aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 66: In The Forests Of The Night

It’s coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst
Leonard Cohen

Afternoon, May 14, 2017
New York City

Genesis 11:4: “And they said, ‘Come, let us build us a city and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth’.” And the LORD waxed wroth, and He cursed them with a confusion of tongues, turned them into the seventy-two nations and scattered them around the world.

Somehow, after thousands of years, the seventy-two nations came together again. Like streams joining into a mighty river, they all flowed together into the same spot. “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven.” And when the LORD came to confound their speech a second time, He found that it was already confounded, English-speakers and Yiddish-speakers and Spanish-speakers and Mohawk-speakers, and people who were bilingual in English and Gaelic, and people who only knew Haitian Creole, and people who spoke weird degenerate versions of Portuguese intermixed with extinct aboriginal tongues, and God-only-knows-what else, and all of them were working to build the towers together, communicating through a combination of yelling and frantic hand-gestures. And the LORD said “Whatever,” and He let it pass. Thus rose New York.

The Not A Metaphor rode its unearthly winds into the harbor before lowering its sails, slowing down, and docking at the New York Passenger Ship Terminal on the West Side. “I hope they found us a priest and a placebomancer,” said James, “because we’re on a deadline.” He marched onto shore, promising to be back with the two new crew members in a few minutes.

Ana just stared, examined the fantastic sights around her, compared it to the photographs and movies she had seen in her youth. The most striking difference was the absence of the city’s various bridges, casualties of the war against Thamiel. In their place stood great pillars with the Sea-Parting Name maintaining corridors of dry land between each borough, across which cars drove in defiance of the walls of water ready to crash down on them; the works of Robert Moses supplanted by those of regular Moses. There were a few new fortresses, and the batteries in Battery Park were no longer of historical interest only. A memorial to the Lubavitcher Rebbe dominated the Brooklyn skyline.

And then there was the Statue of Liberty. It was back on its pedestal, and it still “lifted its lamp beside the golden door.”

There’s some interesting kabbalah here. New York Harbor is “the golden door”. San Francisco Harbor is “the golden gate”. Nothing is ever a coincidence. What’s going on?

There’s another Golden Gate, this one in Jerusalem just east of the Temple Mount. According to the prophet Ezekiel, it is the gate through which God and the Messiah will enter the city:

Then he brought me back the way of the gate of the outward sanctuary which looketh toward the east; and it was shut. Then said the Lord unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. It is for the prince; the prince, he shall sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.

The Ottoman Turks, ever pragmatic, decided that if God and the Messiah entered Jerusalem it would probably cause the Jews to revolt or something, so they bricked up the Golden Gate. You might think this is stupid, but I point out that the Messiah did not, in fact, come and overthrow the Ottoman Turks. Don’t argue with success.

But where were we? Oh, right. Ezekiel said no one could enter through the Golden Gate, because it was only for God and the Messiah. A gate good enough for God and the Messiah is a gate way too cool to let the hoi polloi into. But Emma Lazarus’ Golden Door is the opposite: “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp,” cries she, with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

To explain the contradiction, we turn to Matthew 25:40 – “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

In Jerusalem, no one may enter the Golden Gate, because it is reserved for God. In America, everyone may enter the Golden Door, and the poor most of all, because whatsoever is done to the least of the people is done unto God.

Have I mentioned that the name “Emma Lazarus” combines the Germanic “Emma”, meaning “universal”, with the Biblical “Lazarus”, the symbol of salvation? Emma Lazarus means “universal salvation”, the faith that God will help everyone, even the tired and poor, even the wretched refuse. “Send them”, He says, “your homeless, your tempest-tossed, to Me.”

And as Ana beheld the Statue of Liberty flanked by Ellis Island, like Moshiach flanked by Elijah, she realized why it had all had to happen here; the Comet King, the messianic kingdom, the final crusade, why all of the prophecies scheduled for Israel had been transplanted to this strange land across the sea.

The overt meaning of “U.S.” is “Untied States”.

The kabbalistic meaning of “U.S.” is “universal salvation”.

The buzz of the city was palpable, so much so that Ana noticed instantly when it all stopped. The cars slowed to a halt. The neon signs went dim. The animated billboards turned off. A siren briefly started to wail, then went quiet. Huh, she thought to herself, must be a blackout.

Then Amoxiel screamed, and clutched his head, and screamed again. They ran over, but he had shot ten feet into the air and was out of reach. “Woe, woe, woe unto the earth!” he cried before crashing back onto the deck. He was out cold for a second, then suddenly snapped back to wakefulness with a frantic look in his eyes. “Woe, woe, woe to the great city, the mighty city. For in one hour has thy judgment come! Uriel is dead! The machinery of Heaven is broken!” He fell in a heap on the deck.

Several things seemed to happen at once.

Simeon Azore came abovedecks. The Captain followed just behind him. He shouted something incomprehensible, then stepped to the edge of the ship just in time to almost run into James, who was returning with a man in a black robe.

