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The Legendary Morpheus


The Name of the Name

This time, what say let's navigate the mythological labyrinth of The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded. Let's see how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Some of the carefully chosen character names smack of biblical redemption themes: "Neo" denotes the New Adam, the first of a new breed of humanity, freed from the tyranny of the Principalities and Powers and able to free others. He is also called "Mr. Anderson," which can be taken, without too much of a stretch, to denote "the Son of Man," a variant on the Adam motif. "Anderson" is a Scandinavian name, "Anders' son," and "Anders" is simply a variation of "Andreas," Greek for "man." So "Anderson" means "Son of Man." That doesn't mean every slob you meet with that name is the Son of Man. My point is that they could have named Neo's Matrix persona anything, but they chose "Anderson" because of its symbolic resonance. "Trinity" is even more obviously theological. She is the third on the team beside Morpheus and Neo.

ááááááááááá "The Merovingian" (obviously a reference to the Medieval Frankish dynasty of Clovis, Charles Martel, and Pepin the Short) is in some ways Neo's opposite number, as Persephone implies when she sees in Neo an echo of the way her husband was long ago. Both are rebels against the Matrix. Surely the Merovingian is given this name for other reasons than that he has a French accent. He is a nod to the crack-pot hypothesis made famous about twenty years ago (see Baigent and Leigh's Holy Blood, Holy Grail), and recently warmed-over in the novel The DaVinci Code, that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and that their descendants eventually produced the Merovingian dynasty. So this sort of makes the Merovingian an Antichrist matching Neo as the Christ figure. His wife Persephone bears the name of the Greek Queen of the Underworld, bride of Hades.áá

ááááááááááá Various other Matrix names have no theological importance, such as "Link," "Tank," "Mouse," "Switch," and "Dozer," all of which simply mark their bearers as technos. Their names are really the names of roles, not of characters. So the assignment of names is hardly random. The religious ones are trying to establish some sort of code. Can we decipher it? Sure we can! It has to do with ancient Gnosticism. Neo is a standard Gnostic character: the Redeemed Redeemer. Morpheus is the Gnostic Revealer. Trinity is Sophia, the suffering embodiment of Wisdom. Here we go!


Gnosis and Mythos

Gnosticism was a family of religious movements in antiquity that seems to have had several roots, resulting from esoteric interpretations of Greek Platonism, Persian Zoroastrianism, and Israelite polytheism. It had a great influence upon formative Christianity and finally issued in a number of important systems of Christian Gnosticism. "Gnostics" are those "in the know," the elite, the pneumatikoi (or spiritual ones) who understand the esoteric truth to which the common run of humanity remain oblivious. They alone know the truth concerning the origin of the world and of the souls of human beings, at least of those lucky enough to have souls. Stay with me now, kimosabe.

ááááááááááá According to the Gnostic myth, originally there was only the Pleroma, the Fullness of divinity, spirit, light. From the Unknown Father, a la Neo-Platonism, there cascaded successive waves of divinity, in pairs (syzygies, or "yokefellows"), each pair of divine entities (Aions) giving birth to the next, until there were as many as 365 of them (Valentinus' estimate). At last, in the final stage of begetting, there appeared a single Aion, Sophia, which means Wisdom. She wanted to "conceive," too, a pun implying that she wanted both to continue the process and that she, the farthest from the Godhead, wanted thorough knowledge of it. (In the same way, the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis is plainly supposed to be both carnal knowledge and enlightenment. What's that? You disagree with my exegesis, do you? Sit down. I am the Gnostic here, not you.) So she somehow managed to effect a virgin birth, producing a misbegotten entity called Ialdabaoth (a garbled version of "Yahve Sabaoth," Lord of Hosts) or Saklas ("the Blind One"). This one vainly imagined himself to be the Ultimate God and proceeded to create the Archons ("rulers"), his angels, evil counterparts to the Aions proceeding from the Father. Ialdabaoth was the biblical Creator, and as such he was the Demiurge (Greek for "craftsman," a term borrowed from Plato, who posited a Demiurge to translate the eternal heavenly Forms and Ideas into material existence). Gnostics were super-spiritual types who disdained the material world as inherently sinful, something that seems neurotic not only to us but to most ancient Christians and Jews who, after all, thought God had made the earth and pronounced it "very good."

