Thursday, July 28, 2011

It's Like Riding a Bicycle: Balance and Motion

It is said that our greatest joys reside in our simplest pleasures, and there are few pleasures simpler than riding a bike. The action is smooth, elegant, and repetitive, the connection to the world profound, the thrill of utter self direction - of pedalling under no fuel save your own motive power, unrivalled. It's a wonderful feeling post-adolescence when something that has eluded you all your life suddenly clicks into place; finally comprehending a new language, discovering new social rhythms, or in my case balancing my torso over a $25 street bike along the meridians of New York City, all without the use of handlebars.

Now, it must be said that my childhood was a mess of bike accidents and careless slip ups from the moment my father removed my training wheels. My mother dubebd me the 'absent minded professor' for my propensity to focus on one problem or idea to the point of distraction at best and obsession at worst, and I devoured math problems, video games, and adult literature with a single - minded devotion. Though these efforts were understandably applauded in school, at home they had their own unique consequences. My mother's favorite refrain to me was "Al-ways be a-ware of your sur-ROUN-dings" - spoken in a metronomic rhythm which can only be derived from extreme repetition. And its true - all too often as a child I was off in my own little world, which is great when you're devouring advanced math workbooks or inventing stories and poems, but has unintended costs when behind the wheel Of a bike. I ran straight into mailboxes, vaulted over friends who braked too suddenly for my delayed reaction, chipped a tooth when my upper body failed to sync up with my lower and I slammed into the unyeilding pavement below.

This mind/body disconnect, a malaise unnaturally common in the members of my generation, did not just extend to my performance behind the wheel. While dancing as a child, my shoulders shrugged up like Lurch from the Addams Family. At little league, or any other sport demanding advanced hand/eye coordination, the only compliment I recieved from my coaches was 'good eye,' which was my reward for not swinging at a baseball which I had never even seen. If moving my body or tracking a ball were too much for my adolescent psyche, riding a bicycle hands free was never a remotely attainable goal for me - it wasn't even within the scope of my ambition. Perhaps this is why, at the ripe old age of 24, it came as such a welcome surprise that hands free biking, along with dancing, tracking moving objects, and meditation, have slowly been added to my repertoire.

Our most meaningful changes tend to be our most gradual ones, and in truth these innovations didn't come out of the blue. For the past year I have been developing some basic skill at yoga and meditation in an attempt to become more rooted in my body, an effort to make reparations for my largely cerebral larval state. I've been working to improve my balance, groundedness, and footing, and the side effect is that, though it was never my conscious intention, I can now look cooler than I ever have in my life astride two wheels. At the rate I am developing, perhaps even unicycling will be in my future - yet I cannot imagine myself looking freer than I do with my spine balanced straight above an elevated seat, my legs pedalling freely, my arms akimbo in the summer wind.

But this evocation brings me to my first point: any progress in life can be reduced down to how well it unites two seemingly disparate forces: that of balance and that of motion. Motion without balance results in an erratic trajectory in any endeavor - when power comes suddenly, without proper guidance or foresight an irreprable tragedy can result, as happened in a macrocosmic sense in Germany in the 1930s or on a smaller scale, in the life and unfortunate passing of Amy Winehouse. Balance without motion is less visible but also unfortunate, and seen in cloisters everywhere. The spiritual seer who can concieve of the perfect unity of the cosmos, the unity of reality, and the oneness of all things yet still has severe problems communicating his vision to those around him, sharing his love with the larger world, or translating his beautiful ideas and incorruptible ideals into action in the physical world.

Fluently mounting a bicycle with no handlebars is a prime example of these two traits in cohesion. It is also a failsafe and necessarily effective method of meditation - lose focis on your all - important internal balance and WHAM! You're plunged into an intimate dialogue with incoming traffic. This aggressive solo meditation transforms a force of nature - in this case the flow of traffic - into a vector for self development. An inatimite object - in this case, a bicicle - becomes an angry Zen master, whacking the student over the head (or into an incoming Prius) when they lose sight of the greater goal.