“Father O’Connor,” said James. “Our priest. The placebomancer is missing. I’m going to try to find a replacement. Give me ten minutes.”

“We don’t have ten minutes!” roared the Captain. “The city of New York may not have ten minutes! How are you going to find a placebomancer in ten minutes?”

“Captain,” said James, unflappable, “if a placebomancer is looking for work, and he’s any good at all, he’ll find us.”

The giant man looked at the eastern horizon. Then he looked at the city, which was already starting to flicker with flame. Then he looked at the sky, which seemed to be getting darker by the moment.

“Ten minutes!” he said, his face unreadable behind his dark glasses. “If you’re not back, we leave without you!”

“Ana,” said Simeon, who had just come back up carrying a bag of luggage. He shook her hand. “I’m leaving.”

“What? Why? God’s boat is going to show up in less than two hours! Why would you – ”

“I gambled and I lost,” he said. “When you told me the crew was stonewalling you about the Captain, I thought I’d take things into my own hands. My ticket’s only good till the end of the pursuit tonight, and I can’t very well interrupt the Captain after God’s boat appears, so I tried it as we went into the harbor. I knocked on his door, I went into his cabin, I told him I knew he was the Comet King, told him Uriel’s machine was falling apart and the world needed him. And like I was a damn prophet the machine chose that moment to shatter, and I said if he didn’t take back the throne right now we were all going to die. And you know what he told me? He just told me that the one rule of this ship was not to bother the Captain in his quarters, and I’d broken it, and I’d forfeited my ticket and had to get off immediately.”

“No, I’ll find him, I’ll tell him to change his mind, he needs me, he’ll listen to me.”

“Ana,” Simeon put a hand on her shoulder. “Better idea. Come with me. I’ve got a friend in New York, guy at Goldman-Sachs who thinks the same way I do. He’s got a bunker here. I’m welcome in it. I’m heading there now. You don’t get how bad this is. Think of Uriel as the sun. Now the sun’s gone out and the nighttime’s started. There are night creatures out there who are about to wake up, you’ve studied the kabbalah too, you know this. Only way to survive is to hide under a rock somewhere. You’re welcome to come.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I like you. Your heart’s in the right place, even though your common sense could use a tune-up.” He smiled. “I don’t want anyone to say Simeon Azore left a friend in danger.”

“What about all the other people you’re leaving in danger?” She gestured at all the skyscrapers. Smoke was starting to rise from the tallest towers.

“Same as with the spaceships,” said Simeon. “Wanted to save everybody. Tried. Didn’t work. Not going to stand right in front of the avalanche as a matter of principle just because other people don’t have shelters.”

“We could still save everybody,” said Ana. “There has to be a way.”

“There wasn’t for Noah,” said Simeon. “If he’d told God he wasn’t going to get in that ark until God guaranteed the safety of all of the ark-less masses, the floods would have come anyway and we’d be unpopulated and animal-less. God told Noah that the right thing to do was to get in the damn ark and Noah listened. Do you want to be more virtuous than God?”

Ana thought for a second. “I’m not God,” she said. “I’m American. Universal salvation or bust.”

“You said you studied theodicy! Has that ever worked?”

“I don’t know,” said Ana. “Maybe if we find God off Fire Island I’ll ask Him.”

On a whim, she kissed Simeon on the cheek. “Good luck,” she said. “Tell all your rich friends I think they’re terrible.”

Simeon Azore of Countenance raised an eyebrow. “Good luck, Ana. Tell God the same.”

Then he strode off the boat with the hurried step of a businessman who always has somewhere to be.

A minute later, back came James, half-dragging a figure who looked like he’d seen better days. His clothes were torn, his hair was singed, his face was covered with blood. He limped onto the ship, with some help.

“Who is that?” asked Tomas, who had come to welcome them aboard.

“I told you it would work!” said James. “This guy fell on top of me. Literally fell on top of me! Out of a window! Gentlemen, meet our new placebomancer.”

“I prefer the term ‘ritual magician'” said Mark McCarthy.

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98 Responses to Chapter 66: In The Forests Of The Night

  1. Halliday says:

    Well that’s an ending

  2. Miller says:

    That explains why Dylan’s speech didn’t work.

  3. Deiseach says:

    Yes, yes, yes, when they said they needed a placebomancer in ten minutes or else, I knew it would be Mark! That’s how the Narrative Imperative works, Dylan! 🙂

    As for “universal salvation or bust”, it may very well be bust. That is always an option.

    • Inty says:

      The neat thing about compromising with sin is that you get to compromise rather than letting sin win and take everything.

      • Evan Þ. says:

        The not-so-neat thing is that sin keeps pressing to take it all in the end anyway.

