For seven years I dealt with a feeling I had difficulty describing. Inundated with hopelessness that colored the world greyscale, I stumbled through life, searching desperately for anything that could drag me out of the mire of depression and dysphoria that sucked every last drop of hope from my soul. My senior year of high school, I accompanied my parents on a trip over winter break at the bleakest point of my existence, every moment consumed by a wish to be set free from my cage of flesh that felt so wrong. We were staying in a campground near the beach, and for two nights, I would walk the length, crying, to make sure there was no one else to interrupt my plan. On the twenty-fourth of December I walked to my favorite part of the beach at midnight, storm clouds illuminated occasionally by a flash of lightning that painted the sky in shades of lilac, waves gently sweeping the shoreline, monotony shattered by the drum of thunder. I slipped my flip-flops from my feet, piling my sweatshirt upon them, both far enough from the water to avoid being washed away when the tide advanced, a final mark of my presence upon existence before I welcomed the tepid embrace of the ocean. I waded out to my neck in the water, seaweed grasping my ankles. Demanding proof of divinity from the sky, I asked for a lightning bolt, evidence that I should continue living. The clouds remained dark, and tears poured over salt washed cheeks. I looked over my shoulder one last time before I would swim far enough out that I wouldn’t be able to keep myself above water. As I glanced, a gentle glow bathed the beach in light, emerging from the campground at which we were residing. I thought my parents had gotten worried and ventured out to look for me, a lifeline of hope that someone cared, and I waded back, absconding with my belongings, feet smacking against sand wet with my tears. As I ran up, emanation lit up faces I had no recollection of, and realizing my error, that these were not my parents, I slowed, and the pair of strangers gently asked if I was okay. I shattered at that moment, unable to translate my emotions into words, collapsing into the shoulders of the couple, and finally regained enough composure to bare my soul to the exact people I needed at the time; complete strangers, who had the capacity to love another human being. I poured my pain in front of them, and they gently gathered me up and told me I was not alone, that there were others like me, and that I was not an aberration, just another facet of the gleaming beauty of humanity.
I struggled to survive for almost two years after near death; a thorn hidden within, losing myself daily to the illusion I presented to the world. I worked at a summer camp that was as much blessing as curse, for it proved exactly how painful living a lie is, my repression of identity manifesting in neurotic tendencies of excess organization. I loved working with kids, a symbiotic relationship of sharing the beauty inherent within the world, and it drove me along the path of self realization, their innocence proof that self expression is inherent within transcendent love. I maintained the mirage for a semester at PPCC, self disconnection threatening to consume me, and as I went into the next term, I had a breakdown in early February, and started truthfully living publicly. Covid began spreading around the world, and I visited the enrollment officer with a premonition about global shutdown, seeing my opportunity to withdraw to avoid online schooling, a format with which I have difficulty maintaining engagement. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to flee to the forest shortly before the shelter in place order was issued, and undertook a journey of self discovery in the mountains of southwestern Colorado.
With the time to examine, I began to dismantle the mask that I had covered myself with, and met a friend who would change my life, exposing me to a graphic novel series that transformed my perception from obliterating nihilism to pseudo-constructivism encapsulated within a semi-occult shell.
Promethea follows Sophie Bangs, a college student who encapsulates the quintessential trickster heroic, embodying the heroic within her materiality, and the trickster within the idea she is given/transforms into, while challenging our experience of materiality, slowly illuminating the reader to the fact that they are the trickster.
For a full understanding of Promethea, some amount of Hermetic philosophy ought to be known, though this is not necessary, as the series itself provides reference to several prominent occult thinkers through the ages, and walks the reader through some introduction into some of the more esoteric ideas. Promethea is the interwoven story of two characters, Promethea, and Sophie Bangs.
To quote Alan Moore, “…, Promethea was a real little girl who lived in 5th century Roman Egypt. Her father was a hermetic scholar, sort of like a magician. A christian mob killed him…not uncommon back then… but the gods intervened, taking his daughter into their world of myth and fiction, the Immateria. Promethea became a living story, growing up in the realm that all dreams and stories come from. Sometimes, she’d wander into the imagination of mortals. Charlton Sennet, the poet. Margaret Case, the cartoonist and Grace Brannagh, the illustrator. Comics artist William Woolcott and writer Steve Shelley. They channeled Promethea! Some of them, taken over by this powerful living idea, even physically became Promethea… either them, or loved ones that they projected her identity onto. Margaret Case, for example, became Promethea to help out in the trenches of World War One.” (Moore, 28).