ááááááááááá So the Demiurge, the Old Testament God, made the material world, but it was inert and lifeless, as in all ancient cosmogonies, even that of Genesis chapter one, where there is first just a placid ocean (Tehom, the Deep) until a mighty wind stirs it up and begins the process whereby all the different substances and creatures are spun off one after the other. It is the same in Hindu cosmogony. Well, what jump starts the creation in Gnosticism is the theft of sparks of the Pleromatic divine light or spirit from heaven by the Archons. This happens in various ways, according to which Gnostic teacher you listened to. According to some, Mother Sophia stooped down to look into the depths of the new-made world, and the reflection of her divine light, quickly absorbed into the pool, was enough to start things percolating. Or she might have been pulled into it and torn apart, her remnants becoming the DNA (as we should say) giving self-replicating order to the material world. Or it may have been the Primal Man, the Heavenly Adam, one of the divine Aions, who was seized by the Archons and ripped to shreds (corresponding both to the crucifixion of Christ in 1Corinthians 2:8; Colossians 2:14-15 and the rending limb-from-limb of Dionysus and Orpheus); his fragments then supplied the ordering principle in matter.

ááááááááááá A cameo of the larger process is the Eden scene as we read it in Gnostic texts such as The Origin of the World and The Hypostasis of the Archons, which seem to be based on older versions of the Adam and Eve story than the one we read, nice and bowdlerized, in Genesis chapters 2 and 3. In this version Adam is inert, lying as dead on the ground until Eve, an Aion, another version of Sophia, takes pity upon him and gives him life, whereupon he recognizes her as "the Mother of All Living." The wicked Archons lust after this goddess and try to assault her. But she turns into a Tree (the Tree of Knowledge), just as Daphne did to escape the lust of Apollo. She leaves in her place a false semblance, the earthly, fleshly Eve, whom the Archons gang-rape, deriving from her, again, the ordering DNA to get the creation going.

ááááááááááá What happened to these divine sparks? They are the key to the whole Gnostic epic of salvation. These sparks exist in select human beings, who therefore have a lifelong sense of being strangers in a strange land, though they have no idea why. Indeed, they do not belong here. Finally, the Father takes pity on them and sends a Redeemer, a Revealer, into the world. This one takes upon himself the disguising likeness of the Archons, then of mortal humans, in order to circulate in secret among humanity and find the elite who possess the spark but do not know what it means. These he informs of their true origin and destiny, awakening them and giving them the knowledge to escape the world-prison of the Archons, who will prevent their heavenward descent if they can, since obviously they do not want their world to lose the precious soul-substance that holds it together! The Revealer tells the awakened Gnostics how to elude the Archons and successfully to regain the Pleroma, where they belong. If they fail, they must fall back into the world to be reincarnated again. Most people lack divine sparks but may be saved despite themselves. Some, like Cypher, prefer the illusion with its pleasures.

ááááááááááá In some tellings of the myth, the Redeemer, once he takes on flesh or the semblance of flesh, becomes forgetful of his own divine destiny and must be awakened! (See the Hymn of the Pearl in the Acts of Thomas.) Once he is awakened, he renews his mission. The point of this odd plot development is to hint that the Redeemed and the Redeemer are essentially one. The Revealer is a stranger from the divine world, and so are those he awakens. Together, they form the Cosmic Christ, the Primal Man.

ááááááááááá If the goal of complete redemption of all the divine sparks is ever accomplished, this world of material sin and delusion will collapse back into a chaotic heap, and the Primal Man and/or the Fallen Sophia will be redeemed. (If you are by chance familiar with the medieval Kabbalah of Isaac Luria, you will recognize a virtually complete series of parallels: there it is the Shekinah of God that is trapped in the world of matter, and the Heavenly Adam, Adam Kadmon, who must be redeemed., etc.)


The Key to the Matrix

All this has everything to do with the Matrix films. Morpheus is clearly the Gnostic Revealer. He roams this false world of delusion created by the Machines (the Archons), searching, like Diogenes of old, for those sleepers who are ever troubled by intimations that something is amiss, that there is something more real to awaken to. These are the ones who, as the Architect (= the Demiurge himself) tells Neo, make up that small percentage of the sleeping humans who will not easily accept the Matrix program. "Morpheus" is based on the Greek word morphe, "form," and denotes "Transformer." Morpheus was one of the Greek gods of sleep, the son of Hypnos. The god Morpheus caused human forms to appear in our dreams. In The Matrix, Morpheus navigates the world of sleep but frees people from it. He is the Revealer. As he administers the Red Pill, he is imparting the gnosis, the secret knowledge that redeems the knower by self-transformation. Just imagine how your life would be changed if someone told you that you were secretly the heir of the richest man in the world. Same thing.