      • Deiseach says:

        The difficulties in soteriology that universal salvation purports to solve are surely it is unjust and unmerciful that souls should be damned to hell for eternity?, but it does this by sleight-of-hand: either justice is abandoned, in which case all souls are saved regardless, so you can happily spend your life torturing, murdering, and misgendering people and still end up with the bliss of heaven (because even if the idea of this is so repugnant to us that we insert a caveat that salvation depends on repentance so that those who die unrepentant are damned, universal salvation will ensure that you handily repent on your death bed so that you are one of the saved) or we end up with something like annihilationism: unrepentant sinners are not eternally damned, they simply cease to exist at all, body or soul. So no damned, but not saved either. So sin wins either way – you can sin as much and as badly as you like but still end up saved, or you evade all punishment in the world to come (especially if you’ve skipped it in this world) and simply poof! out of existence.

        • Aegeus says:

          Or, you could simply make the punishment not be eternal? The reason eternal damnation to hell is considered unjust is because it’s an infinite amount of suffering for a finite amount of crime. No matter how bad a person you were in life, eventually you’ll be receiving more punishment than you deserve.

          It seems like “Everyone gets to heaven eventually, but if you’re a bad person it may take a very long time” would fit all of your criteria – everyone gets saved, nobody gets eternally damned, people who are worse in life get punished worse.

          • David Marjanović says:

            That’s exactly why purgatory was invented.

          • boonerunner says:

            And what if the crime is not finite? Then would an infinite amount of suffering be just?

            If one sins against an infinitely perfect God, then is that sin is infinite (even if it doesn’t seem infinite because our perspective is finite). That’s why the death of an perfectly good and infinitely valuable sacrifice was required to pay for it.

        • I’m confused. Doesn’t Christianity believe that the really horrible people will go to Heaven as long as they sincerely believe in Jesus? It doesn’t seem any more unjust to me that bad people will go to Heaven without believing in Jesus, than with doing so.

          Also, one easy workaround is to just allow people to sincerely repent while still in Hell. Eternity’s a really long time and surely they’ll figure it out at some point.

          Also, Purgatory seems really relevant here.

          • wr4ith0 says:

            Some evangelical branches do believe that faith is enough, and while only good people go to heaven, by believing a certain creed, you have proven yourself worthy. Therefore you are going to heaven and those outside your creed aren’t.

            On the other hand, according to Roman Catholicism belief is important, but it’s not the central component. The letter in 1, corinthians 14, is a pretty good example of this

            [quote]”If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.[/quote]

            Technically back when people still believed in witches, the whole idea was they totally believed in basically everything in the bible, but then they went and made a deal with the devil anyway. There’s a decent number of stories about salvation from last minute conversions, but they’re mostly folklore. The general idea is that one actually has to recognize the error of their wickedness and genuinely seek forgiveness. Playing games with striving for holiness is explicitly frowned upon, the idea being that it’s really social signaling in this physics based world as you can’t really fool a just and all knowing deity.

            There’s also the implication that dying has some profound impact on the soul, and the result, while still recognizable as a person would be different than a present day human. This is likely due to the teaching that moral truth is explicitly a part of the greater fabric of things and the implication that it might be obvious after death (one’s sins are laid bare here before god, but specifically one is aware of one’s sins). In the new testament Jesus specifically mentioned that there would be no such thing as marriage in the afterlife despite physical resurrection, and that it was impossible to repent after death. Accounts of the afterlife are conflicting, with some likening it to being left out of a great party, and whether punishment is eternal, or just very long and whether the unjust just stop existing etc. at the end of that is unclear.

            So this allows for some interesting interpretations for Christians given what we know of the world. Maybe something along the lines of this world being one line in an infinite branching timeline testing each soul under all possible conditions, “like gold tested in fire etc.” The afterlife could be one where god can be perceived in a higher dimensional order universe running this one as aforesaid simulation. The implication that the dead and heavenly beings are somehow out of time as we know it works well with this.

            Of course, we have barely over 100 years of regular, disciplined scientific inquiry into the nature of the universe. It seems naive to think we’ve discovered a significant fraction of what there is to know, so it’s not like the church espouses anything like that. It’s more along the lines of, don’t worry, do what you can to love and care for those around you and god’ll take care of what happens next.

          • boonerunner says:

            Christianity says that sin is an infinite offense against a perfectly holy God. So “horrible person” (e.g. a murderer) and a “mostly okay person” (e.g. someone who tells white lies occasionally), while they are definitely going to be different in terms of the Earthly consequences for their sin, they are both equal in terms of guilt before God. (i.e. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” James 2:10)

            So Christianity says that this guilt must be paid for and this is done by joining in union with Christ so that his death pays for sin and his life provides righteousness. (i.e. “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Romans 6:5)

            This union comes through Faith and if that Faith is real then it [i]will[/i] lead to a changed life.

          • boris says:

            All that follows is what I was taught in Catholic school, not necessarily what is or what makes the most sense.

