aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 13: The Image Of Eternal Death

October 10, 1990
Gulf of Mexico

I.

“Good morning,” said Sohu as she stepped out of her cottage. Technically it was already afternoon. She hadn’t slept late, but she’d stayed inside, studying, dreading to open the door. Uriel had no concept of small talk, and precious little concept of scheduling. She knew the moment she walked outside he would start expounding kabbalah at her, talking faster than she could follow and demanding impossible feats of scholarship. It wasn’t that she dreaded it, exactly. Just that she wanted to be able to steel herself a little before facing it. As for the archangel, he never seemed to notice or care about the time. She suspected she could have just stayed inside all week and spared herself any lessons at all, if she had been so inclined. But then why live with an archangel in a hurricane?

He had heard the greeting. She took a deep breath, readied herself for what was to come.

“KNOCK KNOCK,” said Uriel.

“…what?” said Sohu.

“LAST WEEK I SAID YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT WAS TO LEARN EVERY LANGUAGE,” said Uriel. “DID YOU – ”

“Wait,” said Sohu. “What was with the knock knock?”

“YOU HAVE SEEMED SOMEWHAT LOST RECENTLY. I BORROWED A HUMAN BOOK ON EDUCATION. IT SAYS THAT IN ORDER TO KEEP CHILDREN ENGAGED, YOU SHOULD TELL JOKES THROUGHOUT YOUR LESSON.”

“And someone told you that was how jokes work?”

“NO, BUT I WAS ABLE TO FIGURE IT OUT MYSELF AFTER READING SEVERAL EXAMPLES.”

Sohu mentally assessed whether this was better or worse than the normal way Uriel did things, came up blank.

“No. You have to – here, let me show you. Knock knock.”

“UM.”

“Now you say ‘who’s there’. It’s a joke.”

“IT IS NOT VERY FUNNY.”

“That’s not the joke. When I say ‘knock knock’, you say ‘who’s there?’ Knock knock.”

“WHO’S THERE? THIS IS STILL NOT VERY FUNNY.”

“Slow down! I say knock knock. You say who’s there. I say a name. You say that same name, and then you add ‘who’. And then I make a joke.”

“I THINK IT WOULD BE MORE EFFICIENT IF YOU STARTED BY MAKING THE JOKE.”

“It wouldn’t work that way! Knock knock!”

“WHO’S THERE?”

“Avery.”

“AVERY WHO?”

“Avery silly knock knock joke.”

“AVERY SILLY KNOCK KNOCK JOKE WHO?”

“You only say who one time!”

“OKAY.”

“You…didn’t seem to find that very funny.”

“WHICH PART WAS THE JOKE, AGAIN?”

“I said Avery, like it was my name. But actually, I was using it as part of the phrase ‘a very silly knock knock joke.'”

“WHY?”

“It’s like…it’s like what you were saying about kabbalistic correspondences. Two different things that have the same structure. The name Avery, and the words ‘a very’, and you don’t see it at first, but then later you do.”

Uriel stood quietly, glowing letters swirling all around him. He seemed to be thinking deeply, as if this were a far harder problem than merely stabilizing the El Nino cycle (his project for yesterday) or defragmenting mammalian DNA (the day before).

“SO A JOKE IS LIKE A SURPRISING KABBALISTIC CORRESPONDENCE?”

“Sort of.”

“KNOCK KNOCK.”

“Who’s there?”

“‘NACHASH’ IS THE HEBREW WORD FOR SERPENT, BUT IT HAS A GEMATRIA VALUE OF 358, WHICH IS THE SAME AS THE HEBREW WORD “MOSHIACH’, MEANING MESSIAH. THUS, ALTHOUGH THE SERPENT INTRODUCES SIN INTO THE WORLD AND THE MESSIAH REDEEMS THE WORLD FROM SIN, BOTH ARE KABBALISTICALLY IDENTICAL. YOU ARE NOT LAUGHING.”

Sohu’s expression was somewhere between horror and pity.

“THAT WAS NOT FUNNY?”

“Probably not in the way you intended it to be.”

“OH.”

“I think you might not be very good at jokes.”

“I THINK IT IS VERY SURPRISING THAT THE MOST DIRE THREAT TO THE WORLD IS PROPHESIED ALSO TO BE ITS REDEEMER. TAKEN TOGETHER WITH ISAIAH 53:12 STATING THAT THE MESSIAH WILL BE NUMBERED AMONG THE GREAT TRANSGRESSORS, IT PRESENTS A VERY UNUSUAL VIEW OF SIN AND REDEMPTION.”

“It has to be a special type of surprising. Uh….why don’t we get back to the lesson.”

“OKAY. LAST WEEK I SAID YOUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT WAS TO TO LEARN EVERY LANGUAGE. DID YOU COMPLETE IT?”

“I told you, humans can’t do things like that.”

“OH. RIGHT. THEN I TOLD YOU TO DO SOMETHING HUMANS WERE GOOD AT. LIKE START A WAR. DID YOU COMPLETE THAT ONE?”

“I thought you were joking!”

“NO. YOU CAN LEARN A LOT OF THINGS FROM STARTING A WAR. FIFTY YEARS AGO SOME PEOPLE STARTED A WAR AND THEY ENDED UP LEARNING THE SECRETS OF THE ATOM. IT WAS VERY IMPRESSIVE.”

“I’m not starting a war!”

“OKAY.” Sohu tried to read his face. Was she disappointing him? “TODAY WE WILL LEARN ABOUT THE TWO PILLARS ON THE TREE OF LIFE. THE RIGHT PILLAR CONSISTS OF CHOKHMAH, CHESED, AND NETZACH. IT REPRESENTS THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD AND IS ASSOCIATED WITH MERCY. THE LEFT PILLAR CONSISTS OF BINAH, GEVURAH, AND HOD. IT REPRESENTS THE LEFT HAND OF GOD AND IS ASSOCIATED WITH JUSTICE. MY BOOK ON EDUCATION SAYS I SHOULD STOP TO SEE IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS. DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS?”

She didn’t want to disappoint him further. She tried to think of a question. “Um. You talk about these correspondences all the time. So…uh…how does this correspond to human politics. We also talk about a right side and a left side, but in human politics the Right is usually more concerned with justice, and the Left is usually more concerned with mercy. How come in kabbalah it’s the opposite of that?”

“THAT IS AN EXCELLENT QUESTION. YOUR HOMEWORK FOR NEXT WEEK IS TO FIGURE OUT THE ANSWER.”

Oh. So it was going to be one of those types of lessons. Sohu scowled.