Now, when meditation crosses over into the physical world as such it does not do so without a corresponding degree of physical danger. However, it is through the threat of these dangers that the meditation's very effectiveness lies. Discipline is developed throughprocessing, understanding, and internalizing the consequences of one's actions. This is best accomplished in a scientific manner through reducing all variables, ideally to a repetitive motion with predictable effects, the better to record accurate observations. This process can happen through the isolation of thoughts a private meditation, physically through the development of balance in bodily exertion, or emotionally through the transformation of mundane activities into vessels of personal development, like the wax on/wax off of karatae kid fame. The applications of such methods could concievably extend to every corner of our daily existence, drastically extending our experience of the world.

This brngs me to my second point. Our approach to our tasks determines not only our attitude towards them, but also how open we are to learning from them. Coming into any action - be it driving a car, going on a second date, or simply updating a blog - with a preconcieved notion of what it ought to be necessarily reduces the possibilities in store for personal growth and development. Adults learn at a markedly slower rate than children not because the learning centers of their brains have calcified, as pseudoscience would have one believe, but because they have developed an array of subconscious filters against the clutter of the modern world, many of which are detrimental to the learning process even as they streamline the daily experience. Our brains are like uncut fields and our repetitive actions are like ploughs slucing across its loose soil. As we age, our mental dirt is often packed hard, our ground can frozen, our pastureland sullied by the rocks and clay of daily life in an often hostile environment. Still, our experience at the till is cumulative. As such, we often develop deep clefts in those areas of the brain where we habitually place our attentions, making it easier to accomplish our repetitive tasks and personal specialties, but harder to concieve of anything outside of our sphere of attention. Eventually, like a man standing at the bottom of a canyon, it can be difficult to view the fertile pastures of untrammeled thought spread open to either side.

Albert Einstein had a particularly deeply furrowed brain. After he donated his legendary cranium to science, doctyors remarked not on his processing capacity but in the depth and number of folds in his grey matter, allowing a balance of thought and lending a force to his intellectual action over both hemispheres of his brain. Perhaps that is why Einstein, who was by his own admission far from the most technically gifted mathematician of his own era - was able to peer into the murky stew of time and space and derive some order from the nebulous nebulae of the cosmos.

My little accomplishments are of course, miniscule in comparision to the minds which wrought the patterns of the world in ways which our half developed, simian consciousnesses our monkey brains can reliably comprehend. I have yet to derive any grand theories of existence, but I couldn't even ride a bike without handlebars until I'd done more than a bit of climbing of my own. The day I pushed my head above the canyon wall of my hyper - cerebral childhood, I could suddenly accomplish tasks that I never could before. Ultimately these changes were the fryuits of gradual physical and mental transformations - I had to train my body to accomplish the action, but first I had to train my mind to believe I was capable of even making the attempt; a harder task than many wayfarers realize. But it was then, when I was finally "a-WARE of my sur-ROUND-ings," as my mother might put it, that I was free to traverse the concrete canyons of Manhattan, unbridled by the necessity of bending over the wheel.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Alchemical Aladdin Part 1: Color Theory

By now it should come as no secret that I have a bit of a thing for the works of Walt Disney. There's something incredibly compelling about Disney's animated classics which, combined with deity level marketing savvy, has propelled Disney's flagship properties to cultic status in the minds of children and adults alike. That said, I want to take a closer look at one of my favorite disney films, and in many ways, the most magical: Aladdin.

Aladdin's nods to mysticism are both obvious and surprisingly subtle. The film is set in Arabia, homeland of the magi, and boasts two opposing magical forces, a djinn named, appropriately enough, Genie, and the sorcerer Jafar. Though the interplay of these magical forces is blatant enough throughout the film, the animators also added subtle visual cues reinforcing the characters' personalities and objectives in a manner affecting the viewer beyond the conscious processes of thought. In this post, I'd like to address one of Disney's most effective uses of superconscious imagery: their use of color theory to describe character's nature and desires.

As any student of marketing knows, colors can be used profitably to influence a consumer's desires. This is the reason that movie theaters are lit red before the previews begin - red is known to stimulate the appetite, and thus lure consumers to the concession stand for a $6.00 tub of popcorn.
Hungry yet?

This is also why the emperors of antiquity clad themselves in purple and gold - purple was seen as a connection to divinity while gold symbolized strength of will and physical power. The synthesis of these two colors with white robes to signify purity lead to the ideal qualities necessary in an imperial autocrat.