            Christ came to die for us and through Him we are forgiven. Unfortunately, being forgiven does not necessarily mean that the damage we did has been fixed–i.e. my neighbor may forgive me for breaking his window playing baseball, but that does not mean that his window is magically repaired. Purgatory is there so that we may make reparation for the damage that our (forgiven) sin has caused–we can’t enter heaven with that damage on us, but we don’t deserve Hell. No one in Purgatory will ever end up in Hell, and no one in Hell will ever leave it. In Catholic teaching, anyone who dies with mortal sin (grave sin they know is grave) that they have not received absolution for will go to Hell. Forever. (Not forever, technically. Technically, God is outside of time and time has no meaning after death and so Hell is just a state we happen to be in after time doesn’t exist. Don’t ask me how this is different from forever). The usual justification for this is that we are responsible for our damnation to the degree that we’ve been exposed to Christ’s teachings–i.e. an uncontacted tribesman who tries to do his best may go to Heaven, whereas I will certainly go to Hell because I’ve chosen to knowingly separate myself from God by sinning. What Hell is–again, by what I was taught–is separation from God forever after we know that He is the only thing that matters, which is not Him torturing us, exactly, but us realizing that we’re alone in the dark for eternity when we could be cuddling with Him for eternity.

            Don’t ask me how this is just or merciful or how this is derived from Christ’s teachings, because if I knew I might still be a Catholic. There’s definitely more nuance here than I’ve provided, which I enthusiastically invite Catholics or ex-Catholics in the crowd to provide, but this is the gist of it. Biblical justification for Purgatory typically comes from Maccabees, in which people pray for the dead–the idea being that there must be some benefit to the dead (reduction in time/non-time spent in Purgatory?) if Old Testament people were praying for them.

            If you’re really interested in Catholic teaching, pick up a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not the Bible.

          • Tina C. Beniac says:

            I like the work-around. Almost-Sure Salvation by Kolmogorov: “I am the Zero and the One.”

        • Irrevenant says:

          because even if the idea of this is so repugnant to us that we insert a caveat that salvation depends on repentance so that those who die unrepentant are damned, universal salvation will ensure that you handily repent on your death bed so that you are one of the saved

          Well no, because that assumes that you can just voluntarily repent in a genuine, heartfelt way whenever you feel like it. And generally speaking, people can’t do that.

          If ultimately the goals are (a) for only good people to go to heaven, and (b) for everyone to go to heaven, then the obvious answer is: (c) the people who are already good enough for heaven to go there now, and (d) the people who aren’t currently good enough for heaven keep working at it until they are. That’s what purgatory is for…

    • Marvy says:

      Dylan is dead and Mark lives! I bet you’re happy Deiseach of the Unspellable Name. (Really, how do you manage to spell that right every time?) Now, to give you something to worry about: Dylan is dead, but is this really the end of him? Or will we be hearing from him again? I find it hard to imagine him giving his famous monologues while being tortured, but …?

  4. gwern says:

    “Because I like you. Your heart’s in the right place, even though your common sense could use a tune-up.” He smiled. “I don’t want anyone to say Simeon Azore left a friend in danger.”

    And because, mein Fuhrer, in the deep mineshafts, we will require a 10:1 ratio of women:men in order to repopulate the earth after the apocalypse, and right now we’re short on women…

  5. Stib says:

    Alright, I guess that was pretty expected. Who’s Father O’Connor though?

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      Given the recent April 1 post, maybe it is relevant that “The Rt Rev. John Monsignor O’Connor (1870–1952), an Irish Catholic parish priest in Bradford, Yorkshire, was the basis of G. K. Chesterton’s fictional detective Father Brown.”

      Although there seems to be plenty of other O’Connor priests on note.

  6. Deiseach says:

    And now with Simeon’s departure, I’ve got the Nunc Dimittis stuck in my head. I was going to say I’m sure Simeon and Ana are not Simeon and Anna but by this stage I’m not sure of anything. Not even the end of the world, which I had been expecting all along.

  7. Nuño says:

    Germanic “Emma”, meaning “universal”.

    I took this to be a play on the word “immer” (always), which does kind of sound like “Emma”. But it turns out that it does refer to the name:

  8. naturalnuke says:


  9. Sundae says:

    There’s a comma missing from the last line, before “said Mark McCarthy.”

  10. Grort says:

    Scott writes with such love for New York, even though I think he lives in the Midwest. Is that Jewish cultural heritage, or something else?

    The line about “regular Moses” is pretty great.

  11. Decius says:

    “His clothes were torn, his hair was singed, his face was covered with blood.”

    Good thing his hair did some good? Not sure why having a placeobmancer ritual magician land on you would result in notable tearing of clothing though.

  12. R Flaum says:

    “the hoi polloi” is grammatically incorrect, because “hoi” means “the”.

  13. Camlorn says:

    Is it me, or does this chapter imply that placebomancy is beyond absurdly powerful? Like to the point of more powerful than most names?

