Force and Flow — Know and Change
Key Verb: Know
Copacetic Sub-Verbs: Understand, Guide, Learn, Speak
Unifying Myth: Prophets
To be honest, I literally don’t know what to say when people say we don’t know what Mages do. It kind of makes me want to laugh. This is because Homestuck all but tells us Mages and Seers are a pair right in Sollux and Terezi’s introductions, and it isn’t particularly subtle:
Mythologically, Prophets are generally known as people who have access to supernatural information — typically from a God or from visions of the future. As such, Prophets are entities who Know through supernatural means, and so have information others do not have access to.
While Terezi and Sollux are both very perceptive about the future, this focus on prophecy is actually more established on Sollux’s side, as he speaks literal prophecies of Doom both for himself and for others.
As such, both Terezi and Sollux are also described as Knowitalls — a reputation that even if not explicitly stated certainly applies to Kankri, Rose, and Meulin as well.
The Sufferer and Alpha Rose were also known prophets with access to visions of the future and other realities which informed the messages they preached and the ways they helped prepare for their respective players.
The Sufferer in particular was known for being able to inspire a rebellion through his preaching. His focus was on the whole of troll society, and his life focused on his attempt to spread Knowledge to the entirety of his species. Ultimately, the Sufferer dies in martyrdom for his people.
In contrast, The Disciple focused her Knowledge on the Sufferer.
She accrued knowledge of her beloved, exclusively — Love and Romance being domains of Heart. And while the Sufferer felt compelled to share his message, the Disciple considered gaining knowledge of the Sufferer and his visions an inherently satisfying good.
Her preservation of the Sufferer’s word would later benefit all of Trollkind, but she didn’t do it FOR the troll race, but rather for herself. In fact, once the Sufferer is dead, The Disciple removes herself from troll society entirely. She prioritizes her own desire for “monastic savagery” over continuing to aid the people the Sufferer died trying to mend.
This begins to paint a pattern of why Seers are Passive and Mages Active.
And yet I think with this pair of verbs in particular, the issue is complicated. Perhaps Rose can help me illuminate the issue?
Thanks, Rose. Like Dave, Rose is also instinctively selfless — Seers being a Passive class. However, she has an easier time switching into an Active role and imposing her will — perhaps because Know and Change, while still juxtaposed, are the closest paired verbs on the spectrum.
This leads to a muddling of themes between Seers, Heirs, Mages and Witches that only resolves when you realize Changing and Knowing, more than any other verb pair, are interdependent when it comes to these classes getting anything done — the Prophet classes may have a focus on Knowing, but a lot of what they do involves Changing, too.
Prophets aren’t just known for their prophecies, after all. As proof of their divine influence, Prophets are often known to perform miracles — essentially, a kind of magic. Jesus’ miracles earn him the magic descriptor by the comic itself, a term that we’ll be revisiting a little later.
And the link between speaking prophecies and performing miracles is both older and more meaningful than it first appears. Jesus was, after all, known as the Word of God. In fact, this conceptual linkage traces its roots all the way back to many Creation myths, including the Book of Genesis itself .
After all, what does God do to begin bringing the world into being?
He Speaks It. God first Knows the concept of Light in a world of nothingness, and then Speaks it into being by saying “Let there be Light”, invoking the reality of the idea as if through magic. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This perspective accounts for pretty much exactly what Sollux does. He single-handedly codes Sgrub himself in the Beta troll’s session, and personally decides how it will be distributed and implemented. This is very Yang behavior, but there is some Yin at play here too, as Sollux implements and decides all this at Aradia’s behest.
And Sollux’s power to perform miracles also comes at personal cost, even as he primarily uses it to get what he wants. Perhaps more intensely than most due to his properties as a Doom player, Sollux feels his Aspect, knowing it intimately rather than conceptually as the Seers tend to. His psionics are an inherent property of his Doom nature: Through them, Sollux knows great suffering, death and sacrifice — often well in advance of events.
He knows these things by feeling and experiencing them through visions, voices and literally painful migraines. Because of the intense way these visions change his state of mind, no one listens to his predictions when they make them, either. But in return for all this sacrifice, Sollux grows gifted at impacting the world through his own direct action.
This suggests that Mages, perhaps, are more adept at the Miracles Prophets perform, which would dovetail nicely with Seers being more adept at delivering actual Prophecy that others will listen to.
Though Rose and Terezi certainly perform some miracles of their own — it’s just that unlike Sollux, who benefits himself through his miracles, the Seer’s miracles tend to directly involve and benefit other parties.
Since these are more indirect, maybe it will help to provide the definition of a Miracle, dictionary-style:
Miracle: a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.
