Rose Lalonde at the Heart of the World
Cetus’ Daughters & The Ultimate Riddle: Pt. 1 — Redeeming Reality; That is to say, Paradox Space.
“Figuring out what to say about it all in order to make the books worth reading has brought back a lot of the original ideas that went into it. This is one topic that seems to keep surfacing as I retrace the steps: This game the kids play together, and later, even the narrative itself they exist in, is a hostile, confining medium, which can be viewed as analogous to life.
“Life messes with you,” the cartoonist continues. “It can feel like an antagonistic, nihilistic continuum, broken in ways, actively sabotaging you in others — yet appears to have demands of you, hoops to jump through, comparable to the rules of a sadistic game, or the structure of a stunted narrative.
I think life can feel this way, especially to young people figuring things out. […] They respond to these pressures similarly to how young people growing up respond to the pressures of life, which for the most part is a disastrously messy process.”
-Andrew Hussie on Homestuck, The Washington Post
Forgiveness. Repentance. Reconciliation. These are important ideas for anyone to consider as they grow up, because growing up inevitably involves two things:
- The realization that you are a fallible mortal, who can and will fuck up and hurt people, fail people, through mistake or malice. Past a certain point, it makes no difference which. It’ll probably be both, anyway.
- The realization that everyone you believe in, everything that holds your world in place, is just as mortal and fallible as you are. And so they: your parents, your role models, your inspirational figures, your countries and institutions, your world itself — these things will hurt and fail you, too.
And when that happens, we all have a choice to make. Do we give up on this world, that can seem built on a foundation of sharp, broken glass — ready to cut us open with every step we take? Do we give up on the people we trusted to take care of us, to inspire us, to work with us in building a happy future?
Do we give up on ourselves, when inevitably, we are the failures — it’s us?
And if not, how do we find the strength to move forward? How do we find the faith to believe that redemption is even possible in this broken world — that this world is anything more than a blighted wasteland made to punish us, to begin with?
It’s a hell of a question, isn’t it. I’m sure I don’t have an answer for you. But I do think that, if you’re reading this, there’s a story we have in common. I want to talk about that story now, and as you read about the way it exists in my head, you may gather that I feel some type of way about all this. That there’s something I believe in. I won’t ask you to share that belief, but once you’re done, I will be curious to ask you a question:
What do you believe? And in response, what will you do?
. . .
Let’s talk about Rose.
Did you seriously think we were going to just get to the point without a lengthy preamble. You must not know my writing very well if you did.
No, before I talk about Rose, I have to talk about Denizens, and try to explain the complicated mythological tangle I feel Rose finds herself in.
LEVIATHAN, THE GIRL
It’s often said that Homestuck is a puzzle, and over the last couple years of writing and thinking about it, I’ve come to regard the Denizens as the key levers to use in order to parse how the open-ended, sometimes mazelike arcs of each character are meant to be read.
Something like the key to the conceptual maps of themes, aesthetic motifs, and moral and metaphysical dilemmas each character finds themselves wading through on their way to The Ending. The thing is, It’s harder to ascertain the relationship between some Denizens’ mythologies and the arcs of their charges than others’.
On one end of the spectrum, Yaldabaoth’s links to Dirk and Caliborn were easy enough to pick up, manifested as they are through Lord English. Abraxas, though more abstract and esoteric, is easy enough to link to Jake and then eventually, to the entirety of Paradox Space itself — and then to Karkat.
The mythological beats of the Gods these characters are echoing are clear, and provide insights that shade not just their charges’ arcs, but effectively the entire world of Paradox Space and the story’s in its totality. It’s deeply satisfying stuff to know about.
I’d also make a case here for the Denizens I’ve come to strongly believe we can reverse engineer out of the narratives of various trolls through sheer thematic weight, particularly Dionysus’ links to Gamzee. Equius’ less certain but still interesting links to Orpheus, and Terezi’s general association to a variety of justice godesses such as Themis and Dike are also pretty interesting, though it’s somewhat hard to narrow down the mythpool she’s drawing from to a particular one.
On the other end, we have Hemera and Nix, titan mother goddesses of daylight and night respectively, who I don’t yet feel necessarily tell us a ton about the nature of Jane and Roxy. Both girls do share a vested interest in Motherhood, and one could take their mutual romantic interest in Jake English as indicative of Abraxas’ imagery as an embodiment and master of duality — night and day both encompassed in its totality.
I could even argue that Roxy’s particular interest in Dirk, and specifically Hal, might echo Nix’s affinity for night and darkness, since the world of Darkness is akin to the material realm that Yaldabaoth presides over in Homestuck’s bizzaro-Gnostic framework. But you’ll notice that these links have everything to do with how the girls’ arcs start, and nothing to do with how they’re resolved.
On top of that, they all have to do with their interest in boys and motherhood, which in this furry scholar’s opinion is kinda boring as fuck. It’s not that there’s nothing here, but that compared to the Abraxas/Yaldabaoth implications, something feels lacking to me. I feel like I haven’t figured out the full extent of Jane and Roxy’s arcs as they might relate to these figures, basically.
And to be fair, with Jane taking a role of prominence in the scant bit of Earth C content we’ve gotten so far while Beta Roxy seems poised to become relevant during the twilit events of Hauntswitch, I think it’s fairly possible their mythologies will become more evocatively entwined with the girls’ eventually. It’s also possible I’ll Git Gud at this mythological meta-analysis and just figure out cooler shit. Further upd8s pending.
Echidna’s mythological role concerns her place as a “Mother of Monsters”, and we see her charges birth monsters left and right — the Alpha Trolls birth the more violent and brutal world of Alternia through the Scratch, Kanaya nurtures the potential Eridan uses to devastate his party, and Jade’s unwitting influence is all over Bec Noir’s rise to power.
Finally, it’s through Calliope’s performance of the myth of Sophia that Caliborn is allowed to grow into Homestuck’s Yaldabaoth, casting Echidna as the Sophia of the symbolic mythological language the Denizens describe as a whole.