    • Lambert says:

      Well the Machinery of the Universe did just get nuked, so it’s more powerful than usual.
      That said, it seems that placebomancy is much more subtle and complex than using names.

    • not_a_linguist says:

      It can be, if you’ve got exactly the right narrative, even then it’s not guaranteed and if you do it even slightly wrong it can backfire.

      • Camlorn says:

        Yeah. But the thing is. Who defines narrative? Because it seems to me that you could set up narratives by getting someone writing books for you on mass. Get a powerful enough conspiracy going and you could rival anyone. I guess the power comes from the divine light and Uriel would shut down such an enterprise.

        I don’t see the depiction of placebomancy here as significantly more powerful than when Robin used it to summon Thamiel. These seem relatively on par, though demon summoning is probably easier because it’s such a common plot device.

        • Camlorn says:

          Though I suppose the really impressive thing here is that mark didn’t seem to be trying for it.

        • Anders Sandberg says:

          Compare to the Jack be Nimble storyline in Fables, where Jack uses stolen money to make Hollywood movies about his exploits in order to become a more powerful fable.

          • Immanentizing Eschatons says:

            A verse from American Pie:

            “Oh, and there we were all in one place
            A generation lost in space
            With no time left to start again
            So come on, Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
            Jack Flash sat on a candlestick
            ‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend”


    • Aegeus says:

      It doesn’t do the impossible, merely the improbable, so it’s lacking in that way. But a lot of very powerful things are not technically impossible. And you can use placebomancy to affect Name-based things, like how they used the Canal Keys to make the Kinetic Name open the locks. So a skilled placebomancer serves as a force multiplier for any Names the people in their story use.

      Fans of Worm could compare this to the Number Man or Contessa, both of whom make a superpower out of doing the merely improbable.

      The one issue is, arranging a narrative that does what you want can be pretty difficult, unless you happen to be, for example, a lone freedom fighter striking a blow against a corrupt government. It’s a lot easier for Dylan to use placebomancy than it is for The Comet King.

    • null says:

      The main limitation of placebomancy is that, like Detachment 2702, there exists a non-placebomantic explanation. Of course, the rules seem to stretch when it is explicitly invoked.

    • Simurgh says:

      It makes sense to me. If placebomancy is an attempt at applied kabbalah, it makes sense that it would be more powerful than worldly kabbalah.

  14. thot says:

    The overt meaning of “U.S.” is “Untied States”

    While “untied” actually fits pretty well into the image of reckless freedom that this chapter paints for New York and the greater US, I’m pretty sure that’s not what was intended.

  15. Rand says:

    I would have preferred if James had fallen on the Mark, but it works. (And yeah, the whole Mark falling out of the window and then NOM sailing into NYC kind of broadcasted this ending.)

    Have we had a Kabbalistic digression on the name Mark yet? Because if not, it’s coming. (Mark my words.)

  16. VelveteenAmbush says:

    So, my guess at the ultimate resolution: Uriel’s death permits Metatron to appear again, off of the coast of Fire Island as predicted. *Not a Metaphor* finds Metatron and obtains the Shem ha’Mephorash again.

    We already know that only the pure may possess the Shem ha’Mephorash, and only the impure may go to hell.

    SCABMOM is the bridge, as we know it can transmit names. Someone pure on earth obtains the Shem ha’Mephorash, and uses SCABMOM (possibly with several intermediaries) to make it available to someone in hell, who recites it and destroys hell.

    Who has already hitched up with SCABMOM? Sarah/Sohu, Sohu/Aaron, Aaron/Ana, Ana/Erica, Erica/Dylan. Any others? Maybe TCK/Robin. Maybe TCK with up to four women, including Robin (“The Comet King thought for a second. “I would rather not have to worry about it. But if it were important to you, I could marry them all, like Solomon.” … Nine months later, four physically fit, intelligent women gave birth to four genetic-disease-free, racially diverse babies.”) Maybe Sarah with THARMAS… somehow. No circles were drawn, although there was graffiti on THARMAS’s case and the two of them can recite names really quickly.

    Plausible candidates for the pure transmitter of the name: TCK/Captain (Metatron promised that he’d get the name back when he was pure again); Ana; Erica (all in NYC, all likely or possible to be present when they meet Metatron, and Erica may end up as the true placebomancer rather than Mark after she bested Malia in a duel of placebomancy).

    Plausible candidates for the damned singer: Robin, Erica, Aaron, THARMAS, Sarah, Dylan, Malia. Also Sohu — on the one hand she can’t die, but on the other she’s prophesied to die and quite possibly to go to hell (“die screaming in horror and agony, cursing their father’s name”).