“IT IS A COMMON MISCONCEPTION THAT THE RIGHT HAND IS GOOD AND THE LEFT EVIL. AS ASPECTS OF THE DEITY, BOTH ARE GOOD AND NECESSARY TO PRODUCE BALANCE. THE RIGHT HAND CREATES AND SUSTAINS. THE LEFT HAND DIRECTS AND PURIFIES. BUT AFTER THE SHATTERING OF THE VESSELS, WHEN ALL ASPECTS LOST THEIR CONNECTION TO SUPERNAL DIVINITY, THE RIGHT HAND BECAME AIMLESS IN ITS BLESSINGS, AND THE LEFT SWITCHED FROM THE CAREFUL DIRECTION OF A LOVING FATHER, TO PUNISHMENT FOR ITS OWN SAKE. THE MIDDLE PILLAR REPRESENTS THE COMPROMISE BETWEEN THESE TWO EXTREMES. BALANCE. UNION. HIDE.”

“Um, another question. What do you mean by hide?”

Uriel pointed at the edge of the hurricane and Sohu’s little cloud shot in that direction so quickly she fell over onto its puffy surface. Her own cloud rotated ninety degrees and smashed up against the wall of the storm, so that she was sandwiched between them as they merged. Trapped. She clawed frantically, trying to break free, until she was rewarded with a view of clear sky, the four hundred foot vertical drop to the ocean below, and a tiny figure suspended in the air at the level of Uriel’s face.

II.

Uriel was talking to someone. She could barely see him at this distance. Human-sized, she thought. His voice carried, cool and emotionless, solid like ice.

“Would you like to get this over with and kill me now?” he asked. “Or do we have to do it the hard way?”

“THE HARD WAY,” said Uriel.

Then they both took a step skew to any of the dimensions her normal eyes could see. She felt new senses opening up as she tried to follow their path, senses that inferred their presence from the paths of the colored letters that swirled around the storm. The hurricane abstracted, became a series of perturbations in the seed of the world. She traced them back. SA’AR. Then along another set of threads. TEMPESTAS. Still another. HURRICANE.

The stranger seized the threads, pulled them forward, sheared them to their essence. HRCN. Then he rearranged them, made them dance. CHRN. Then fleshed them out. ACHERON. The river that formed the boundary of Hell. Sohu felt the storm darken, become deathly hot. Somehow the transmutation was affecting reality.

Uriel reached out, his flaming sword now in his hand, and parted the threads. CH. RN. He fleshed them out. Turned the first set into CHAI, meaning “life”. The second into AARON, brother of Moses, progenitor of the priesthood, who bore the Shem HaMephorash upon his forehead. The darkness broke. Waves of holy light rushed forth from where Uriel had made the change.

The stranger snarled, hurt.

“GO AWAY, THAMIEL,” said the archangel.

Sohu froze. Thamiel. The Lord of Demons. Was here. Was fighting Uriel.

Thamiel touched both sets of threads. AARON shifted vowels, became RUIN. From the whistling of the wind he drew an S, added it to CHAI, shifted it into CHAOS. Chaos and ruin. The carefully arranged threads of symbols that made up Uriel’s machine began crumbling, falling apart in the wind.

Uriel drew water from the sea in a great waterspout. The Semitic pictograph for “water” was the origin of the Hebrew letter mem. He turned the water into an M, then grabbed the CH from CHAOS and the n from RUIN, made MACHINE. The remaining letters R and S he stuck together, slashed at the S until it hardened and became a Z. RZ. RAZ. Secrets. Through the angel Raziel, the secrets of kabbalah in particular. A machine of kabbalistic secrets. His machinery stopped crumbling, starting putting itself together, glowing with renewed light.

Thamiel grabbed the Z, held it in the plume of water until it softened back into an S, then used it to make RASHA, “wicked” and NACOM, “punishment”. The punishment of the wicked, the Devil’s task. Thamiel began to grow bigger as the power of the storm drained into his essence.

Then he paused. pointed at the letters. Of their own accord, two dropped away, made a new pattern. MEREA. “Friend”.

“You have a friend here,” he told Uriel.

“NO,” said Uriel.

“The letters don’t lie,” said Thamiel. He pointed to them again. Another two dropped out. SOHU.

Interesting,” said Thamiel.

They were the scariest four syllables Sohu had ever heard.

The two stepped back into the regular world at the same time, and Thamiel flew right towards her.

She could see him clearly now. He looked like a man. He was dressed in a very black suit. His face evoked a military officer, or a high-level executive, or a serial killer, or a cop who always had rumors of brutality swirling around him but nobody could ever pin anything down. Not the kind of impulsive brutality of the guy who loses his cool every so often, but a very calculated brutality. The cop who knows way too much about how to hurt people without leaving marks, and who has no crime at all in his precinct, and nobody wants to ask why. Gaunt, empty grey eyes, close-cropped hair.

To the right of his head was a second head. It looked like a deformed infant. Its eyes were firmly shut and its mouth was locked into a perpetual silent scream.

“Sohu,” he said, with his normal head. The other one was still screaming. “I’m Thamiel. We meet at last.”

He had two bat wings on his back, no bigger than they would have been on a bat. On him they looked ridiculous, vestigial. They held him aloft nonetheless. In his hand was a bident – like a trident, but with two points instead of three. He looked straight at her. Held out the bident, and the clouds hiding her melted away.

“DO NOT HURT HER,” said Uriel.

“Ah,” said Thamiel. “Perhaps now you’re more interested in killing me?”

Uriel said nothing. Thamiel stared at the girl. Sohu didn’t say anything.

“Your father’s sign is on you.” He pointed to her left hand. To her eyes there was nothing there. It just looked like skin. “If I harm you, it calls him here.” She had known nothing of this; still it made sense. “But,” said the demon, “it thinks of ‘harm’ in very literal terms. I don’t.”

Very very gingerly, he touched the two points of the bident to Sohu’s forehead.

She remembered a poem: “If in some smothering dreams you too could pace behind the wagon that we flung him in and watch the white eyes writhing in his face, his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues…”

She remembered it because it was the only thing that could describe how it felt. All the light vanished from the world. Everything stable, everything comprehensible. Like a vertiginous nausea of the mind, like every fiber of her being was united in an urge to vomit that would never be satiated. Not like she had cancer; like she was cancer, like there was nothing pure or orderly left within her, like she needed to be excised from the universe, like the universe needed to be excised from the cosmos, or like the whole cosmos needed to be killed with poison to put it out of its own misery. But that doing so wouldn’t help, couldn’t help, there was no poison outside and separate from the cancer, everything was going to be horrible forever and it was all her fault.

“Uriel!” she shouted with her last ounce of strength. “Kill me!”

Thamiel opened one eye a little wider on his first face; the eyes of the second were still glued shut. “I was going for ‘kill him‘,” said the devil, “but your way works too, actually.”

The second head continued to scream. Uriel stood silently as the colors and symbols whirled around him, no emotion on his face.