Color theory finds its best exponent in modern society in the Hindu-Buddhist chakra system. The seven chakras are aligned up the endocrine system based roughly along the spine, and their wavelengths correspond to increasingly refined vibrational states. Those who can perceive auras are in actuality translating these subtle vibrations into the colors they relate to, though the vibrations of energy are many octaves above the vibrations of light. In most systems, the seven chakras correspond to the seven colors of the ROYGBIV color spectrum in the same way that a prism refracts the colors of the rainbow from a beam of pure white light.

Red corresponds to the first or 'root' chakra at the base of the spine, and feelings of rootedness, comfort, and materiality. It symbolizes the crux of the physical world, and concerns over food, shelter, and necessary goods are rooted here. For this reason, the color red can inspire hunger pangs among the easily influenced.

Orange corresponds to the second chakra at the sexual region. Its primary emanation is desire, which makes sense considering the lusty region where it makes its home. Orange is a highly charged color, often indicative of subconscious lusts - especially veiled in conjunction with black. It is perhaps for this reason that Halloween garbs its proceedings in black and orange - to parade the subconscious desires that lay dormant three hundred sixty four days of the year.

Yellow corresponds to the third chakra, which is located at the solar plexus. Yellow is indicative of strength of will, physical health, and personal power. It is the color of the sun, source of all life on this planet, as well as the color of gold, which until recently was the basis of the world's currency. It is located at the center of gravity of the physical organism, and is said to be the seat of prana, the inborn source of vitality.

Green corresponds to the fourth or 'heart' chakra, located in its namesake, the heart. Its responsibilities are in universal compassion, tenderness, and nurturing. In the same manner, the heart pumps oxygen filled blood into every cell of the body without prejudice or differentiation. Green is the color of new growth, nature, and the budding of new life.

Blue corresponds to the fifth chakra, located in the throat. The fifth chakra involves communication in all its forms, whether it is between individuals as in mundane conversation or as a dialogue between one's subtle internal forces, emanating outwards in the form of creative expression. Whatever the expression, as the conduit between the oft warring head and heart, the neck acts as the body's major channel of restorative communication.

Indigo corresponds to the sixth chakra, that of the mind. Its main concern is the fruitful operation of the ego, or sense of self, as well as the successful balancing act between the left and right brains, which control different sides of the body as well as logical and creative actions respectively. For this reason the sixth chakra is also known as the two petaled lotus, as its successful operation necessitates a union of opposing polarities.

Violet corresponds with the seventh chakra, and is located, intriguingly enough, an inch or so above the physical head. For this reason the seventh chakra is known as the crown chakra. The seventh chakra's purpose is to unite the microorganism with the macroorganism, enabling a conversation between individual and absolute forces, or in other words, with a higher power. This chakra is reputedly linked to the pineal gland, and in addition to the balancing of the physical organism, its successful functioning is a necessity for all those desiring conduit to extraphysical experiences. Violet has long been the color of royalty because of its links to a higher force than man - with its extremely high vibration, it represents the threshold of what our eyes can see. Colors are thus grouped violet and ultraviolet, with violet as the gateway between the two spheres. The seventh chakra acts in much the same way.

(A notary word of caution regarding energetic speculation: just as ultraviolet radiation can be harmful to the human eyes without necessary shielding, so too can forces beyond the seventh chakra be harmful to a person's energies without the numbing shield of the ego. It is for this reason that most who wish to venture deep into uncharted realms of the spirit require the shield of a guru. Going on a long journey into uncharted territory without proper shielding or preparation would be akin to exposing oneself to x rays or bathing in nuclear fallout expecting to become a superhero - mutation will almost certainly occur, but it could mean spiritual sterilization, perverse or cancerous outcroppings within the personality or even madness and death, should the energetic channels become too tangled. I have seen it happen to others and weeded out signs of it in myself, and it is not a pretty picture, nor does it result in gains in the material world. It is best always to balance the self before attempting to master the forces beyond the self. Having learned this maxim through a series of painful mistakes, I practice it whenever I can remind myself to do so.)

Don't let this happen to your soul!

Now that the exposition is over with, I would like to apply this ruberic to a number of characters in the disney pantheon, starting with Aladdin:

ALADDIN. Primary colors: red, purple.