So, with Prophets, we can sum a Miracle up as the use of Knowledge or Speech to achieve something that should properly be impossible, or so unlikely that it may as well be. And in that case, well…
Rose charts a path of Light through endless, infinite Void that should technically be impossible to traverse through her communion with the Horrorterrors. And given all the netherwold and hell associations with the Furthest Ring and dreambubbles, it’s not hard to read her actions as analogous to the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
After his death, Jesus spends three days in Hell, leading the righteous out with him once he leaves. In the same way, immediately after her death Rose leads her friends on a three year journey out of the darkness of the void and into the Light of the Alpha session.
Terezi performs feats of a similar scale without even being God Tier — using Mind to lead John through the options presented by limitless causality by Knowing a thought powerful enough to tie John to her exact time and location in the context of literal infinity.
She then sends John on a quest she personally orchestrates, leading him through her personal causality with cloth in an echo to Ariadne giving Theseus a ball of yarn with which to escape the maze of the Minotaur. Ultimately, this quest benefits the entire cast — but especially Vriska, who finds herself subject to a Miraculous resurrection — given that, again, Vriska’s revival should be wholly impossible.
In contrast Sollux’s prophecies, like his miracles, tend to turn out
to benefit him. Note also that Aradia says Sollux’s visions were all he would ever talk about, noting him as somewhat self-absorbed.
Sollux’s self-driven thinking is made clearer once he reaches the Bubbles, when he prioritizes his own desire to chill out and be at peace with his friends over Karkat’s desire to have him around and have him help the party with the adventure. Sollux is ultimately predisposed towards selfishness.
And since we’re scant for Mages for now, let’s talk about Meulin too real quick. As I’ve established previously, Heart is the aspect of attraction between souls as well as the nature of the Self proper, thus accounting for its overlap with Blood when it comes to the realm of relationships.
This is the interpretation of Heart that Meulin is most concerned with. And she’s explicitly connected to both the concept of Sorcery and the working of Miracles — like Sollux, establishing her as a kind of thaumaturge.
However, Meulin’s motivation isn’t really about the people she pairs up…
It’s about the pleasure she gets from orchestrating matchups, writing fics, predicting pairings and then helping to create them.
It’s also noted that she convinces Horuss to follow some pretty awful advice for handling his emotions— not because it’s best for him, but because it’s what she thinks he should do. Given that they are in a moirallegiance established in direct reference to the most popular moirallegiance in Homestuck fandom, that makes sense — after all, a shipper so invested in her own ship would want the pairing to always look cute and happy from both sides, right?
Which brings us to the core of Meulin. The focus of Meulin’s shipping interest is in the actual people surrounding her, who are coded as existing in a space analogous to online social spheres. In that context, Meulin as a Mage of Heart comes together with stunning clarity.
She’s a tumblr shipper with both the knowledge and power to make her own OTPs canon, for her own benefit. What better ability could a kittycat shipper girl hope to have? No wonder she’s so happy all the time — I’d be too. Hook me up with Gon/Killua, Meulin, thanks.
Alright, I think that’s about all there is to know about the Know classes right now. How about we flip this coin over for a Change of pace?
Let’s talk about Witches and Heirs.
Key Verb: Change
Copacetic Sub-Verbs: Control, Inherit, Manipulate, Mutate, Convert, Spell
Unifying Myth: Magicians(Witches/Wizards)
To understand why Knowing and Changing are a dichotomy in the first place, it helps to use a clear metaphor: Time Travel.
If you travel to the past with enough knowledge of its context, then you technically Know the future. However, if you then Change the past by a sufficient degree, the future you Know will cease to be.
But it goes even further — it’s likely having Knowledge of the future at all will inevitably Change the actions you take in the past, sending you in a different direction anyway.
Knowing implies understanding a property with a degree of consistency so that it can be predictably Changed, and Change implies a property becoming unpredictable and unknown as it reshapes what’s Knowable.
And as the pair of verbs at the center of the spectrum, Know and Change are borderline inextricable from one another. As such, the Change classes regularly gain and employ knowledge through Change, just as the Know classes regularly change reality through their knowledge.
This makes sense, as both Knowledge and Change are critically important and mutually dependent elements of a practice that has been, historically, core to humanity’s relationship to reality, and which manifests as a common thematic thread across all four of these classes.
A practice described thus:
“The execution of a willed intent to create change in the material world, which either defies, hastens or purifies the consequences of natural cause and effect.”
The practice being described is Magic.
John and Jade’s parallels as Magicians start coming early into the story, as they are the only two characters described as having Magic Chests.
However, where John appreciates the titles of both Magician and Prankster, Jade is quick to counterpoint that her Chest is not for Magic but Gadgets, reflecting her interest in Science.