This introduces a layer of complication to our Homestuck myth-building affair, since it forces us to recognize that Hussie is willing to outright mix and conflate symbolic figures from otherwise separate mythologies — in this case, Echidna the Greek Mother of Monsters
and Sophia, the Gnostic Aeon of Wisdom.
And then there’s Typheus and Hephaestus, who all but require understanding not just Yaldabaoth’s role as All-Father in this Denizen pantheon, but also the fact that Yaldabaoth existed as a Gnostic criticism of “All-Father” figures in other pantheons, and as such shares synonymous roles with figures like Zeus (Greek), Ra (Egyptian), and Yahweh (Christian).
Dave’s story only really starts to resonate with Hephaestus once you understand that you can trade out “Yaldabaoth” for “Zeus”, and see Bro’s treatment of him as paralleled by the Greek Patriarch’s treatment of his mythological son.
Typheus is best known as Echidna’s mate, the corresponding “Father of Monsters” to her Mother, and John is directly implicated in causing the births of both Bec Noir and Lord English. But his primary myth involves his defeat at the hands of Zeus, and subsequent sealing inside the very same volcano that Hephaestus’ forge was located in.
In the same way, John is eventually sealed away by Caliborn along with Dave, representing Hephaestus. Note that Caliborn himself singles out Dave and John in the sealing, and regards the girls as rather secondary to his decision.
On top of that, his symbolic standing as Echidna’s mate somewhat links him to Sophia’s partner Aeon, in many traditions considered Christ, which makes John one of the characters more strongly associated with Christ-like imagery, up there with Jake and Karkat.
Which finally brings us to Cetus. By the nature of the name, Cetus exists across mythologies — the name is referenced and known most prominently as a Greek sea monster, and from this interpretation I was able to link Cetus to the ocean, the misfortune of shipwrecks, the absence of ocean life.
Altogether, these ideas added up to a narrative in my head:
That Cetus represents the Void that each Light player must be faced with, and then Ascend from to come into the totality of their Aspect. And that was insight enough, so for a while, I left it at that.
But Cetus also features as a Biblical “great fish” or “whale”, sent at the behest of YHWH to swallow the titular prophet in the Book of Jonah. In other words, just like Hephaestus is a servant to Zeus, Cetus features in this story as a servant of the Lord. So just as recognizing LE as analogous to the Greek Zeus connects his mythology to Dave’s, so does recognizing him as the biblical YHWH connect his mythology to Rose’s.
Dave is, after all, an unwitting servant to both Lord English himself and to various parts of his totality over the course of his arc. And hey, aren’t both Rose and Vriska also conscripted into carrying out Lord English’s commands, primarily through Doc Scratch? Isn’t Rose, like Jonah, categorically a Prophet?
And isn’t Rose singled out, above and beyond the rest of the cast, as having chosen a specifically Jewish wedding? Isn’t there merit to the idea that attempting to consider her personal mythology through this particular lens, then, might bear fuller fruit? That’s when I started believing I was really onto something.
What I think I found in Rose and Vriska through this lens is no less than the answer to two of the biggest questions in all of Homestuck — always implicit, but never quite asked.
The dual answers to the Ultimate Riddle, which I’m unsure if we as a fandom have ever really collectively considered.
In other words,
The question Rose seeks to answer is this:
IS THE WORLD GOOD?
We can’t really start this conversation anywhere besides the Gnostics, because their cosmology defines a lot of where Rose’s worldview starts — if not really where it ends. You could say that, whatever Rose’s personal perspective towards the world becomes, this particular symbolic foundation is practically ensconced in the fold of her personal mythology.
I mentioned the Gnostic Sophia as she relates to Echidna earlier, but it’s worth noting that her ghost pervades Homestuck’s mythology in other ways, too. Sophia is a central figure in the Gnostic framework, not only as she who commits the taboo that creates the depths of physical reality, but more importantly as the Aeon of Wisdom, who descends into that reality, imbuing mankind with the ability to hold and perceive thoughts.
The world of ideas is by nature the domain of Light, and Sophia is its envoy, imbuing its essence in humanity. It is from her that we get the term “Philosophy”, aka, “Love of Sophia”, or Love of Wisdom. So although Sophia is coded as a female deity, she might best be described as the feminine aspect of the self within all of us — women, men, and others alike.
Even so, when it comes to participating in the stories herself, she tends to incarnate in the mortal world through girls. Knowledgable girls, powerful girls, girls who are forces and laugh at the decisions of patriarchs. Girls who tend to look “bad” in the face of authority. Girls like —
EVE, THE LUMINOUS WOMAN
“They came to Adam. When they saw Eve talking to him, they said to one another, ‘What sort of thing is this luminous woman? For she resembles that likeness which appeared to us in the light.”
Now come, let us lay hold of her and cast her seed into her, so that when she becomes soiled she may not be able to ascend into her light. Rather, those whom she bears will be under our charge[…]
Then Eve, being a force, laughed at their decision.”
-“On the Origin of the World”.
It’s well known that one of the prevailing dualistic motifs in Homestuck is that of Adam and Eve. The Betas presented us with two Adams in John and Dave, paired with two Eves in Rose and Jade, with all the mythological intrigue that implied — including romantic intrigue that, of course, was eventually subverted as Homestuck got queerer.
But the symbolic connection is still interesting because Rose and Jade do fulfill their roles as Eves in one respect:
They are the forces that drive the breaching of the taboo of the Garden of Eden, the biting of the fruit that casts the kids out of paradise — playing Sburb at all. Jade is, after all, the one who incites Rose’s interest in the game as a means of practicing necromancy.
Sophia is a central figure in the Gnostic framework, not only as she who commits the taboo that creates the depths of physical reality[...]
Remember this from earlier? The broken taboo is an important part of Sophia’s narrative — like Eve choosing to listen to the serpent, Sophia is regarded as having made a kind of cosmic “mistake.”
Rose echoes that legacy in her motivations for playing Sburb — she was interested in necromancy, the resurrection of the dead, which is historically a profound taboo. This is a narrative beat that echoes across all Lightbound— what taboo DON’T Vriska and Aranea break?