“You should know,” said Thamiel to her quietly, “that if one were to compare a single water droplet of this cloud to all the oceans of the world, the oceans above that are seen by Man and the greater oceans below in the wellsprings of the earth – that as miniscule are the torments you suffer now to the torments of Hell that are prepared for you and everyone you love. And that even if you escape those torments, as some do, you have friends, and you have a family, and even those who seem most virtuous have secret sins, and so the probability that neither you nor any of those you care about end up in my dominions is impossibly fleeting, a ghost of a ghost of a chance. And that I will be given dominion over the Earth, and that it will be no different, and everything beautiful and lovely and innocent will become no different from what you feel now, only it will last forever. And that I don’t care at all about you, but I wanted to see whether Uriel did. And that he could stop this at any time. And you’re probably blind by this point, but you should know that he’s standing there, watching all of this, and he knows exactly what’s going on, and he hasn’t even changed his expression. And I could do this for an hour, a year, an eternity, and he would still be standing there.”

The second head just kept screaming.

“Still,” said Thamiel, “I’m busy, and duty calls.” He lifted the bident from Sohu’s forehead, and she collapsed onto the cloud. “I’m changing my mind,” he told the archangel. “You don’t need to kill me today. I think it will be more interesting watching you explain yourself to Sohu. We can do the usual death-return thing the next time.”

“GO AWAY, THAMIEL,” said Uriel.

“Of course,” said the devil, and he dove into the sea and disappeared.

III.

Sohu lay there for a moment. Let the light and fresh air slowly leak back into her sensorium. The horror seemed oddly distant now, like she could barely remember it. A nightmare retreating after break of day. But the words she could not forget.

A rush of air, as Uriel summoned her cloud back beside him at the center of the storm. A bulge in the center gradually took shape and developed, bud-like, into her cottage. The flying kayak was still there, somehow, tethered to the edge of the cloud just as it had been before.

“ARE YOU OKAY?”

She struggled to speak. Finally she just said “What happened?”

“THAMIEL DOES NOT LIKE ME. HE WANTED ME TO DO SOMETHING BAD TO SAVE YOU. I DID NOT. I AM SORRY.”

Sohu turned herself over, so that she was supine on the cloud. She saw the angel’s head leaning over her, filling the sky, his eyes as bright as the sun, and she covered her own eyes to avoid being blinded.

She thought for a second. So many things she wanted to say. She formed the responses, compared them, mulled them over in her mind.

“I…trust you to do the right thing.”

“YOU DO?”

“I…Uriel, it was really bad. You have no idea how scary that was. Please don’t let him hurt me again. Please don’t let me die.”

“UM. I WILL TRY TO KEEP YOU SAFE.”

“I don’t want to be kept safe. I want to…you fought him, Uriel.”

“NOT VERY WELL.”

“But you did. I want to learn how to do that. I want to learn how to fight.”

“I WILL TEACH YOU MANY THINGS. BUT YOUR HOMEWORK FOR TONIGHT IS TO REST AND FEEL BETTER.” He stopped himself. “OR IS THAT ONE OF THE THINGS HUMANS CANNOT DO?”

“I…I’m not sure. But I think I can try.”

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130 Responses to Chapter 13: The Image Of Eternal Death

  1. Stupid Crackpot, and probably incorrect theory: If the world is an emulation run by Uriel, it is a formal system. According to Godel’s theorem, a formal system cannot be both complete and consistent. When the Apollo spacecraft broke the edges of the world, it caused the world to no longer be consistent (actions or machines don’t always have the desired or expected effects) but be complete (almost anything can be done using magic).

    • Anthony Hart says:

      It’s an interesting idea. Godel’s theorems only apply to systems which are capable of expressing statements about themselves. I’m not sure if the universe has a mechanism for internalizing abstract metaphysical statements in the way required for them to really apply, but it’s an interesting possibility.

    • NoSuchPlace says:

      Warning very informal formal logic:

      Nope, Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem doesn’t say that, it is very easy to give a consistent and complete theory: For example the set of statements that are true about the Natural numbers. Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem says that no definable theory which meets certain requirements for complexity (which are very low, Peano arithmetic meets them) is both complete and consistent.

      Also inconsistency and completeness don’t work the way you are implying. If a theory is inconsistent it means that every statement can be proven (even their negation). So an inconsistent system wouldn’t have something sometimes working one way and sometimes working another, it would have everything doing everything at once. Completeness doesn’t mean everything can be done, it means that every statement can be either proven or disproven.

      If you are just looking at things from a Kabbalistic standpoint, then it should be pointed out that in Logic, theories are not the objects themselves but descriptions of the objects you are talking about (the objects themselves being called models). There is no non-Kabbalistic reason to believe that damaging a description of something should damage the thing its self. Of course you could make a direct argument that maybe Uriel stored the specification of the universe on the surface of the crystal sphere and that by cracking it the corresponding object has also been harmed, but then there is no need to go via Gödel!

  2. Sniffnoy says:

    Add the mark (and Thamiel’s recognition of her) to points in favor of Sohu being the Comet King’s daughter? Still seems a bit too neat.

    • Marvy says:

      But maybe only a bit? What kind of a person has a flying kayak anyway?

    • Deiseach says:

      Definitely we should be asking who is Sohu’s father. The Comet King? No idea.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Some well-known and powerful kabbalist, at least. The problem is right now we’ve seen so little of the world that basically the only one we know is the Comet King, so it’s hard to come up with alternatives.

        Although the fact that Thamiel wouldn’t want her father to show up does seem to suggest the Comet King in particular…

    • gwern says:

      The mark sounds rather Cain-like to me.

      • Kiya says:

        C and N leftover after making MEREA and SOHU could make CAIN.

        (Or, y’know, NICE, ICON, COIN, CANE, CAN, CON, and probably some Hebrew words.)

  3. NoSuchPlace says:

    No essay on Air plane landing gear. I am disappointed.

    • J says:

      We were promised 10,000 words!

    • Galle says:

      I’m willing to take the Kabbalistic analysis of “There’s A Hole In My Bucket” as an acceptable substitute.

    • Deiseach says:

      No essay on Air plane landing gear

      That might come in an explanation of the flying kayak? Even Sohu wondered how it was still attached to her cloud after all that kerfuffle:

      The flying kayak was still there, somehow, tethered to the edge of the cloud just as it had been before.

  4. Good Burning Plastic says:

    “Interesting,” said Thamiel.

    They were the scariest four syllables Sohu had ever heard.

    So apparently Thamiel isn’t British, or he would have pronounced “Interesting” with three syllables.

  5. stavro375 says:

    “WHO’S THERE?”
    “Avery.”
    “AVERY WHO?”
    “Avery silly knock knock joke.”
    “AVERY SILLY KNOCK KNOCK JOKE WHO?”

    Plot Twist! Uriel is actually a computer, interpreting its sensory input in an excessively literal manner!

    Thamiel touched both sets of threads. AARON shifted vowels, became RUIN.

    Hm. Very subtle foreshadowing that the protagonist, Aaron, directly causes the ruin of mankind (as explicitly stated multiple times in the first chapter, and curiously not really mentioned afterwards.)

    • Marvy says:

      No, not explicitly. All we know is that an apocalypse is coming.

      • Placid Platypus says:

        The very first sentence of chapter 1 explicitly says the apocalypse began in a cubicle, and the first full paragraph makes it clear the cubicle in question was Aaron’s cubicle in which he then proceeds to discover the Name he uses on Sarah.