    Metanarrative reasoning: we have to get Sarah or THARMAS involved here somewhere or the whole Vital Name arc is pointless, other than motivating the Aaron/Sohu SCABMOM. Dylan going to hell and speaking the name from hell would nicely complement his earlier whining to Malia about how he’s always been too privileged — his loss to Malia would be *a turning point of his narrative* rather than merely a failure in a placebomantic duel, and he did say “before I walk into the flames with a giant grin on my face” at the climax of his closing argument before he was killed. Robin speaking the name from hell was probably her original plan (and why she sold her soul to Thamiel, and why he was nervous about accepting) but would render too much of the plot irrelevant; if Malia or Dylan were involved instead, that would make Robin a functional link in the story (as Malia’s mother, who killed Dylan), so probably screwing Thamiel ruined her SCABMOM with TCK (which is why Thamiel demanded it as a condition to accepting her soul). The proliferation of SCABMOMs throughout the plot makes it likely to involve a multi-party chain (plus then Scott can have polyamory literally save the world, and I feel like there’s probably some kabbalistic gesture to King Solomon’s own polygamy in there too).

    So, my guess is the following chain:

    Dylan Erica Ana Aaron Sohu Sarah THARMAS

    Metatron appears to *Not a Metaphor* and gives the Shem ha’Mephorash to TCK/Captain, but — somehow — Sarah gets it, possibly from THARMAS (not sure how THARMAS would get it either). Sohu gets it from Sarah. Aaron gets it from Sohu. Ana gets it from Aaron. Erica gets it from Ana. Dylan, in hell, gets it from Erica.

    I doubt Dylan can recite the Shem ha’Mephorash. You have to be really powerful, like TCK himself, because of his divine origin. Who else has a divine origin? Malia, who is the literal and direct daughter of one of the two aspects of God. Malia, who told us she’d soon be hanging out in hell, right before Erica killed her. Dylan passes the name to Malia without the use of SCABMOM — maybe she walks over to his cage in hell and grabs his head and pulls it out directly, as Metatron and Thamiel are also able to do to people. Malia speaks it and destroys hell. Nice symmetry to Erica killing Malia with her “true name,” only for her to turn around and do so to Thamiel (as an aspect of God, the Shem ha’Mephorash is presumably his true name).

    Remaining gaps or flaws in my theory — to be determined if forthcoming chapters will resolve them:

    * Did Sarah really SCABMOM with THARMAS? How can either of them get the name? Will someone else pass it to them? They were both was last seen in TCK’s headquarters just a few minutes ago, when THARMAS was destroyed. How much kabbala did THARMAS derive before Vihaan bombed it? Did it continue deriving kabbala afterward? (Only seven of its ten towers were destroyed and Caelius got at least part of it back online to detect the missile that killed Uriel.)

    * Ana seems the more likely recipient of the name based on where things stand now, since she’ll be there on *Not a Metaphor* when TCK receives it from Metatron, and with her theodicy obsession she is *all about* being good (and thus a better candidate for the terminal singer), but that would cut Aaron, Sohu and Sarah out of the chain altogether, rendering two prominent SCABMOMs narratively pointless.

    • Dindane says:

      I like your theory a lot, so let me criticize it. Your chain includes 7/8 of Albion, but not Uriel; I figure anything that involves that much of Albion, probably also requires the last part. (I also think Sohu and Uriel have a SCABMOM. Evidence: Sohu’s reaction in ch. 57, Uriel at the end of ch. 52, plus it makes Albion into a connected graph.)

      • Dindane says:

        Er, we don’t know if it’s connected b/c of THARMAS, but it makes it more connected.

      • VelveteenAmbush says:

        Hmm, hadn’t followed the Albion theme — agree that it seems pretty explicitly invoked by the chapter names if nothing else. I take it the four parts of Albion are assumed to be:





        But… we don’t know that Sohu and Uriel are SCABMOMmed, whereas we do know that Aaron/Sohu are linked and that Sohu/Sarah are linked. So… doesn’t feel like there’s room to insert Uriel into the chain adjacent to Sohu based on what has already been shown.

        I do think it’s significant that all of the SCABMOMs explicitly mentioned so far form a single linear chain — I have to think that will be instrumental to the resolution somehow.

        Also, I really hope that the Albion stuff remains subtext, and there’s no moment when the voice of god cries out “the eight of you were the eight pieces of the triforce all along, and now that you’ve all been joined Ganon is banished forever and hyrule is saved” or whatever.

    • Matthias says:

      This makes me think more about the prophecy in a new way. ” Could the Shem ha’Mephorash be the name referred to in the prophecy? (Has someone already mentioned this? I’m bad at following the comments.) What if the Cometspawn are “cursing their father’s name” when they die because of the power of the Explicit Name of God, or because one/some of them had to die to say/transmit the name in Hell?

      • Tetrikitty says:

        If Captain Nemo turns out to be the Comet King after all, then the Cometspawn can “curse no one’s name” as they die and it’ll still fulfill the prophecy because Nemo said he was no one.

        • VelveteenAmbush says:

          They still have to die in horror and agony.