Emphasized here is the tension between Aladdin's material nature and longings and his spiritual gravity. Aladdin was born a poor 'street rat,' lacking family, stability, and material possessions. He therefore has an innate craving for the wealth that would reverse this imbalance, and this drive for materiality is shown in the color red. Purple comes in because, though he grew up under harsh circumstances and must steal to live, Aladdin has an underlying kindness, nobility, and goodness about him, as well as a drive for 'something more' than what his station would suggest. Aladdin lives in a shanty with a room overlooking the palace showing that, like other Disney protagonists, he sees himself as destined for more than his station will allow. More tellingly, Jafar considers him a 'diamond in the rough,' possessing a special quality that for all the sorcerer's efforts, he is not able to manufacture in himself. As Jafar holds every other advantage throughout the film, I will call this quality an effortless connection to higher spiritual sources. When Aladdin transforms into a prince, the red and purple are echoed in his jewel and feather, joined with yellow and white, heralding power and purity appropriate in any visiting noble.

JASMINE. Primary colors: blue, gold. Secondary color: orange.

Jasmine is a princess, beneficiary of all life has to offer, but she is unhappy. The reason is that she is possessed by her possessions, held captive by her gold bangles and the barricade of the palace walls. Jasmine lacks someone that she can communicate with on an honest level, rejecting suitor after suitor because they treat her as "some prize to be won" rather than viewing her as a human being, with wants, needs, and feelings. This desire for communication is more than adequately described in her turquoise jumpsuit. I meantion orange here not because Jasmine wears it on her person, but because it is the color of her sole companion, her tiger, Rajah.

Rajah's place is in the wild but he sits pampered and out of place in the inner cloisters of the palace. Rajah's color scheme, genus, and position hint at the sexual suppression of his mistress, pinioned behind barriers of tradition and removed from any sense of natural self- expression.

JAFAR: Primary colors: black, red. Secondary color: gold

Jafar is a type of villain familiar to all: a villain whose egotistical hunger for power knows no bounds. Jafar is already incredibly wealthy, having used his black sorcery and learning to assume the position of the Grand visier to the sultan of Agrabah. Yet he has designs on the throne and Jasmine's hand, not for love or duty but for power. This power is exemplified in Jafar's serpentine staff. It is from the powers of the serpent which Jafar gains his sorcery. Thus is witnessed in the movie through his golden serpentine staff, which stands tall as a possible nod to Indian tantra or Egyptian ceremonial ritual. Eventually, asw ith any unscrupulous use of extraphysical power, Jafar's serpentine lust for influence and material wealth consumes whatever human elements there were of his personality.

At movie's end he becomes the snake from which his powers were derived, before making a fool's bargain and transforming himself into a red djinn in a black lamp, an unwitting prisoner of the forces he subsisted upon in producing his dark magic.

GENIE. Primary colors: blue, gold.

The Genie is colored the same as Jasmine, and like Jasmine has similar restrictions on his free will, though Genie's problems are more spiritual in nature. Genie is the custodian of "phenomenal cosmic power," but because of his otherworldly strength, he is unable to exercise his own will and is instead bound to serve the wishes of those whose powers are limited. He requires communication with worldly creatures in order to make his powers manifest, yet this individual must be incredibly sensitive to otherworldly energies in order to pinpoint the lamp in its prison in the Cave of Wonders. Aladdin was one of the few with the ability to do exactly that. Genie is bound to communicate the wills of others into reality, yet the golden shackles of the lamp and his own service prevent him from leading his own life. It is telling that Aladdin, with little power and wealth, but no restrictions save his own material wants, serves as the vessel of liberation for Jasmine, imprisoned by her own wealth, and the Genie, a prisoner of his own power.

EPILOGUE: One Costume More!
At the film's end, Aladdin gains a costume change worthy of a newly crowned sultan. By freeing the genie at the expense of his material aspirations, Aladdin proves that he can be trusted with the throne and Jasmine's hand. The red jewel of his princely trappings incarnations is no more, and his fez, no longer red, is now striped with purple and gold, traditional colors of imperial power and spirituality. It is perhaps in this costume change that Disney shows its true colors best - as well as how best to use them.