Then Rose and Jade both lead the boys into it together, not unlike Eve offering Adam the fruit. In a more conservatively Christian reading of Homestuck, the girls might be understood as corruptors to be punished for this action, but that doesn’t happen.
“‘Then Eve, being a force, laughed at their decision. She put mist into their eyes and secretly left her likeness with Adam. She entered the tree of acquaintance and remained there. And they pursued her, and she revealed to them that she had gone into the tree and become a tree. Then, entering a great state of fear, the blind creatures fled.’
Of course, the rulers are “very glad” that they — the “female creature,” along with Adam and their children — were “erring ignorantly like beasts.” (118:9–10) Of course the true Eve remained hidden in the tree. But the story of Eve continues to unfold.
The “likeness” of Eve who was with Adam, as opposed to the “true Eve” in the tree, also enacts a central role in salvation. As in the Genesis story, she decides to eat from the tree of gnosis and to share its enlightenment with Adam:
Then their intellect became open. For when they had eaten, the light of acquaintance had shone upon them.
The Gnostic Eve, on the other hand, exists as the primary and first instructor, she appears as luminous, and gives the gift of light to humanity. No longer an embodied creature to be loathed and feared, woman carries the light of salvation within herself.”
Homestuck’s Christian mythology has a distinctly Gnostic bent to it, so Rose is regarded not as a bringer of damnation and suffering, but as someone who invites her friends to come into knowledge and wisdom — symbolic manifestations of Light. As a teacher, would — or perhaps, a Seer.
…Obviously, this choice would be lauded by Gnostics, for whom attaining this once hidden knowledge holds the key to their salvation. Two Eves, both of whom contribute uniquely and necessarily to gnosis, hold sway in the Gnostic creation myth. Eve is the secret key to salvation…
She’s even one of a few characters who finds herself with two iterations, both integral to our understanding of Homestuck’s world, and the conception of the world the comic is trying to impart. For all her confusion, despite what some consider the anticlimax of her arc, Rose — as Eve — is a key that unlocks the hidden messages of Homestuck.
If we see the path of the Lightbound as a story about Sophia, descending into the world of darkness and working her way back upwards, climbing out of it’s trap through the Light of ideas and wisdom, then we have a rough narrative arc each of their arcs would likely follow.
As mortals capable of perceiving the world of Light/Ideas though Sophia’s gift of Wisdom, the Lightbound must come to understand the physical world of darkness they see themselves trapped in, and then transcend and overcome the limitations and suffering it imposes.
We don’t have to look very far to find the darkness in Rose’s world, early in her life. She grows up drowning in shadow, her MOM’s dark house almost as confusing and empty as her mother herself.
If the nature of Sophia is embodied by the aspect of Light, then Mom’s Aspect of Void must surely represent the unknowable darkness and confusion that those without her glimmer experience as reality, in the world of physical existence.
And if we’re seeing our Heroes as fledgling Adams and Eves, then their Guardians are in essence the demiurgic Gods of their young lives — ensuring the stability of their gardens of innocence, all the while instilling them with broken and faulty rules of the world. Rose’s experience of life/the world as a young child, then, IS her experience of her Mother — the two are inextricably intertwined, as her Mom established everything else about the world Rose has access to.
And Rose’s experience of the world is nonsensical, erratic, and often deeply hurtful. Rose grows up in a world where your cat can dissapear into thin air right in front of you one day, only to wash up dead on shore a week or so later. No logic, no explanations.
Rose also grows up in a world where, after that really sad thing happens, your Mom makes an enormous show of building a mausoleum and forcing you to stand in the rain for ages, making it so you can’t stop thinking about it — only to get drunk and pass out immediately after. No logic. No explanations.
Rose’s Mom is deeply bewildering and unpredictable to her, doing absolutely nonsensical things like bronzing practical appliances and using them as display pieces, turning them on where Rose can hear for…basically no reason whatsoever.
Not even the Reader is sure how aware Mom actually is of what she’s doing, or why she’s doing it — Roxy is proven to have a passive aggressive streak later during the Alpha’s session, so maybe Rose isn’t even wrong to assume some of her behavior is passive aggressive. We just don’t know.
In other words, Rose’s life is surrounded by Void, both literally and figuratively. Rose’s Mom is a mystery to her, the context that governs the logic behind her actions totally impenetrable to a 13 year old girl. Rose is put off, frustrated, and made lonely by this…
But she also finds herself fascinated and challenged by Mom. She’s intrigued by her as a model for adulthood and womanhood, to the point that as soon as Mom leaves her to her own devices, Rose finds herself experimenting with the most obvious source of the very same obfuscation and confusion that plagued her Mom’s behavior, and so frustrated Rose. The alcohol.
A mystery. A taboo. A forbidden fruit. An unknowable darkness, visible but just out of reach. A Void, sitting where Rose could shine a light on it. Rose wants to understand the world, and to understand her Mom as a part of it. To stand as her peer.
So she takes a sip, babe. What’s another bite of the Apple, after she already lost Eden?
As the reality of Sburb settles around her, Rose’s teenage feelings of anger for her Mom quickly transcend her entirely as they blaze out into full-on existential fury, a righteous rage against reality itself for being so utterly fucked, for stacking the deck so solidly against her and her friends.
She takes particular ire at Skaia, who she regards as untrustworthy and malevolent. It’s hard to blame her — The Land of Light and Rain seems as crafted to focus Rose on her sense of hurt, confused betrayal as the metal clanging sounds of LOHAC seem meant to remind Dave of his childhood trauma.
LOLAR is the exact juxtaposition of cheery and hyper-sweet exterior covering up an absolutely maddening future of futile struggle that Mom tried to raise Rose through, blown out into a fanciful dungeon planet.
“Here’s fun pink turtles and oceans made of light — nothing you do will avert imminent existential despair!” Sburb as a whole must have seemed to say.
Like procedurally generated gaslighting.