          Maybe “Horror and Agony” is the name of the hospice down the street from Ithaca or something, though :-/

    • Ninmesara says:

      Metanarrative reasoning: we have to get Sarah or THARMAS involved here somewhere or the whole Vital Name arc is pointless, other than motivating the Aaron/Sohu SCABMOM.

      I agree, and I really hope it will serve for something in the end. The impact of automation in the name generation business was by far my favorite part of the story and since chapter 14 or so we’ve had nothing of the sort.

      I really, really hope the day won’t be saved by Metatron just giving the Captain the name while saying something like: “you’ve become pure enough and the world needs you. Now, go save the world”…

    • Supercalicabalistic says:

      7 of the 10 towers is an obvious reference to the breaking of the 7 out of 10 vessels, right? Have anyone else made this connection explicitly?

  17. Félix says:

    I’m sure this has been said before, but I noticed that Not A Metaphor can be rearranged into Metatron and Ho Pa, and the latter can be written הוא פה, which means He Is Here.

  18. Tina C. Beniac says:

    Simeon turns to the New International Version, which glosses “lilit” as the more promising “night creatures”.

  19. Eneasz Brodski says:

    > “I’m American. Universal salvation or bust.”

    I think I got something in my eye. Both my eyes. <3 Ana.

  20. Yossarian says:

    Only way to survive is to hide under a rock somewhere
    Hah. Simeon’s common sense might be good, but his kabbalistic knowledge is definitely not that great. As far as I remember the book of Revelations, it’s explicitly stated that hiding under the rock will not work.

    • Anonymous says:

      Revelation 6:15-17

      And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

      Or maybe Matthew 24:2

      And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.

      • K. Darkdiamond says:

        You know I went to the rock to hide my face, but the rock cried out “No hiding place! There’s no hiding place down here!

      • Aegeus says:

        But later on in that chapter of Matthew:

        So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak.

        So fleeing to the rocks won’t help, but fleeing to the mountains is 100% Jesus-approved. And sure enough, the Cometspawn are based under Cheyenne Mountain.

  21. Shoefish says:

    Only way to survive is to hide under a rock somewhere

    And the rock cried out, no hiding place!

    Also, I’m very worried about permanent Sea-Parting Name use. I mean, how does the water between two ? weren’t ships supposed to pass under some of those bridges? Isn’t it basically damming the river causing either a flood or an higher and higher wall of water on one side, or is does this version of the Sea-Parting Name teleport the water from one side of the corridor to the other? does it teleport fish too? if so this sounds like something exploitable.

  22. The coment king says:

    That was pure gold.

  23. 2BR02B says:

    Simeon going to hide under a rock = Simeon Bar Yochai in his cave ???

    • teucer says:


      Wonder what Mr. Azore’s father’s name was?

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      I think Simeon Azore is named after Peter Thiel (Simeon = Simon = Peter, Azore = Azure = Teal = Thiel).

      (This hypothesis is not original to me, but I can’t be bother to find out who said it first.)

      • David Marjanović says:

        Azure is teal now?

      • teucer says:

        This doesn’t stop him from kabbalistically corresponding to other Simeons also.

        • Andrew M says:

          Since the obvious parallel for ‘Peter’ would simply be ‘Simon’. the use of ‘Simeon’ itself strongly suggests another reference is also intended. (Though as a commenter above mentioned, that might be Simeon from the New Testament, he of the Nunc Dimittis.)

  24. Joline says:

    Okay, I’m not born a Jew, but I’ve studied it a lot.

    Scott (or anyone who’s lived in Jewish society and studied it enough to have an informed opinion) on what basis do you determine Judaism teaches as a settled, doctrinal fact that salvation is only for the Jews?

    I was under the impression the Jewish answer to “what happens to non Jews after death” and “what happens to non Jews after Olam Ha Ba comes” was literally “God only knows”. That certainly Judaism asserts Jews have a special or even preeminent place. But that the fine print is that bit in the Talmud that says not to think too hard about ultimate origins or ultimate destinations but just walk the path in front of you.

    One of the main repeating patterns in Jewish moral and theological development is “oh. We discover through reasonably sincere adherence to rule X that rule X was just a specific case of a larger principle that is equally binding. Let’s make new customs and laws to match our expanded awareness, with hopefully the same commitment as we had to the original, narrower rule.”.

    Which (for example) is how Judaism moved from at first merely guaranteeing some minimal standard of treatment toward women just barely better than their neighbours (and not necessarily in all ways, at that), to the days of the ketubah striving to ensure fairness to divorcees and sexual satisfaction to wives, to the modern day where Orthodox Judaism recognizes (heck, demands, in the case of the Chareidim) that women be economically and legally equal to men.

    (this is not a perfect tale of evolution and progress and certainly the Chareidim and Chassidim have many practices and customs that are morally questionable. But the point is that even for them, the scope and nuance of their moral picture of the world has broadened considerably from what we can hazily piece together from the pre-Talmudic times.)