And as the accumulation of Knowledge through the steady tracking of Changes in material reality are the two main elements of the Scientific Method, Science and Magic are more closely interwoven than one might think.
One could even think of a Scientist as an inverse Prophet — issuing Prophecies about the world in the form of Hypotheses, only to change them as practical experience provide new information.
The focus for the Scientist is on the Changes being tracked, but the application of the Scientific Method still accrues both knowledge and a greater ability to create desired changes, with practice.
And just as John allows Breath to Change his friend’s designs — giving Dave his Glasses, Rose her Needles, and Jade her color — so too Jade uses her environment to change her icons to her liking. Immediately, the Active and Passive distinctions begin to reveal themselves — John’s Change manifests primarily on others, Jade’s on herself.
I’ve already gone on at length about Jade, though, so I’ll just hyperlink to her megapost here. Most of this section will concern John, and how his Ascent parallels Jade’s as her complementary Magician.
Whether we’re talking about Science or Magic, both practices involve systems of established technique and standardized information.
To cast a spell, you need an assortment of items manipulated in sequence in the correct way — or at the very least, you need to Know the magic words. To perform a Science experiment, you need to Know the steps as much as you need the tools and variables to Change. This is also true of Pranks — which are just know-how and wit applied to induce a sudden but predictable (on the Prankster’s end) Change on Others.
In essence, that means that both Wise Guy and Sassacre’s Daunting Text are John’s equivalent to Rose’s Grimoire of the Zoologically Dubious. They are John’s version of the Wizard’s spellbook — tomes that contain meticulous and practical Knowledge that John can use to change the world to particular effect.
I mean, it’s right there in the name guys. Sassacre’s Daunting Text is of Magical Frivolity, as well as Practical Japery.
Jade, in contrast seems to innately Be That Good at Science. This echoes the way Seers seem to Know their Aspect through outside sources and at a remove, as opposed to Mages’ visceral, overwhelming experience of it.
And this balance between experimentation and established know-how exists in one other field, one that concerns every Sburb Player as well as its practitioners in real life:
The first character to gain the Knowledge of how to create new items through the Alchemy system is John, and he does it by borrowing an idea from a Magic Book and then performing a controlled Change based on it to test the possibility. He then quickly passes this knowledge on to the others,
to benefit them.
Note, by the way, that the Alchemy system’s purpose is to allow the Players to manifest Ideas from nothing but Grist. In other words, John’s magic trick gives him the power to turn Thought into Reality. The same power God has in Genesis when saying Let there be Light, remember?
These kids are Gods long before they go God Tier.
Adding to the magician mythos, John is also the character most often referred to as having a Familiar. While Witches’ bonds to their familiars are well-established thematically, they’re never referred to that way. And only one character besides John is described as having a familiar:
Rose herself describes Viceroy as her familiar. But Casey was originally John’s, and this is a period when Rose is acting out the image of a Witch. Which brings us to another of those cases of Mythological Roleplay — in this case, two of them, in fact!
Note that I am not saying Rose is Inverting. This is something entirely different — Rose is acting out the part of the Witch not because it’s the natural consequence of being an unhealthy Seer, but because she admires the mythical figure of the Magician and acts it out as her focus turns to trying to Change their destiny.
In fact, Rose is notable here mostly because her actual class behavior barely changes when she adopts a Witch persona. She best leverages her roleplay in order to gain knowledge, after all, and her search for Light as a Seer is still the defining feature of her execution of her role, even throughout this escapade.
Yet unlike Dirk, who struggles to act out the part of a Knight, and Vriska and Tavros, who fail completely at the goals they set while described as fairies, Rose is actually fairly successful at emulating the Witch motif — even if it coincides with her being at her most stressed and unhappy.
This may be because the Change and Know verbs are so close together in the first place, and because Rose, as a Prophet, would already be inclined to Change reality through her Knowledge, just as a Magician must Know arcane tricks or magic words to Change anything.
Eridan presents a useful contrast here. He maintains a fascination with magic throughout the entirety of his character, but it is only once he gets a magic wand from a Fairy that he begins being described as a Magician and a Wizard himself.
He adopts some of the imagery associated with Wizards, but not nearly as much as Rose does, as he never gains a familiar. And though it’s only once he begins Roleplaying in earnest that his behavior significantly changes mechanically, his execution of the role is still markedly different from Rose —
namely, it’s less effective.
Instead of giving up Hope entirely, Eridan Changes from Hoping to survive Jack’s violence with his friends to betraying them and Hoping Jack will spare him for his service instead.