If this is the true face of the world, then Rose cannot accept it. She’s assessed the reality constructed for her by the Gods, and found it wanting. So in true Sophia fashion, she won’t be stopped from seeking the knowledge she needs to Ascend, to climb higher still. It’s no wonder she smashes the place to pieces.
What’s interesting is how.
One of the few things Rose’s worldview takes for granted is that Roxy is surely competent and in control, and definitely knows exactly what she’s doing and why at any given moment. She cannot see Mom for the depressed, lonely, hopelessly out of her depth woman she is.
In that woman’s place, Rose has told herself a story: That all of her mother’s erratic, arbitrary behaviors are part of a deliberate persona she’s crafted to mock Rose, and Mom Lalonde is simply a woman committed to her unknowable goals, with many secrets to keep.
So when confronted with the responsibility of saving reality and growing up all at once, the best way Rose knows how is by following her example.
Rose throws herself into these efforts by performing a storytelling archetype she and her Mom share a common interest in — that of Wizards, and particularly The Witch. Witch is also one of Sburb’s designated classes, and typically describes a woman with hidden knowledge or privilege that grants her apocalyptic powers with which she can Change everything.
The Witch can change the world according to her whims — like randomly bronzing vaccuum cleaners or ensuring you live in a dark, gloomy house.
She can change fate — like randomly deciding you have to stand out in the rain on a given day, forcing you to consider the absence of your cat, now dressed in a nonsensical little suit.
She can even change herself —Like Mom does (entirely rationally and competently, Rose is sure) by consuming the substance that most makes her confusing and unfathomable to Rose — alcohol.
And she can do it all while keeping her coy secrets and boundless wisdom to herself, while maintaining total control of her surroundings, enemies, friends, and nature itself. Or at least that’s the fantasy, isn’t it? Its little wonder Rose craves to have the kind of power she believes her Mom wields — it must be terrifically comforting to be so capable.
Using the Alchemy that can turn the kids’ imaginations into physical objects, Rose makes wands that allow her to use dark magic. She uses this power to tear her session apart, seeking the truth — or at least, any information that can set her and her friends on a path towards Fortune.
Rose is using her power as a Witch to seek Light, then, in service to her nature as a Seer. She also uses magic to pull off Seer-esque feats, such as leaving behind prophetic documents like the one Kanaya is led to by Skaia.
Still, the more her power grows, the more various characters around start perceiving and describing her as a Witch. From this point on until the end of Act 5, Rose’s behavior revolves around her leaning on her Mom as a model of strength to strive for, as she takes on crueler, even more mysterious and unfathomable puppeteers ruling her world.
Unfortunately, those same forces are able to co-opt the very performance Rose uses to give herself security to manipulate her into doing their bidding.
A staple of the Magician archetype is the Familiar, a servant who aids the magician with their work. This role can be filled by any entity with an inclination to serve the Magician’s purposes, and can take a variety of forms. Rose’s first familiar is actually Casey, the salamander she borrowed from John.
John is an Heir, the passive version of the Magician’s archetype and thus the version closest to Rose’s innate title, Seer — so it seems fitting that she would take her earlier steps to Witchdom partly through his assistance.
And Casey’s a decent indication of the kind of familiars Heirs tend to work with — often weaker than the Magician themselves and subservient to their wishes. (Other good examples of this are John’s Dad, Equius’ Butler Arthour, Nannasprite, and often even some classes — like Knights.)*
But the active Witch tends to have a darker association with Familiars — more visceral and antagonistic in its power dynamic. With the advent of Christianity, Witches came to be associated with demons and in particular, service to the devil. In this tradition, familiars may outright be the source of a Witches’ magic power — but that power comes with a price.
Rose’s dark powers originate from the Void of the Furthest Ring, and the unknowable Horrorterrors that dwell within them. These eldritch monsters are noted to take young Witches into their service, protecting and empowering them in order to have them aid their own nefarious designs.
The Witch’s path entails a struggle for power/control over her Aspect, which pits her against her Familiar, who controls and domineers as much as aids her. Overcoming her familiar and asserting herself as the dominant force in this struggle is basically the key challenge a Witch must overcome to achieve mastery over herself and her aspect, and it is one Rose is unprepared for with the Horrorterrors.
In that respect, her fixation with claiming power by filling the shoes of this particular storytelling trope is a trap — one Doc Scratch is deftly able to exploit. Scratch is a versatile and powerful manipulator attuned to many aspects — including Light, which presides over forces like storytelling, importance, truth, and fortune.
Scratch is a Lucifer analogue, a satanic figure of malicious temptation sometimes referred to biblically as the Prince of Light — and fittingly, their mutual affinity for Light is what makes Rose a particularly easy mark for Scratch, as he can give her exactly what she wants most:
Facts. Data. Tidbits of truth with which to construct a sensible narrative out of her situation. True to AR’s youthful efforts to embody the ever-helpful and servicial role of the Knight, Scratch presents himself as a butler of sorts, a host — someone who could and would assist Rose in her endeavors and help her achieve her goals. Something she desperately needed.
It’s through buying into this narrative that Rose first learns the name of the true antagonist of Homestuck — Lord English — and she learns it at Scratch’s discretion. And once that has her distracted and confused, it is how he leads her into messaging Jade — and learning about her Mom’s fate.
And what she learns breaks her. Her Heart, but more than that — the story she’d been telling herself her whole life, the idea of her Mom as someone all-knowing, in control, more important than this, whatever this is — that all comes crashing down around her, too. Rose is now full of chaos, disorder, confusion — Void, in other words.
Which of course primes her to pass into full custody of the Horrorterrors, who give Rose their truth and change her permanently in their unfathomable image, also granting her something close to the full extent of their power.
This also fills her with apathetic meaninglessness, leaving her all but possessed by their drive to save themselves from Jack Noir and her own lust for revenge — the only thing that can sate the Void in her heart.
She is probably not surprised by this — after all, she already called it. Befitting her title as a Prophetess, Rose casually predicts the future in this conversation with John. And he fulfills his end of the bargain, even if Rose is right that it takes more than a slap.
