Now, now, now, I know what you’re thinking. Symbolism? You mean like those cool tattoos the homunculi have? The seven deadly sins? Father’s Jesus symbolism? We’ve seen that before!
No way, that’s simple stuff. Here on Reading Between, we got bigger fish to fry.
Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood has received critical acclaim from many sources, myself included. It is one of the greatest anime of all time, in my humble opinion, and a big part of that was an adventure that perfectly blended action, character development, and thematic strength. Among its thematic strengths, was the prevalence of knowledge, and the seven evil Homunculi or artificial humans, each named for one of the famous Seven Deadly Sins. This is common knowledge, however: and what is lost in many a symbolic analysis of the series, is a meaning that is far greater. What I am talking about is The Dwarf in The Flask, The Homunculus, known as Father.
Father is one of my favorite anime villains of all time, but not for an imposing presence, not for his sheer evil, not even for really being a stereotypical “good” villain throughout the series. Rather, Father sums up the thematic patterns of Full Metal Alchemist WONDERFULLY, his existence in and of itself so full of symbolism, that I’m surprised people haven’t noticed it. Yes, Father does fit the “wise old man,” Jesus stereotype, he dresses in white, and his name alludes to God himself, but man, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Just a heads up, this is gonna be LONG and DETAILED. And is in fact, the LONGEST and MOST DETAILED analysis on Reading Between up to this point, that tackles basically everything about FMA, from the thematic significance of alchemy, to the meaning of “Truth”. So, hope I can keep it entertaining and educational for ya’ll- let’s get it started.
…Or you could skip to the TL;DR version at the bottom. It’s cool, you can do that too.
History of The Homunculus
So, before we get to all the theological and religious symbolism, let’s just brush up a bit on who exactly Father is, and how he came to be.
The story of Father starts in a kingdom called Xerxes, thousands of years before the events of the main series. The Homunculus exists only as a black blob in a small container: The Dwarf In The Flask. Through an unknown method, this entity was born from the essence of something beyond “The Gate,” which we will get into later. The main point here, is that the Dwarf was a great source of knowledge, with which, he taught humanity how to use the powers of Alchemy.
However, the Dwarf was not satisfied with this existence, restricted to the Flask. No, it wanted more, and so, tricked the kingdom of Xerxes into performing a huge, genocidal transmutation, one that gave The Dwarf a new, physical, yet immortal body: a copy of his unknowing cohort, Van Hoenheim, who was also cursed with immortality. From there, Father found another inhabited land, and taught the people there secrets of alchemy, building for himself the name of the “Philosopher of the East,” but of course, this wasn’t enough for him.
Over hundreds of years, the state of Amestris was formed, all under Father’s guidance from the shadows. The purpose of this was to build a gigantic transmutation circle, one that would steal the souls of the inhabitants of Amestris, in order to gain the power to absorb the being known as “God,” the being on the other side of The Gate.
Suffice to say, Father is stopped by the combined efforts of our protagonists, ultimately losing control of the powers of God, and finding himself before the mysterious being known as the Truth, and The Gate. The Homunculus then asks why he was rejected, only to receive the response, “It’s because you did not believe in yourself.” Not understanding, he retorted that he just wanted knowledge, the ability to learn, want, and desire, and that he didn’t get why that was wrong. He continues to express this sentiment, even as he is given his punishment: to be banished beyond the Gate with God, assimilated with the knowledge he desired, at the cost of his freedom.
Now, in knowing what Father represents in this story, we gotta know one important question, the only one that matters in regards to the meanings of his origin and defeat: what is “God” in the FMA universe?
What Exactly Is God?
In considering what the Gate, The Truth, and the Eye of God are, it is important here to consider the probably the predominant religious inspiration for all three: Theosophy.
Theosophy is defined as a general collection of teachings concerning specifically, mysteries of life and nature, the purpose of the universe, and of course, a knowledge of God. In Greek, meaning “Divine Wisdom,” theos, and sophia, the philosophies and beliefs surrounding them have become rather muddled throughout the years. However, one of its well-known factions, the Theosophical Society, in 1875, pushed one large view forward, describing itself as “one unsectarian body of seekers after truth….” Perhaps, it is best put in the words of one Mrs. A. P. Sinnett:
“It teaches people to search for the fundamental truth that is the basis equally of every creed, philosophy and science…to lay bare the fact that one truth supports every religion, no matter how divergent they may appear…”
Now, that sounds pretty spiritual. How does it apply?
Well, it shows that Theosophy is very much a general belief that focuses on “truth.” “There is no religion higher than truth” is the motto of the Theosophical Society, and it’s clear then, that The Truth of FMAB is very much an allusion to that. But no, there’s a lot more to it than just that, that explains why Father is so enamored with Truth.
In Theosophy, there are seven principles of humanity, two of which are important for the sake of this idea: Atman, and Buddhi, or Spirit, and Spiritual Intelligence. Atman is essentially like a view of divinity, a glimpse at God, while Buddhi is more like the merger of that divinity, and an intellectual understanding of it here in the human world- in other words, morality. These two principles of humanity are exemplified in a combination known as the Monad– it is perceived as a vague “One,” something beyond human control, something self-evident that all of humanity must live under. In other beliefs, the Monad is even very closely associated with the first divine being: perhaps, even a God.
The merging of these two concepts of Atman and Buddhi, are actually rather close to the description of the Truth as it appears in FMA. As both Atman and Buddhi are human concepts, principles of the spiritual nature of human beings, Truth reflects that, appearing as a white, featureless reflection of the human in question. Atman shows that Truth is still, in a sense, omnipresent, which is certainly believable, considering how Truth basically regulates all Alchemy, everywhere, while Buddhi reflects how Truth is often perceived as a negative conscience of one’s own ideas.
So essentially, Truth is the Monad. But that still leaves the Gate and The Eye of God: what are they?
Well, regarding the gate, this will be a bit simpler than the previous concept. The Gate’s ultimate inspiration can be derived from several scenes in FMA in particular, where main characters Edward Elric, and Alphonse Elric, enter the gate at different times. Inside the gate, we see streams of light that appear to show significant people close to them, as well as many, many others. It is described as agonizingly painful, as if all the knowledge in the world is being stuffed into their heads. However, they also realize that what they are experiencing: is Truth.
What this refers to is a concept known as the Akashic Records, which, conceptually, refers to a huge compendium, in which, all human events, thoughts, emotions, etc., are stored. It is said in Theosophy that a form of the Akashic Records can exist in an astral plane or as “astral lights,” and in a mental plane, with the latter being the “true” Akashic Records.
Edward and Alphonse both saw those astral lights, on which huge amounts of data regarding the world was stored, as evidence. They both absorbed huge amounts of knowledge, further pointing to the Akashic Records as a parallel. And finally, they both have individual gates, yet both of them contain the same, universal Truth, referencing how people, in Theosophy, tend not to have the same connection to the Akashic Records as others. So then, what exactly is The Eye of God, the being that drags people, screaming, into the Gate?
This is where the artistic license begins to kick in: this is where Theosophic beliefs about the Monad, collide with another theory known as the Gaia Hypothesis. This hypothesis essentially states that the world is in and of itself, a living being, a huge entity that includes everything and everyone on the Earth. Father takes advantage of how this works in the FMA world, by opening The Gate of the WHOLE WORLD, in order to absorb the totality of the Monad, of God, of Truth, for himself.
Because the Monad considers human consciousness, this is TOTALLY probable, because the Earth itself is where humanity resides, and where else would Truth, the Monad of humanity, reside, than with The Gate of the world?
I believe that The Eye of God is the collective judgment of the World as an organism, in accordance with, but not surpassing, the Monad, “The Truth” of humanity. This makes The Gate the collective human experience, while The Truth is a Monad, the first divine being, one that simultaneously draws from human morals and conscience.
But now, FINALLY bringing it all around to The Homunculus, how does this relate to the aspirations of Father, and his purpose as a character?
The Homunculus, a Fallen Angel
Remember now, the motivations of Father: he wanted to pursue knowledge, he wanted to have truth for himself, he wanted to be free of the restrictions of the mortal realm. To this end, he pursued the thing known as God, who we know now is simply The Truth, or the Monad. But then, does Father have any implication in theosophy specifically? Well, to be honest, nothing very concrete off the bat. However, in considering the Christian religion, suddenly a rather interesting comparison can be made.
Basically, knowing Father’s motivations and origins, a comparison can easily, quickly be made to the fallen angel, the morning star, Lucifer. Based on a quick look at the general perception of Lucifer as a concrete being, we can get an idea of his history, and how exactly it ties into Father.
So. The story of Lucifer is often attributed specifically to two key chapters: Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14. In the first one, it is described that Lucifer was once wise, beautiful, and walked in heaven, “on the holy mountain of God.” However, he ended up being “unrighteous,” “proud,” and possessed corrupted wisdom, and so, God cast him out. In Isaiah, it is described that Lucifer has fallen far, and that:
13 You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. 14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”
- Lucifer fell from heaven, cast down to Earth, while Father was born from the Gate, kept in the mortal realm by blood.
- Lucifer was wise and revered, while Father also was known for his great knowledge.
- Lucifer wishes to be “like the Most High,” and Father actually attempts to take in the Truth for himself.
- Lucifer tempts mankind by introducing Knowledge, and Father is known to teach mankind the standard skills of alchemy.
- Lucifer is not merely destroyed- it’s as if his presence becomes a non-factor, and with Father, he is similarly locked away.
Father is a representation of Lucifer, and that’s not even going into the fact that he created the other Homunculi, who are, in and of themselves, the Seven Deadly Sins. That’s not even going into the fact that his name, “Father,” is in and of itself, fake, almost like he’s trying to play God. In fact, in one episode, when challenged on his ability to create life, a duty generally attributed to God, Father tries to do just that.
Father as Lucifer, would basically convey that the “God” he’s trying to reach, is really The Truth, in this world of blended Christian and Theosophic concepts. God is The Truth, the accumulated knowledge and spiritual essence of humanity, and Father wants nothing more than to claim that for himself, or to, again, surpass God. As he himself says at the end of the series: “What’s wrong with wanting to learn?”
I mean, it’s pretty clear that ultimately, Father is a representation of Lucifer- but then, how does that relate to Theosophy, what does it all mean?
A Story of Lucifer and The Monad
I’m not gonna beat around the bush: Father is almost certainly a character based on the Christian entity known as Lucifer, but he is used in such a way that his very existence criticizes the goal of Theosophy.
Lucifer does have a purpose in Theosophic beliefs, and it’s definitely not as any God, nor is it any devil. Rather, Theosophy looks at one of the meanings of Lucifer’s greek name: The Lightbringer. Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, took note of this, and considered Lucifer as bringing light to humanity, a sort of Prometheus-like figure. He helped bring knowledge to humanity, helping to open up the fifth of the seven principles of man, in the process.
Similarly, Father established things in alchemy all across the world of Full Metal Alchemist. From the old kingdom of Xerxes, and becoming known as the Philosopher of The East, Father allowed for alchemy to be known and used, perhaps in a similar way to Lucifer in Theosophy. Remember, however, that Father’s goal is to claim The Truth for himself: that in regards to wisdom, he just wanted to know what God knew, a never ending search for knowledge: similar to the goal of Theosophy, the pursuit of truth.
It must be noted, that Father was actually successful for a while. Father had swallowed the Truth for himself, gaining knowledge, for himself, fulfilling in some way, the goal of Theosophy, a sort of impossibility. However, it’s clear that the Monad is something beyond human control: the Atman is something purely spiritual, while Father exists on a very, very material plane. Father, in trying to be God, in trying to achieve existence beyond the mortal world, fails on all counts.
Beyond being a classic story of Lucifer’s failing, and being locked away, Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood also acknowledges that the Truth is not something for humans, for any mortal, to ever meet up with. This is Father’s failing at the end of the series, only able to whine helplessly that he doesn’t understand what’s wrong about pursuing knowledge. Lucifer is swallowed up, locked away by the Gate, by the combined will of humanity, for daring to think that his pride would allow him to control it.
Meanwhile, Edward Elric, protagonist of the series, acts in a manner that completely opposes this theme. Having lost his mother, and having to fight to get his brother’s human body back, Edward has spent the entire series searching for knowledge of some sort. He even says as a kid that he wants to go back through the Gate, to receive just another glimpse of The Truth, and that he thought that with alchemy, he could solve all his problems. However, at the very end of the series, he gives it up, presumably never to see The Truth again, and you know The Truth says? “That’s the right answer.”
Essentially, Father, in the story of Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, exists as a criticism of the ultimate goal of the Theosophical Society: “Theosophy seeks a direct knowledge of God.” Using the story and motivations of Lucifer in the Bible, which so happen to, in this context, parallel the desire to “know God,” Father shows the folly of trying to come to full knowledge of God, in essentially trying to be a God himself.
Coming to any full knowledge of the Monad, of God, of The Truth, is an impossibility according to Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and accepting the world we have now: well, I guess that’s just the right answer.
TL;DR: The Truth is a reference to the Monad, The Gate refernces The Akashic Records, The Eye of God is basically the will of the world, Father is essentially Lucifer, Father’s entire character development is to say that pursuing direct knowledge of God is prideful, and Edward Elric is proof that, in the FMA world, pursuing emotional connections and concerning oneself with matters of the world we live in, is the true, right way to pursue knowledge.
This was a freaking TRIP man. 3,000 words, that’s actually ridiculous. I don’t know about you, but I had a huge amount of fun, as hard as it was, researching for this whole religious theory stuff. Man. FMA was already one of my favorite (not my favorite though) anime of all time, but damn, I think this just kinda sealed the deal. If you stuck around, thanks for considering my weird, strange analysis worth the time, and if you just skipped to TL;DR, then hey, thanks for being curious about my opinion at all. See ya’ll later.