    • NoSuchPlace says:

      > Very subtle foreshadowing

      Your being sarcastic right? I’m asking because my sarcasm detector is currently broken.

      • Soumynona says:

        My advice: less time spent signaling how smart you are by calling out people for describing something as subtle that, according to you isn’t actually subtle, though it actually kind of is; more time spent maintaing your sarcasm detection gear in good working condition.

        • NoSuchPlace says:

          Though I can see how my comment can come across like that, it wasn’t my intention and I am sorry for that. My question was actually genuine.

          As to why I though that passage was significant:

          In a previous chapter it has been shown that by manipulating words in the storm it is possible to make significant changes to the way things work (like Sohu reversing the flow of rivers). When two high powered beings start fighting by playing scrabble with it, it is to be expected that this will have some effect.

          At one point a combination of words that gets interpreted as “A machine of kabbalistic secrets” appears. This seems like it is referring to Sarah. The word “Aaron” also makes an appearance and is then turned into “Ruin”, in the first chapter it is all but stated that Aaron will bring about the apocalypse.

          So this fight has already predicted two things which already “know” (the ensoulment of Sarah, and Aaron causing the apocalypse), and has a decent prior probability for influencing future events in weird symbolic ways. So it seems likely that this fight will predict other things that will happen later in the story, if we could figure out the mapping of names to what they represent.

        • Placid Platypus says:

          My advice: less time signaling how smart you are by needlessly and obnoxiously accusing people of trying to signal, and more time answering their questions in good faith or failing that contributing something else useful to the conversation.

  6. Angstrom says:

    > Uriel said nothing. Thamiel stared at the girl. Sohu didn’t say anything.

    The contrast between “said nothing” and “didn’t say anything” was jarring enough to make me pause and wonder if there was some kabbalistic or literary meaning for a bit, maybe in the vein of the Pesach child who does not know how to ask a question. I couldn’t come up with anything.

  7. Daniel Armak says:

    This is dated October 10, 1990, and “EIGHTY YEARS AGO SOME PEOPLE STARTED A WAR AND THEY ENDED UP LEARNING THE SECRETS OF THE ATOM”. But no war started in 1910 (in our world, per Wikipedia). It seems Uriel has forgotten he’s not in 2017 (which is still 78 years after the start of WW2, not 80).

    • You’re right, this chapter was originally closer to the main timeline of the book, and I forgot to adjust for that. Fixed.

      • Aris Katsaris says:

        As a sidenote, I keep forgetting to notice the date of each chapter, and so I likewise seem to be thinking everything’s happening around the same time. It takes a conscious effort for me to remember that the shenanigans with Sohu happened much before the shenanigans with Sarah.

        I’m not sure I have any clear suggestions as to how to fix this. Since the characters in each timeframe haven’t yet interacted with each other, the causality of the narrative isn’t helping me to clear this confusion out.

    • Some people consider World War I and World War II a single conflict with an extended pause in the middle.

      • teucer says:

        Some of that pause is overstated, too. (This thesis usually includes the Spanish civil war as part of the same conflict.)

    • Deiseach says:

      We know angels have a shaky concept of how time runs for mortals (see Pirindiel and the flowers he remembered to bring to the dinner party, but forgot that the party wouldn’t be for two weeks and that flowers don’t last that long). Being a bit muddled about when the First World War started (1910 instead of 1914) and the difference between that and the Second World War, and instead seeing them as one long war with a bit of a gap in between isn’t that blameworthy.

      Especially when we’ve had things like the Hundred Years War which was one long series of conflicts that started and stopped and resumed again over a period of one hundred and sixteen years, was fought between two rival dynasties, and included side-conflicts related to the main one. You can’t really blame an archangel for not knowing why an four centuries or so later the two World Wars weren’t really along the same lines 🙂

      • Guy says:

        Pirindiel’s problem there was that he didn’t remember that the flowers were mortal, and therefore would wilt. He knew the party was in two weeks; he got them early so he wouldn’t forget.

        • Deiseach says:

          But mortality is associated with time, and for a human getting something two weeks in advance is a little bit over-prepared; for Pirindiel, it seems as if two weeks/two days/two hours in advance are much of a muchness. I imagine the last time he remembered you should bring flowers to your hostess, it after the party and he had to be told you do it before. Not that you can’t send a ‘thank-you’ bouquet afterwards instead, but if he left it too late (six months? two years?) then he needed telling “Do it before” “But I’ll forget” “Then do it in plenty of time” (where for a human, “plenty of time” is “the day before” but for Pirindiel it’s “right now”).

  8. Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

    Wow. Thaumiel is even scarier that I expected! That battle was awesome. I’m also starting to guess that we are seeing the beginning of what culminates in the Comet King assaulting hell. His likely daughter has an enmity with the devil, and that can’t end well.

    Also, if Aaron is about 26-27 for his part of the story, this his conception/birth could be around the time of this confrontation. The firy river of hell, life, Aaron (holder of the Shem HaMephorarsh) named, them chaos and ruin. Aaron, born chaotically to the house of the H Bomb, a determined kabbalist, who imbues a machine with kabbalistic purposes, bound to someone who makes Theodicy her life story…

    Crackpot theory time: Aaron’s birth was ordained by this fight, and he personally is a battleground between Thaumiel and Uriel. His actions could tip the balance in one way or another, or even overwhelm them both.
    Crackpot

    • Scott’s comment above this seems to support this theory: He specifically moved the date of this chapter to fit, and that seems like the only reason I can think of to do it.
      That said, the fact that Scott originally had a different date implies that while it’s an important part of the backstory it’s probably not crucial to the main story.

      • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

        Or the timing difference could be thematic. The battle still orders the world in a way so that Aaron plays a critical role, but the difference being whether it drives the not-a-coincidence of his discovering the Vital Name, the not-a-coincidence of his birth, or some other significant not-a-coincidence that drives Aaron’s story is a difference of emphasis and narrative structure. It makes a difference, but not enough that changing it’s location in the storyline is evidence against it being crucial to the main story.

        • Kolya says:

          It said in the first chapter that Aaron was 22yo in 2017, though.

          • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

            I was afraid I was missing something like that. That weakens my theory. Of course, the beauty of crackpot theories is that they take a lot of weakening before they fall apart!

    • Kinetic_Hugh_Reeve says:

      Kabbalistic secrets, that is, not purposes.

  9. Thamiel here really reminds me of Nicodemus in the Dresden files. In particular, his habit of trying to tempt the good guy into doing something terrible. In the Dresden files it’s because if they try to do something cad with the swords of the cross it makes them breakable. I wonder what it’s about here.

  10. fubarobfusco says:

    Is there a connection between “Uriel and Thaumiel” and “Urim and Thummim”,the seeing-stones of the priesthood?

  11. Marvolo Avendord says:

    “EIGHTY YEARS AGO SOME PEOPLE STARTED A WAR AND THEY ENDED UP LEARNING THE SECRETS OF THE ATOM.”