ááááááááááá Morpheus has awakened Trinity, who joins him in his work, liberating souls with knowledge. She is instrumental in awakening Neo. In this she is parallel to the Spiritual Eve who awakens Adam (= Neo). She enters the dream-world again, often, and there eventually suffers and dies until she is finally redeemed by Neo, himself the Redeemed Redeemer, who had to be awakened in order to assume his role as the Savior. More of that in a second, but here let's note that Neo, as the Redeemer, has saved Sophia from her age-long anguish, just as in the Gnostic myth. Why do they call her Trinity rather than Sophia? It might be, it should be, because it was the Sophia figure, a semi-autonomous aspect of the divine nature (see Proverbs chapter 8), that led to the Christian idea of a single Godhead somehow composed of distinct personae--in other words, a Trinity.

ááááááááááá Neo is not simply one more of the elect to be detached from the machine. He has lived before, the first human to awaken on his own, reject the machine, and begin to liberate others, including Morpheus! He was killed but was destined to be reborn--as "Neo," a new version of the original. Morpheus had been looking for this one, to restore his memory of being the primordial Gnostic, the Redeemer. Only he must redeem him first. And he does. So Neo is the perfect depiction of the Gnostic Primal Man, subsequently rescued by the Revealer, awakening to his forgotten identity/destiny, which puts him in the position to save others. As he saves them, he is saving himself. This is why he can tell his youthful admirer in the beginning of Reloaded that he shouldn't thank Neo for saving him; he saved himself. Both are true, for the Redeemed Redeemer is like infinite regress: he is always essentially saving himself, a piece of himself. By the way, Niobe's ship is called the Logos, because, as in the Gnostic-leaning Gospel of John, the Logos is the divine Word of revelation which enters our world of darkness to save and illuminate its benighted inhabitants.

ááááááááááá Zion, the true home of the awakened, uses the name of Mount Zion, the high point of Jerusalem where Solomon built both the palace of the Jewish kings and the temple of God. During the Exile in Babylon, where the priests and aristocrats of Judah had been deported by King Nebuchadnezzar (hence the name of Morpheus' ship which ventures into the territory of the Dream-Exile), Jews yearned for Zion (see Psalm 137). Hence in The Matrix Reloaded, Zion is the beloved home from which the exiles return from the Babylonian Captivity of the Matrix. In terms of the Gnostic framework, Zion would stand for the heavenly Pleroma, depicted as above us, not below us, but as Tillich said, the direction of the divine is an interchangeable metaphor: the Gnostic or the Yogi is simultaneously ascending through the levels of heaven and descending through deeper and deeper levels of the self.

ááááááááááá The robotic death-ships that are digging down to destroy Zion are called the Sentinels. No, not just a tip of the hat to Marvel Comics. These Sentinels are the Archons whose job is to prevent the ascension/escape of the freed souls. They are the "Watchers" of Jewish Apocalyptic, originally the planetary gods of Babylonian mythology, always on the lookout for escapees.

ááááááááááá As for Councilor West, he is Cornell West, a philosopher at Princeton University and all around cool guy. He must have liked the first Matrix movie and asked the Wachowski brothers if he could be in the second one. I briefly spoke to Dr. West back in the Spring of 1989. Just had to throw that in.

ááááááááááá Why so much (beautifully choreographed!) violence in The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded? It is an index of the rage felt by those, like Harris and Kliebold, who just cannot stand to languish in what they perceive to be the Matrix-world of grinning jocks, contemptuous, air-headed cheerleaders, and clueless guidance counselors. You and I can understand what motivated them. They were trying to escape the Matrix, even if only for the brief instant of their homicidal/suicidal firestorm. A brief moment of world-transcending ecstasy, a Sartrean "final experience." But what a waste. The true Gnostic, dissatisfied with this world of delusion, takes upon himself the role of the Gnostic Revealer, the Compassionate Bodhisattva, the refugee from the Platonic Cavern. He bides his time, rejoicing in the secret world he knows deep down within himself, and among the rare like-minded, his fellow elect. And he seeks for signs of another soul stirring in its sleep, ripe for awakening by means of a well-chosen question or Socratic observation. The Gnostic will not rashly force upon others a knowledge they cannot yet grasp. But, like Morpheus, he is quietly ready to help others escape. No less, he is prepared for the possibility that perhaps his beloved Zion may itself turn out to be but another level of the Matrix. If it does, he is willing to learn new truth and to take another Red Pill.  


Copyrightę2004 by Robert M Price