Sophie Bangs begins her journey composing a term paper for a class, writing about Promethea’s ‘previous’ aspects, and interviews Barb, the late wife of the most recent writer of Promethea. Barb acts as Sophie’s first mentor, and when cornered by a Smee (an enemy sent by the Temple), Barb shows Sophie how write herself into Promethea for the first time. There is not necessarily a refusal to the call, but instead a moment of hesitation, as Sophie decides to undertake her quest. By making a decision, Sophie goes from accidental heroic to intentional heroic, though she doesn’t necessarily make a conscious choice. While attending a concert with her best friend Stacia, Sophie fights off demonic forces, and Stacia falls into the Immateria, which is the Call to Action. Sophie visits Barb, who is in the hospital after the encounter with the Smee, and Barb (acting as mentor again) gives Sophie the knowledge for accessing the Immateria. Sophie undertakes a quest to save Stacia.
The Immateria acts as the first major threshold, though there are many other thresholds throughout the story. After exploring awhile, Sophie finds Stacia seated in front of the idea of postmodern nihilism embodied by The Weeping Gorilla, and as emotion in the Immateria is in its purest form, unhindered by concepts like irony or absurdity that we use to distance ourselves from pain, The Weeping Gorilla provides an abundance of materialistic tragedy with phrases like, “She gets the kids and the house. I get the car.”, or “I guess people change.” (Moore, 82, Bk. 1). This serves to show the reader the challenges that we face when greeted with the surface- level pointlessness of the world, and to provide an example of the emotional and mental resilience of Sophie when she overcomes hopeless ideation. There is an entire heroic arc in just the first three of thirty two chapters, and many more follow that, but the overarching quest is by far the more important. The Heroic quest line repeats several times throughout Promethea, which works to progress the story and keep it interesting, but also to possibly provide different checkpoints for the reader’s learning.
After the initial jaunt into the Immateria, Sophie meets Jack Faust, a magician, who acts as Sophie’s main mentor throughout the rest of the series. Jack is quite important, for he alludes to what Sophie/Promethea’s main goal is, though vaguely, only saying that she will end the world. (Moore, Issue 4, pg. 19) Interestingly, Jack is portrayed as a villain in this part of the story, though Moore fails to effectively portray an obvious shift in the relationship between Jack and Sophie, and he ends up just working as a mentor, acting in ways I interpret as initially curious yet reserved about what Sophie will do as Promethea, (as Jack and previous incarnations of Promethea had encountered each other before), and turns into a friend who is genuinely interested in assisting Sophie in any way that he could. After another jaunt through the Immateria, Sophie learns some underlying symbolism of the four magical weapons of the tarot, i.e. cups, wands, swords, pentacles, and returns and temporarily defeats demonic forces summoned by a contractor for the Temple, the main villain of the story. She then meets with Jack for a coaching session after (as I interpret) she realizes that the information he was providing her was legitimate. Sophie turns into Promethea, who then copulates with Jack Faust in exchange for information, which shows Promethea is a Sacred/Lewd Bricoleur. This is one material manifestation of the idea of Promethea, which embodies the Shapeshifter as Promethea takes several forms, as ideas are inherent shapeshifters. Following their fling, Jack Faust provides Sophie with a rather lengthy reading list which consists of books that exist in our plane, and are a great place to start if you have interest in any occult material. Magick Without Tears by Aleister Crowley is particularly splendid, though it might be difficult to obtain, but is available for free online.
Promethea (in the edition I possess) divides the three parts of the grand heroic narrative cleanly into three books, and Book 2 constitutes the fulfillment stage. Sophie undertakes a quest through the Tree of Life, initially with the purpose to help Barb (the Promethea before her) find her husband, and ends up learning a few things along the way. There are several tests of allies and enemies, with one of the most important being the encounter with Asmodeus in the Qlippoth of Geburah. That which occurs in this chapter works to show the reader a more effective way to view humanity and all of existence, showing that without darkness there would be no light, which was a particularly important teaching that has assisted me in loving humanity and myself more completely. Another very important teaching from this chapter is the idea from Lurianic Kabbalah that there is no inherent evil, just the absence of divinity in certain aspects of creation. This chapter continues to serve as a point of emotional catharsis, for it provides a delightful metaphor for accepting the worst parts of myself, which reminds me to refrain from being overly critical.