John’s biggest impact through Breath was always in changing the direction of his friends’ psyches towards more positive trajectories — like when he gives Dave new shades, suggesting he spread his wings. Or suggesting Rose’s knitting hobby to help her indulge more happy, laid-back interests and avoid consuming herself with her own skeptical negativity. This gesture is the maximal expression of that narrative.
Because with this kiss John really is setting Rose on a new path entirely. A long, arduous, painful path full of misses and stumbles — but one that leads to something brighter, all the same. This exchange between them also turns out to be prophetic: after John revives her, Rose’s character arc involves both a drastic reduction in the use of magic, and writing out a journal about a lively, happy story about horses.
That story, of course,
being Homestuck. And in the course of writing that story, Rose also begins to do something else. She starts striving to truly understand it. Not just the story, but the world it takes place in, the actors she shares it with, and of course — her own self.
In short, she begins a journey for wisdom (in other words, for the Light of Sophia within her own self). And this time, she’s not motivated by a desire to overpower and circumvent the rules of the world, so much as to simply understand its nature and her place in it.
And in the process, she comes to learn how to give the love she was so zealously withholding as a child away freely.
From here on in, we’re more or less at the end of Gnosticism’s direct thematic relevance for Rose’s arc, as her path toward understanding takes on deeply Jewish overtures.
But here we also run into the problem I’ve been dancing around so far.
The nature of Gnosticism is to operate as a criticism, rejection, and in this case, outright rewriting of the Christian Old Testament as though it were written by evil forces, and the Old Testament is also the Jewish holy text.
Jewish tradition generally dislikes the term, in fact, in light of which I’ll refer to the document as the Hebrew Bible from now on.
Point is that there’s an old, historical strain of antisemitism that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored here, even if Gnosticism is as much a criticism of Christian orthodoxy as Jewish.
I don’t believe Homestuck shares this mindset, which is why I avoid calling Homestuck an explicitly Gnostic story. It implies too much historical baggage, when what Homestuck is really doing is liberally taking from these mythological sources and using them as tools to construct its own philosophical message.
This is why I find all this context necessary: Rose exists in a fairly complicated mythological space that I find deeply compelling…but also kind of dicey to talk about, especially in the wake of the Homestuck brand’s own most recent brush with antisemitism.
So how does Rose find her way out of the negativity/combativeness in her relationship with reality? What is her path out of the material narrative, the thread of thought that leads her to Enlightenment?
SOPHIA, RISING — ROSE’S PATH TOWARDS WISDOM
The biblical story of Jonah and the whale concerns the titular prophet being tasked by god into bringing guidance to a morally deficient people. Rose’s first major act of prophecy is to write a Gamefaqs guide later found by Kanaya, which helps guide trollkind.
Her title as a Seer also implies she’d be most effective keeping in close communication with her friends, guiding them to action in accordance with her vision. However, Jonah rejects this task and flees by boat. Rose, too, almost entirely rejects her role, choosing instead to manage reality mostly by herself — by blowing shit up and following the horrorterrors — and keeping her friends out of the loop as to her inner thoughts and burdens.
God sends a storm to force Jonah back, and Jonah tells the sailors that they will survive if they throw him overboard. The sailors use a game of luck to decide who on the ship is responsible for the storm, which marks Jonah. They throw him overboard into the storm, where he’s devoured by Cetus, the great fish sent by God.
There are two distinct moments we can see as Rose’s “going overboard” moment. The first is her going Grimdark, when the fish-coded Horrorterrors consume her psyche. This results in her death, and through John’s revival, a chance to clear her head and consider her Mom in a new light. Everything she thought she knew about her Mom has fallen apart, after all.
Then comes the second.
Immediately after Rose recovers from her Grimdark episode and has a chance to think clearly about herself as her Mom as unique individuals, she starts inching closer to Mom’s true nature through roleplay — immediately stealing the suicide mission from Dave to save his life.
After that, she goes off into the unknowable void and births a sun, being consumed in the process. However, she doesn’t do it alone. This Rose dies in the belly of the whale, but she dies knowing Dave would die for her. That she can’t simply push her friends away, no matter how hard she tried — they wouldn’t let her.
But she also learns that even here, in the belly of the whale, there is a chance. It turns out, she and Dave aren’t doomed to die, and this is not the end. After all her planning and shouldering her fears and losing hope entirely, they’re both extended a second chance. It’s a stroke of luck for sure — in fact, it seems almost like an act of mercy.
In the whale, Jonah thanks god for saving him from the harsh seas by sending the whale, and commits to carrying out G-d’s work of prophecy. Once he reconciles with G-d, the fish vomits him out on a beach. And so ends the first half of Jonah’s journey.
The first half of Rose’s journey ends here, too, when she emerges from the Sun with a sharply more confident and optimistic outlook — at least at a surface glance. More importantly, she comes out with a renewed confidence in the future, willingness to work with others, and speak her mind.
This is Rose playing far closer to the Prophet archetype that she was previously, meaning she’s living up to Jonah’s end of bargain with G-d — just as Jonah himself agrees to go prophecize to the people of Nineveh.
Dave even mentions that her speech seems to be the new source of Rose’s power when he comments on her reduced magic use. And why shouldn’t he? Jewish thought doesn’t directly include a Sophia figure like the Gnostics, but the spirit of wisdom is still a real faculty of humanity in its orthodoxy, and a divine connection between humanity and G-d in both spiritual backgrounds.
And Rose keeps her association with Eve throughout this arc — she showcases a particular interest in stories featuring apples as sources of divine inspiration: containers of ideas that, once understood, fundamentally change the nature of our relationship with the world.
And she gives ideas like that away like they’re fucking candy. Over the course of her few appearances during Act 6, Rose gives us dramatic insight into the nature of Paradox Space as a field where ideas become manifest as reality, and explicitly confirms that Alchemy functions by combining ideas in abstract space and then materializing them.
This means it is immensely difficult to get alchemy to generate simple ideas, because, well — how do you make an object that’s just physical “Hope”, for example? The simpler an idea is, the more difficult it is to create it in material space.
