Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 3 (Alilat)

Now this is an interesting demon.  At least it is for me.  You might be looking at the design and thinking “it’s just an obelisk, what makes it so damn interesting?”  Alilat, also known as Al-Lat, was one of the divinities worshiped in the Kaaba, the great temple of Mecca, until the 7th century AD.  Al-Lat was a fertility goddess with ancient origins; historians believe she is essentially the same goddess as other Mediterranean and near Eastern divinities such as Asherah, Astarte, and Ishtar.

What happened to Al-Lat, then?  The same thing that happened to all the old pagan gods of the Middle East and Europe: one of the children of Abraham came along to destroy it.  When Muhammad, the final prophet of Islam, won his war against his home city-state of Mecca following his expulsion to Medina, he ordered that the idols and shrines of Al-Lat be broken along with those of the other gods and reconsecrated the Kaaba to the one true God.  This is a story I heard more than a few times as a kid growing up in the faith.  Naturally, this destruction and consecration is portrayed as a good thing, since it meant that God’s truth was able to be spread across the region and take root alongside/partly displace its sister Abrahamic faiths of Christianity and Judaism.

At the time, though, I have to wonder how most people felt about it.  The day Muhammad came back home with his army, I guess plenty of Meccans just did their best to go about their business and readjust to the new order.  That’s certainly what I would have done, no matter how I might have felt before.  I guess I’m not very principled.

She’s an old-timey goddess so she has to use old pronouns like “thy”, that’s the rule.

Alilat in the canon of Megami Tensei is a powerful demon of the Entity race, consisting of ancient gods who long ago lost their followings among humans. She only seems to play much of a story role in Strange Journey, in which she opposes the reformation of the Demiurge (the creative force of God, though not the all-powerful God himself.)  Makes sense considering the fate of her worship back in the 7th century that she would stand against any aspect of the monotheistic God. One interesting design fact to note is that Alilat’s obelisk seems to be carved from part of the black meteorite that comprises the core of the real-life Kaaba and that pilgrims touch as a part of the Hajj.

Al-Lat in her most recent form. Considering how popular Ishtar-Rin is, she probably qualifies as a church for tax purposes at this point.

I also like how Alilat takes the form of the idol itself rather than the goddess it represents — it makes a lot of sense in the historical context, in which her worship ended with her being quite literally smashed to pieces. Well, it sucks to be a fallen deity, doesn’t it?  At least Alilat/Al-Lat can take solace in the fact that she lives on in popular culture in her Ishtar/Rin Tohsaka form from Fate/Grand Order, which is definitely the closest she’s been to having worshipers since the old polytheistic days.  Though this raises a theological question: is it better for a goddess to just die out or to live on as a waifu to a bunch of weird nerds?*  There’s a thesis someone needs to write.

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* Don’t take any offense — I’m one of those weird nerds too after all.  If I tried to deny it no one would believe me anyway.

 

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 2 (Ame-no-Uzume)

Since Megami Tensei is a Japanese game series, it doesn’t seem right not to cover any Japanese entities.  So of course I’m going with Ame-no-Uzume, a goddess of “mirth and revelry” best known for her stripper act. Ame-no-Uzume is the wife of the god Sarutahiko (also a demon in the Megaten series) in the Shinto tradition, responsible for bringing light back into the world after the sun goddess Amaterasu (also featured in Megaten, as are most of these deities) got pissy and decided to hide in a cave.  Amaterasu had a pretty good reason — her brother Susano-o, the storm god, was drenching and destroying crop fields and throwing shit around in the way you’d expect a storm god to do.

Even so, the world needed the sun to keep going.  Nobody could get Amaterasu to leave her cave, so without warning Uzume decided to start a strip show for all the other assembled gods.  They all found this so funny that they roared with laughter, and Amaterasu poked her head out of the cave to see what the hell was so hilarious the way anyone would. After seeing her bright reflection in a bronze mirror Uzume had purposely hung up in front of the cave’s mouth, Amaterasu wandered out, and another god quickly rolled a rock up behind her blocking the cave’s entrance.  In this way, the rest of the gods managed to convince Amaterasu to calm down and go back to her duties of being the sun, all thanks to the ingenuity of Ame-no-Uzume.