POSTSCRIPT. Partially because I can't resist, and partially because both I and Disney appreciate him as an artist, some Phil Collins for your listening pleasure. Ahh, Phil Collins. As the immortal Hedwig said, "you should pay attention, because we are talking to Phil Collins' people. But then again... aren't we all?" Quite right, Hedwig. If we have the ears to listen.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Twilight Language, and the Depth of Disney

Some time back I wrote an article for my college's journal of spirituality and religion about the magical moments woven into Disney movies. Many of these films incorporate subtle visual and lyrical references into their fast paced, universally acceptable plot, in a process which is know as twilight language. Twilight language (and no, we're not talking about team Edward here) has been used for centuries to conceal teachings of great depth beneath the superficial veneer of childrens' entertainment, often masking techniques used in real magic. But though twilight language pervades the works of Disney, Squaresoft, and many others, its impact did not start there, and nor will it end there.

The technology of twilight language has been used throughout history to disguise and disseminate philosophies which the masses would reject unveiled. Alchemists utilized twilight language extensively in their craft to avoid persecution, veiling their spiritual work in the material allegory of transforming base metals into gold. The great British occultist Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) described this subterfuge in his Theatricum Chemicum Britannicum. Of the alchemist’s usage of twilight language, Ashmole stated:

“Their chiefest study was to wrap their Secrets in Fables, and spin out their Fancies in Vailes and shadows, whose Radii seems to extend every way, yet so, they meet in a Common Center, and point only at One thing .”
Elias Ashmole

For many, the holy texts themselves are seen as codicies concealing vast repositories of hidden truth, and their illumined writ bears profound grimores of practical magic. Noted occultist Manly P. Hall states that “it is essential” to the formation of any accurate history of spiritual thought to remember that “the early philosophers recognized in the Bible a book of chemical and alchemical formulae .” Using certain keywords and phrases as spiritual allegories, mystics throughout history have adapted sacred texts for formal, ‘magical’ purposes.
Manly P Hall, from around the time he wrote The Secret Teachings of All Ages

Likewise, the fairy tale is a perfect vessel for the conveyance of spiritual allegory. For as Rosicrucian scholar Percy Pigott claims, these “seemingly fanciful stories” are quite often used “to reveal hidden truths symbolized in the narrative .” The fairy tale is designed to appeal to children, a demographic known for its affinity for flights of fancy and perennially active imaginations. Many fairy tales have been handed down anonymously, passed through the ages by oral tradition.

As repositories for belief systems, fairy tales have survived the test of time because of their endearing, seemingly innocuous subject matter. In modern times notable intellects such as Goethe and Oscar Wilde both wrote children’s books, and Lewis Caroll and L. Frank Baum utilized them to critique existing social orders. Scholars such as C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien used children’s literature to spread mythology, with the former explicitly advocating Christian theology and the latter veiling its Christian subtext under layers of fantastical mythology.

Tolkein played a large role in converting Lewis to Christianity through the Christian writers’ group The Inklings, and the influence of Christian theology cannot be understated the works of either Tolkein or Lewis. Both fantasies wove Christian theology into their imaginary worlds, and both Narnia and Middle Earth were replete with explicitly calculated mysticism of a high order.

Such tales gain their lasting power through the use of time tested spiritual and religious archetypes, and have made a lasting impact on modern culture. Disney is quite familiar with the lasting appeal of such inspiring source material, and overwhelmingly, the distilled twilight wisdom of traditional fairy tales forms the primary basis of Walt Disney’s magical rise to domination of children’s animation in the Western world. Films such as Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and many others employ this technique to a potent degree in spinning their tales. In the posts to come I hope you will explore these depths with me as I delve into the twilight symbolism of the House of Mouse.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Holy Warfare: Top 10 Judeo/Christian Final Bosses!

If you've played through your fare share of Japanese role playing games, or JRPGs, then you've likely slain your fair share of gods. And how could it be otherwise? RPGs are designed for 50+ hours of gameplay, and as the character keeps leveling up and gaining ever more awesome stats and abilities, the game developers must give them increasingly awesome baddies and bosses to righteously impale on their super-awesome +25 swords of judgement, or scorch to high heavens with a level 4 flare star. Thus, the player starts beating up slimes and hired goons, and ultimately challenges the forces that control life, death, and the fate of the world itself.