    80 years before 1990 would be 1910. Is Uriel referring to the first world war, and the secret of efficiently combining large quantities of Hydrogen and Nitrogen gas into ammonia, or does he have issues with time along with all his other problems?

  12. Dennis Ochei says:

    Devil’s *sack* of sin

    You’ve got “Devil’s sick of sin” in there, which is absurd, since it keeps him in business.

  13. dtsund says:

    The Study of Hebrewphysics?

    Obviously, the reason why justice/mercy are mixed up in politics versus the hands of God is that political positions are abstract and mental, and the left brain controls the right hand and vice versa.

  14. Kolya says:

    “Prophecied” should be “prophesied”, whether you’re American or British.

  15. Marvy says:

    robots.txt is fixed! YAY!

  16. dsotm says:

    So, speculations on why Thamiel is trying to provoke Uriel into killing him and why Uriel doesn’t ?

    Mine would be that since he (Thamiel) represents the divine-light-attenuating klipot shards, killing him would be the equivalent of removing the moderating agent in a nuclear fission reactor causing a metaphysical meltdown.

    • typicalacademic says:

      “You don’t need to kill me today. I think it will be more interesting watching you explain yourself to Sohu. We can do the usual death-return thing the next time.”
      Seems like it’s a regular occurrence. Maybe Uriel always prevents the metaphysical meltdown by restoring Thamiel immediately, but then there’s not much in it for Thamiel anyway.

      • dsotm says:

        yeah I meant as a recurrent process – each time Thamiel is killed the amount of klipothic matter is reduced to create a new one, which in turn increases the burden on Uriel.
        or something.

        • Galle says:

          One of the effects of Uriel’s emulation is to restrain supernatural entities by rendering them metaphorical, and the way Aaron described it, it sounded like restraining Thamiel might have been one of the primary design goals.

          I’m not really sure how this interacts with the death-rebirth thing, but it seems relevant somehow.

    • Macbi says:

      Because SERPENT=MESSIAH.

    • lunatic says:

      Thamiel suggests that there is a regular ritual of killing and rebirth, and I haven’t got many intersting ideas about this.

      However, why not kill Thamiel? I believe Thamiel’s nature is central to this question, and this chapter (and the previous interlude) offer some hints about this. It is explained in this chapter that Thamiel’s role is related to punishment and control, though it has been corrupted somehow. It is possible that it has fallen to chaos: “From the careful direction of a loving father to punishment for its own sake.” The guidance of a father or other authority figure is usually a force for order: authorities ask us to observe rules and at their best rules are there to help us cooperate. The bursting of the pots may have broken Thamiel’s drive for order but not his drive to punish. Why should such a Thamiel not be killed? If we take it as a given that he will (for some reason) be reincarnated or by some other means continue to exist, we might speculate that it is because killing another for their actions is an act of both punishment and disorder in itself, and only serves to further Thamiels aims.

      Another possibility for how his nature has been perverted is also offered: “The cop … and who has no crime at all in his precinct, and nobody wants to ask why.” This is just a description of his appearance, and maybe it is not so meaningful, but the implication here is that he has not ceased to guide. On the contrary, he has become pathologically coercive, with no limit to the lengths he will go to rebuke transgressors. The view here is that Thamiel is not Moloch – in fact it is partly through his efforts that order is maintained in the universe. My final speculation here is that I do not know what Uriel’s purpose is. It may not be “looking after humans”, but rather “making sure God’s plan kind of works”. In this case, killing Thamiel is bad because Thamiel is instrumental in achieving that aim.

    • Deiseach says:

      Getting into the morass of interpreting the Book of Revelation (which, since I’m a Catholic and we’re amillenialists and so have no kind of detailed Dispensationalist theology developed around this like those who hold to the doctrine of the Rapture, is really asking for trouble):

      3 And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.

      4 And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?

      Two important things:

      (1)”But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only”- that is, while there are portents to foretell the end of the world and the Eschaton, nobody knows the exact time or season. That is why “immanetising the eschaton” is generally considered a no-good, very bad idea; you are usurping the authority of God and trying to bring the end about at a time of your choosing. Uriel made somewhat the same mistake by hacking the machinery of the universe and see how good that worked out; now planes only fly when he remembers to uphold that rule and the steam engine may or may not be able to run depending on what day of the week it is.

      (2) If we identify Thamiel with The Beast, then the “head wounded to death with the sword” and the healing of it, which made the people wonder and worship the Beast could be the whole “death and return” thing Thamiel is after.

      Thamiel is trying to provoke Uriel into killing him (1) in order to disrupt the timeline and hasten the end of the world on his terms, so that he will be the victor. This is important to do before the Messiah comes, because the Messiah is the prophesied victor over the Serpent/Dragon (2) to turn away the worship and loyalty of humanity from God to him (as part of his plan re: bringing about the end of times) and because he is The Lord of This World:

      And that I will be given dominion over the Earth, and that it will be no different, and everything beautiful and lovely and innocent will become no different from what you feel now, only it will last forever.

      If Uriel kills Thamiel and Thamiel returns, this enables Thamiel to appeal (or rather, declare) to humanity “I am stronger than God, even the archangel running the universe cannot defeat me, bow down and worship and be saved; do you want technology to work again? Do you want to avoid the torment of hell? Make me your lord!”

      If Uriel kills Thamiel on Thamiel’s schedule, this puts a spanner in the works for the timing of the return of the Messiah and the victory over entropy. So generally, it’s a fairly good rule if Thamiel wants you to do something, don’t do it. Even if superficially it looks good (the same way Joker tempts Batman to kill him or people have endless feckin’ arguments about Bats or Supes why don’t they just kill their Rogues’ Gallery like The Punisher would do, no moral dilemma, game over, no nutjobs running around hurting the innocent), you may not do evil that good may come of it.

      (As for Thamiel saying killing Sohu would work for him as well? If Sohu is one of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_witnessesTwo Witnesses, let alone the Messiah – which we are not sure she is not! – this also screws up the timeline and works to his advantage).

      Please note: none of the above to be taken as anything more than half-assed amateur exegesis; I have nothing to do with John Nelson Darby’s spiritual successors 🙂

  17. ton says:

    “IT IS A COMMON MISCONCEPTION THAT THE RIGHT HAND IS GOOD AND THE LEFT EVIL. AS ASPECTS OF THE DEITY, BOTH ARE GOOD AND NECESSARY TO PRODUCE BALANCE. THE RIGHT HAND CREATES AND SUSTAINS. THE LEFT HAND DIRECTS AND PURIFIES. BUT AFTER THE SHATTERING OF THE VESSELS, WHEN ALL ASPECTS LOST THEIR CONNECTION TO SUPERNAL DIVINITY, THE RIGHT HAND BECAME AIMLESS IN ITS BLESSINGS, AND THE LEFT SWITCHED FROM THE CAREFUL DIRECTION OF A LOVING FATHER, TO PUNISHMENT FOR ITS OWN SAKE. THE MIDDLE PILLAR REPRESENTS THE COMPROMISE BETWEEN THESE TWO EXTREMES. BALANCE. UNION. HIDE.”