A traditional depiction of Uzume at Amanoiwato Shrine, where the whole thing happened

This was such an important achievement that the place where this is supposed to have happened in Japan is marked with a shrine dedicated to Uzume way down in a town called Takachiho in Kyushu.  Quite a long trip from Tokyo if you’re ever there visiting,  but if you want to pay your respects to the heavenly party goddess in the most serious way possible, you know where to do it.

In the Megaten universe, Uzume is usually a pretty low-level demon despite her status as a divinity; she’s typically one of the first in the Megami or goddess race of demons.  She tends to be very useful, though — Uzume is practically a must-have in Nocturne to beat Matador due to her resistance to wind skills, and she’s generally a good ally to have in the early game if she’s available.  I do like how her design reflects her position as the divine stripper — leave it to Kazuma Kaneko to put the emphasis on that, though to be fair to him, that seems to be by far the most famous story about Uzume.

Okay, so maybe this entry wasn’t as family-friendly as the last one.  Maybe tomorrow will be more G-rated.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 1 (Jack Frost)

Who better to honor on the first day of this Christmas series than Jack Frost?  He’s not only the personification of winter, which all of us in the Northern Hemisphere are living through right now.  He’s also the closest thing to an official mascot for the Megami Tensei series as a whole and for its developer, Atlus.  Jack Frost, as far as I know, has been in every Megami Tensei game ever created (or at least in all the ones I’ve played.)  He even starred in Jack Bros., a bizarre spinoff for the ill-fated Virtual Boy that most people in the West probably only learned about when the Angry Video Game Nerd covered it in his Virtual Boy retrospective video on Youtube, and even he didn’t seem to realize exactly what it was.

In his normal form, Jack is usually a low-level common demon you’ll encounter in the early game.  He tends to be pretty friendly but also enjoys playing tricks on humans, so it may be just as difficult to recruit him as some of the more outwardly hostile or icy demons.  The player shouldn’t be deceived by his cute looks — Jack Frost’s tricks can end up getting your entire party killed if your team is weak to his ice skills.

Jack Frost in earlier times, when he served as a Union general in the Civil War

The only real downside to Jack Frost being Jack Frost is that he has to share a name with not only the mythological being he’s derived from, the personification of winter, but also with all the other characters derived from him. Namely that Disney character or whatever he is (Dreamworks? The assholes who made that annoying Sing movie? I don’t know) and the shitty, extremely horrifying Michael Keaton movie from 1998 where he turns into a snowman.  Both of these guys clog up the Google Image Search results for “jack frost”, so they can go to hell.  Not Michael Keaton I mean, just the character he played and the movie he was in.

Black Frost brutalizing some regular Jack Frosts. Even when he’s being beaten up, Jack Frost has that happy expression.

Jack also has several relatives in the Jack family of demons, some of whom are far more powerful.  Most notable among these are his fire-based brother Pyro Jack, the emperor of the ice fairies depicted as a giant Jack Frost in a king’s robe and powdered wig King Frost, and Black Frost, a Jack Frost who sought great power and ended up turning evil.*  Black Frost is typically a mid-level demon and is a great asset to the player thanks to his having both ice and fire skills and resistances, so you should definitely try to fuse him any time you can.  He’s such a useful team member that some players keep him on well past the point where his level should have made him obsolete.  Those resistances are just that important in a Megaten game; if you have a demon strong to ice, fire, and dark attacks and without any weaknesses you can wipe the floor with a lot of standard-issue grunts and even with some bosses, even if they’re at a significantly higher level.

I hope you liked the two-for-one demon deal you got today, because it probably won’t happen again.  Check back tomorrow!

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* Japanese language minute: The name “Black Frost” is an attempt at a translation of the Japanese name ジャアクフロスト with the “ジャアク/jyaaku” part written 邪悪, which is also pronounced ジャアク but means “evil.” These kanji puns just don’t translate.