What may be shocking to those unfamiliar with the conventions of Japanese culture is the spiritual nature of these big baddies. At the highest levels, Japanese final bosses tend to be Judeo-Christian in nature. This trend is especially prevalent in the games of Square spanning from Final Fantasy IV through X, but can also be seen in the works of its contemporaries, most notably in Capcom's rival Breath of Fire series. The games produced during this era show a surprising amount of depth, and a large amount of this is derived from through standing the tropes of Western spirituality on its head, and painting the Judeo-Christian messiah figure as the game world's supreme villain.
(Keep on running Fei...but you can never escape from...yourself!)

Are these games saying that it is bad to be good? That it is good to be bad? Or do they transcend dualistic theological concepts entirely? Are these final bosses supposed to be criticisms of deities that exist in modern culture, or are they meant as cautionary tales against those who long to tap into the power of the spirit to fulfill their own private ambition? Many of the games are ambiguous, and leave it up to the informed player to decide. Now without further adieu, sit back, relax, and pull out your Squaresoft brand communion wafers, for its time to give this legion of explicitly ecclesiastical baddies their last rites!

Next up: Villain #10: KEFKA!
(Final Fantasy VI)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Programming from the Game World

In a slight departure from previous entries, I'd like to talk briefly on the effectiveness of videogames as neural programming tools. The compulsive gameplay of good videogames, high replayability, and engaging storylines leaves a huge mark on the developing brain. Add in additively engaging reward structures in the form of level-ups or rare item drops, and you have a system that can leave its marks, whatever they may be, on the very foundation of human consciousness, lingering for years after the a player has put down a controller. As videogames have only been around in their current form since the late '80s, research on their effects on the brain has been limited. But it doesn't take a WoW junkie to tell you that video games can have a profound effect on the human psyche.

That said, a child's exposure to videogames necessarily cuts both ways, and its effects vary wildly depending on the type of game that is played. Video games are brilliantly effective at exposing children toalternative worldviews and systems of thought. Instead of opposing dominant cultural tropes outright, good videogames invite players to engage willingly in a series of worlds where they can spend hundreds - if not thousands of hours of their time acclimating themselves to alternate worldviews, beliefs, and futures. Though the vast majority of players consider these conventions to be entirely fictitious, many players internalize these systems on a subconscious level. Those who resonate with the thematic material then have a basis in their childhood to try to change the world as adults, a drive which has been supported by a rigorous system of self - directed training which lends itself to practical advancement in a variety of systems and fields. If this sounds strange to you, realize that the same policies are being carried out by the US Military through its explicit support of games such as CounterStrike and Modern Warfare, as well as developing its own game for the purposes of recruitment. In the modern military, soldiers often train themselves for thousands of hours on store bought simulations, paying handily for the privilege.

The brain is inherently programmable - it will form deeper grooves in its cranial folds through repeated exposure to similar data. This fact has been known to magicians for years, who undertake their own reprogramming with knowledge, will, and secrecy. However, with the unlimited freedoms of the internet, this veil is beginning to rise, and the weight is ever greater on the consumer to program their own mental currents, and determine the person that they wish to become.

I am only glad that some companies such as Square and Disney used this technique to expand the knowledge base of its most perceptive young consumers, rather than channeling it into the technology of destruction.

Many thanks to these awesome companies for the work that they have done, and for bringing some positive software into our systems!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chrono Trigger Part I: Zealots Abounding

Chrono Trigger, released in was a great triumph from the wizards at Square.

Chrono Trigger's graphic design was made by Akira Toriyama, the same man who designed Dragonball Z, and the interconnectedness of Japanese children's entertainment shares parallels with many esoteric systems. In future posts I will examine this connection in greater detail, but on to the game!

In Chrono trigger you gain control of Crono, a well spoken (actually, completely silent) young man who is soon pulled into a time vortex. You and your anachronistic party of adventurers, who span from a prehistoric cave-girl to a futuristic robot strive to avert the apocalypse by destroying Lavos, an alien force who is slowly devouring the world from within, utilizing it as fuel for its offspring. In order to do this, they must pass through time gates and travel through the various ages of man.

One of the most interesting parts of the game is the party's journey through the 'Magical Kingdom of Zeal.' This land, similar to Final Fantasy VI's 'floating continent,' soars above the clouds in perpetual bliss, powered by magical energy.
The Magical Kingdom of Zeal, in full glory.

The rest of humanity is stuck on the ground, freezing through the remnants of a terrible ice age. However, in her lust for power and immortality, Queen Zeal decides to tap into the power of Lavos with the 'Mammon machine.'