The recurring theme most obvious is that of the Innermost Cave, with each Sephira being a different point of conflict for Sophie, usually within herself, and as she climbs the Tree of Life she learns more about both herself and different aspects of creation. The more I read this book, the more it feels like a study guide for the perfection of the soul.
Sophie reaches Kether, the Crown of the Tree of Life, where the ordeal takes place. The ultimate test faces her, that of complete annihilation as she and Barbara walk into the purest emanation of the divine. “What are you scared of? Is there something you know about this next sphere you’re not telling me? I-It’s the highest sphere, sphere one. The crown. You can be annihilated in it. You can fuse with it. Fuse with it? Yes. The white light. The pure, perfect experience of god. Some souls just dissolve into it, forever. Some souls go into it and don’t come back. But then… Why would you?” (Moore, Ch. 22, Pg. 25)
The reward is in two parts. Barbara gets her husband back, and Sophie gains the revelation. The road back is quite fascinating for Sophie, as she returns to materiality and wishes to regain her post fighting crime as Promethea, but Sophie left the role to Stacia, her best friend, who doesn’t want to give it up. This part shows Promethea as Deceiver/Trick Player, as she ends up fighting herself, leading to excruciating pain. Both go to court, and when Sophie wins, she and Stacia are returned to their beds, but FBI agents are there to pick them up. Sophie escapes and starts a new life, the trait of Resurrection, and lives a mundane life for a couple years.
Sophie is then discovered, and after delaying the apocalypse during her time away, she returns home and undertakes her role as Messenger/Imitator and Inverts all of existence by releasing the Elixir, the end of the world. She expands a revelational bubble that gives anyone within a transcendental experience, exposing them to the realization that mind and matter aren’t separate, that a linear experience of time is simply a fallacy, that all is connected, and science is incapable of explaining all of reality. This acts as another threshold, this time for all of humanity. Promethea tells the reader that she has ended your world by opening your eyes to the nature of reality and the universe, and this is the fourth wall breaking Elixir. Promethea shows us that we are the tricksters. We trick ourselves and each other into accepting a fixed view of the world. We trick ourselves that we can’t change anything or that some things are too big to change. This was incredibly influential for me, as it showed me that life can be anything as long as I am willing to make it so, which was very empowering. Upon further examination, I have found this interpretation of existence to be incredibly on the nose. The majority of everything we interact with materially had to exist first as an idea, whether it be a chair, car, gun, government, gender, race, scientific advancement, or a sandwich. The logical conclusion one could make after digesting the arguments within Promethea is that the only meaning that anything material has is that which we give it, that meaning is what gives existence value, and as a result, we can make material existence anything we want to as long as we are willing to put in effort. If one desires a utopia on earth, it is wise to open eyes to the reality that what we materially take so seriously is simply an illusion created from varying substructures, and all is subject to change.
Take for instance the concept of matrimony. Marriage is a substructure a lot of people place a significant amount of value in, and is built upon the imagined substructures of the state, the church, and the Bible. All of these substructures are incredibly impermanent and therefore subject to change, and if they are not effective, they ought to be changed, and are, as we have marriage between same genders now. The concept of marriage is also built off the concept of ownership, a delineation between what is ‘mine’ and what is ‘yours’ which are also substructures. This goes further, as there is no logical reason for us to delineate the concept of self from the world, as they rely on each other to exist, and are therefore one. We rely on something ‘external’ to be observed to create a sense of self, and therefore the self is an illusion. By labeling ourselves, we limit ourselves, and by subscribing to the labels society places upon us and the limits society tells us exist, we force ourselves into unhappy lives where we lose touch with what gives us meaning; which is what happened to me. We flounder in materiality, a consumptive void at the pit of our being as we search for life. This is only made worse by our society, one where single-use plastics and iPhones are shoved down our throats, and planned obsolescence is shown as glamourous. I implore you to question all aspects of your life that are not in line with who you wish to be, and to work to free yourself from the constraints we all place upon ourselves.
Moore, Alan, and J.H. Williams III. Promethea: The 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Book One.
Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2019.
Moore, Alan, and J.H. Williams III. Promethea: The 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Book Two.
Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2019.
Moore, Alan, and J.H. Williams III. Promethea: The 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Book Three.
Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2019.
Joseph Campbell and the power of myth. Produced by Joan Konner. Performed by
Joseph Campbell and Bill Boyers. United States: PBS, 1988. DVD.