She gives us similarly illuminating breakdowns on…
The importance of the Exiles and Democracy for the thematic end-goal of Sburb and Homestuck, and a correct prophecy on how their future society would advance if they were able to preserve Democracy’s light through the game…
And the nature of Homestuck as a story told by a guy who’s got barely a clue what he’s doing — whether you see that guy as Lord English or Hussie, that checks out — and which is mostly bullshit, but which comes across rays of light because of the symbols it is constructed out of. Like the Aspects. Or the Denizens. The symbols hold all the power.
Point is, she’s certainly spreading wisdom throughout this arc, whether you view her as the Gnostic Sophia incarnate or simply a woman in touch with celestial wisdom in general. After all, she effortlessly delivers some of the most insightful speeches into Paradox Space’s logic and Homestuck’s thematic priorities whilst drunk as shit.
And the reasons why she gets drunk as shit, the story of her fall from competence and eventual death, themselves provide a guide that helps us understand those priorities further.
1:31. And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2:1. The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array.
Jewish practice differs significantly from Christian orthodoxy in several ways. Maybe one of the most impactful to was the notion that the world is fundamentally Good, that God did not make a mistake in its creation or create it as a cruel punishment.
True, Christian thought also considers the world good initially — but in my experience as a Catholic, the sentiment is generally that humans marred creation through original sin, and that life constitutes a period of battle against evil and judgment in which they must earn passage to a truly good world in the afterlife, through the aid of divinity.
This is a very future-focused worldview, and it is an angle Jewish tradition generally seems to lack. In the broad strokes, Jewish tradition could be said to have a skepticism of perfect future worlds or messianic salvation —the present world is its direct concern. Whether humanity is being punished, as they are in Christian tradition is up for debate in the community.
Just as common is the conception that biting from the fruit of knowledge was an expected result from divinity, due precisely to humans’ free will, and our experiences in the mortal world after that are simply part of humanity carrying out G-d’s will:
For people to become independent of G-d and grow up, as all children must. The focus isn’t on a battle to reclaim the world from sin, but on learning from the world and gaining experience.
This is a surprising perspective for one of the cultures most scapegoated and attacked over the course of history, but by reading Rose’s arc through this lens, I think I got a feel for how the idea can coexist with the memory of intensely unfair cruelty and oppression on the part of what feels like reality itself.
You’ll notice this is a 180 degree turn from Rose’s model of the world at 13, and most of her narrative from here on concerns how she reaches it. This half of Jonah’s story begins after he gets tired of prophesying to the people, and retires to a distance to see whether G-d would destroy or spare the city.
Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry? So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.
And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd. — Book of Jonah, chapter 4, verses 4–6
G-d sends a plant over Jonah’s head, to protect him from the elements, which Jonah is deeply happy about — as the paintings above depict. For Rose, this gourd largely represents Kanaya, who as a Spacebound is closely associated with gardening and plants.
Fittingly, Rose is also evoking Eve through her relationship with Kanaya, as she pursues as their courtship spoofs the beats of Twilight — itself a story about a girl longing to taste a forbidden fruit, this time breaking the taboo of Vampirehood, matching the apple on the first books’ cover.
Kanaya, both symbolically and literally, becomes a manifestation of Light herself — matching the glittery diamond thing vampires in Twilight could do. And breaking the taboos required to be with her gives Rose new ideas to consider, just like eating any other forbidden fruit.
Rose throws herself into the relationship quickly, and its not too long before they begin to date. It proves the big silver lining to Rose’s whole ordeal leading up to the meteor, counterbalancing her grief over losing her Mom and her lingering worry over the future.
It is a source of happiness that gives her time to think. To question the nature of reality, and her own standing in it, without being consumed by rage or the feeling of being utterly cheated.
Kanaya enables Rose to seek out deeper wisdoms about herself, her Mother, her world. It’s why she’s able to give those insightful speeches higher up this ridiculously long article you’re still reading, because I’m completely obsessed and you’re completely obsessed and none of us will ever escape Homestuck, ever.
A good chunk of those deeper questions Rose starts asking about concern the metatextual nature of Homestuck as a text, and how Rose herself should relate to it. In this respect, Rose is also tapping into a deeply Jewish tradition.
Jewish thought differs from Christian thought in that the emphasis is less on believing the right thing and more on a vigorous willing to engage with the word of G-d at all, to consider, question and interpret how it should best be applied to real life.
One such debate is on the very nature of G-d, which factors into the way Homestuck relates it to Gnosticism. One of the main ways Caliborn evokes the imagery of Yaldabaoth is by presenting a dark mirror of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But while the Hebrew bible is arguably the basis for most of Yahweh’s characterization as a wrathful deity, later exported to the figure of Yaldabaoth, the Jewish conception of this deity (which is not named Yahweh in Jewish tradition, as its name is considered unpronouncable, but is sometimes referred to as YHWH) varies greatly depending on what school of Jewish thought is asked…
…meaning that Yaldabaoth’s imagery as presented in Homestuck doesn’t actually depict a criticism of the Jewish interpretation(s) of God, but rather explicitly the Christian one. The symbolism used to represent Yaldabaoth only successfully captures the one, not the other.
To understand a version of the Jewish conception of divinity, for example, You have the trains of thought popularized by Maimondes, described as “ the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period, still widely read today.”
He held that G-d cannot be personified or even described as any one particular thing, because G-d is by necessity one with everything and impossible to divide into what it is and what it is not:
“There is no oneness at all except in believing that there is one simple essence in which there is no complexity or multiplicity of notions, but one notion only; so that from whatever angle you regard it and from whatever point of view you consider it, you will find that it is one, not divided in any way and by any cause into two notions …
If Maimonides is right, there can be no plurality of faculties, moral dispositions, or essential attributes in God. Even to say that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good is to introduce plurality, if one means thereby that these qualities are separate attributes. The same is true if we say that God is a composite of matter and form, genus and specific difference, or essence and accident. All introduce plurality where none can be tolerated.”