    I see what you did there.

  18. XerxesPraelor says:

    Notice that Thamiel shows up in chapter 13.

  19. Sniffnoy says:

    Thamiel does not appear to be whatever was possessing Ken Kesey, as he doesn’t speak in all caps.

  20. Psycicle says:

    I just realized. If the right hand of God symbolizes mercy, and Ken Kesey was posessed by the right hand of God, then (insert your speculation here)

  21. John Sidles says:

    Lessons-learned are emerging too from the Vietman War and the Gulf Wars. See e.g. psychiatrist Jonathan Shay’s “Brain, mind, society, culture — each other’s environments with equal `ontologic standing'” (Annals NYAS, 2010).

    “Once a [person] has gained equanimity in the face of vocal denials of trustworthiness, two enormous challenges remain: coping with one’s own reactions to atrocious trauma narratives, and the manifold tests of trust that morally injured trauma survivors invent. Nobody can safely do this work alone, nor have to.”

    Similarly in Shay’s “Moral Injury” (Psychoanalytic Psychology, 2015) we read

    For 20 years, I was the sole psychiatrist for a small U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) outpatient clinic. […] My patients did not trust me when I spoke in the unlocated, “God speaking from the edge of the universe” voice of the expert. I can no longer inhabit that voice.

    The point  Uriel’s and Thamiel’s actions alike represent the disastrous cognition that is associated to Shay-style (rational) “minds”, unconstrained from (biological) “brains”, dissociated from human “societies”, whose founding myths reflect (paleo) “cultures”.

    Thus Unsong reads naturally as a Shay-compatible story of Uriel and Thamiel’s forced cognitive evolution within the modern environments of brain, society, and culture.

    Prediction  Perhaps by the end of Unsong, Uriel will no longer (in Shay’s phrase) “inhabit the voice that speaks from the edge of the universe.” Hopefully! 🙂

    • John Sidles says:

      This Unsong chapter also echoes themes from the only work of fiction to ever win the Pulitzer Prize in Biography or Autobiography: Jack Miles’ God: a Biography (1995). The audacious thesis of Miles (a former Jesuit priest) is that the Tanakh reads naturally as the story of the evolution of God’s character evolves.

      In essence, Jack Miles reads the Tanakh the same way that Jonathan Shay reads the Odyssey: as a narrative of cognitive transformation.

      According to Miles’ reading, in the Tanakh’s concluding chapter, The Book of Job, God finally realizes that Job is right … unanswerably so, such that even the almighty God can respond to Job’s valid criticism solely with abuse, anger and bluster.

      This same theme — the theme of moral awakening from abusive rationalization to empathic appreciation — is central to Ted Chiang’s marvelous (and disturbing) fictional autobiography of an abusive rationalizer “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” (2013, freely available online).

      Note too the plain Tanakhist echoes of the names in Chiang’s story like “Moseby” and “Joel”. There are no accidents! 🙂

      Resolution  One possible resolution of Unsong is that Uriel and Thamiel jointly grow to realize (in Chiang’s phrase) that “The point is not to prove [by Kabbalah] you were right; the point is to admit [by empathy] you were wrong.”

      Prediction  Perhaps Unsong’s final Chiang-style reveal will be that Kabbalahist magic isn’t fundamental to the Creation? So there’s no point in trying to figure out how the magic works?

      Explanation  Kabbalahism is Uriel/Thamiel’s coping mechanism for deflecting responsibility for their own irresponsible and abusive actions, by cloaking these actions in an ultra-complex networks of Kabbalahistic rationalization.

      Consolation  As in fiction, so in life? The answer to this question largely depends upon whether we are serious readers of works like Miles’ Biography, Chiang’s Truth, and Alexander’s Unsong — in particular whether we chose to perceive unifying themes in these works. Fortunately, we live in a universe in which writers exert no control over their readers! 🙂

      • Deiseach says:

        John Sidles, you are plainly trying to be sympathetic and present a higher plane of consciousness that will enable wounded humanity to better achieve healing.

        But I’m trying to pull myself out of the pit of depression by my bootstraps. I don’t want empathetic handholding of the “there, there, that must be difficult, here have a tissue to cry into” therapy, I want a rational solution from someone detached enough from the situation that they don’t care personally as they have no emotional involvement with me. I want that because it’s easier to talk to a stranger than friends or family when you’re discussing the absolute fucked-up mess you’ve made of things.

        For me, your “empathetic appreciator” would be abusive and of no god damn help at all. To take an example from this school of thought, re: the feminist glaciology paper – if I’m living in a village where there’s a risk that the glacier will melt early and flood us out, I may very well get practical help from the village ‘glacier whisperer’ where the tradition is that the groaning of the shifting ice represents the glacier ‘talking’ to its surroundings if those sounds are interpreted as “Okay people, she’s gonna blow!” and we all get time to evacuate.

        I will get no help at all if the whisperer goes up to have a nice chat with the glacier to persuade it not to melt right now because just as the glacier ‘talks’ to us, we can talk back to it. A bit more rational, a little less “i feel your pain” goes much further.

        • Deiseach says:

          My point there: feminist glaciology, like your empathic appreciation, is useful when it reminds us to take into account native traditions because people living in those environments have had to develop methods of observation and dealing with risk in order to successfully continue existing.

          Empathic appreciation, like feminist glaciology, is at best of no use and at worst actively harmful, when it encourages us to all sit in a circle using native traditions of singing to the glacier in order to appease it and throw out all we know of how the physics of this world works, so that instead of – yes – a rational scientific approach to “what can we do to forecast early melting and floods”, it is “dump the notion of taking ice cores or ground radar readings or building diversion canals, we’ll sit down and say ‘we have come to admit we are wrong and know nothing’ and hope a bunch of edelweiss left at the foot of the glacier will please it enough not to melt”.

          If my therapist is sitting there holding my hand and sobbing into a hankie beside me about “I admit my wrongness, I know nothing, I can tell you no way out of this, but I will dump the abusive way of rationalisation and take on the way of empathy in order to appreciate your feelings”, that is no bloody use to me or someone worse off than me looking for a way to cope with the overwhelming noise in our heads.

      • John Sidles says:

        Jonathan Shay’s article “Moral Injury” (Psychoanalytic Psychology, 2014) argues for the valid diagnosis of “Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder” (PTED), sometimes called reactive embitterment (PTED self-rating questionnaire here). Within this general context, the evolving constructs of PTSD/PTED (and related diagnostic constructs) help us to appreciate the origins of the embitterment and anger that are so commonly evident in rationalist assessments of works like “Feminist Glaciology”.

        Shay’s Question: “Why Study Thumos?”  (lecture here)  The question then, that was presented in the clinic, was “Can the bad experiences of war [or any other cultural setting] damage good character? Can a person who made it out of childhood with good character be deformed into somebody vicious?” And this is a deeply troubling question. It flies in the face of a long philosophical tradition that we can readily trace to Plato, and through the Stoics, and to Kant, and to Freud.