But he’s unable to convince Feferi to come with him, or change the fundamental calculus of his situation. In the end, Eridan only manages to leverage his newfound magic in service to his innate ability to Destroy, as outright offense is the only situation where he uses it effectively. Ultimately, just like Vriska and Tavros, Eridan’s failure to achieve his goal marks him a false wizard.
Equius is another near miss, as far as the Familiar symbolism goes.
Arthour certainly hits a lot of the Familiar traits, being a sort of animal and an assistant with a unique link to the Magician’s Magic — in this case, a relative resistance to Equius’ super-strength: a property that often causes Equius to destroy things he touches, leaving him with Nothing.
But Arthour is never referred to as a Familiar explicitly. This seems fitting, given that I see Equius as a sort of failed state Heir for reasons I’ll get into shortly.
John, however, ends up having WV described as his familiar several times both by others and himself, and treats him accordingly — sending him on a personal errand that includes a windy voyage, much as any wizard or witch in a position of power and control might exert that influence through their familiar.
Which brings us to the nature of an Heir’s quest for maturation. Witches are threatened with the loss of their wills to that of their Familiars — such as Damara becoming subservient to Lord English, or Feferi’s will becoming muddled and indistinguishable from the Horrorterrors’.
Heirs are similarly challenged. An Heir is someone to whom a great Change is bound to happen, in the form of the moment when they receive their Inheritance. How they manage to control or handle that inheritance determines how self-determined and responsible an Heir is, and so they too are defined by a theme of gaining and keeping control.
Only instead of claiming it from their Familiars, Heirs must claim independence from the Will of Their Aspect.
Equius ultimately fails to do this, submitting to Gamzee’s will and also to his own role as marginal and insignificant — Voiding the impact he could have had on the meteor. From then on, as Tex Talks points out, Equius changes into an embodiment of Void. His blood is used to literally hide information, while Equius himself all but dissapears from the narrative. All that’s left of his being in the waking world is Void itself — a Wizard consumed by his magic.
However, as with the Familiar motif, Equius is never directly described as a wizard or magician. But John is.
Most of the references to John as a Wizard I’m using in this last section source themselves to pixie-styx’s excellent post breaking down John’s connection and references to Wizardry even more than I’ve done here. Gonna suggest you give it a read.
Something I want to add to the wizardry references, however, is this interesting bit of nuance. The Prophet classes both find their spelling influenced by their speech, or by elements explicitly linked to the nature of their Prophecy.
The Magician classes, however, have the inverse effect — John adds spaces to the way he Spells his words that Jade can somehow hear (is he inserting audible Breaths?), even though that shouldn’t be possible. The source of Jade’s magic is linked to her Dog Girl nature, and influences her speech patterns as such.
And what do Magicians do? They Cast Spells, of course — the nature of which seem to influence their Speech patterns.
The point when John starts being referred to as a full-blown Wizard is also the point when he comes into his greatest struggle for mastery over his powers: The Retcon, which gives John the ability to Change literally everything.
John’s arc strongly parallels Jade’s here. Where Jade Changes the fundamental nature of the setting — Space— to benefit herself, John Changes the fundamental nature of the story — Breath — of Homestuck. And does so largely to everyone else’s benefit.
John even bookends this theme nicely for us by making what’s nearly his last act of Change in the story proper mirror the Changes he inspired at its beginning: Giving some new direction and perspective to a friend, as John’s conversation with Jake serves as a direct parallel to his letters to Dave, Rose and Jade.
John’s biggest early impact in the story is the same as his final one — to Change direction, or enable Change through freedom, detachment, and motion — for the benefit of others. In particular, of course, his friends.
That’s why he’s their leader, right?
That about wraps up this quartet. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about them down the line, but for now feel free to check out the other pairs:
Special credit goes to conceptualArchitect for nudging me towards considering Magicians as a potential link for Witches and Heirs, Pixiestyk for their amazing post on John as a Wizard (without which this piece wouldn’t have been written), and Blindrapture for helping me verbalize the Know/Change dichotomy when I was struggling with it, as well as providing the insight for Terezi’s miracle paralleling the myth of Ariadne and Theseus.
All of you are flippin great. Thank you all.
EDIT 5/29/2017: Double thanks to BaskingLobster for giving me a better way to word the distinctions between the Sufferer and Disciple, and to banditAffiliate for pointing me to the fact that Knowing and Changing constitute the halves of the Scientific Method. You both rock!
This series of meta posts is a passion project, but also just a side project to my youtube series aimed at making Homestuck to both new fans and old ones.
That means these very posts will be showing up with updates and more polish in Youtube Video form, and if I have my say they’ll do so as soon as possible.
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See you again soon, everyone. Until then,