But basically all of these views are incompatible with the Christian model of the divine trinity — I mean, Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God, so I guess that should’ve been obvious in retrospect? But it still caught me by surprise when I picked up on it.
The Jewish conception of divinity sounds like it could almost be talking about Skaia, but even Skaia can be seperated out from the things it is not. Read through this lens, Rose’s conception of reality has to transcend Skaia’s purview entirely, and put its omniscience into context with everything else that exists.
The best match for the Jewish concept of God in Homestuck’s lore is probably Abraxas, the Gnostic deity meant to encompass all dualities and the ever-evolving, interconnected nature of all things, a symbol meant to represent the collective will of all of Paradox Space — a will perhaps best vocalized by the mantra:
What will you do?
Even on this point, however, Jewish communities don’t all agree, In that sense, a skeptical, inquisitive attitude towards both G-d and the Jewish holy texts is inherent to the Jewish tradition, and there are books upon books of interpretive analysis from Jewish communities.
So Rose is living up to the roots of the faith by questioning her relationship to the world around her, and trying to parse the truths of Paradox Space and life proper from the Gamey bullshit Sburb presents her with is a downright heroic struggle — after all, what the kids want is to live happy and fulfilling lives, not to live up to this broken game’s arbitrary standards.
In order to do that, they need to understand what actually matters.
And what actually matters is their own ability to do right by themselves and each other, and connect to their peers and loved ones as equals, honestly and truly.
True teamwork and friendship — that’s what Wisdom leads to in Paradox Space — and a dramatic solo boss fight isn’t just going to magically grant Rose that knowledge no matter what she does. So her skepticism of her planet quest is actually quite warranted: It isn’t going to make her happy, and so it’s not important.
So then what is important? What holds Rose back in the Game Over timeline?
TESHUVAH — REPENTANCE
The story of Jonah is centered around the Jewish G-d’s merciful forgiveness, and so, the capacity all people have for repentance: Teshuvah. To quote:
Repentance (Hebrew: תשובה, literally, “return”, pronounced “tshuva” or “teshuva”) is one element of atoning for sin in Judaism. Judaism recognizes that everybody sins on occasion, but that people can stop or minimize those occasions in the future by repenting for past transgressions. Thus, the primary purpose of repentance in Judaism is ethical self transformation.
And Rose’s arc from here on revolves around her effort for self-transformation, and she strives to become a loving daughter worthy of her new understanding of her Mom before meeting Roxy.
It’s also centered around her desire to understand and forgive her Mom for the things that she used to be angry at her for, and she begins indulging alcohol in large part to try to understand her Mom’s motivations. This could be interpreted as Rose’s attempt to repent from what she views as her prior sin — her willingness to judge her mother, and find her love wanting.
But her developing alcoholism during this section could also be seen as another Gourd she’s using to comfort herself — the specific plant the Jonah story mentioned is the Kikayon, the plant’s actual species is unknown, lending its nature an air of mystery.
And in its use in Homestuck, the word Gourd implies Pumpkins anyway, giving the word Voidy connotations in its relevance to Rose. And as we’ve already established, Rose’s experience with her Mom’s alcoholism is also strongly linked to the void.
Rose’s own alcohol use also has intense Void imagery attached to it. Befitting this aspect connection to misfortune and irrelevance,unlike Kanaya’s shining light, Rose’s indulgence of the void through alcohol is a poison fruit, a taboo that she does end up facing consequences for breaking.
Not because sin invites arbitrary punishment, but simply because Rose is using alcohol as a crutch that lets her not think about her regrets or the challenges ahead, and that hinders her ability to connect with her friends honestly and work with them.
Notice the reason she gives for taking up drinking in the first place: She was nervous about meeting Roxy, and failing to live up to her expectations. She felt bad about how she treated her Mom, and she tried to self-medicate that self-loathing guilt away.
A healthy way to cope with her anxiety would be to reach out to Kanaya or maybe Dave about it — just as Dave tried to open up to her about his anxieties surrounding Bro — and make an honest effort to introspect about and do her best to resolve her fears. But of course, that would require Rose to open up and be emotionally vulnerable, and this she won’t allow herself.
After all, Losing her poker face and admitting to Kanaya that going on dates with her makes her nervous? That’s pretty much unconscionable to Rose, who is as attached to her know-it-all psychotherapist smartass persona as Dave is to his unflappable coolguy schtik. Eventually, Kanaya gets sick of this shit and rightfully calls her out on it.
So Kanaya is as much a trigger for Rose’s drinking habits as Mom herself is, and her inability to let go of her poker face and open up emotionally on the subject is why Rose gets caught in the toxic emotional cycle that keeps her addiction going.
At the root of Rose’s problems, then, is a fear of embracing emotional intimacy and love. Relationship and romantic troubles such as these are a hallmark of the Rogue class Mom is actually a member of —think Rufioh’s troubles with Horrus and Damara, Nepeta’s inability to confess to Karkat, and of course Roxy’s obsessive sexual harassment of Dirk.
Doing things that are traditionally considered wrong among close friends and partners, and pretending everything about the situation is fine under the guise of a band of merry compatriots is all wrapped up in the loose Robin Hood aesthetic Rogues embody.
In other words, this is all roleplay — Rose’s desire to understand her Mom has worked too well, and she now finds herself unwittingly repeating her mistakes. Notice how the Lover’s shadow side includes luring others away from important quests — like Rose dissuading Kanaya from caring about regaining the Matriorb.
Rose even comes to recognize this right at the end of the meteor journey — Kanaya’s outburst leading her to correctly identify herself as a delinquent.
A rulebreaker. An outlaw.
Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late. Having wasted the time she had to prepare for the session, Rose finds herself confused and unprepared once its go time. And when she’s finally ready to confront her issues, Kanaya’s too worn down and dispirited to focus on them.
Lacking Rose’s direction and hope for her species, Kanaya finds herself succumbing to her own vice in Blood — like Rose with alcohol, she distracts herself from the big picture through a physical craving that produces short term pleasure, but is ultimately counterproductive and irrelevant.
But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered. And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.
