Ace isn’t the only one putting off a game review. Despite wanting to do a review of the polarizing Remember Me, I keep finding myself distracted by Starbound. I blame Steam. So in lieu of fresh meat, I’ve delved further into the meta of a game series that I’ve already beaten time and time again. And with me, if any series is going to get analyzed, it’s going to be Dragon Age. Usually I look more into issues with the fandom versus the events in the game, but this time it’s all lore. Before I get into it, let me get everyone on the same page.
For those unfamiliar with Wicca and Neopaganism, the idea of the triple goddess may be the furthest thing from your minds when discussing a narrative. I’m no expert myself, but I’d like to think that I know a thing or two. As counterpart to the Horned God in some practices of Wicca and Neopaganism—a representation of masculine energy—the triple goddess represents the three stages of womanhood: the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. These three stages are in turn represented by phases of the moon. The Maiden, a growing woman who has much to learn about the world, is represented in the waxing phase (going from new to full for those like me who never remember the difference). The Mother, having reached fulfillment in all aspects of her life, is represented by the full moon. And the elder Crone, facing death with all her wisdom, is represented by the waning moon as her light fades into the blackness of night. All three parts of this trinity are of equal importance, and that’s what makes a closer inspection of these characters, as well as the events they put into motion, so interesting.
Although there’s an interesting reflection of modern interpretations of religion going on within the setting—Pagan themes are woven through an in-game religion that is based largely off Christianity—that’s not what we’re going to be talking about. We’re going to be talking about mages; specifically, three female mages. You see where this is going, right?
Spoilers for a five-year-old game under the cut.
In Dragon Age: Origins, as you march around Ferelden trying to gather up an army to defend against the Blight, you run into several mages—most of whom are living in the church-sanctioned Circle Tower, a prison to most mages who are scrutinized under the restrictive rules of the Templars who live alongside them. Out of this abundance of mages, three women in particular control the impetus by which the fate of their world swings. Whether they use their magic for good or something closer to chaos, and no matter the opinions held on magic and mages themselves, no one can deny the impact they had and the importance of the roles they played even beyond the realm of Origins.
First we have our Maiden character in Morrigan, a younger girl barely into adulthood who lives outside the rules of society as an apostate (a mage who does not live under the rules of the church) with her mother Flemeth. Honestly, at first glance, Morrigan doesn’t fit at all; she’s neither virginal nor innocent in terms of purity. Purity in this case isn’t directly related to sexual experience—an outdated mindset as shown by most modern Neopagans removing this quality from their interpretations of the Maiden entirely—but to optimism and to some extent, childishness. In fact, Morrigan makes a show of being wise beyond her years, and after being brought up by the most experienced mage in the entire setting, I suppose she has a right to think that. Despite this, and despite her somewhat dour personality, Morrigan still carries an enthusiasm for magic, even if she’s not so enthused with the world at times. It’s Morrigan who brings up the possibilities of using magic in situations where it could be useful, and it is she who gushes about being able to experience life through the eyes of different creatures when she shapeshifts. Morrigan’s enthusiasm comes from wishing to experiment with the powers she’s honed, and so while she acts jaded, she’s barely touched the surface of what she can do, and she knows it.
One interesting aspect when considering this interpretation is that the Maiden is also associated with beginnings and awakenings. As the player finds out after finishing Morrigan’s personal quest, Morrigan is to be used as a vessel for Flemeth: when Morrigan comes of age and into her power, Flemeth will kill Morrigan’s spirit and assume her body. In this case, ‘awakening’ can be taken two ways. The first of which is Morrigan realizing her mother’s plot and beginning her own journey to overcome her fate. The other way is that Morrigan, as a physical body and not the spirit, will ‘awaken’ once Flemeth takes control. It’s an interesting, darker subversion to an aspect that is usually associated with something positive.
For our Mother, there can be no one else but the kindly mage of the Circle, Wynne. And true enough, Wynne acts like a mother to everyone she meets: stern when she needs to be, understanding in most situations, and protective to a fault. Wynne’s experiences of being born with magic, teaching several other mages, and having her son taken away from her led her to learn much in a short time. She’s not as ready to jump into danger like Morrigan is and is certainly more willing to view an issue from multiple sides. Much like Morrigan, Wynne has an interesting subversion to her aspect too. The Mother is most commonly associated with fertility and growth. However, Wynne is technically dead. While her students and peers were being attacked, Wynne gave her life protecting them; she is kept alive only by the kindness of a spirit who has possessed her. (This possession is all right, I promise.) So while Wynne is barred from any contact with the son she rightfully bore, her fertility comes from the spirit that’s inside her, and the knowledge she gained from the experience.
When researching for this article, the term that stuck out to me the most when looking at the Mother’s aspects was ‘fulfillment’. Indeed, this is the concept that comes up the most in conversations with the elder mage. After spending her life helping those around her and committing herself to the most noble cause anyone could—saving the world—Wynne comes to the conclusion that she is content with her life. She’s not afraid of death, but she’s not ready to let go of life: she must spread her knowledge until she sends the spirit on its way (another interesting subversion; she’s in control of her own death and her ascent into the Crone stage).
This leaves Flemeth as the Crone; could it be any other way? No one knows exactly how long Flemeth has been alive—the nomadic Dalish elves have even given her the title “Asha’bellanar”, meaning “woman of many years”, in their language. There are legends and songs written about her, and without a doubt she’s the wisest and most powerful mage in the entire game universe. You probably would be, too, if you’d lived for centuries. Ignoring the obvious reasons for giving her the Crone title (she old), I find that the interesting aspect of ‘transformation’ fits her best. In any other situation, I’m sure transformation implies transforming into a wiser version of yourself, or even transforming into a spirit as you leave your physical body, but in Flemeth’s case it has some more literal applications. As I mentioned earlier, when her daughter Morrigan comes of age, Flemeth will assume Morrigan’s body, thus transforming into her in a way. However, Morrigan is not Flemeth’s first daughter, nor will she be the first body Flemeth has appropriated as her own. This Crone is a pro at taking the guise of the girls she raises as daughters; she is a Crone that is completely estranged from her original Maiden form and has adapted a more chaotic life than most other Crones do (a Crone is
known for her wisdom, not her evil deeds, after all). …Also Flemeth can shapeshift into a dragon.
While all three aspects are beautifully displayed, the choices these women make throw the world off balance (assuming that the three aspects hold some sort of divine providence over the rest of the world). We have a Maiden who cannot reach fulfillment until she kills her mother, the Crone. A Mother who has finally died (at the end of the novel Asunder, Wynne relinquishes the spirit inside her and slips into death) having passed onto the Crone stage but with no Mother to give her knowledge to. And a Crone who is unwilling to die under any costs—perhaps signaling that she’s not as wise as she would lead others to believe. The world crumbles to ruin under the chaotic state of the triple goddess, and indeed the Dragon Age universe is in shambles after a mage rebellion gave way to a world-wide war, church versus magic. These three women had a huge hand in these events—Wynne helped forge a land where being sent to the Circle wasn’t a sentence to solitary confinement, Flemeth controlled (and will continue to control) events from behind the scenes, and Morrigan seeks only to overthrow Flemeth’s stranglehold on the world.
With Dragon Age: Inquisition coming out in the fourth quarter of this year, we can only wait to see what mechanizations the remainders of the trinity will go through and if they’ll help or hurt the confused masses. Will balance be restored through Flemeth finally succumbing to death and Morrigan taking up the Mother mantle? Who will fill in the vacant spot in the trinity until then? I’m not sure myself, but I can’t wait to find out. If only November would come faster.