        Shay is explicit that considerations of moral injury arise not only in war, but also in graduate school, and in medical residency, and in academic research careers — all careers in which “reactive embitterment” syndromes commonly are encountered.

        Thus, when we read “Feminist Glaciology” as a work that considers the impact of climate change upon thumos, we appreciate that works like “Feminist Glaciology” seek to extend the domain and range of academic inquiry, so greatly that severe apprehension and vehement opposition are natural and even expected.

        This is why empathic therapies aren’t easy, for individuals or cultures: such therapies are effective only to the extent that they are transformational.

        Conclusion  In a Shay-style reading of Unsong, Uriel’s thumos has been so severely corrupted by the denialist constructions that make up the Kabbalah, that Uriel cannot not even perceive the gravity of this corruption. And so it falls to Sohu to begin the healing of Uriel’s thumos.

        • Deiseach says:

          CONTENT WARNING: SWEARING AND GROSS MEDICAL DETAILS, IF BLOOD IS A TRIGGER FOR YOU DO NOT READ

          Oh, bollocks. Let me just say that I have spent several hours yesterday literally pouring blood out of an orifice (gentlemen, this is the fun part of being female). Empathic handholding would have done fuck-all for me in that situation. What did help was old-fashioned “here’s an injection to stop the bleeding, here’s a prescription for medication, go make an appointment with your regular doctor”.

          If I have to choose between “detached but effective” and “boo-hoo, there there” methods when I have large clots and liquid blood streaming out of me, guess which I’ll pick? And never mind if the former renders, supports or leads to embitterment. I’ll worry about that when I’ve stopped worrying about haemorrhaging.

          Yes, I’m irritated. Irritated by the chin-stroking “But thinking, what good can it do? Feelings! Empathy! Sympathy! Down with hierarchical structures and the imposition of authority! Let us all be in a flat egalitarian structure and refuse to accept that one person can legitimately know more than another when we are talking about intellectual knowledge (the emotional and personal experience of oppression is of course a much different matter, where the oppressed has natural and superior authority)” armchair theorising which is fine when it stays in the armchair but makes a damn mess when applied in the real world.

        • John Sidles says:

          Thank you for sharing your feelings, Deiseach.

          But is empathic cognition really associated with the asserted objective “Down with hierarchical structures and the imposition of authority!”? Can this belief be rationally reconciled with the fact that Jonathan Shay is the only author to have two works on the USMC Commandant’s Professional Reading List? (those works being Achilles in Vietnam and Odysseus in America)

          After all, few organizations are presently more overtly hierarchical and authoritarian — and in previous generations, more overtly male-dominated — than the US Marine Corps!

          Conclusion  Dr. Shay’s explicitly post-rational “Cohesion Essay“, which is Appendix E of the “Commandant, USMC Trust Study” (2000), is commended to all Unsong readers whose broad appreciation of feminist objectives (and USMC objectives too) resonates with Deiseach’s caricature of them.

          ———
          Kabbalah confirmation
          “thumos-corrupted lives” == “Covet Uriel’s PTSD humor”

          So now we know that Shay is right! 🙂

          • Deiseach says:

            Apologies for the bitchiness, it’s amazing how grumpy having (what feels like) one-third of your total bodily blood volume fall out your bottom will make you!

            I think my instinctual distaste here is that I am somewhat literal-minded and very much concrete-solution-oriented for short/mid-term fixes rather than abstract-theorising-long-term overhauls.

            In the managment theory speak, I’m Theory X (the Bad School of Handling People) as opposed to Theory Y (the modern popular Good School of People Co-operating) – even though that kind of opposition is not at all what the originator of the concept intended.

            So I like rules, structure, authority and definite, clear, instructions and guidelines. I dislike ambiguity and appeals to emotion over reason (or emotion as over-riding, more authentic, or more valid than using reason). Not that there is no role for emotion and empathy, but a guide must know something more of the territory they are leading the other person through, even if they do so by walking side-by-side rather than in front and the other as a follower.

            So anything based on a foundation where Passion (Thumos) displaces Reason (Logos) from her high and lofty throne as ruler, rather than mediating between and over-seeing the Appetites for Reason, its suzerain, very much does not appeal to me 🙂

          • John Sidles says:

            The USMC strives to have it both ways: Thumos with Logos. That is why a new commander’s first act is to issue, not orders, but rather a commander’s guidance.

            See for example, USMC Gen. Mattis’ guidance to his Anbar/Iraq troops, “First, Do No Harm” (March 23, 2004).

            It is striking that Mattis’ guidance explicitly prioritizes the “Attitude 2 therapy” of reciprocal understanding over the “Attitude 1 therapy” of reciprocal violence (here “Attitude 2” and “Attitude 1” refer to the SSC essay “Two Attitudes In Psychiatry” of February 24, 2016).

            Observation  Marines, feminists, and psychotherapists commonly prefer the complexity of “Attitude 2 actions” to the simplicity of “Attitude 1 actions” — whereas terrorists, ideologues, and healthcare administrators commonly prefer “Attitude 1”.

            Hmmm …

  22. 75th says:

    This seems like a good time to confess one of the embarrassments of my childhood.

    “‘NACHASH’ IS THE HEBREW WORD FOR SERPENT, BUT IT HAS A GEMATRIA VALUE OF 358, WHICH IS THE SAME AS THE HEBREW WORD “MOSHIACH’, MEANING MESSIAH. THUS, ALTHOUGH THE SERPENT INTRODUCES SIN INTO THE WORLD AND THE MESSIAH REDEEMS THE WORLD FROM SIN, BOTH ARE KABBALISTICALLY IDENTICAL. YOU ARE NOT LAUGHING.”

    “I THINK IT IS VERY SURPRISING THAT THE MOST DIRE THREAT TO THE WORLD IS PROPHESIED ALSO TO BE ITS REDEEMER. TAKEN TOGETHER WITH ISAIAH 53:12 STATING THAT THE MESSIAH WILL BE NUMBERED AMONG THE GREAT TRANSGRESSORS, IT PRESENTS A VERY UNUSUAL VIEW OF SIN AND REDEMPTION.”

    So I grew up a Southern Baptist and a nerd. What devout Southern Baptist nerds do is try to figure out when the Rapture will happen based on silly things like interpreting Revelation as describing a war between Israel and Russia, or by reading books about arranging the Torah in equal-length rows and looking for what words intersect each other, or by figuring out what the Mark of the Beast means.

    One of the ways some people try to make 666 be “the number of [someone’s] name” is by using simple English Gematria, where A = 1, B = 2, etc.