    So even if there are many, Jews who sincerely believe in a chauvinistic and triumphalist vision of the Jewish role in the human story, there is (as was the case in the past many times) plenty of material in the specifics of Jewish mysticism that allow room to grow out of this with time. (And that some growth spurts happened abruptly and would have shocked people a generation before the change hit.)

    It seems clear that’s the direction things are ultimately pointed given that even the oldest prophecies never envisioned the entire world converting to Judaism. If only Jews are saved, how does that square with an equitable deity?

    The way it was taught to me was that Judaism is the story of how the Jewish people relate to God and that their story is extremely important to the future of humanity. It does not have an authoritative opinion about other peoples’ stories.

    What its authoritative about is Jews should stay Jews because they only exist because God gave Sarah a child and gave Abraham a portion for that child to inherit. Their descendants were pledged to God and so the best place for them is fulfilling that pledge.

    Consider the final line in the climax of the end of each prayer service (the Aleinu): “And the Master will be King over the whole earth; on that day, the Master will be One and the Master’s Name One”.

    That isn’t very specific at all.

    And it echoes one of the main high points in the first preparatory prayers in the morning: Where Adon Olam discusses how a king requires subjects even though the power of the king is the same before and after acquiring them. (And U’va Le’tzion has an early peak with “and You, Holy One, are enthroned upon the praises of Israel”. The idea is clearly articulated that the _recognition_ of Kingship is the cornerstone of actual rule.)

    One of the ways the Jews refer to themselves is “slaves of God” (acquired in return for God’s gifts to Abraham in general and for redemption from Egypt in particular).

    But they note emphatically that God possesses everything (and by extension, everyone, not just Jews) every time they say the Shmoneh Esreh and that this is an expression of God’s lovingkindness.

    So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to take a broader reading of the second paragraph of the Aleinu to be that the hallmark of Olam Ha Ba is that everyone recognizes they are possessions of God and acts accordingly with true commitment to bearing the divine Name upon them as though it were the most important thing in their lives.

    And this “victory condition” is broad enough that claiming its settled that traditional Judaism has a core value and tenet of “screw most of the goyim in the end” seems a bit premature?

    I find it ironic given how Unsong’s been an impressive vehicle for incidentally raising awareness of what Judaism is that you seem to find Judaism inferior to Christianity. Deeply inferior, at that, to judge by the false dichotomy you’re sketching between the Golden gate vs. the Golden door. (especially damning you’d put the Golden gate in the west with your interpretation here)

    Being a secular humanist, I wouldn’t expect you to go out of your way to make Judaism look perfect or ideal. Especially you retain this optimism a substitute for all core functions of religion can be derived without any of the impositions religion makes on individual freedom. But I’m troubled and confused why you go out of your way here to make it look horrible.

    I’d say Judaism is more universalist in the end than Christianity is because ( a ) it has no Hell ( I accept Unsong has to go with the Christian version of Hell for narrative convenience, since there’s no angelic rebellion in Jewish cosmology) and ( b ) it doesn’t pretend to know everything God’s doing everywhere with every human being. It’s a map for being part of a particular tribe on a particular mission. Unlike Christianity with its ‘No on comes to the Father save through me” which basically marks most of its map with “Outside and Damned”. (Rather than “Outside and WTF This is For We Don’t Know, Keep the Covenant, the Commandments, and the Customs If You’re From the Inside”)

    • Gavriel says:

      I am Jewish and went to Jewish high school and attended synagogue regularly throughout my teenage years, and everything I ever learned from that pretty emphatically stated that salvation is NOT only for the Jews (which also ties into why Jews don’t go out of their way to convert people, and in fact traditionally discourage conversion; it’s not like Judaism feels any requirement to save souls the way Christianity and Islam do). Actually, we’re not sure what salvation is or what Olam Ha’Ba looks like, except maybe it’s about people getting fair turnabout (some version say that when you die, you get everything you gave to charity during your life, to encourage people to be generous), or maybe it’s just waiting around till the Mashiach comes, or maybe we shouldn’t worry about it at all and just try to focus on being decent people in this life. Salvation is never mentioned in the branch of Judaism I grew up in.

  25. Wait a moment… According to Chapter 20, the Tower of Babel episode was a matter of Thamiel telling Samyazaz to get out of town.

    • JJR says:

      Yes, but Thamiel is an aspect of God, so whatever Thamiel does it is not incorrect to say that god has done it.

  26. Pq says:

    “the floods would have come anyway and we’d be unpopulated and animal-less.” Considering the existence of hell that sounds just fine, ‘imagine there’s no heaven…no hell below us, above us only sky’

  27. Ryan W. says:

    ““Send them”, He says, “your homeless, your tempest-tossed, to Me.””

    I don’t know if someone’s mentioned this, but… shouldn’t this be “she?”

    • Legendary says:

      The narration here means that *God* says that: he helps everyone, no matter how desperate their circumstances.

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