This ill - advised ploy causes Lavos to awaken prematurely, and the resultant energy shock obliterates the entire kingdom, leaving the scattered survivors to unite with the commoners in a world newly bereft of magic. The in-game date for all this was 12000 BC.

There is compelling evidence that the 'Magical Kingdom of Zeal' is analogous to the Lost City of Atlantis. Many esoteric traditions firmly believe in a lost civilization that dominated the prehistoric world through the use (and eventual abuse) of high magic, and Chrono Trigger's 'Kingdom of Zeal' lines up with their descriptions on a number of key points.

First off, in Gnostic alternative histories the kingdom of Atlantis was a glittering synthesis of high technology and magic, with airships, gilded palaces, and luxury as far as the eye could see. Atlantis was at first a benign government, but eventually its rulers became corrupted by the magic they sought to control, and were corrupted into pacts with dark energies in a source for ever greater power. This lust for power corrupted their civilization and brought the world out of balance. Eventually, the priest - rulers of Atlantis summoned a force which spiraled out of their control, and the resultant cataclysm wiped their civilization from the map in an explosion of fire followed by a great flood. What few survivors of the great cataclysm struggled to rebuild civilization relying only on their wisdom and mechanical knowhow, but without the power granted to them by their black magic, efforts were labored at best.
The kingdom of Zeal, after the Fall.

Let's continue with the date given by Square for the fall of the Kingdom of Zeal - 12,000 BC. Keep in mind that Chrono Trigger's 'present day' is 1000 AD in the game, so if their world is analogous to ours, it would correspond to 11,000 BC. All this still puts Zeal's fall well before any established civilization, at least as far as modern archaeologists are aware, as the earliest cities are currently dated only to 8,000 BC. As the fall of Atlantis supposedly predated the establishment of our modern world, the timeline holds up.

For harder data, let's look at bestselling author Mark Booth's The Secret History of the World, a work that purports to chart an esoteric history of man from the dawn of our conception of time until its inevitable dissolution thousands of years into the future. In his history solid matter was not fixed into its present Newtonian state for some time, and before this event took place, the ancients were free to manipulate matter to suit their whims. According to many Gnostic and esoteric groups, Atlantis' great works could be seen throughout the far corners of the world, from incredible stylae in southeast Asia to the engineering feats of stonehenge and the pyramids, to the 200 ton stones at Maccu Piccu that even our largest modern cranes could not budge. Booth puts the solidification of matter at the Sothic cycle marking the Age of Leo, or at 11,451 BC. In Booth's history, the Sphinx was built to commemorate this event, the decline of the age of magic and the rise of the age of matter. Geological data may actually support this timeline, as the Egyptologist and geologist Schwaller de Lubicz first noted over a dentury ago and several other geologists have corroborated. The erosion on the Sphinx shows telltale signs of severe water damage, and the climate shifted from jungle to desert at around 7,000 BC. From the amount of erosion that has taken place, a build date of 10,000 BC or earlier is well within the realm of possibility.

Plato put the fall of Atlantis at around 9,600 BC, reliant only on the testimony of the Egyptian priestcraft. However, Booth claims the literal 'fall' of matter took place two thousand years before. Both dates inter mesh nicely with the current archaeological data (or lack thereof). However, I am not trying to make any substantitive claim as to the origin of the Sphinx or the fall of Atlantis in this blog, but merely that both dates line up with the story of the Kingdom of Zeal presented by Square in Chrono Trigger. From this, I gather that they are either conversant with the mythology and are using it to add gravity to their storylines, or that someone within the company is trying to express their esoteric beliefs of world history in the mechanism of a fictional world. Of the two possibilities, I think the latter is far more likely, given the depth of the esoteric, gnostic and kabbalistic symbolism contained within Squaresoft's works, especially in the fecund period between 1992 and 2002.

For more on the deeper meaning of Chrono trigger check out this excellent blog. Written from an existentialist perspective, it offers incredible depth and clarity through a comprehensive analysis of Square's epic work. Blogger K. Newton offers an academic level analysis of Chrono Trigger's most pervasive themes, and if he hasn't been published yet, he deserves to be.

Many thanks to square for making this amazing game and for Masato Kato for composing the storyline, and for K. Newton for his awesome blog and brilliant in-game screenshots. Great work all around!