    And one thing I discovered pertains to the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 9:6, King James Version:

    For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

    Turns out, if you omit the “The”s in the italicized part that talks about the Messiah’s Name, in simple English Gematria you get 666. Feel like omitting “The” is kind of arbitrary? Check this out:

    After thinking about it a while, I’m cool with the Spanish using “El” as an article. There’s something very article-like (articular? articulate?) about God. You have your nouns – ie, everything in creation – and God isn’t a part of them, but without God they don’t fit together, they don’t make sense. The article is what instantiates vague concepts: “pollo loco” is a dream, something out of Briah, “el pollo loco” is more in Yetzirah, an object, a created being.

    Also, the simple English Gematria of “The” is 33, and there are three of them in that verse.

    I am pretty much astonished that this part of my past ended up being potentially useful or interesting to anyone.

    • 75th says:

      s/italicized/unitalicized

    • Rand says:

      Omitting the “the”s isn’t kind of arbitrary for the simple reason they aren’t there in the Hebrew. (Of course, this whole thing depends on either the special status of the KJV, or a preference for the British spelling of “counsellor”, “Everlasting” over “Eternal”, the alliterative “Prince of Peace” (vs. chief, lord or any other term to correspond to the generic “sar”) and several other translation decisions. On the other hand, the NRSV is an excellent translation and the OED defaults to “counsselor”.)

    • Galle says:

      I would assume that the implication here is that the Beast is the Messiah minus God, rather than that the Beast IS the Messiah.

    • Marvy says:

      > I am pretty much astonished that this part of my past ended up being potentially useful or interesting to anyone.

      This was not a coincidence, because nothing is ever a coincidence?

  23. Azure says:

    Does the description of Thaumiel remind anyone else of the woman at the end of A Canticle for Leibowitz who has an unconsciouss baby’s head growing out of her neck that opens its eyes for the first time during an apocalypse?

    • Darnit! How weird and creepy do I have to get before somebody else has done it before?

      • beoShaffer says:

        I think there needs to be something like rule 34 but for creepiness.

      • Deiseach says:

        Somebody has ALWAYS done it before 🙂

        Ecclesiastes 1:10

        Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us

        • Deiseach says:

          Also, Dante gives Lucifer three faces/heads, so Thamiel has either reduced by one, or he’s still growing the next two:

          The emperor of the woeful kingdom
          rose from the ice below his breast,
          and I in size am closer to a giant

          than giants are when measured to his arms.
          Judge, then, what the whole must be
          that is proportional to such a part.

          If he was fair as he is hideous now,
          and raised his brow in scorn of his creator,
          he is fit to be the source of every sorrow.

          Oh, what a wonder it appeared to me
          when I perceived three faces on his head.
          The first, in front, was red in color.

          Another two he had, each joined with this,
          above the midpoint of each shoulder,
          and all the three united at the crest.

          The one on the right was a whitish yellow,
          while the left-hand one was tinted like the people
          living at the sources of the Nile.

          Beneath each face two mighty wings emerged,
          such as befit so vast a bird:
          I never saw such massive sails at sea.

          They were featherless and fashioned
          like a bat’s wings. When he flapped them,
          he sent forth three separate winds,

          the sources of the ice upon Cocytus.
          Out of six eyes he wept and his three chins
          dripped tears and drooled blood-red saliva.

          With his teeth, just like a hackle
          pounding flax, he champed a sinner
          in each mouth, tormenting three at once.

          • Lambert says:

            I presume the 2 heads correspond to the duality of Thaumiel, that being the opposite of the unity of God. Wikipedia says the Thaumiel is composed of Satan and Moloch, so that is my wild guess.

          • Daniel says:

            From John Michael Greer’s magical-cabala book Paths of Wisdom: “The Thaumiel or Twins have the traditional image of twin heads borne on the wings of bats. They have no bodies, it is said, because they always seek to unite themselves with other beings and forces…. In their pure form they symbolize the decision to see the conscious self as equal to, or containing, the Supernal Unity itself.”

    • Lignisse says:

      Yes, although in Canticle, the narrator implies (perhaps wrongly, as he’s currently undergoing some trauma) that the new head is the third manifestation of Eve (Mary being the second), having been born without sin.

      Whatever the deal is with Thamiel’s extra screaming head, I feel pretty confident in believing that it’s very unlike a manifestation of the innocent feminine.

    • Andrew M says:

      To me, the obvious association of the double head is Gene Wolfe’s Typhon. With him, too, the second head had an agonised look (though it wasn’t an infant). I haven’t seen Wolfe discussed here, but there are caballistic themes in his work, and the very end of Unsong reminds me intensely of an element in his books.

  24. lunatic says:

    The Uriel-Thamiel battle reminds me of the Ainulindalë, though without the assurance that good will always triumph (as is fitting for this story). To some extent it’s actually turned on its head – in Tolkien, Melkor’s greatest triumphs turn out to be the will of Ilúvatar, while here the obvious way for Uriel to triumph (killing Thamiel) appears to be what Thamiel wants.

  25. Murphy says:

    The description of battle reminds me strongly of your anglophysics short story.

    http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/04/03/the-study-of-anglophysics/

    Loving it the story.

  26. Quixote says:

    Another very good chapter. Best Sohu chapter thus far, I like the direction this line is going.

  27. aphyer says:

    Would like to register a guess that the reason for the left-right reversal of the Sephirot/human politics is the same as the reason for the news/nwes reversal described earlier.

  28. chaosmage says:

    This one literally gave me nightmares. I had read it in bed, right before falling asleep.

    Nightmares are unusual for me, so I appreciate this. I usually dream of parties, holidays and food.

  29. David says:

    Out of curiosity, what is/are your reference source/sources for all the Jewish mysticism? More generally, can anyone recommend a good crash course? I’m loving this story but I wish I had more background information, I feel like a lot of really funny jokes are flying over my head.

  30. Agronomous says:

    Please tell me the perpetual hurricane is named Isaac.

  31. benwave says:

    “…BUT YOUR HOMEWORK FOR TONIGHT IS TO REST AND FEEL BETTER.” He stopped himself. “OR IS THAT ONE OF THE THINGS HUMANS CANNOT DO?”

    Brutal.

  32. Nemghest says:

    Man, Thamiel was kind of channeling Nick Land’s blog for a moment there.

  33. Ben Cass says:

    Typo thread!

    Then he paused. pointed at the letters.

    pointed -> Pointed

  34. Sniffnoy says:

    You know, I wonder if Uriel would like this MathOverflow thread

  35. A mi lo que me enerva es que para tomar medidas para salvar al sistema financiero no es necesario que se pongan de acuerdo los sindicatos y la patronal pero para conseguir que los parados que no cobran prestación alguna, puedan percibir un subsidio, entonces sí.Salud, República y Socialismo

  36. http://www./ says:

    this stick is not very good i got this stick early becuz i have a friend who works for reebok and soon as i got i taped then went on my step and took a loittle snap shot and it snapped right in half DONT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON IT.

  37. “Notabull – I think you missed my point, but ok, repeat yourself like a parot.” What’s a “parot”? Is it a coward that waits out the market and doesn’t buy immediately? Do I pronounce it like “tarot”, with a soft T at the end? – Rate this comment: 0  0

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