. […] Your battle [,your struggle,] is the Rukh’s guidance; it’s ‘fate’ itself.” (1.25 “Alibaba and Aladdin”)
Aladdin tells Alibaba that, while many think their fate is determined by the physical, temporal, geographical, and biological conditions they were born into, they are incorrect to think this way (Acts 17:24-27). Aladdin says that everyone’s fate is actually the same since fate is the call upon every person’s life to overcome their respective conditions, to fight the good fight, and to live as characters worthy of the story they are in, who turn to face hardship and triumph (John 16:33). Even though trouble doesn’t grow up out of the dirt, no woman or man has ever had to search for it any more than heat needs instruction to rise or sparks to fly (Job 5:6-7). And deliverance requires something from which you can be delivered (Job 5:8-27).
Naturally, the Christian belief in the absolute sovereignty of God doesn’t jive with the detached, impersonal idea of fate. But I bring it up because Magi‘s definition of fate isn’t exactly impersonal either. The idea of fate as a calling upon the lives of all people to overcome the troubles and suffering of this life is something we find in scripture (Phil. 1:27-30), where it is called the outworking of our hearts in response to our salvation—the kind we see in Morgiana. And like Morgiana’s response to her freedom, sometimes that struggle looks like actual combat and sometimes it looks like tending to the needs of the injured and forgotten who aren’t so different than how we were once, before we were freed. Either way, it all comes from a place of gratitude. Christians just have the added benefit that the God who calls us to these self-sacrifices also accepts our thankfulness in the form of dance, no matter how poor the offering.