And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death. Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night[…]
The Book of Jonah, chapter 4, verses 7–10
We know how this story ends. Rose loses Kanaya, and in a fit of rage gets herself killed. Just like Jonah, Rose feels pity for the gourd, despite not having labored for it as she could have. And she rages at its loss, despite failing to help it grow.
The gourd is metaphorically Kanaya’s dream of ressurecting trollkind and claiming a future for her people, and thus Kanaya’s entire purpose for being, by the way. In case I was being too vague there.
And then Rose dies, having never overcome the anxiety and self-repression that put her in this position in the first place. Having never admitted to Kanaya or her Mother that she loved them. Turns out sadstuck is real.
Good thing she gets a second chance, then.
LILITH IN STARLIGHT
More things stay the same than not after the retcon. Rose still spends some time struggling with alcohol — evidently long enough that their kiss played out the same way. Vriska does intervene and push Rose into thinking about it as a problem, but in general I think her influence in fixing Rose’s problems is overplayed by the fandom.
Rose gives direct credit for her ability to quit drinking to Kanaya, implying it was mostly her who really helped Rose through it. And really, actually coming out the other end sober is down to Rose herself.
“Refraining from committing the same sin if the opportunity presents itself again”
— On methods of repentance in Jewish ethics,
from Gates of Repentance, by Rabbenu Yonah of Gerona
It just so happens that doing better once given a chance to redo a situation where you sinned is one of the forms of repentance advocated for in Teshuvah. If her first meteor trip was about learning to forgive Mom for her wrongdoings, then the second is about Rose repenting from her own transgressions and learning to do better herself.
And she’s rewarded for these efforts by meeting Roxy, and being able to fully open up to her and receive the same openness in turn. Her relationship with Kanaya is happy and stable, as well — implying that she’s not struggling so much with her fear of intimacy in this timeline.
She doesn’t feel much angst about needing to complete her quest anymore, since keeping her important relationships healthy and functional means that she doesn’t feel guilty, nor does she expect arbitrary divine punishment.
In this more clear-headed state, lacking a pressing need to conjure a magical solution to her life’s problems, Rose decides that completing her planet quest sounds unfun and pointless. And it’s fine.
She is, however, still struggling with her relationship with the metatextual and metaphysical nature of Homestuck — growing frustrated at the apparent nonsensicality of Rosesprite’s resurreciton, and absolutely losing her shit at the birth of Jasprose. She considers this infuriatingly pointless and random. But Jasprose proves otherwise to us:
She turns out to be instrumental in the creation of Davepeta, who is uniquely capable of and willing to exploit Lord English’s weaknesses, and together Davepeta and Jasprose continue to provide some of the most valuable insights into the nature of Paradox Space and existential wisdom for the audience.
A lot of those insights turn out to be almost kiddie-level ideas that these precious teen dumbasses nevertheless struggle with for the entire narrative, and that plenty of us struggle with here in real life . Just summing up basic shit like: It’s ok to just open up and talk about your feelings with the sibling you’re constantly ironically antagonizing.
Or: its a good idea to respect the identity of someone you’re trying to treat like an equal, even if doing so doesn’t come naturally to you. People change fast, and if you don’t want to hurt them, its necessary to let them.
Or: don’t worry so much about doing what you “have to” if you have the power to go after what you want — the world is a playground, and it’s ok to have fun. Do what you will.
Or: being smug and enjoying yourself isn’t really a problem if you’re not being an asshole and it’s just you being honest. Loving yourself is good actually.
And obviously, it gives the Rose from the Game Over timeline the chance to perform her own brand of repentance — letting herself openly show to Kanaya how much she loves her.
She also turns out to be extremely helpful in the [S] Collide final battle, but probably her biggest contribution is just having or spurring on conversations like this one, putting the way Homestuck thinks about this deeply weird reality into a coherent context.
In that respect, Jasprose does as much to help the audience climb towards a holistic, enlightened view of Homestuck as Rose herself does. Again,
…this choice would be lauded by Gnostics, for whom attaining this once hidden knowledge holds the key to their salvation. Two Eves, both of whom contribute uniquely and necessarily to gnosis, hold sway in the Gnostic creation myth.
As for Alpha Rose? Lacking the advanced metaphysical perspective of a Sprite squared, many of her questions about reality remain unresolved, and she presumably continues her ongoing interrogation of reality and its fundamental nature well past the end of Homestuck.
But judging by her choice of wedding and apparent happiness, she’s at peace with that search now. Whatever else she thinks about reality, she’s come to embrace the core Jewish tenet that the world is good. Despite all the heartbreak and pain, it has been redeemed for her. And how could it not?
Any other world, any other path to get here wouldn’t have had Kanaya in it. It wouldn’t have Roxy. For the convoluted story that drew Rose together to her Mom, the love of her life, all her best friends, even the worst evil that Lord English perpetrated against them had to be allowed to play out to the fullest.
It was all part of the plan — although who’s plan it was, exactly, is impossible to fully say. To give her a world of peace, an immortal life, a loving Momsister, and all the time in the world to crack every mystery she pleases. To give her a girlfriend.
And that noise is tight indeed.
Til next time,
- This essay was made possible by my awesome supporters on Patreon. You can support me there if you want to enable me to produce more stuff like this in the future. This essay is a Part 1 to be followed up by a follow-up essay on Vriska, so if you want that, this is how you grease the wheels.
- Parsing Heirs’ Familiars as evoking the trope of the Stage magicians’ assistant was an idea raised by DahnitheWitchofLight, so all credit for that bit goes to her!
- Enormous thanks go to Pip, Kate, and various folks on my Patreon server for beta reading this. Special Thanks to Eromancery and Sis in particular for the Jewish perspective I desperately needed to make sure I wasn’t completely full of shit.
- I learned a lot that surprised and interested me about Jewish traditions of faith in writing this, and I hope this is only the start of a conversation on how Jewish readings might increase the depth we can draw out of Homestuck’s mythological symbolism. If you want to do some reading on Jewish faith yourself, here’s a few of the Jewish resources I used that aren’t Wikipedia: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides/